Saturday, March 04, 2006

UK, US to withdraw Iraq forces by early '07: papers�|�

"LONDON (Reuters) - The United States and Britain are planning to pull all their troops out of Iraq by the spring of 2007, two British newspapers reported in their Sunday editions, quoting unnamed senior defense ministry sources.

The Sunday Telegraph said the planned pull-out followed an acceptance by the two governments that the presence of foreign troops in Iraq was now a large obstacle to securing peace.

'The British government is understood to be the driving force behind the withdrawal plan but all 24 coalition members are likely to welcome the move, given the growing international unpopularity of the war,' the Telegraph said."....

The recent sectarian violence has provoked fears that the country is on the brink of civil war, a scenario that could greatly complicate the role of foreign troops.
However, the Telegraph, quoting a defense official, said that if civil war were to break out, it would likely cause the withdrawal plan to be put off.

Alleged French kidnap gang leader extradited to Paris

Alleged French kidnap gang leader extradited to Paris: "The suspected gang leader wanted for the kidnap, torture and murder of a young man in Paris was headed back to France after being handed over by Ivory Coast authorities, three weeks after fleeing to his parents' homeland.

Youssouf Fofana, 25, was delivered into French custody for extradition after failing to convince an Abidjan court that he had Ivorian citizenship through his parents.

Dozens of policemen, accompanied by Ivorian Justice Minister Mamadou Kone and French diplomats, escorted the handcuffed suspect onto the tarmac at Abidjan airport, where two officers took him aboard a French military plane.

'Our political leadership wanted the extradition to take place as quickly as possible', Kone said."...

Fofana fled France for the west African state on February 15, two days after Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old cellphone vendor, was found dying near a suburban railway track.
Fofana, a convicted petty criminal, has reportedly confessed to kidnapping Halimi but not to his murder, and has denied that the crime was motivated by anti-Semitism.
The victim, who was Jewish, was naked, bound and gagged, and had managed to crawl to the railtracks in Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois after being dumped nearby. He died en route to the hospital.

Halimi's horrific death -- following three weeks of captivity and drawn-out torture that left marks over four-fifths of his body -- shocked the French with its brutality and unsettled the Jewish community, which staged a massive march against hate crimes last weekend.

After initial reluctance, French authorities have said they believe anti-Semitism was part of the gang's motives.

A massive manhunt for Fofana led to a swoop in Abidjan, where he was arrested in a working-class neighborhood on February 22.

Fofana's gang apparently used young women as bait to lure their victims, and are suspected of being behind two other extortion rackets that involved threatening doctors, businessmen and minor celebrities.

During police questioning the allegedly self-styled "brain of the barbarians" is reported to have said the gang had targeted Halimi because they presumed Jews were wealthy....

So far 21 people, including the young woman believed to have served as Halimi's bait, are under judicial investigation, and most have been ordered held before any charges are filed.

Meanwhile, a lawyer hired by Fofana's mother to oversee his defense said Saturday he was refusing the case.

"I don't want to have anything to do with this affair anymore," Norbert Goutmann said in a statement to AFP.

He said he had been "shaken" by the multitude of phone calls he had received about Fofana's involvement in Halimi's murder, "including some that were very aggressive".
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Algerian jail releases Islamist prisoners

Algerian jail releases Islamist prisoners: "Scores of Algerian prisoners held over terrorist offences in an armed Islamist insurgency were released, walking out of the capital's central prison to be welcomed by their families.

The detainees, watched by an AFP correspondent, left the Serkadji jail in Algiers in groups of five to seven men at a time, beneficiaries of an amnesty the government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika introduced last month.

Many were greeted by relatives who had gathered outside the prison since the early hours of the morning, following an announcement last Wednesday of a plan to release 2,000 people."...

Survey questions politicians on Jesus

Survey questions politicians on Jesus: "Jeff Sharp, county attorney for Barren County, and a church youth group are surveying all Kentucky legislators and legislative candidates with a single question: 'Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?'

Fifteen have replied so far -- all answering yes -- but Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, filed a resolution yesterday asking her House colleagues to disregard the survey and all 'theocratic tendencies.' "

Stein, who is Jewish, called the survey an "intimidating, bullying letter."

"This is doing what the constitution prohibits, and that is offering a religious test for public officials," she said. "That's the long and short of it."

Sharp disagreed.

