Zawahri: From a Life of Comfort to Hunted Terrorist

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 6:25 am (UTC-5)
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Ayman al-Zawahri, the new leader of the al-Qaida terror network, was born into a life of comfort in Egypt but shaped by life experiences into a feared radical Islamic terrorist.

He is a surgeon by training but an ideological firebrand by choice. Now he is replacing Osama bin Laden, who was killed last month by U.S. commandos in a raid on his Pakistani hideout.

Zawahri was bin Laden's deputy, supporting al-Qaida with his organizational and tactical skills, the first to espouse the use of suicide bombings and independent terror cells. His jihad, or holy war mission, was simple and straightforward — inflict “as many casualties as possible” on the Americans and their allies, especially Israel.

Now he is believed to be living somewhere in the mountainous region near the Afghan-Pakistani border, with the U.S. offering a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture. In regular videotapes, he has condemned the U.S., saying that al-Qaida's fight will not be ended until the Western powers leave “the lands of the Muslims.”

He was born in Cairo to a wealthy family of doctors and scholars and became involved with radical Islam as a teenager. Like many educated young Egyptians, he was outraged at the treatment of Islamists in the 1960s as Egypt moved toward a Soviet-style state under socialist Gamel Abdel Nasser. Thousands of people suspected of subversion were thrown in jail. His sense of shame was only heightened as Israel defeated Egypt in the 1967 war.

While earning a medical degree, he helped to form the Egyptian Islamic Jihad militant group.

Zawahri traveled to Pakistan for the first time in 1980, working with the Red Crescent Society in the city of Peshawar to provide medical treatment to Afghans wounded in fighting with Soviet troops occupying neighboring Afghanistan. He also made his first trips into Afghanistan that year.

Later, he was one of hundreds tried for links to the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He was acquitted of that, but served a three-year term for illegal arms possession. After his release in 1984, Zawahri returned to Peshawar to support the Afghan insurgency against the Soviets and formed a bond with bin Laden, serving as his personal doctor.

In 1998, Zawahri formed an alliance with bin Laden, becoming his deputy. The United States accuses the Egyptian of helping to organize the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania later that year.

Zawahri also is suspected of playing a major role in the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, for which al-Qaida claimed responsibility from its base in Afghanistan. He went into hiding with bin Laden when U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan weeks later, ousting the country's Taliban militant rulers, who had sheltered the terror network.

Zawahri's hatred of the U.S. also became personal: A U.S. air strike killed the Egyptian's wife and at least two of his children in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province in December 2001.

Zawahri proceeded to rebuild al-Qaida in the lawless tribal regions of the Afghan-Pakistani border and became the new face of the terror network, releasing videos and audiotapes taunting the United States as bin Laden faded from view.

In some videos, the bearded Zawahri could be seen jabbing his finger and staring from behind heavy-rimmed glasses. The Central Intelligence Agency came close to killing or capturing him several times in the Pakistani tribal region.

But he remains at large and now, as he turns 60 later this week, has become the head of al-Qaida.

China Denies Blocking Refugees From Burmese Fighting

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 6:15 am (UTC-5)
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China is denying charges that its border guards have turned back hundreds of refugees who are fleeing a Burmese government assault on ethnic rebels in northern Burma.

More than 1,000 Kachin villagers have massed near the Chinese border seeking to escape from the fighting, which began late last week. A witness tells VOA that most have been turned back at the border and are now hiding in nearby churches and forests.

The Irrawaddy newspaper, run by Burmese exiles in Thailand, quoted local relief workers saying only 200 of the refugees have been admitted into China. It said most of those were elderly or mothers with children, and that Chinese authorities had confiscated any mobile phones and ordered them not to contact anyone in China.

But at a briefing Thursday in Beijing, spokesman Hong Lei said the situation described by the media “does not exist.” He said some Burmese have crossed the border to find relatives and friends, and that the government has provided assistance “in accordance with normal practice.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. Campaign for Burma, a Washington-based rights group, called on world governments to pressure China to provide protection and refuge to the villagers and to let humanitarian organizations reach them.

The Thailand-based Kachin News Group, which has close ties to the rebels, reports that the refugees fear they will be pressed into service as porters for Burmese forces in their fight with the Kachin Independence Army. It said there were about 1,500 villagers in the area by Wednesday and that more were arriving daily.

The fighting has been centered around two hydroelectric dam projects on the Taping River which are being built by Chinese companies and are expected to provide China with electricity.

More than 100 Chinese engineers and construction workers are also reported to have fled back to China from the dam sites since the fighting began. KIA spokesmen say the rebels have blown up three bridges in the area in an effort to impede the Burmese army's advance.

