Archive for the ‘2013’ Category

U.S. citizens among hostages seized in Algeria as France battles Islamists in neighboring Mali

January 16, 2013

Washington Post
 Edward Cody, Debbi Wilgoren and Craig Whitlock,

PARIS — Islamist guerrillas seized a number of hostages, including Americans, in a brazen attack early Wednesday on a remote gas-production facility in Algeria, and the United States vowed to take all necessary steps to deal with what it called a “terrorist act.”

Algeria’s official news agency said two people were killed, including a British national, and six were wounded, two of them foreigners, in the attack by what authorities described as a homegrown Algerian terrorist group. There were conflicting accounts of the number of people taken hostage. The agency, Algerie Presse Service, said Algerian troops quickly surrounded the site.

In Rome, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said U.S. officials believe that Americans are among the hostages in Algeria but that they are still trying to determine how many.

“By all indications, this is a terrorist act,” he told reporters after meeting with Italian leaders Wednesday as part of a week-long European trip. “It is a very serious matter when Americans are taken hostage along with others…. I want to assure the American people that the United States will take all necessary and proper steps that are required to deal with this situation.”

Panetta said it remained unclear whether the hostage-takers are connected to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups that France is fighting in northern Mali.

“I do know that terrorists are terrorists, and terrorists take these kinds of actions,” he added. “We’ve witnessed their behavior in a number of occasions where they have total disregard for innocent men and women. This appears to be that kind of situation.”

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack and said 41 hostages were seized, seven of them Americans.

However, Algerie Presse Service (APS) said “a little more than 20 foreign nationals” were captured. It said the hostages were from Norway, Britain, the United States, France and Japan. The captors released Algerian workers in small groups, the agency said.

The assailants arrived in three vehicles and first attacked a bus that was taking foreign workers from the gas-production facility to a local airport, APS said. One foreigner was killed in that attack, and the militants then took over part of the facility and seized hostages, it said.

Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said the attackers were Algerian “terrorists” and vowed that authorities would not negotiate with them.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said the attack was in retaliation for Algeria’s decision to allow France to use its airspace to send warplanes to neighboring Mali, where French forces have been conducting airstrikes and support operations since last week to aid Malian troops in their battle against Islamist insurgents.

“Algeria’s participation in the war on the side of France betrays the blood of the Algerian martyrs who fell in the fight against the French occupation,” a spokesman for the Masked Brigade, an arm of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, told Mauritania’s Nouakchott News Agency.

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Euro Gypsies: ‘The Right to Roam’

January 16, 2013

Unwanted, marginalised, defiant – the Roma people have become the target of governments across Europe.

In France and Italy they have been thrown out in their thousands – accused of illegally overstaying their welcome and blamed for increases in crime.

They say that in their countries of origin they are victims of discrimination – a minority with few opportunities.

They are now taking advantage of European Union laws that allow freedom of travel to all European citizens – looking West to find a better life, yet reluctant to adapt to Western ways.

The Roma issue has now been forced on EU policy makers – they have to find a balance between the growing hostility and the rights of the Roma.

Nuclear Power Play: Iran sanctions rally public behind govt

January 16, 2013

The UN’s atomic agency experts are back in Iran for the second time in a little more than a month – with Tehran hopeful for clear progress this time. Meanwhile more sanctions are piled on the country. But as Maria Finoshina found out, they often only have the opposite effect to what was intended…

BREAKING: 7 foreigners kidnapped in Algeria

January 16, 2013

The Independant
LAMINE CHIKHI
Jan 16, 2013

Islamist militants attacked a gas production field in southern Algeria today, kidnapping at least seven foreigners and killing a French national, local and company officials said.

An al-Qa’ida-linked group operating in the Sahara said it had carried out the raid on the In Amenas facility, Mauritania’s ANI news agency reported.

The field, located close to the border with Libya, is operated by a joint venture including BP, Norwegian oil firm Statoil and Algerian state company Sonatrach.

Five Japanese nationals working for the Japanese engineering firm JCG Corp were kidnapped as well as a French national, local officials said. An Irishman was also seized, the Irish government said.

A French national was killed in the attack, a local source said, but it was unclear if the victim was the same person who had been kidnapped.

The foreigners were taken from In Amenas in the morning. Algerian troops had mounted an operation to rescue the hostages and had also surrounded the workers’ camp at Tiguentourine, a local source said.

Algeria has allowed France to use its air space during its military intervention against al-Qa’ida-linked Islamist rebels in Mali, although officials have yet to make a link between today’s attack and the conflict in Algeria’s southern neighbour.

ANI, which has regular direct contact with Islamists, said that fighters under the command of Mokhtar Belmokhtar were holding the foreigners seized from the gas field.

Belmokhtar for years commanded al-Qa’ida fighters in the Sahara before setting up his own armed Islamist group late last year after an apparent fallout with other militant leaders.

BP confirmed there had been a “security incident” at the In Amenas field but could give no more details.