"Anybody can vote for whoever they want to," he said. "You can't restrict us from participating."

He said he was "shocked that all this is going on over a simple little survey...

The U.S. Constitution says, "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust." ...

[bth: This looks like the year of campaign religious litmus tests and other stupid pet tricks. If we don't fight for our constitutional rights there will always be those willing to take them away.]

Gonzales Denies More Extensive Domestic Spying

"Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told a key House Democrat yesterday that the administration is not conducting any warrantless domestic surveillance programs beyond the one that President Bush has acknowledged, the Democrat said in an interview."...

[bth: trust but verify. Why would Frist be trying to block hearings if this were the end of the story?l

Auto-parts makers caught in a vise

Auto-parts makers caught in a vise - Automotive - "U.S. auto parts maker Dana Corp.'s decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Friday is going to throw sand in the gears of the already ailing U.S. auto industry.

Hit by higher costs and a slowdown in trucks sales at its two biggest customers, Ford and General Motors, Dana has been unable to stop bleeding red ink. Now, the financial meltdown of one of the world's biggest suppliers will likely drive parts prices higher, putting further pressure on Ford and GM."..

[bth: I suspect GM and Ford will pull a Chapter 11 around August-September so as to maximize their leverage over Congress going into the November elections.]

A Bloody Week

Hamilton Spectator - News: "It's been a bloody baptism for 2,300 Canadian troops now based in southeastern Afghanistan, but that should come as a surprise to no one.
What's more, say a trio of Canadian military analysts who spoke to the Toronto Star yesterday, even rockier times are probably lurking just ahead.

'We are at our best at the moment,' said Wesley Wark, a military analyst at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies. 'But we haven't faced the worst.

This is going to be very difficult.'

One Canadian soldier was killed this week and 11 others injured in two separate incidents, both of which occurred outside the city of Kandahar in a turbulent region of south-eastern Afghanistan not far from the border with Pakistan."...

"Kandahar is clearly the most difficult part of the country," said Wark. "Canadian forces will have to do significant combat missions."

Reports from Kandahar yesterday indicated that the bomber who crashed into the Canadian military vehicle was wearing a vest identifying him as a supporter of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outlawed Pakistani terrorist group, suggesting that Canadian troops must prepare not only for local attacks but for cross-border raids launched from Pakistani territory.

"All the signs are that Pakistan is, in fact, where the attacks are coming from," said Wark. "The Pakistanis have trouble controlling that border."

[bth: I hope the Canadians are up to the task. This area had significant US casualties last year and this year it looks like a new offensive from Pakistan is about to occur.]

Iraq Chief Confident of Continued U.S. Aid - Yahoo! News

Iraq Chief Confident of Continued U.S. Aid - Yahoo! News: "BAGHDAD, Iraq - President Jalal Talabani on Saturday underscored the need for a unity government in Iraq after a spasm of sectarian killing and said he had been assured U.S. forces would remain in the country as long as needed - 'no matter what the period.' "

His comments came after a bomb exploded at a minibus terminal during morning rush hour in a southeastern Baghdad suburb, killing seven people and wounding 25, one of a string of explosions in the capital and elsewhere.

The violence shattered the relative calm brought by Fridays' driving ban in Baghdad and its outskirts, which helped avert major attacks on the day Muslims congregate for the most important prayer service of the week.

Talabani spoke to reporters after meeting with Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command.

Abizaid said he was "very, very pleased with the reaction of the Iraqi armed forces" during the crisis unleashed by the Feb. 22 bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra and reprisal attacks against Sunni Muslims that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

"We should understand that the terrorists are trying to create problems among the Iraqi people that can lead to difficulties between various groups," he said after a separate meeting with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. "We should not fall into their trap. We are stronger than they are. We will ultimately prevail."...
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Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald: Bill Frist threatens to re-structure the Intelligence Committee in order to block NSA hearings

"The Senate Intelligence Committee was created in 1976 and, from the beginning, it has been unique in its structure and operation. Due to the urgency of ensuring that our country has nonpartisan and non-politicized oversight over the Government's intelligence activities, the Intelligence Committee is structured so that -- unlike every other Senate Committee -- the majority is unable to dominate the Committee's operation and agenda, and the minority has much greater powers than it does on any other Senate Committee.

