Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Alleged Ohio gunman rarely spoke about 'trouble' at home


By the CNN Wire Staff
February 29, 2012 -- Updated 0255 GMT (1055 HKT)
Students who witnessed Monday's school shooting told CNN that the suspect was student T.J. Lane.
Students who witnessed Monday's school shooting told CNN that the suspect was student T.J. Lane.
  • The motive behind the shooting remains unclear, police chief says
  • A newspaper reports that Lane's father was arrested for violent crimes
  • Witnesses say T.J. Lane shot 5 people, 3 fatally
  • "He never would go into detail. He just said he had family trouble," a friend says
(CNN) -- T.J. Lane didn't belong to any particular clique in the schools he attended, fellow students said. Those who knew him described him as quiet, someone who was guarded and rarely spoke about his tumultuous family life.
But they never would have thought that he'd be described as a killer -- until Monday, when students say they saw Lane walk up to a table in the cafeteria of Ohio's Chardon High School with a gun.
Police have not named the alleged gunman, a juvenile, but many witnesses have identified the attacker as Lane.
One victim died Monday. Two others were declared dead on Tuesday. One other remained hospitalized Tuesday. A fifth victim was released, officials said.
Lane made an initial juvenile court appearance Tuesday afternoon, during which he was ordered to remain in custody. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Tuesday that the suspect would likely be tried as an adult.
Psychologist looks at shooter's poem
Attorney: Shooting suspect 'remorseful'
Shooting suspect to remain in detention
Ohio student: 'We were at a loss'
Shooting suspect went to other school
Friend: Alleged gunman had sad look
Prosecutor David Joyce predicted that the 17-year-old sophomore will face three counts of aggravated murder "as well as other counts."
He said Lane has admitted taking a .22-caliber gun and a knife into Chardon High School on Monday morning and firing 10 rounds, choosing his victims randomly.
All Chardon schools closed Tuesday; counselors on hand
Teresa Hunt said her niece rode the school bus each day with Lane, and he displayed no warning signs of the violence allegedly to come.
"He was a really nice kid to her," Hunt said. "He wouldn't start up a conversation, but if she talked to him, he would hold the conversation with her.
She said her niece noted no personality changes in Lane in the weeks leading up to Monday's shooting.
Haley Kovacik, a friend who talked with Lane a few times a week, said the violence left her and others who knew him in "complete shock."
"He seemed like a very normal, just teenage boy," Kovacik said of Lane. "He did have a sad look in his eyes a lot of the time, but he talked normally, he never said anything strange."
Yet for all their talks, Kovacik noted there was a lot she didn't know about Lane.
Lane lived with his grandparents and was slow to open up about his personal life, according to friends. While he was known by many around Chardon High School, located 30 miles east of Cleveland, at the time of the shooting he was there to be transported to Lake Academy Alternative School in nearby Willoughby.
The school describes itself as a place for "at risk" students who are "reluctant learners" struggling with problems such as "substance abuse /chemical dependency, anger issues, mental health issues, truancy, delinquency, difficulties with attention/organization, and academic deficiencies."
Lane may have been dealing with his own family problems, according to reports by The Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland.
Lane's father, Thomas Lane Jr., has been arrested several times for violent crimes against female acquaintances, including Lane's mother, the newspaper reported citing court documents. Between 1995 and 1997, the first two years of Lane's life, his father and his mother were both arrested for domestic violence against each other, the paper reported.
His father also served prison time for assaulting a police officer and he also was charged with holding a different woman under running water and bashing her head into a wall, the newspaper reported.
It was unclear how much contact Lane had with his father. He rarely opened up about his family, some said.
"I've asked him once or twice, but he never would go into detail. He just said he had family trouble," Kovacik said
Evan Erasmus, who said his family knew Lane's family, was among several students who said what happened Monday took them totally by surprise.
"I was really shocked when I found out it was him," Erasmus said. "He was quiet, but was one of the nicest kids there. You could talk to him really easily. He was funny."
According to Kovacik, Lane told her that "he enjoyed hunting, he enjoyed video games, just normal things."
"Everybody was in disbelief. Nobody could believe that T.J. (shot the students)," Kovacik said.
Recent posts on Lane's Facebook page show him sharing links to music videos from groups like Grimes and Blood on the Dance Floor, listing his sister in his profile and uploading photos of himself.
Yet one long, poetic rant, from December 30, appears to be darker.
The post refers to "a quaint lonely town, (where there) sits a man with a frown (who) longed for only one thing, the world to bow at his feet."
"He was better than the rest, all those ones he detests, within their castles, so vain," he wrote.
Lane then writes about going through "the castle ... like an ominous breeze through the trees," past guards -- all leading up to the post's dramatic conclusion.
"Feel death, not just mocking you. Not just stalking you but inside of you," he writes. "Wriggle and writhe. Feel smaller beneath my might. Seizure in the Pestilence that is my scythe. Die, all of you."
After getting three positive reviews, Lane wrote: "much obliged to all who 'liked' this. Wrote it myself in class one day ..."
CNN's Martin Savidge and Lisa Sylvester contributed to this report.