The Kachin News Group says the fighting between the government and KIA forces has spread into Shan state, where a separate ethnic army was already under attack by Burmese forces. The news organization said two KIA battalions have been engaged with Burmese forces since Tuesday evening in northern Shan state and that the fighting continued Wednesday.

Burmese officials have not made any statements regarding the clashes. It is almost impossible for outsiders to confirm reports about the fighting. The border areas are largely off limits to foreigners and journalists.

The Kachin Independence Army, like several other ethnic militias in Burma, signed a cease-fire agreement with the central government several years ago. But those agreements began to break down in 2009, when Burma demanded that the militia groups come under central authority and serve as part of a national border guard. That prompted some militias to resume fighting.

Major Losses on Japan’s Nikkei

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 5:50 am (UTC-5)
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Japanese markets closed lower Thursday, while the U.S. dollar is lower against the Japanese yen.

Tokyo's Nikkei index plunged nearly one and three-quarters percent to finish at 9,411.

In currency trading, the dollar was selling at 80.65, a loss of more than one-quarter of a yen from Wednesday.

Gold is trading at $1,524.80 an ounce.

EU, China Hold Annual Human Rights Dialogue

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 5:50 am (UTC-5)
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Diplomats from the European Union are holding annual talks with their Chinese counterparts in Beijing Thursday on China's human rights record.

The EU delegates are likely to bring up the government's recent crackdown on dissidents and activists, including artist Ai Weiwei and Liu Xia, the wife of jailed dissident and Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo. Authorities have refused to disclose the locations of some of the dissidents.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch is urging the EU to set “clear and public benchmarks” for China, including the release of individual political prisoners, and provide the whereabouts of people who have simply disappeared.

The group says a failure to do so by the EU will mean the regional bloc has “surrendered” to Beijing's efforts to ignore any public scrutiny and discussions about its human rights record.

Rights Group Reports New Rioting in Eastern China

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 5:30 am (UTC-5)
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A Hong Kong-based rights group says thousands of security forces have been deployed to put down unrest in China's eastern Zhejiang province, the latest in a series of recent disturbances across the country.

The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said Thursday that residents have been rioting since Tuesday in Taizhou City after a local village chief was beaten by staff at a gas station. It said the village chief had been trying to negotiate an increase in land compensation fees.

The center said thousands of residents converged on the site and moved boulders to block a nearby road. It said the villagers were already resentful over previous land seizures.

The center, which receives information from a network of people across China, said thousands of security personnel were sent to put down the disturbances, which continued Thursday. The Associated Press said it had confirmed the riots with the owner of a nearby garment factory.

Earlier this week, hundreds of riot police were deployed to restore order in Zengcheng city in southern Guangdong province after three days of rioting triggered by the alleged mistreatment of a pregnant migrant worker by security officials.

Hong Kong television showed a rampage late Sunday in which protesters overturned police cars and riot police fired tear gas at the demonstrators. The report said at least a dozen protesters were arrested.

Last week, rioting erupted in Guxiang township of southwestern Sichuan province after a migrant worker said to be seeking payment from a local factory for back wages came under attack by factory personnel.

Separately, thousands of people attacked government offices in the central city of Lichuan last week, following reports that a city councilor had been beaten to death by police.

In Inner Mongolia last month, thousands of locals mounted protests after a herder was killed by a truck driven by a Chinese coal mining employee. The driver was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

In late April, Chinese truck drivers shut down some Shanghai port facilities to protest new fees and rising fuel prices they said were eating away at their profits.

Greek PM to Form New Cabinet to Deal with Economic Crisis

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 5:25 am (UTC-5)
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Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou says he will form a new government Thursday to help push forward austerity measures tied to an international bailout.

Mr. Papandreou says he will then ask for a vote of confidence in parliament, after coalition talks with the opposition fell apart.

Mr. Papandreou made his announcement on television Wednesday following a day of violent protests against plans for more spending cuts and tax hikes required to secure an international bailout package.

Mr. Papandreou is getting support from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is rallying European governments to pull together to help Greece deal with its financial crisis.

Mr. Sarkozy said Thursday it is the duty of European Union members to do everything needed to safeguard the stability of the euro.

Mr. Papandreou said a consensus on his economic plans is needed for Greece to get the next vital installment of a $160-billion loan from the EU and International Monetary Fund.

But many in the opposition and some in his own Socialist Party oppose his package of billions of dollars in spending cuts along with higher taxes and selling off many state-owned assets.