With the March 7 vote looming on Sen. Rockefeller�s motion for the Committee to finally hold hearings to investigate the scope and nature of the Administration�s NSA warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens -- and with several Committee Republicans indicating their intent to vote for hearings -- Majority Leader Bill Frist threatened the Committee yesterday and warned it not to hold any hearings.

Frist specifically threatened that if the Committee holds NSA hearings, he will fundamentally change the 30-year-old structure and operation of the Senate Intelligence Committee so as to make it like every other Committee, i.e., controlled and dominated by Republicans to advance and rubber-stamp the White House's agenda rather than exercise meaningful and nonpartisan oversight."....

[bth: this is very disturbing at two levels; first Frist threatens to delete effective congressional oversight of the executive branch on matters related to the NSA; second, the major media houses haven't figured that out and it comes down to blogging first amendment lawyers to point out the maneuver. So much for the fourth estate protecting our first amendment.]

Lethal "flying gunships" returning to Iraq - Conflict in Iraq

"AN AIR BASE IN IRAQ - The U.S. Air Force has begun moving heavily armed AC-130 airplanes -the lethal -flying gunships-of the Vietnam War -to a base in Iraq as commanders search for new tools to counter the Iraqi resistance, The Associated Press has learned.

An AP reporter saw the first of the turboprop-driven aircraft after it landed at the airfield this week. Four are expected.
The Iraq-based special forces command controlling the AC-130s, the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, said it would have no comment on the deployment. But the plan's general outline was confirmed by other Air Force officers, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject."...

Hearing Set on Agencies' Withdrawal of Papers From Archives

Hearing Set on Agencies' Withdrawal of Papers From Archives: "A congressional committee will look into a secret program under which federal intelligence agencies have withdrawn thousands of historical documents from public access at the National Archives, even though the records had been declassified.

'We are spending literally millions and millions of dollars to keep secrets from ourselves,' said Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), chairman of the Government Reform subcommittee on national security, emerging threats and international relations. 'We've got a huge problem.'"...

About 9,500 records totaling more than 55,000 pages have been withdrawn from the public shelves and reclassified since 1999, according to the National Archives. The New York Times reported last month that outside historians discovered the practice and complained about it. Archivist Allen Weinstein announced a moratorium on the reclassification efforts Thursday.

While the archives will not name the agencies involved, historians with the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research library housed at George Washington University, say the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Defense Department and the Justice Department have participated.

Many of the records date to the 1940s and 1950s and their continued disclosure would pose no conceivable security risk, said historians who obtained copies of the records before reclassification. Such documents include old Cold War intelligence analyses and studies of political affairs in Mexico in the 1960s. Other documents appear to be the sort that should not have been declassified, historians say....

Some documents appear to have been withdrawn for no reason other than to spare official embarrassment, historians said. One document -- excerpts of an Oct. 12, 1950, memo from the CIA director to President Harry S. Truman -- says that while Chinese intervention in the Korea War was possible, "a consideration of all known factors leads to the conclusion that barring a Soviet decision for global war, such action is not probable in 1950." The Chinese invaded Korea on Nov. 26.

Independent historian Matthew M. Aid uncovered the reclassification program last summer when his requests for documents formerly available at the archives were delayed or denied.

"This isn't the first instance I've run into where intelligence agencies and the Pentagon and other government agencies have used classification to cover up faux pas," said Aid, author of a book on Cold War intelligence. "It just galled me."

Weinstein is scheduled to meet next week with national security agencies involved in the reclassification. The matter also is being studied by the Public Interest Declassification Board, a new, nine-member advisory panel that helps the executive branch sort out which classified documents should be made public.

Weinstein said the process has to be credible to the public. "Stuff has to be held back when it's important to hold it back, when you can make a legitimate legal case for not releasing it, not when you are going on impulse or gut reaction or just because you don't like something in some document," he said.
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Friday, March 03, 2006

UAE buys British firm that runs U.S. military facilities

The Bush administration has informed Congress of a review of the UAE acquisition of a British manufacturer of engine components for U.S. military aircraft and main battle tanks. The British firm operates nine factories, including military production facilities in Connecticut and Georgia.

Officials said Dubai International Capital has acquired the London-based Doncasters Group for $1.2 billion. Doncasters produces engine components and turbine blades for military platforms, and its clients include Boeing, General Electric, Honeywell and Pratt and Whitney, Middle East Newsline reported....