'We need to get out of here!' 911 tapes of school shooting detail fear, uncertainty

By Lateef Mungin, CNN
February 29, 2012 -- Updated 1030 GMT (1830 HKT)
Ohio school shooting 911 tapes released
  • Three students died from the Monday attack in Chardon, Ohio
  • "They were laying on the ground in blood," a caller says
  • Suspect T.J. Lane has admitted to the shootings, prosecutor says
  • He is likely to be tried as an adult, a prosecutor says
(CNN) -- The high-pitched breathless appeal from a young girl to a 911 dispatcher poignantly captures the panicked uncertainty students felt as a teenager roamed Chardon High School, picking off students.
"We just had a shooting at our school. We need to get out of here! Oh my God!" the girl screams, her voice trembling.
The dispatcher asks the girl if she saw the shooter.
"No," the girl says beginning to cry. "No. I didn't. I just saw the gun."

The girl's sob-filled plea is among 911 tapes authorities released Tuesday as they continued their investigation into the shooting at the suburban Cleveland school that left three dead, two wounded and a close-knit Ohio community reeling.
Sophomore T.J. Lane has confessed to taking a .22-caliber gun and a knife to the school Monday morning and firing 10 rounds, said Geauga County Prosecutor David Joyce.
After a preliminary hearing Tuesday, Joyce told reporters the 17-year-old will most likely be tried as an adult.
"Absolutely," Joyce said. "It's a matter of law in the state of Ohio. At 17 years old, committing an act like this."
Joyce predicted Lane will be charged with three counts of aggravated murder "as well as other counts."
Lane will continue to be held in detention, and charges must be filed by Thursday, the judge at the hearing ordered.
Police have said the motive behind the shooting remains unclear, and Joyce added that the teen picked his victims indiscriminately.
"I guarantee that this was an aberration, this does not represent our community," he said. "He chose his victims at random. This is not about bullying. This is not about drugs. This is someone who is not well."
Lane told authorities he stole the gun from his uncle, a source told CNN on Tuesday.
Then, just before class started Monday, witnesses say Lane silently walked up to a table of students in the school cafeteria.

The 911 tapes detail the uneasy moments that followed as the school went on lockdown and police feverishly searched for the gunman.
In one call, a student who fled the school tells a dispatcher he saw the shooter.
"His name is Thomas Lane," the boy says, his calmness belying the situation. "He's somewhere in the building. As soon as I saw him pull the gun and start shooting, I ran outside because I didn't want to get in the way of it."
He tells a dispatcher that he saw a few students get sprayed by bullets.
"They were laying on the ground in blood," the boy says.
Another call follows, from someone hiding in a teacher's lounge. Alarmed voices buzz in the background.
"We just need somebody down here as fast as possible," the caller begs. "I want to go home. I want to go home so bad."
The voices in the room rise as the group realizes the door to the lounge won't lock.
"Everybody quiet down. He could be out there," the caller says, his voice dropping to a whisper.
By the time the carnage ended, the gunman had shot five people, three of them fatally: Daniel Parmertor, 16, who died Monday; Demetrius Hewlin, 16, who died Tuesday morning; and Russell King Jr., 17, who was declared brain dead early Tuesday.
Shooting suspect went to other school

Another student wounded in the shooting remained hospitalized Tuesday. A fifth victim was released, officials said.
Monday's death toll might have been higher had it not been for the actions of assistant football coach and study hall teacher Frank Hall. Students said Hall chased the gunman out of the school, and police arrested the suspect nearby a short time later.
"I wish I could have done more," Hall told CNN affiliate WEWS.
Classes in the tight-knit community of 5,100, about 30 miles east of Cleveland near Lake Erie, are to resume Friday. But staff, students and parents will be encouraged to return to district schools for visits and counseling on Wednesday and Thursday, Superintendent Joe Bergant said.
Geauga County Sheriff Daniel McClelland said the community has a long way to go before it can put the shooting behind it.
"Now we move to another important phase," he said. "And while the investigation continues and we still look for the why and what and who, we now deal with a community looking to heal."

