Global Piracy Down As Somali Piracy Declines

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 8:55 am (UTC-5)
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A maritime group says piracy on the world's seas fell sharply in 2012, largely due to a dramatic decline off the coast of Somalia.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) says 297 ships were attacked worldwide last year, compared to 439 the year before.

In the region of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, the number of reported pirate attacks fell by two-thirds, from 237 to 75. Hijackings in the region were cut in half to 14.

The IMB says the number of people taken hostage by pirates fell from 802 to 585.

The group credits better security aboard ships and international navy patrols for the decrease in pirate incidents off Somalia.

But it says “the threat and capacity of heavily armed Somali pirates remains strong.” The group says that as of late December, Somali pirates still held nearly 130 hostages.

Somali pirates have made hundreds of millions of dollars over the last five years capturing ships and holding the vessels and crews for ransom.

The IMB is reporting a rise in piracy incidents in other regions of Africa. It says incidents in Nigeria rose from 10 in 2011 to 27 last year. It also reports upward trends in the Gulf of Guinea region of West Africa and off the Ivory Coast.

In a Wednesday statement, IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan says “crews must remain vigilant, particularly in highly dangerous waters off East and West Africa.”

Wave of Attacks in Iraq Kill 29

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 8:20 am (UTC-5)
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A wave of attacks in Baghdad and northern Iraq killed at least 29 people Wednesday, the deadliest violence to take place this year in a country increasingly divided along sectarian lines.

A suicide bomber killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 100 by detonating a vehicle packed with explosives outside the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Kirkuk. A separate bomb exploded nearby.

The northern city is at the center of a territorial dispute between Baghdad and the country's autonomous Kurdistan regional government. Another three people died in a separate bombing outside a rival Kurdish political party office in the town of Tuz Khurmato.

In Baghdad, at least three separate attacks left six people dead, while bombings in Baiji, Hawija and Tikrit killed three more and wounded seven others.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, which took place as hundreds of mourners gathered in the western city of Fallajah for the funeral of Sunni lawmaker Ifan Saadoun al-Essawi, who was killed Tuesday by a suicide bombing.

Al-Essawi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, was a key founder of a group of Sunni tribal militias who joined forces with the U.S. military to fight al-Qaida in 2006.

Two Dead in Suicide Attack on Afghan Intelligence HQ

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 7:30 am (UTC-5)
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Afghan officials say two security guards died as suicide bombers attacked the headquarters of the national intelligence service in Kabul.

Afghan police say a vehicle loaded with explosives blew up outside the gate of the National Directorate of Security around noon on Wednesday, causing a blast that sent a plume of smoke into the air. Five other attackers with explosives were shot and killed as they piled out of a second vehicle and tried to enter the compound.

Police said the second vehicle was also loaded with explosives, which they defused.

The intelligence headquarters is located near other government buildings in Kabul, including Afghanistan's interior ministry.

Officials say about 30 people were wounded in the blast, which sent glass and metal spewing from nearby shops.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message to news outlets.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai returned just days ago from a trip to Washington, where he held talks on Afghan security with U.S. President Barack Obama.

This was the second attack on the intelligence agency in two months. On December 6, a suicide bomber posing as a peace envoy blew himself up in an attempt to assassinate intelligence chief Asadullah Khalid. Khalid is still recovering from his injuries.

Attacks on Afghan authorities have been increasing in the lead-up to the withdrawal of international security forces from Afghanistan. The NATO peacekeeping force is set to hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces by 2014.

Militants Seize Hostages at Algerian Oil Site

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 6:55 am (UTC-5)
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Islamist militants in southern Algeria have attacked a facility run by British oil company BP, taking several hostages.

Diplomats and security officials say the militants seized at least six hostages early Wednesday, including Japanese, British and Norwegian nationals.

The officials say the Algerian army is launching an operation at the site.

BP says in a statement it is aware of a “security incident” at the In Amenas gas field, but could not confirm additional details.

Two Dead in London Helicopter Crash

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 6:45 am (UTC-5)
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British police report at least two people are dead after a commercial helicopter crashed into a roadway in south-central London, near a key rail station for incoming commuters.

Reports say the helicopter pilot was one of those killed.

Medical authorities say nine other people were injured. One of the injured was in critical condition.

Local news reports say the aircraft hit a crane atop a luxury apartment building under construction and then ricocheted into the street below, igniting a fireball that sent plumes of smoke into the sky. The crash left a trail of debris and flames burning down the street.

The crash happened near Vauxhall Station, one of the main junctions for rail traffic entering the city. It took place during the morning rush hour, virtually halting traffic. Service has been suspended at a nearby subway station.