Yale University: Taliban Yes; US Military No

...."'Yale University enrolls the Taliban's former spokesman as a student, but continues to prohibit other students from organizing a Reserve Officer Training Corps chapter on campus and also seeks to deny students the right to hear from military recruiters about employment opportunities,' say members of the student group Young America's Foundation.

Under the guise of alleged sex discrimination as a result of the military's so-called 'don't ask, don't tell' policy towards homosexuals, Yale and other universities have blocked their students from partaking of ROTC training on campus.

'Yet Yale University is allowing a member or former member of a group that not only discriminated against gays, but actually stoned them to death,' says one outraged Yale student.

On February 26, the New York Times Magazine reported that Yale admitted Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, the Deputy Foreign Secretary of the Taliban, into a non-degree program, with a chance to gain full degree status by 2006.

'In some ways I'm the luckiest person in the world,' Hashemi told the Times. 'I could have ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Instead I ended up at Yale.'

Prior to his arrival as a student, Hashemi was imprisoned at Bagram Air Base. He had been a member of the Taliban government, serving both in Afghanistan and in the United States as Second Foreign Secretary and Ambassador-at-Large. Yale has not commented on why the university, which accepts only ten percent of all applicants, granted admission to this former Taliban officer. One Yale official claims it's part of creating diversity on campus, but opponents of having a Taliban officer attend a premier college say that excuse has been used by colleges and universities to invite everyone including cop-killers to their campuses.

Hashemi possesses a 4th grade formal education, never took the SATs and advocated violence against homosexuals. As the mouthpiece for the Taliban, Hashemi advocated the oppression of women, gays and non-Muslims. The Taliban are known associates and allies of Al-Qaeda. Not surprising, one intelligence report indicates Hashemi attended an Al-Qaeda terrorism training camp in Afghanistan.

Yale alumnus, and former Army Captain Flagg Youngblood said, "That my alma mater would embrace an ambassador from one of America's declared and defeated enemies and in the same breath keep ROTC and military recruiters off campus shows where Yale's allegiance falls. Yale's actions show that they consider the US military more evil than the Taliban." ...
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Lake Research Partners: "...Of the leaders tested in this latest GW-Battleground Poll, the image of both President George W. Bush (45% favorable/53% unfavorable) and Vice President Dick Cheney (42% favorable/51% unfavorable) are net negative. Equally negative are the image ratings of Democratic leaders like Democratic frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton (45% favorable/51% unfavorable) and Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean (31% favorable/45% unfavorable). Of all the Washington leaders examined, only Senator John McCain (65% favorable/18% unfavorable) has chiseled out a positive -bi-partisan-image with the American electorate.

This anti-Washington mood is clearly seen when voters are presented with a choice over which party is at fault for the current crisis in Washington. A strong majority (64%) of voters believe both the Democrats and the Republicans are responsible for the current problems facing Congress. The remaining voters see Republicans as more responsible by nearly a two-to-one margin, 20% to 11% who say Democrats are more responsible.

On the issue of Congressional reform and lobbying reform, every reform tested, with one exception, has the support of at least two-thirds of the likely electorate. This includes diverse proposals like greater disclosure by lobbyists about their work and their level of Congressional contacts (87% support), greater disclosure by Members of Congress about their contact with lobbyists and about campaign contributions from lobbyists (86%), a broader gift ban (79% support), greater transparency on Congressional pay raises (76%), increasing the lobbying ban on former Members to two years (75%), changing the contribution limits on PACs and individuals (73%), banning lobbying on the floor of the"House and in the House gym (67%), a broader travel ban (67%), and ending earmarks (59%).....

[bth: there are other stats in this article worth reviewing in full.]
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Pointless Trip to Pakistan

..."Meanwhile, Mr. Bush is receiving little pressure from Mr. Musharraf to grant the one thing that could tangibly bind America to Pakistan in a way that no number of summit meetings or sales of F-16 fighter jets could ever manage: a free trade agreement.

An agreement like the one the United States has granted Jordan and Morocco and a host of other countries would mean more jobs in textile factories in Pakistan. It would mean fewer unemployed people on the street with nothing to do but listen to the exhortations of mad mullahs. It would cement the economic well-being of the average Pakistani to the well-being of the United States.