Dates set for Egyptian presidential vote

From Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, CNN
February 29, 2012 -- Updated 1909 GMT (0309 HKT)
Egyptian presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh was carjacked and beaten by masked gunmen.
Egyptian presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh was carjacked and beaten by masked gunmen.
  • The election commission head announces the dates on national television
  • Under the announced schedule, the final outcome will be known June 21
  • The ruling military council has said it intends to hand over authority by the end of June
  • The newly elected parliament meets Saturday to choose a panel to draft a new constitution
Cairo (CNN) -- Egypt's first presidential election since the ouster last year of Hosni Mubarak will take place on May 23-24, with final results expected June 21, the head of the election commission announced Wednesday.
Under that schedule, the outcome would be announced 10 days before the ruling military council, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, has said it will hand over authority to an elected government.
Farouk Sultan, the election commission head, told a nationally televised news conference that candidates can register for the presidential election from March 10 until April 8, with three weeks of campaigning commencing on April 30.
Candidates must have 30,000 supporters from 15 cities in Egypt in order to qualify, Sultan said.
Egyptians living abroad will be able to vote from May 11 to May 17, and if a runoff is necessary, it would take place June 16-17, he said.
No formal international monitoring will occur, according to Sultan, who said the military and police will provide security and the commission will "ensure the transparency of the elections."
The electoral activity takes place a year after popular revolts erupted, eventually leading to Mubarak's downfall in February of 2011. The longtime dictator is on trial on charges of corruption and ordering the deaths of hundreds of protesters.
The military council has led Egypt's government since Mubarak's ouster. However, the transition has not been quick or transparent enough for some Egyptians.
A series of protests in Cairo last month resulted in violent and sometimes deadly clashes between demonstrators and soldiers.
In January, two Islamist parties won about 70% of the seats in the lower house of parliament in the first elections for an elected governing body in the post-Mubarak era.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party won 235 seats and the conservative Al Nour party gained 121 seats in the People's Assembly, according to final results.
The assembly consists of 498 elected members, and the rest were divided among other parties. Ten other members chosen by the country's military rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces include five people of the Coptic Christian faith, a minority group that has faced attacks and is fearful of Islamism.
Last week, the Muslim Brotherhood party also won a majority in the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council.
The full parliament is expected to meet Saturday to appoint a 100-member panel to write a new Egyptian constitution.
Some Egyptians already have said they plan to run for president, including Amre Moussa, a foreign minister under Mubarak who headed the Arab League until June 2011.
Last week, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood who announced his candidacy last year, was carjacked and beaten as he was returning from a conference, his campaign manager said.
He was hospitalized after the attack, according to Ali Behnasawy, the campaign manager.

China to construct world’s third largest mosque in Algeria English

The grand mosque will sit on 20 hectares (49 acres) of land in the Mohammadia area of the Algerian capital, with its minaret soaring 270 meters (almost 900 feet) into the sky. (File photo)
The grand mosque will sit on 20 hectares (49 acres) of land in the Mohammadia area of the Algerian capital, with its minaret soaring 270 meters (almost 900 feet) into the sky. (File photo)
Algeria signed a deal with a Chinese construction giant on Tuesday for the building of a vast new one billion euro mosque that is expected to be the third largest in the world.

Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdallah Ghlamallah declared that the grand mosque which will overlook the seafront in the east of Algiers would be a “one-of-a-kind”.

“There will be nothing like it in the world -- religiously, touristically and economically,” he said as the deal was signed with China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC).

The mega mosque will sit on 20 hectares (49 acres) of land in the Mohammadia area of the capital, with its minaret soaring 270 meters (almost 900 feet) into the sky.

The one billion euro ($1.3-billion) house of worship will be able to 120,000 people and will also feature a library containing one million works and seating for 2,000, as well as a museum and a research center.

It will be the world's third largest mosque after those in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika “wants to leave his mark” through the building of the mosque, which will also become the fourth grand mosque in Algiers, Ghlamallah added.

“Work will start today after the signing of the contract and should be completed in 42 months,” the minister said.

The Chinese company, which has been in Algeria for the past 30 years and built the five largest hotels in the country, beat out a Lebanese-Italian concern and an Algerian-Spanish company for the contract.

CSCEC was one of four Chinese companies that were disbarred in 2009 from bidding for World Bank financed projects for periods ranging from five to eight years after a corruption investigation in the Philippines, according to a World Bank statement.

In the case of CSCEC the World Bank recommended that the exclusion period run until 2015.

Algiers currently has three grand mosques: Djamaa el-Kebir, built in the 11th century; Djamaa el-Djedid, built in 1660; and the Ketchaoua, at the foot of the Casbah, also built during the Ottoman rule in the 17th century.

Zimbabwe man in court for Mugabe birthday joke English

Zimbabwe police regularly arrest people who joke about Mugabe, who has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1980. (File photo)
Zimbabwe police regularly arrest people who joke about Mugabe, who has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1980. (File photo)
A Zimbabwean man has appeared in court for joking in a bar about whether President Robert Mugabe was strong enough to blow up the balloons for his 88th birthday party last week, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Richmore Chazi was arrested while drinking with friends in a bar in Mutare while watching the live coverage of Mugabe’s birthday rally held in the eastern city on Saturday.

“Chazi is being charged for insulting and undermining the authority of the president and will come back to court on March 12 for routine remand,” his lawyer Blessing Nyamaropa told AFP.

He has been released on $20 bail when he appeared in court on Monday.

Zimbabwe police regularly arrest people who joke about Mugabe, who has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1980.

Al-Qaeda claims deadly attack on a Yemen presidential palace English

Families of the victims attend a funeral ceremony for Republican Guards killed in an al-Qaeda suicide car bomb attack. (Reuters)
Families of the victims attend a funeral ceremony for Republican Guards killed in an al-Qaeda suicide car bomb attack. (Reuters)
Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility on Wednesday for a suicide attack on a presidential palace in southeast Yemen that had killed 26 Republican Guards over the weekend, in a statement released on jihadist forums.

“The hero martyr Abu Muhjen al-Sayari attacked with his bomb-laden car Republican Guard troops inside the presidential palace in Mukalla, Hadramawt’s capital, killing nearly 30 officers and soldiers and wounding more than 50,” said the statement.