Statoil, a minority shareholder in the venture, said it was notified of the incident this morning but could not say if any of its fewer than 20 employees were affected.

Statoil described the incident as serious and called it an emergency situation.

BP said the field was approximately 825 miles from the capital, Algiers.

The five Japanese work for the engineering firm JGC Corporation, Jiji news agency reported, quoting company officials. JGC has a deal with Sonatrach-BP-Statoil Association for work in gas production at In Amenas.

In Tokyo, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said it was gathering information on the situation but could not comment. French Foreign Ministry officials also said they had no immediate comment and were trying to verify the reports.

‘Patriot’ group looks to create armed community in Idaho, Montana or Wyoming

January 16, 2013

Billings Gazzette
Martin Kidston Missoulian

MISSOULA — A group bound by the Second Amendment, patriotism and pride in “American exceptionalism” is looking to purchase several thousand acres of land in northern Idaho or Western Montana to establish a gated community of like-minded residents.

According to the project description, The Citadel would house between 3,500 and 7,000 patriotic American families who believe in emergency preparedness, and who can show efficiency with the “American icon of liberty – the Rifle.”

Advertisements on the group’s website urge visitors to “Get an AR … before it’s too late,” referring to the controversial AR-15 assault rifle.

The group says it’s looking to break ground on its community this year. It’s eyeing Benewah County, Idaho, outside of Coeur d’Alene, though it said Montana could be considered as well.

“While every effort and intention is to build in Benewah County, the Citadel Project reserves the right to select a final location with similar terrain in other Idaho counties or, if necessary, in Montana, Wyoming or elsewhere in the American Redoubt,” the website says.

The group describes itself as a nonprofit, liberty-driven group that believes in Thomas Jefferson’s Rightful Liberty. Marxists, socialists, liberals and establishment Republicans need not apply, the group says, as they would find life in the community “incompatible with their existing ideology and preferred lifestyles.”

The group’s blog says its spokesman, who isn’t identified, is not yet willing to give interviews, and media requests were referred back to the group’s website, iiicitadel.com.

The Southern Poverty Law Center dismissed The Citidel concept as an “idle fantasy,” while the Montana Human Rights Network plans to keep tabs on the group’s progress.

“Their talking points fit into the general anti-government survivalist movement,” said Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director Human Rights Network. “They’re more explicit on their requirements for guns than some groups have been in the past.”

Carroll Rivas said her group has seen greater political engagement over the past four years by groups on the far right, including those interested in the survivalist concept.

Frustrated by the outcome of recent elections, however, they’ve begun to withdraw from the political process due to a sense of defeat. The process follows trends in recent history, including that in the 1990s, which saw the rise of groups in Montana like the Freemen during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

“When you don’t get what you want, you pull away, and it’s not surprising that some people would go this route,” Carroll Rivas said. “History has shown there’s an interest in our region.”

***

To win residency to The Citadel, applicants would have to agree to a list of conditions, such as following the U.S. Constitution, and being able to shoot a man-sized steel target at various distances with a handgun and rifle.

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Helicopter Crash In South London

January 16, 2013

Huffington Post
Robert Barr

LONDON — Police say two people were killed when a helicopter crashed Wednesday during rush hour in central London after apparently hitting a construction crane on top of a building.

Two people were taken to a nearby hospital with “minor injuries,” London Ambulance Service said.

The helicopter crashed just south of the River Thames near the Underground and mainline train station at Vauxhall, and the British spy agency MI6.

Video on Sky News showed wreckage burning in a street, and a large plume of black smoke rose in the area. The video from the crash scene showed a line of flaming fuel and debris.

Witness reports that the helicopter hit a crane atop a 50-story residential building, the St. George Wharf Tower, were not immediately confirmed.

The Ministry of Defense said it was not a military helicopter, and a British security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press said the incident was not terror-related.

London Fire Brigade said it was called at 8 a.m. to a report of a crash on Wandsworth Road on the south bank of the Thames.

“There was a flash and the helicopter plunged to the ground. It exploded and you can imagine the smoke coming out of it,” Paul Ferguson, an office worker near the scene, told BBC News.

“The top of the crane was actually obscured by fog so I didn’t see the impact,” Michael Gavin told the BBC. “But I heard a bang and saw the body of the helicopter falling to the ground along with pieces of the crane and then a large plume of smoke afterwards.”

Erin Rogers, who was waiting at a bus stop near Vauxhall Station, said she “heard a bang and saw bits of crane debris falling to the floor.”

“Then the helicopter was in flames. The rest of the people at the bus station were looking on going, `What was that?'”

Police said the helicopter appeared to have hit a crane.

Early reports indicated the crane was at St. George’s Wharf, a high rise apartment complex with apartments that offer sweeping river and city views.

The area, roughly 10 blocks from the major Waterloo train and Underground station, is extremely congested during the morning rush hour. Many commuters arrive at the main line stations from London’s southern suburbs and transfer to buses or trains there.