Alas, don't expect to see anything close to that coming out of this trip. The Bush-Musharraf summit meeting is one between two leaders far more interested in guns than butter. "

[bth: a free trade agreement with Pakistan makes more sense to me than any other action we could take with them.]
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Gallup: 2 Out of 3 Americans Want U.S. Pull Out from Iraq

Gallup: 2 Out of 3 Americans Want U.S. Pull Out from Iraq: "NEW YORK While newspaper editorials remain virtually silent on the subject, the American public seems to have made up its mind. A new Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll out tonight shows that 2 out of 3 adult Americans now want U.S. troops to start to come home from Iraq. And 55% call the decision to attack Iraq in 2003 a 'mistake.'

The same poll found President Bush's approval rating plunging to 38%. It was even lower in a CBS poll earlier this week: 34%.

In the poll, 38% said some troops should be withdrawn from Iraq now with another 27% say they all should come home.

Bush's handling of Iraq drew the support of just 35%, while 64 percent said they disapprove.

Of the 1,020 adults surveyed, 59% said President Bush can no longer manage the government effectively."
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US troops say seize 61 al Qaeda in Iraq members - Yahoo! News

"BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. military operations in the province of Anbar, west of Baghdad, have resulted in the capture of 61 members of al Qaeda in Iraq, Major General Rick Lynch, a U.S. military spokesman, said on Thursday.

"Bomb making equipment, weapons and munitions were seized in the raids on the training and bomb making facility in an area 50 km (30 miles) northeast of Falluja, Lynch said.
Some of al Qaeda in Iraq's "critical facilitators" were included in the 61 people captured, he said.
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Yanks go home! The danger is that, this time, they may actually do it

Comment and opinion from the Times and The Sunday Times - Times Online: "PITY AMERICA. It just can't seem to please anybody. In the 1990s, when the post-Cold War world was busy being born against a background of uncertainty, regional instability and, as we now know, emerging mortal threats, a fat and happy superpower seemed content to stay at home, play with its Silicon Valley-produced gizmos and fret about presidents who got sexual favours from interns.

When it did get involved in the devilish world outside =in Africa or the Balkans =it did so reluctantly and with a damaging cautiousness. The disaster in Somalia in 1993 created the conditions for subsequent engagement -tentative, limited, and from a safe distance: not a recipe for success. "

In this post-Cold War world the problem with America was that it seemed so uninterested, unengaged, unwilling to shoulder the burdens of global leadership. It no longer seemed to have the stomach for the sacrifices that had triumphed in the end over the vile ideologies of the 20th century. It wanted the world to go away.

Five years on that is certainly not what worries the world about the US. Today, as it surveys the wreckage of America’s 21st-century engagement — in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Palestinian Authority — it wishes America had stayed home. The world is nostalgic for some of that late 20th-century American insularity.

But the world should be careful what it wishes for. There are political forces at work that suggest Americans may be willing to comply. The American public’s appetite for global engagement has been declining rapidly since things turned sour in Iraq. The failures of President Bush’s foreign policy have set up a competition between those who would renew and improve America’s engagement with the world, and those who would shun it.

The danger, to be sure, is not old-fashioned isolationism of the disastrous sort that helped to lead to the Second World War. But a distinct post-Iraq mentality is rapidly replacing the post-9/11 one.

The post-9/11 spirit was interventionist and idealist. It was willing to get out and take the enemy on — in Afghanistan, obviously, whence the terrorist attacks had come, but even in places where threats were only forming, such as Iraq. It was willing to accept casualties as a tragic but necessary price to pay for the removal of these threats. And it rested on a sure faith in America as a liberating force in the world.

The post-Iraq American world view will be less optimistic, less idealistic and less willing to intervene. Americans have lost much of their confidence in the ability of their arms to remake the world safe for democracy and peace. They will still be ready to strike if attacked, and their faith in the liberating ideal of American democracy will be undiminished.

But they will, to put it bluntly, be much less willing to have their children go out and die for it. If Iraq really does slide into full-scale civil war, the impact on the American public psyche will be epoch-making in its political consequences.

The loud political debates now raging in Washington hint at the pervasive power of this new mood to alter the country’s direction. The overwhelming opposition to the Dubai takeover of P&O’s US ports points up a broader insecurity about America’s relations with the world. Making the case for the deal on principled free-trade grounds, as President Bush has found, is difficult these days.