The attack was timed with “the last chapters of this farce of power transition in Yemen, by which the United States aims to steal the fruits of the revolt,” said the statement.
On Saturday a suicide bomber blew up a vehicle outside a presidential palace in the Hadramawt provincial capital Mukalla, overshadowing the swearing in ceremony of the first new president in Sana’a since 1978.

The attack came as Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi took the oath in the capital Sana’a to succeed strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The statement signed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) − al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen − said the operation was “a clear message to the U.S. ambassador” after alleged remarks he made “about restructuring the Yemeni army.”

“This is a message to say that the U.S. project in Yemen will not succeed and that our operations will target this project and its tools wherever they may be,” said the statement.

A Yemeni military official has said that Saturday’s attack bore the hallmark of Al-Qaeda and that the bomber “could be Mohammed al-Sayari,” a Saudi originally from Hadramawt.

The same source said that no high-ranking officials were in the palace when the bomber struck.

The palace is guarded by troops of the elite Republican Guard, who are under the command of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s son Ahmed.

In an address to the nation straight after being sworn in to succeed Saleh, Hadi vowed to press the fight against al-Qaeda and restore security across his impoverished nation.

“It is a patriotic and religious duty to continue the battle against al-Qaeda,” the new president said.

“If we don’t restore security, the only outcome will be chaos.”

Yemen is the ancestral homeland of slain jihadist leader Osama bin Laden.

Bibles found in Bin Laden compound prompt speculations of ‘jihad teachings’ English

Pakistani security officials have discovered two copies of the Bible at the compound where all-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed. (File photo)
Pakistani security officials have discovered two copies of the Bible at the compound where all-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed. (File photo)
Two Bibles were found at the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed, the Daily Mail reported on Wednesday, prompting speculation that the al-Qaeda leader had used the religious books for “teachings of jihad.”

Security officials discovered the Christian holy books when demolition crews were sent in to tear down the compound in Abbottabad this week, according to the newspaper.

The officials said that certain lines in the English language Bibles were highlighted and they contained pages that were folded over. Two radio sets were also found during a final sweep of the compound before demolition.
A commanding officer from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence told The Sun: “Maybe he was looking for teachings of jihad.”

“The Bibles were in English and we cannot be sure why they were there. These copies were found as we checked the rooms for the final time before demolishing the building.

“The radios are in working condition and will be given with the Bibles to the investigators. Some pages were folded and we will see later what was of most interest to bin Laden.” the officer added.

Pakistan security forces completed the demolition of bin Laden’s compound on Sunday, erasing a symbol of humiliation for Pakistan’s military that has marked one of the most difficult periods in U.S.-Pakistan ties.

The triple-story house, built over an area of 38,000 square feet, was under the control of the security forces and police since the May 2011 raid.

“The process of demolishing the compound on Saturday evening has been completed on Sunday night,” a senior security official said in Abbottabad earlier this week, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Bin Laden was killed in the house in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011 by U.S. commandos in a daring night raid that left the Pakistani military angry it had not been consulted. While much of the world cheered the death, Pakistan fumed over what it called a violation of its sovereignty.

The United States has said it kept the raid secret because it feared elements within Pakistan − possibly connected with its spy agency or military − could tip off bin Laden.

On Tuesday, reports that bin Laden had been in contact with members of Pakistan’s spy agency, according to secret emails published by Wikileaks, had been rebuffed by a Pakistani military spokesman.

An email, which was sent by an analyst at a global intelligence firm, Stratfor, suggested that up to 12 officials in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had known of the al-Qaeda leader’s hideout

But spokesman for the army, General Athar Abbas, said the allegations surrounding the ISI were baseless. “They are nonsense and not credible,” he told Al Arabiya in a telephone conversation.

(Written by Eman El-Shenawi)

Shambles: 'Syrian voters non-people for the West'

Uploaded by on Feb 28, 2012
Syria has successfully held a referendum on a constitution, but been hit with new sanctions by the EU anyway. Neil Clark, a journalist and contributor to Britain's Guardian newspaper talks to RT from London.

Friends of Syria: An expensive talking shop?

AL Jazeera English Inside Syria
With no concrete course of action agreed upon to stop the violence, Inside Syria asks just what the conference achieved.
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2012 10:29

The so-called 'Friends of Syria' met in Tunis on Friday where leaders from more than 70 countries discussed ways to stop the ongoing violence in Syria.
"I am pretty disappointed from the 'Friends of Syria'. I think the friends of the Assad regime are more effective. Russia, Hezbollah, the Iranians are providing him with all means to maintain his attack on civilian society."
- Walid Maalouf
Their focus remains a political solution - although there is a push for a civilian peacekeeping mission once the violence ends. Military intervention is an option that, for the time being at least, remains off the table.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar say that they want to provide weapons to the opposition, but other countries say they want a more peaceful resolution to the crisis.

The meeting failed to agree on any concrete course of action to end the violence, so what was achieved?

• The main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, was recognised as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people, seeking peaceful, democratic change. Nations will now work with the opposition to prepare for a post-Assad Syria, including possible lucrative commercial deals.