Ambulances and police vehicles are on the scene, and authorities have promised an investigation.

The crash took place near the headquarters of Britain's MI6 intelligence agency, but police have said there is no evidence to suggest the crash was linked to terrorism.

Fire Brigade: Helicopter Crashes in Central London

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 6:00 am (UTC-5)
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British police report at least two people are dead after a helicopter crashed onto a roadway in south-central London, near a key rail station for incoming commuters.

Local news reports say the aircraft hit a crane atop an apartment building before hurtling to the ground, igniting a fireball that sent plumes of smoke into the sky. The helicopter is believed to have crashed into two cars. One of the dead is believed to have been the pilot on the helicopter.

Medical authorities say at least two other people were injured, one of them a man pulled from a burning car. The crash left a trail of debris and flames burning down the street.

The crash happened near Vauxhall Station, one of the main junctions for rail traffic entering the city. It took place during the morning rush hour, virtually halting traffic. Service has been suspended at a nearby subway station.

Ambulances and police vehicles are on the scene. Visibility is poor, because of fog and smoke from the fire.

Suicide Bombings Kill 19 in Northern Iraq

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 5:30 am (UTC-5)
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Suicide bombers have detonated cars packed with explosives in northern Iraq, killing at least 15 people in Kirkuk and four others in the town of Tuz Khurmatu.

In Kirkuk, officials say one of the blasts Wednesday struck outside the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. A separate bomb exploded nearby. More than 100 people were wounded in those attacks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, which come amid heightened ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iraq.

Also Wednesday, hundreds of mourners gathered for the funeral of influential Sunni lawmaker Ifan Saadoun al-Essawi, who was killed Tuesday by a suicide bombing in Iraq's western Anbar province.

Al-Essawi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, was one of the key founders of a group of Sunni tribal militias who joined forces with the U.S. military to fight al-Qaida in 2006.

Suicide Blast Reported at Afghan Intelligence Service HQ

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 5:25 am (UTC-5)
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Afghan officials say at least five suicide attackers have launched an attack on the headquarters of the national intelligence service in Kabul.

Witnesses say a vehicle loaded with explosives pulled up outside the gate of the National Directorate of Security and detonated, causing a sizable blast that sent a plume of smoke into the air. Other attackers approached on foot and were apprehended by security guards. A volley of gunshots was heard in the aftermath of the blast.

Officials say about 30 people were wounded in the blast, which sent glass and metal spewing from nearby shops.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

The blast comes just days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai returned from a trip to Washington, where he held talks on Afghan security with U.S. President Barack Obama.

UN Nuclear Experts in Iran for Talks

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 5:10 am (UTC-5)
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United Nations nuclear experts are in Tehran for meetings they hope will further their investigation into Iran's controversial nuclear program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency team is holding talks with Iranian officials Wednesday. They want to address what they have called “overall, credible” evidence of work by Iran on nuclear weapons research.

The leader of the U.N. team, Herman Nackaerts, said Tuesday the IAEA wants to “finalize a structured approach” for resolving outstanding issues regarding Iran's nuclear program. He also reiterated that U.N. investigators are ready to visit Iran's Parchin military site if the government allows.

Western nations suspect the Parchin facility, southwest of Tehran, is related to possible nuclear weapons development. Iran says it is a conventional military site and that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday that a religious decree issued by Iran's supreme leader banning nuclear weapons is binding on the Iranian government.

The IAEA visit comes as international diplomats are again setting the stage for separate negotiations with Tehran over curbs to its nuclear ambitions.

Iran and the so-called P5+1 contact group – the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany – are expected to try to open talks in the coming weeks after a seven-month hiatus.

The last time Iran's nuclear negotiators met with their foreign counterparts, in Moscow in June, the talks did not go well. Both sides wanted their maximum demands met, and they offered little in return.

Fire Brigade: Helicopter Crashes in Central London

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 4:50 am (UTC-5)
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British police report at least two people are dead after a helicopter crashed into a roadway in south-central London, near a key rail station for incoming commuters.

Local news reports say the aircraft hit a crane before hurtling to the ground, igniting a fireball that sent plumes of smoke into the sky. The helicopter is believed to have crashed into two cars.

The crash happened near Vauxhall Station, one of the main junctions for rail traffic entering the city. It happened during the morning rush hour, virtually halting traffic.

Ambulances and police vehicles are on the scene. Visibility is poor, due to fog and smoke from the fire.

Police have said there is no evidence to suggest the crash was linked to terrorism.

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