The increasingly bitter debate about immigration is another example. Although the US is growing rapidly, with an unemployment rate of 4.7 per cent and labour scarce in much of the country, Americans are angry at the flow of illegal immigration that is helping to fill these labour shortages.
The temptations of disengagement look likely to shape the terms of political debates as the US approaches the next presidential election. Indeed, as it stands, it looks as though the election will be fought broadly along these battle lines; and what is intriguing about them is that they are not traditional partisan cleavages, but lines that cut through both main political parties.

Ready to make the case for a continuing, engaged America open to the world are on, the Republican side, John McCain, Rudolph Giuliani and perhaps even, some still insist, Condoleezza Rice — pro-immigration, pro-free markets, anti-protectionist, and still forcefully supporting US global engagement, by force if necessary.

But they are likely to be joined by Democrats such as senators Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton — though the isolationist tendency among Democrats is strong enough to propel even Mrs Clinton into a disgracefully opportunistic attack on the Dubai ports takeover. Within both parties, however, the changed and darker post-Iraq mood will surely present opportunities for a populist approach that plays on the seductiveness of economic and political disengagement.

Politicians whose experience and outlook is almost exclusively domestic will be especially likely to fall prey to these temptations. Republicans such as George Allen, the Virginia senator, who enjoy strong support among conservatives, may opt to take this route. On the Democratic side, John Edwards, the party’s vice-presidential candidate in 2004, is already staking out a populist quasi-protectionist approach with a strong message of “bring the troops home” from Iraq.

The outcome of this struggle is unclear. The inadequacies of Bush foreign policy have profoundly weakened but not completely undermined faith in American engagement in the world. But everything will depend on events in the next two years. If Iraq, even now, manages to look like a success, if the revolutions in the Middle East begin to yield real democratic and peaceful dividends, and if the US economy remains strong, the isolationist tendency will be contained.

But it is easy now to see an alternative scenario — failure and civil war in Iraq, broader instability in the Middle East and a US economy that weakens, with unemployment rising and wages stagnating — that will shift once again the terms of America’s relations with the rest of the world.
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Suspected Kidnapper Arrested in Baghdad - Yahoo! News

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi security forces have arrested a suspect in the 2004 kidnapping and beheading of a Japanese backpacker, officials said Thursday. "

The Interior Ministry identified the suspect as Hussein Fahmi, a 28-year-old al-Qaida in
Iraq' operative arrested over two months ago in western Baghdad.

Fahmi confessed to carrying out 116 beheadings, including that of 24-year-old Japanese backpacker Shosei Koda, ministry official Maj. Raid al-Mafraji said.

Fahmi, who is of Egyptian and Palestinian descent, was captured by the Interior Ministry's counterinsurgency Wolf Brigade after a tip from local residents, al-Mafraji said. "We managed to arrest three other terrorists with him and seized a huge amount of weapons," he said....
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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Band Sticker on Bike Causes Bomb Scare

BREITBART.COM - Band Sticker on Bike Causes Bomb Scare: " A sticker on a bicycle that said 'this bike is a pipe bomb' caused a scare Thursday at Ohio University that shut down four buildings before authorities learned the message was the name of a punk rock band, a university spokesman said.

The sticker on the bike chained outside the university-owned Oasis restaurant near the center of campus attracted the attention of a police officer about 5:30 a.m., spokesman Jack Jeffery said.

Police blocked streets around the restaurant and the Columbus police bomb squad came from about 65 miles away.

The bomb experts hit the bike with a high-pressure spray of water, then pried it apart with a hydraulic device normally used to rescue accident victims trapped in cars, acting Athens Fire Chief Ken Gilbraith said. Once they had it open, they saw there was no bomb. "...
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Eye on the Middle East -- Has Al Qaeda Left Iraq? Has U.S. Strategy Changed?

New America Media: "In the past three years Iraqi guerrillas worked with Al Qaeda fighters, or Arab Afghans, in attacking U.S. occupation forces and undermining the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government. There are now reports in Arab media, however, that Al Qaeda fighters are leaving Iraq because the resistance has turned against them. "

Al Watan Al Arabi magazine reported that Arab Afghans fighting in Iraq are now returning to Afghanistan and the tribal areas in Pakistan by the hundreds.

They are settling in areas under Taliban control in preparation for increasing the number of attacks, to more than 500 a month, on Afghan government and NATO forces in the spring. Mullah Muhammad Atta, an Afghani Mujahdeen leader, told the Al Watan Al Arabi that leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban will coordinate their attacks under a new strategy aimed at expanding their influence to new areas in Afghanistan, instead of hit-and-run guerilla tactics.