• The group discussed the reinforcement of economic and diplomatic sanctions and decided on steps nations should take to tighten the noose on the regime, including boycotting Syrian oil and imposing travel and financial sanctions on Assad and those closest to him.

• There was also an agreement to step up preparations to get humanitarian aid into cities like Homs. The group pledged to boost relief shipments and to set up supply depots along Syria's borders. But it is unclear how aid could be distributed without government approval.

• The appoint of Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, as the joint UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria was confirmed. The current UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, will start planning for the deployment of 'blue helmet' peacekeeping forces.
"The people on the ground [in Syria] would not like what happened [at the conference] at all. They wanted something tangible .... People are dying every day. What would such a conference do if it doesn't produce ... decisions that have teeth, that have some power to stop the killing?"
- Bassam Imadi
But despite the show of unity to end the violence, there were signs of divisions.

Some of the delegates - particularly Gulf states that have long-opposed Assad - pressed for an international peacekeeping force and favoured arming the rebels.

So, what can the Syrian opposition hope for?

Burhan Ghalioun, the leader of the Syrian National Council, explained the opposition's position: "We are not asking the world to undertake the revolution on our behalf, be it peacefully or militarily. This is our right and our duty. We in Syria fight our own battles. What we are asking is that they support us."

For its part, Syrian state television, which mirrors the world of its president, described the Tunis conference not as 'Friends of Syria' but as 'Friends of America'. They aired most of the conference live and saw it as a neo-imperialist attempt to divide the country.

So, was the conference just an expensive talking shop? And what can be expected when the 'Friends of Syria' meet again?

Joining Inside Syria to discuss this are: Bassam Imadi, a former Syrian ambassador to Sweden and a member of the foreign relations committee in the Syrian National Council; Walid Maalouf, who served as an alternate representative of the US to the General Assembly of the United Nations; and Ammar Waqqaf, a member of the Syrian Social Club, a London-based group that supports change in Syria under the supervision of the government.
Al Jazeera

Kofi Annan for unified action on Syria

AL Jazeera English Middle East
Joint UN-Arab League envoy wants single process of mediation as troops launch ground assault on city of Homs.
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2012 03:50

Kofi Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, has said the international community should unite behind his mission to speak with one powerful voice to end the country's bloody crisis.
"Let me say one thing, if we are going to succeed it is extremely important that we all accept there should be one process of mediation - the one that the UN and the Arab League have asked me to lead," Annan told reporters on Wednesday after meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York.
Annan, a former UN secretary-general, said he plans to go to Damascus "fairly soon" after leaving New York for Cairo. But he warned that President Bashar al-Assad might not agree to meet with him. Syria has said it needs more information on his mission's goals before it will let him in.

Asked what message he would take, Annan said: "The message is clear, which is the killing and violence must stop, humanitarian agencies must be given access to do their work. But it is regrettable that it is not happening."
"I would plead with him [Assad] that he should engage, not only with me but with the process we are launching."
The diplomatic move came as Syrian government troops started advancing on parts of Homs, the country's third largest city, after weeks of artillery bombardment.
The latest assault, which appeared to have started overnight after power was cut to most of the area, saw troops clashing with fighters when they tried to enter the opposition stronghold of Bab Amr.
Opposition activists said heavy fighting erupted at the al-Bassel football field on the outskirts of Bab Amr.
There were reports that elite troops of the Fourth Armoured Division, commanded by President Bashar al-Assad's brother Maher, had deployed with tanks around Bab Amr.
The activists also said Syrian soldiers abandoned checkpoints in the northern part of Homs, in the neighbourhoods of Al-Khaldia and Bayada.
Heavy shelling
The troops then started a heavy shelling campaign, the activists said, adding that there was sporadic shelling of other opposition areas in and around Homs.

