Archive for the ‘Media’ 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.

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.

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.

Panetta: Pentagon may provide ‘limited logistical support’ to French in Mali

January 15, 2013

Washington Post
Craig Whitlock
Jan 16, 2013

LISBON – The Pentagon may become involved in military operations against Islamist rebels in the West African country of Mali by providing airlift and “limited logistical support” to French troops fighting there, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Monday.
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“We have a responsibility to go after al-Qaeda wherever they are,” Panetta told reporters as he began a weeklong trip to Europe. “We’re going after them in Yemen and Somalia, and we have a responsibility to make sure that al-Qaeda does not establish a base for operations in North Africa, in Mali.”U.S. defense officials said they were reviewing requests for assistance from France, which sent troops to Mali on Friday in an urgent attempt to prevent Islamist rebels and other guerrillas from overrunning the ragtag Malian army. Islamist fighters and Tuareg rebels have gained control of the northern half of the country over the past year, enabling al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa to function unimpeded in a swath of territory the size of Texas.Panetta declined to provide further details about what kind of military assistance the Pentagon might bring to the conflict, but said one option under consideration would be to deploy transport aircraft that move French troops or equipment.The Obama administration has previously ruled out placing “U.S. boots on the ground” in Mali. Officials traveling with Panetta declined to comment when asked if U.S. transport aircraft might actually land in Mali to help the French, or if the territory remained off limits.The United States, France, the United Nations Security Council and several African countries have been working for months on a joint plan to intervene militarily in Mali, one of the poorest and most remote countries in the world.

The planning, however, has been undermined by strategic disagreements, a lack of firm commitments to send troops and Mali’s internal political dysfunctions. The country’s democratically elected president was toppled last March in a coup led by a rogue Army captain who had received military training in the United States. Factionalism has worsened since then as Islamist fighters have tightened their grip on the northern half of the country.

Another complication is that the United States is prohibited by law from providing direct military assistance to the Malian government because of the coup. The Pentagon had to shut down training and aid programs in Mali last year and remove virtually all military personnel.

The U.S. military already has been sharing intelligence about the Mali rebels with France, an exchange that will continue, according to a senior U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations. The official said the Pentagon was also considering whether to deploy tanker aircraft to Africa to provide mid-air refueling for French warplanes.

The United States has conducted surveillance over Mali for years with satellites, high-altitude Global Hawk drones based in Europe and small PC-12 turboprop planes based in Burkina Faso, on Mali’s southern border.

Flying armed Reaper or Predator drones over Mali is not an immediate option, however; the Pentagon lacks a base in the region for those aircraft.

The turmoil in Mali was triggered, in part, by a flood of fighters and weaponry arriving from Libya after that country’s civil war erupted. When Libyan ruler Col. Moammar Gaddafi was killed in 2011 – thanks largely to a NATO-led military intervention — many mercenaries and Tuareg rebels who had supported him crossed the Sahara to return to Mali, further stressing the already weak government there.

Asked if the NATO’s involvement in Libya was partly to blame for the unrest in Mali, Panetta did not answer directly but said that al-Qaeda factions have demonstrated an ability to adapt by moving to new regions.

“With the turmoil in Mali, they found it convenient to use that situation to gain some traction there,” he told reporters on his plane while flying to Europe. “There’s no question as you confront them in Yemen, in Somalia, in Libya that they’ll ultimately try to relocate. The fact is, we’ve made a commitment that al-Qaeda is not going to find any place to hide.”

Panetta is scheduled to meet with NATO allies this week in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Britain in what he said is “likely” is last international trip as defense secretary. President Obama has nominated former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to succeed him.

RELATED: La Folie Solami: Black Hawk Down… Part Deux

New Hi-Tech Clothing Line Makes You ‘Invisible to Drones’

January 15, 2013

In February of last year, Congress approved a bill that will allow as many as 30,000 unmanned vehicles to tour the US sky by 2020. The Federal Aviation Administration plans to open up national airspace to drones by the year 2015,but one New York artist is launching a clothing line that will keep you invisible to the robotic aircraft. RT’s Liz Wahl brings us more…

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Mali Mayhem: ‘French post-colonial ambition to spark African anger’

January 15, 2013

Northern Mali was captured by Islamist militants nine months ago; the international community has been debating since then over what action should be taken. The conflict escalated last week when France launched its air assault to “maintain stability in the region.” Eric Margolis, an award-winning columnist who’s extensively covered conflicts in Africa, believes president Hollande is sensitive to France’s role as a former colonial power in Mali.

Why Are Our Political Elite So Obsessed With Lowering the Age of Consent?

January 15, 2013

Why are UK politicians so preoccupied with lowering the age of consent? Who asked for it to be lowered in the first place? Not parents in Britain, that’s for sure. Listen to this bit of common sense before you start your debate…

UPDATE: British PM Rules Out Lowering Age Of Consent To 14…
http://news.sky.com/story/1036565/pm-rules-out-lowering-age-of-consent-to-14

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An Inconvenient Truth? Al Gore Sells Out to Big Oil

January 14, 2013

The television network Current TV was recently purchased by the international news outlet Al Jazeera. The transaction will leave $125 million in former vice-president Al Gore’s pocket. Gore, who is a green living advocate, ironically sold the company to a news outlet owned by Qatar – an oil rich country.