According to Atta, Al Zawahiri, who personally called on Arab Afghani fighters to return to Afghanistan, has formed alliances with tribes in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region through a series of meetings. According to Al Watan Al Arabi, the U.S. air strike that targeted Al Zawahiri on Jan. 13, 2006, in Pakistan, was in fact was aimed at one of those meetings.

Al Zawahiri was supposed to meet with tribal leaders to get their help in ensuring the free movement of Al Qaeda fighters, especially those returning from Iraq.

The arrival Al Qaeda fighters to Afghanistan may explain the sudden increase of suicide bombings there which, according to Abu Dhabi television, totaled 14 in the past three months. Why is Al Qaeda leaving Iraq? Riyad Alam Dean wrote in Al Watan Al Arabi that the American administration has decided to turn its strategy in Iraq "180 degrees" by dropping previous plans to hand Iraq to the Shiites.

Instead, the United States has decided to empower Sunnis and use them to undermine Iran's role in Iraq.

Dean's article, published on Feb. 10, claims that the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, has finally persuaded the Sunni resistance, including senior Baathists in the former Iraqi army, to get rid of Al Qaeda fighters in Iraq in exchange for 1) the reappointment of Baathist officials to sensitive political positions and 2) the removal of Shiite militias, especially the Badr Corps from the interior ministry.

These militias were implicated in torture and reprisal killings of Sunnis. Two days latter, on Feb. 20, Khalilzad publicly threatened to cut off funding to the Iraqi government if the ministries of defense and interior remained under "sectarian" control.

To fulfill their part of the deal, Bsathists, Sunni religious scholars and religious resistance groups launching coordinated and comprehensive efforts to cleanse Iraq of Al Qaeda fighters. Imams called on worshipers in mosques to expel Al Qaeda, and Iraqi tribes formed committees especially designed to expel armed groups sympathetic to Al Zarqawi from Al Ramadi, Samara and the Sunni triangle.

The Sunnis' efforts in tracking and attacking Al Qaeda fighters led to the arrest of 400 suspects and forced hundreds to flee Nenawa and Anbar provinces, which were the strongest Al Qaeda strongholds in Iraq. Many, including Al Zarqawi, are believed to have escaped from Iraq.

Simultaneously, U.S. forces also trained new Iraqi troops especially for the purpose of eliminating Al Qadea and expelling its members from cities under their control. This, of course, could have negative consequences on neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as escaped Al Qaeda fighters might upon return target vital civilian institutions to destabilize the two kingdoms.

According to Dean, secret meetings have been held between American and Sunni representatives almost every week since Dec.15, 2005.

American generals then started to meet directly with leaders from the armed Iraqi resistance groups in Al Anbar province in Iraq and in Jordan since January 2006. Leaders from more than 12 armed Baathist and religious resistance organizations (excluding Al Qaeda) have been in these meetings, including senior Baathists from the Republican Guards and Saddam's intelligence agency, as will senior Baathist officials who organized and financed resistance operations from outside Iraq.

At least two senior Baathists who attended the meetings were recently released from U.S. prisons in Iraq and were very close to Saddam.Why did the American administration decide to empower the Sunnis?

First, the U.S. forces have simply failed to quell the resistance, which has managed to kill 2,300 American soldiers and inflict severe injuries to thousands of others, utilizing innovations such as using laundry detergent to maximize burns caused by roadside bombs.

Second, Dean believes that the United States has given up plans of establishing an independent Shiite government in Iraq, because Iran has simply managed to advance its favorite loyal candidates and parties in all the Iraqi elections, thus transforming the toppling of Saddam's regime into great Iranian victory.

Third, the United States feared that Iran would act on its threats to use its influence over Iraq's Shiite militias to incite them into attacking U.S. soldiers. The head of the Iranian Expediency Council, Ali Rafsanjani, made the threat clear when he said, "The 150,000 American soldiers in Iraq are in the mouth of the lion."

The threat was further confirmed when the leader of the Shiite Mahdi army in Iraq, Muqtada Al Sadr, made his famous statement while he was vesting Tehran that he would defend Iran.