Activist Hadi Abdullah speaks on the situation in Homs
"Homs is now and today experiencing the worst crackdown from al-Assad batallions and Assad regimes and every district and residential area in Homs is being surrounded," Hadi Abdullah, an activist in Homs, told Al Jazeera.
Soldiers are reportedly also searching houses and other buildings for army deserters who have since joined the opposition Free Syria Army.
"It is obvious that they are launching a major offensive against the strongholds of the Free Syrian Army," said Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from neighbouring Lebanon.
"President Assad and the government have made it clear, he has said that he wants this to be a decisive month. They believe that in this month they can contain the opposition, they can crush the armed opposition and that's what they are trying to do."
China backs aid
Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign minister said his country would back international efforts to send humanitarian aid to Syria, after Western powers proposed a UN Security Council resolution authorising humanitarian aid.
The US has drafted an outline for the resolution, which demands access for humanitarian aid workers to besieged towns and an end to the violence there.
"The pressing task now is for all sides to cease violence in the Syrian conflict, and to launch as soon as possible inclusive political dialogue and together deliberate on a reform plan," Yang Jiechi told Nabil Elaraby, the head of the Arab League, during a phone call late on Tuesday.
Yang was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying: "The international community should create conditions for this, and extend humanitarian aid to Syria."
It was not clear whether Yang's remarks meant China would consider the proposed Security Council resolution.
China has been widely condemned for its handling of the Syria crisis. Elaraby has previously said China lost diplomatic capital in the Arab world after it joined Russia in vetoing two previous Security Council resolutions.
In a related development, Venezuela has said it is ready to send more fuel to Syria if requested, after confirming that two shipments of diesel were sent last year.
"They asked us on two occasions for diesel shipments and on two occasions, we provided them. They each contained 300,000 barrels," Rafael Ramirez, the Venezuelan oil minister, told journalists on Wednesday.
"If they ask us again, we'll give them more," Ramirez said. "We have a wide range of agreements with Syria," he said, adding that Syria was "a country harassed by imperialism."
'Aggressive act'
Jihad Makdisi, a spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry, said on Wednesday that calls for arming the country's opposition constituted an aggressive act against his country.
"Any party that issues such declarations will carry the political responsibility for the bloodshed of Syrians," he said.
Makdisi said that a call from Qatar for arming Syria's opposition was nothing new, adding that "arming the opposition will harm any legitimate demands of the people - to which," he claimed, his government "is willing to respond".
The White House, for its part, said al-Qaeda's efforts to take advantage of the violence in Syria meant it was not the time to begin sending arms to opponents of Assad.
"Now is not the time to further militarise the situation in Syria," Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said. He said applying political pressure on Assad to leave office and to cease the military crackdown on dissidents was a better option than sending in weapons.
Al Jazeera and agencies

In search of the 'Islamic menace' in Bolivia

AL Jazeera English In depth

Belen Fernandez
Belen Fernandez
Belen Fernandez is a journalist, author, and co-editor at
One US congresswoman is convinced that the Iranian government is a danger to Latin American countries such as Bolivia.
Last Modified: 29 Feb 2012 13:59
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen co-starred in a misleading Univision documentary on Iran, writes Belen Fernandez [EPA]
La Paz, Bolivia - Were I transcribing the wet dream of US Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen - self-appointed bulwark against the alleged Islamo-Bolivarian threat to homeland security - I might describe my arrival to La Paz two weeks ago as follows:
Descending from the city of El Alto into the Bolivian capital, my bus was stopped by a battalion of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

All passengers were required to pledge simultaneous allegiance to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Adolf Hitler, and Evo Morales. Once the Iranians had verified that there were no Jewish businesspeople on board available for kidnapping, the vehicle was allowed to pass.

Our progress was once again interrupted, however, by a parade of Iranian diplomats, whose infestation of Bolivia began when the Islamic Republic made the alarming decision to open embassies in Latin America - something no other country in the world has done. Augmenting the infestation are the more than two dozen Iranian diplomatic offspring who have reportedly been enrolled in the international school in La Paz.

I finally checked into a hostel in the city centre and turned on the television to find that the only available channel was HispanTV, Iran's new Spanish-language extremist propaganda disseminator.

I turned off the TV, sat back, and waited for the bomb to explode.
The possibility of a bomb in La Paz was raised in December 2011 by Ros-Lehtinen, co-star of a non-factual documentary entitled "La amenaza iraní" ("The Iranian Threat"), in which she insinuates that the US should attack Iran in order to avert bomb explosions in various Latin American capitals. The film was released by Univision, the prominent US broadcast network, which is owned by someone who hosts galas in honour of the Israeli military.

The Iranians meanwhile acquired a new rival in the realm of multilingual extremist propaganda dissemination earlier this month when - as Charles Davis has wryly noted - the Spanish-language Univision re-released its film in English.

Quds Force in disguise

When, after several days in La Paz, Iranian penetration into the Western hemisphere was still not glaringly apparent, I set out for the epicentre of penetrating operations: the embassy of Iran, said to be guarded by the elite Quds Force.

Unable to find the address on the internet, I walked to the office of the Shia Bolivian Islamic Cultural Foundation on Landaeta Street. It was closed for Carnival, however, and I had to extricate myself from the grasp of missionaries in an adjacent office belonging to another entity to which Latin America has shown itself increasingly penetrable: the nutrition and weight-management cult Herbalife.

In the end, I found the embassy thanks to a meeting with a former Bolivian official, during which he happened to mention Evo Morales' hypocritical authorisation of GMOs in Bolivia after having disapproved of Iranian GMO projects. I took advantage of the opportunity to enquire after the coordinates of Tehran's mother ship in La Paz; he directed me to the website of the Bolivian Foreign Ministry, which did indeed contain an address - albeit an incorrect one.

My visit to the embassy, located in a house with a yard, revealed that the Quds Force had succeeded in disguising itself as a single Bolivian policeman.

The Bolivian receptionist meanwhile informed me that she was not authorised to divulge the address of the Iranian Red Crescent Society Hospital in the neighbouring city of El Alto, where it was rumoured that female employees were forced to wear the hijab.

A Shia state within a state

I returned to the Bolivian Islamic Cultural Foundation, which was now open. There, a Bolivian convert to Islam, who introduced himself as both "Sergio Grover" and "Grover Musa", told me how his dream of travelling to Iran on a religious scholarship had been thwarted by none other than the Univision documentary. According to Grover, there had been a moratorium on such scholarships, following the collaboration with Univision by former Mexican scholar-spies.