Ordinary Greeks are also livid that they are being asked to make more sacrifices.

Wednesday’s protest in Athens’ Syntagma Square turned violent when riot police fired tear gas at thousands of demonstrators who threw stones and fire bombs. At least 40 people were injured. Some protesters tried to form a human chain around parliament to prevent debate on the austerity program. Police set up barricades to allow lawmakers to enter the building. At least 16 people were arrested.

Major labor unions also staged a general strike Wednesday, crippling Greece’s public transit, media and state-run hospitals.

Blast Kills 4 in Southern Afghanistan

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 5:00 am (UTC-5)
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(Updates 6/15 story with new info grafs 1-2))

A roadside bomb has killed four people in southern Afghanistan.

Provincial officials say the bomb detonated when a tractor ran over it in Maruf district, Kandahar province. The Associated Press reports the victims were three women and one man.

On Wednesday, suicide bombers killed at least 10 people in Afghanistan, while Afghan leaders escaped a rocket attack not far from the country's capital.

In the deadliest attack Wednesday, a car bomber killed seven people near government buildings and the provincial governor's office in Kapisa province. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

A separate suicide bombing killed at least three people at a government office in the Sayed Karam district of eastern Paktia province, which borders Pakistan.

And Afghan officials say the country's vice president and interior minister were unharmed after rockets hit a police training center they were visiting in Wardak province. No one was injured in the attack.

In southern Afghanistan, Afghan officials say troops killed 14 insurgents in Kandahar province. The governor's office said nine militants were killed after crossing the Pakistani border, while five were killed while trying to plant roadside bombs.

Asian Stocks Lower

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 4:35 am (UTC-5)
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Asian stock markets closed lower Thursday.

Tokyo's Nikkei index plunged nearly one and three-quarters percent to finish at 9,411.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index lost nearly one and three-quarters percent to finish the day's trading at 21,957.

Share prices were also lower in Manila, Shanghai, Sydney, Taipei and Wellington.

In currency trading, the dollar was selling at 80.63, a loss of more than one-quarter of a yen from Wednesday.

Al-Qaida Picks Zawahri as Bin Laden Successor

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 4:35 am (UTC-5)
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Al-Qaida says it has picked Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri to succeed Osama bin Laden as head of the terror network.

Al-Qaida posted the announcement on an Islamist website. The group vowed to immediately continue its pursuit of jihad, or holy war, against the United States and Israel and called them “apostate invaders.” Al-Qaida said it would continue its fight “until all the invading armies leave the land of Islam.”

Zawahri, a surgeon who turns 60 next week, had been bin Laden's long-time deputy. Terrorism experts often consider him to be al-Qaida's main strategist and operational organizer. Many analysts assumed he would take over al-Qaida's leadership after U.S. commandos raided bin Laden's Pakistani hideout last month and killed him.

Zawahri is believed to be operating from somewhere in the mountainous region near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. An American counter-terrorism official, John Brennan, said this week that the U.S. is hunting him.

Zawahri comes from an upper middle class family of doctors and scholars, but became involved in radical Islam as a teenager. While earning a medical degree, he helped form the Egyptian Islamic Jihad militant group.

After bin Laden was killed, Zawahri lauded the mastermind of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Zawahri said that bin Laden “went to his God as a martyr.”

Zawahri continued al-Qaida's steady condemnation of the West. He also has criticized Arab states al-Qaida considers to be godless and too closely allied with the U.S. He pledged allegiance to the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar, and described him as the “Emir of Believers.”

In a recording, he contended that NATO's aerial attacks on troops loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi are designed for a Western takeover of the country's oil wealth.

But he also praised his fellow Egyptians for overthrowing President Hosni Mubarak, and voiced support for the Syrian uprising against the authoritarian rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Hackers Claim CIA Website Breach

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 4:20 am (UTC-5)
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A group of hackers say they breached the Central Intelligence Agency's website after it went down on Wednesday evening.

The group, known as Lulz Security, claimed credit in a Twitter message that said “Tango down – cia.gov.”

The CIA's public website experienced problems throughout the evening on Wednesday.

Lulz Security only made claims that it attacked the CIA's website, and there was no evidence on Wednesday that sensitive data in the agency's internal computer network had been compromised.

A CIA spokeswoman said the agency was looking into the report.

Lulz Security has claimed responsibility for recent attacks on the websites of the U.S. Senate, Sony Corporation, Nintendo, and the Public Broadcasting System television network.

The group is believed to be comprised of members who live across the globe. It has suggested it is trying to highlight cyber security weaknesses.