Assad Still Confident That He Can Control Syria

January 14, 2013

Washington Post
Liz Sly

BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains confident that he can ride out the maelstrom engulfing his country, casting into doubt prospects that intensified efforts to negotiate an end to the bloodshed can succeed, according to Syrians familiar with the thinking of the regime.

Although Assad isn’t winning the fight against the rebels, he isn’t losing, either — at least not yet, or by enough of a margin to make him feel he needs to abandon his efforts to crush the rebellion by force and embark on negotiations that would end his hold on power and expose his loyalists to the threat of revenge, the Syrians and analysts say.

It is hard to imagine Assad ever being in a position to restore his authority over the many parts of Syria that have slipped beyond his control. The rebels seeking to topple him have steadily been gaining ground, most recently seizing control of a strategically important airbase in the north of the country, and if the current trajectory continues, the eventual demise of the four-decade-old Assad family regime seems all but inevitable, analysts say.

But concerns are growing about how long that might take, and at what cost, prompting many Syrians to question whether Assad’s confidence might not be merited, given the realities of a conflict so brutally complex, so finely balanced and so entangled in global geopolitical rivalries that there is still no clearly identifiable endgame in sight nearly two years after the uprising began.

“From Day One, Bashar al-Assad was underestimated by the opposition and by the international community,” said Malik al Abdeh, a Syrian journalist based in London who is one of a number of opposition activists growing increasingly gloomy about the prospects that an end to the bloody conflict could be near. “He is playing a high-stakes game, he’s playing it pretty smart and he seems to be winning because of the simple fact that he is still in power.”

When Assad delivered a defiantly uncompromising speech to supporters last week, the State Department condemned him for being “out of touch with reality.” But many Syrians wonder whether it isn’t the United States and its allies who are out of touch for continuing to press for a negotiated settlement to a conflict Assad still has reason to believe he can win, Abdeh said.

Though the Syrian army has been degraded by thousands of rank-and-file defections and heavy casualties, it is still fighting. Key units comprising members of Assad’s own Alawite sect, an obscure and little-understood offshoot of Shiite Islam, remain fiercely loyal.

Defections from his government have been few and far between. The rebels have been systematically overrunning government positions in many locations, but they have not demonstrated the capacity to make headway against the tough defenses ringing Damascus, the capital, and the key prize for whoever claims to control the country.

His allies Russia and Iran have shown no sign that their support is wavering, and they have their own reasons not to cede ground in the struggle for influence over a country whose strategic location puts it at the crossroads of multiple regional conflicts. On Saturday, the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated its view that Assad’s departure should not be part of any negotiated settlement.

France fails to free intelligence agent held in Somalia; Paris sends more troops to Mali

January 14, 2013

PARIS — As France reinforced its intervention forces in Mali with additional aircraft and soldiers, Frenc commandos launched a failed raid on the other side of Africa in a vain attempt to rescue an intelligence officer held captive for 3½ years in Somalia, the Defense Ministry announced Saturday.

The unsuccessful overnight rescue attempt, in the Somali town of Bulomarer, was separate from President Francois Hollande’s decision Friday to intervene on the ground and in the air to shore up the crumbling Malian army against Islamist guerrilla groups that have controlled the northern two-thirds of the country for more than seven months.

But both operations seemed to propel France into a position of new prominence in Western efforts to prevent Islamist terrorist groups from establishing themselves — as they did in Afghanistan and Somalia — in countries without solid state institutions that could become launchpads for attacks on European or U.S. interests in Africa or elsewhere around the world.

The failed rescue in Somalia, which cost France the lives of at least two people, dramatized the dangers facing the French military as it takes on the Islamist groups in hostile regions of northern Africa where they have taken root. The Mali-based extremists, for instance, hold seven French hostages and threatened retaliation for Hollande’s willingness to dispatch French soldiers to help restore Malian state authority.

Four French hostages captured in September 2010 at a northern Niger uranium mine and two abducted in northern Mali in November 2010 are held by the region’s main Islamist group, the mainly Algerian al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). A seventh French citizen was taken into custody two months ago on the Mali-Nigeria border by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, an AQMI spinoff.

Some of their families have questioned Hollande’s resolution to support the government in Mali, fearing it could lead to the execution of their loved ones. But Hollande has consistently replied that the threat of international military action was the best means of pressure on the hostage takers.

Failure in Somalia

The Somalia rescue operation was designed to liberate Denis Allex, the official identity of an agent of the French intelligence service, the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE). Allex and a colleague were abducted by Somali Islamists in July 2009, soon after the pair, posing as journalists, checked into a hotel in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

In fact, reports at the time said, they were assigned by the DGSE to train the close protection squad of Somalia’s beleaguered transitional government as part of a French military aid program. Allex’s colleague escaped his captors a month later, but Allex remained in the Islamists’ hands in what the Defense Ministry described as “inhumane conditions.”

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a news conference that “everything indicates” Allex was killed by his captors as DGSE commandos assaulted his place of imprisonment at Bulomarer, an Islamist-controlled town about 70 miles southwest of Mogadishu.

Washington Post
Edward Cody