A theory put forth several years ago by Ely Karmon of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, according to which Shia ideology might resonate among impoverished sectors of Latin American society, seemed to find confirmation in Grover's contention that poor inhabitants of El Alto were responsive to the foundation's discourse.

Though the community currently consists of only approximately 50 members, Grover reckoned that, once membership swells to 3,000, the community might pose a challenge to the modus operandi of the state. For example, he explained, Muslim Bolivian policemen would exhibit superior conscientiousness than regular Bolivian policemen - whose recent achievements include repressing a protest of disabled people.

As for the Iranian hospital, Grover claimed that the hijab had only been required for the inauguration ceremony in 2009, and added that there was a substantial discount for Muslim patients - a slightly subtler approach to conquest, perhaps, than others historically employed on the American continent, such as decimating indigenous populations via infectious disease.

The hijab hospital

The next day, I took the bus to El Alto and found the hospital, a mere several streets away from where Grover had said it was. There were no hijabs in sight.

The hospital's CEO and general manager, both Iranian, agreed to speak with me after being initially unimpressed that I had failed to bring any form of identification. Over tea and then lunch, they reviewed the institution's numerous amenities and other contributions to global health by the Iranian Red Crescent Society.

The men claimed that the hospital employees, who were all Bolivian aside from two of them and their wives, were entirely free to pursue their own religious and political beliefs, provided they did not drink alcohol at work. They added that the obligation of the Red Crescent Society was to treat all kinds of people, including enemies of Ahmadinejad.

The general manager declared: "Our concern is lessening the pains of human beings."

Terror breeding-ground

Less benign motives behind Iranian healthcare initiatives in Latin America were detected in a 2009 Jerusalem Post article entitled "The 'other' America: A perfect terror breeding-ground", in which the author invokes the post-World War II flight to Bolivia by various Nazis as evidence that "[d]isenfranchised and marginalised regions are prime targets for fundamentalists and fanatics of all kinds".
"[Ros-Lehtinen] could always convert her illogic into the following catchy war slogan: 'Let's destroy peace before Iran does'."
He also curiously mentions Bolivian "dictatorships aided by high-ranking Nazi officials" but manages not to specify that the Nazi official in question is presumably Klaus Barbie - war criminal, torturer extraordinaire, and former head of the Gestapo office in Lyons - whose escape to Bolivia was facilitated by none other than the non-"other" America, ie the United States.

In Bolivia Barbie's talents were put to use in coordinating events like the so-called "cocaine coup" of 1980, which installed the murderous narco-military regime of Luis Garcia Meza Tejada.

Contemporary peddlers of the notion of a Latin America-based Iranian threat, however, prefer to excise such facts from history - as well as the fact that it was not Iranian-backed overthrows of governments in places like Panama and, more recently, Honduras that intensified said countries' respective roles in the international drug trade. Instead, we learn from these experts that the geographic proximity of West Africa to Venezuela facilitates Islamic drug trafficking.

As for Ros-Lehtinen's logic - according to which bombs on Iran will deter bombs in La Paz - it has yet to be explained why Iran would suddenly bomb its own alleged satellite, especially when the ostensible aim of Iranian penetration of Latin America is to threaten the US, not Bolivia.

At any rate, in the event that Ros-Lehtinen wants to have a little fun and exploit the coincidence that la paz means "peace" in Spanish, she could always convert her illogic into the following catchy war slogan: "Let's destroy peace before Iran does".

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in November 2011. She is an editor at PULSE Media, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blog, CounterPunch, Guernica Magazine, and many other publications.
Follow her on Twitter: @MariaBelen_Fdez
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
Al Jazeera

Keep the Internet Awesome

Google D.C. Talks: Democracy Online - Can the Internet Bring Change?

Iranian candidates in final pitch for votes

AL Jazeera English Middle East
Parliamentary candidates conclude campaigns ahead of Friday vote expected to offer clues to country's political future.
Last Modified: 29 Feb 2012 20:25
Candidates for Iran’s parliamentary election are wrapping up their week-long campaigning before the March 2 vote.
The election on Friday for the 290-seat Islamic Consultative Assembly is the first since the disputed presidential poll in 2009, which ignited eight months of protest against both President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory and the government.
The state carried out deadly crackdowns on the opposition demonstrations, many of whose leaders remain under de-facto house arrest.
With the virtual absence of the reformist coalition from the race, analysts believe the election has turned into a contest between factions within the increasingly divided conservatives.
“The elections are significant because they are a test for the government, that is to say, the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] and Ahmadinejad, to see whether they have the backing of the majority of the Iranian people after the troubles and crackdown that happened two-and-a-half years ago,” Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science in Tehran University, told Al Jazeera.
“It is actually a bitter contest between Ahmadinejad on the one hand, and the more conservative hardliners - the principlists.”
In numbers
  Population: 75m
Eligible voters: 48m
Minimum voting age: 18 years
Number of seats: 290 seats
Number of candidates: 3,444, after 36% were disqualified
Number of voting stations: 47,000
Election day: March 2
Official turnout in 2008: 61%
Voter turnout will be closely watched, as it is considered an important indicator of how much of the country backs the conservatives, who dominated the outgoing assembly.
“In a sense it is also important for the opposition because a huge turnout would mean the people are not really supporting the opposition, namely the reformists,” Zibakalam said.
A high turnout could also provide a boost for a government under tremendous pressure, both domestically and internationally. Unemployment remains high, and international sanctions over the country’s nuclear programme has further increased economic pressure.
In the lead up to the vote, Khamenei has repeatedly stressed the importance of a high turnout to counter conspiracies from the "enemy", a term usually reserved for the US and Israel, but expanded in its scope recently.
"The enemy's propaganda machines and the media of arrogant circles have begun an extensive effort so that the assembly election is without splendour," the 72-year-old said.
"But all should know that the people's participation in the elections will take the country forward … an election full of excitement will be a major blow to the enemy.”
The vote is also considered an important gauge for Ahmadinejad’s supporters before the country's next presidential elections.
While the president cannot run for a third conservative term, how his circle fares in the elections will offer a clue as to whether one of his allies could claim the office in the next vote and possibly leave a door open for Ahmadinejad to return for a third term after a gap.
“If Ahmadinejad supporters can win a substantial number of seats in this election it would mean it would be very difficult for the Supreme Leader to say that this is the end of Ahmadinejad,” Zibakalam said.
"If they do get a large number of seats, then someone within Ahmadinejad’s camp would be running for [the presidential] elections in two years time."
Al Jazeera and agencies

Monday, February 27, 2012

Plot to kill PM Vladimir Putin foiled, pro-government TV channel reports

Russia's security services say they averted a plot by Chechen separatists to assassinate Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The alleged conspiracy comes just a week before presidential elections and has brought criticism from Putin's opponents who suggest the timing of the announcement is suspicious. ITN's Lindsey Hilsum reports.
Updated at 9:25 a.m. ET: MOSCOW -- Security forces have uncovered a plot to assassinate Russia's Vladimir Putin and have arrested suspects linked to a Chechen rebel leader known for other terror attacks, Russian state television reported Monday.
Pro-government Channel One said that the suspects were plotting to kill Putin in Moscow immediately after the March 4 presidential election, in which he is all but certain to reclaim the presidency.
The report, which included televised confessions by two suspects, is likely to boost support for Putin as he seeks his third term as president in an election Sunday.
Channel One said the suspects were acting on instructions from Chechen warlord Doku Umarov and had been arrested in Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odessa after an accidental explosion Jan. 4 while they were trying to manufacture explosives at a rented apartment.

Amanda Walker, Moscow correspondent for Britain's Sky News, pointed out that Channel One was a "staunch Putin supporter."

The Ukrainian Security Service said earlier this month it had detained a man sought by Russian authorities on charges of terrorism and two of his accomplices in Odessa on Feb. 4, but said nothing at the time about them being linked to an anti-Putin plot.
Its spokeswoman, Marina Ostapenko, said Monday the announcement in Moscow came only now because the Russian special service was conducting its own investigation. She confirmed the main suspect was involved in a plot to kill Putin, but didn't elaborate.
There was no immediate explanation for the different number of suspects cited by Russia and Ukraine.
An undated photograph taken from a Russian television report shows Ilya Pyanzin, who reportedly was conspiring to kill Vladimir Putin.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the report to the ITAR-Tass news agency, but refused to make any further comment.
A laidback Yankee in trouble in Putin's court
Channel One said two of the alleged members of the group arrived in Ukraine from the United Arab Emirates via Turkey with instructions from Umarov, the top military leader for the Chechen rebels. One of them, a Chechen, was killed during the accidental explosion in Odessa and another one, Kazakhstan citizen Ilya Pyanzin, was wounded in the blast and arrested.
Pyanzin led the investigators to their contact in Odessa, Adam Osmayev, a Chechen who previously had lived in London and had been sought by Russia since 2007, the report said. The TV station showed footage of Osmayev's arrest in Odessa with black-clad special troops bursting in and a half-naked, bloodied Osmayev on his knees, his head bowed down.
Speaking to Channel One from custody in Ukraine, Osmayev described the group's mission: "Our goal was to go to Moscow and try to kill Prime Minister Putin ... Our deadline was after the Russian presidential election."
Both of Osmayev's hands were bandaged, and his face was covered in green dots from an antiseptic used to treat his cuts.
Russians rally for Putin -- and 2 days off work
Russian and Ukrainian special services wouldn't comment on the report.
The report is likely to boost support for Putin as he seeks his third term as president in an election Sunday.
But some Russians reacted to the news with skepticism, making clear on social network sites that they did not believe the report or suggesting the timing of the announcement was intended to attract sympathy for Putin before the election.
Opinion polls show Putin, a former KGB officer who crushed separatists during a war he launched in the Chechnya region in the North Caucasus before he became president, will easily win the election and reclaim the post he held from 2000 until 2008.
But he faces a growing opposition protest movement and wants to secure outright victory on Sunday, averting a runoff that might dent his authority.
More from and NBC News:
The Associated Press, Reuters and staff contributed to this report.