The United States decided to empower the Sunni resistance, including Baathists, to counterbalance Iran's threat to turn Iraq's Shiites against American soldiers. After three years of war, the Bush administration has come to the concision that it should empower the same group it toppled three years ago.

The United States might also have to make a similar deal with the Taliban as the only way to isolate Al Qaeda fighters and eliminate them in Afghanistan.

[bth: disturbing if true. The introduction of suicide bombers into Afghanistan, the increase in the use of IEDs and the surge in casualties last year in Afghanistan are all disturbing trendlines going into Spring 2006.]
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CENTCOM Eyes Blogs to Shape Opinion

CENTCOM Eyes Blogs to Shape Opinion: "In a bid to find new ways to influence public opinion about U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a small media affairs team in Tampa has burrowed into the mushrooming cyber world of blogs and persuaded hundreds of Web sites -- which then link to thousands of other sites -- to post content prepared by military public affairs officials.

Since last July, the Florida-based U.S. Central Command's public affairs staff -- in an effort recently praised by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for its innovation -- has been initiating contact with editors of Web sites that cover operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, offering the same news releases and stories written by military officials that are made available to journalists affiliated with traditional media outlets.

In addition, this CENTCOM -electronic media engagement team-encourages these blogs to post a direct link -- along with the command's insignia -- back to CENTCOM's main Web site.

To date, more than 300 blogs have posted links to the command's public affairs page, which have directed millions of viewers to CENTCOM's site, command officials say. The blogs with direct links to CENTCOM's site are linked to another 9,300 blogs. This second band of Web sites then link to another 270,000 blogs, providing a potentially exponential reach. "

“It's an incredible way to communicate with the public,” said Lt. Col. Richard McNorton, a CENTCOM spokesman, who oversees a team of two young, enlisted staff members who work full time on the blogs.

It has generated new traffic to the CENTCOM Web site, he said, and paved a new path for pushing content to the public that bypasses traditional print and broadcast media outlets.

CENTCOM's Web site now gets more visitors through these linked blogs than it does from search engines like Google and Yahoo. Since the outreach effort began, online subscriptions to the command's weekly newsletter have tripled, and the command has observed that items it sends to bloggers ripple across the Internet, directly reaching thousands of viewers, McNorton said.

These results have attracted high-level attention.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a speech last month to the Council on Foreign Relations on the need for the government to improve its strategic communications capabilities, highlighted CENTCOM's project as an example of an innovative outreach effort.

McNorton, the CENTCOM spokesman, said the command has reached out to blogs edited by people who support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as to those who oppose it. To date, the vast majority of the blogs that regularly post CENTCOM content and provide a direct link are run by what he calls “supporters.”

“They will pretty much post anything,” he said. “The problem with that is the readers are already pro-military. It's almost like we're preaching to the choir.”

Fewer than 10 blogs written by those who oppose U.S. operations, which CENTCOM calls “determined detractors,” have established links, he said.

Along with these two categories, the public affairs team targets two other blog categories, McNorton said: Those run by pundits like Bill Bennett, who on occasion has posted CENTCOM content, and sites that are focused on current affairs.

Based on its experience with blogs, the command is laying plans to revamp its main Web site to provide more varied content that could be easily exported for use on blogs, he added. CENTCOM officials are looking to take advantage of new multimedia tools to provide video clips and podcasts -- individual sound files -- of speeches by senior command leaders like commander Gen. John Abizaid, he said.

All CENTCOM-generated content provided to blogs is in English. A real counter-propaganda campaign, McNorton said, would require engaging in other languages, particularly Arabic and Farsi.

Right now our mission is to provide information to the public,” he said. “This is just another method of engaging directly.”

While military leaders may consider the blog outreach effort pioneering, McNorton noted that U.S. adversaries are demonstrating effective uses of this new medium.

“The enemy is so good at using Web sites and blogs to communicate and to recruit. They even have virtual Caliphates. We were so far behind the curve,” he said.

[bth: notice how he says that 'right now our mission is to provide information to the public'. Like what will the next missions be or was it? To provide disinformation? They just don't get it. ... A stroll down the corridors of Walter Reed or Brooks, interviews with returning soldiers, families, soldiers in the field, humanitarian projects ... the list is endless as to content that could be provided in an objective and yet persuasive manner. But no, they just can't see the difference between public affairs and propaganda. All the credibility built since the disaster of Vietnam has been pissed away. What a waste. Winning hearts and minds both at home or abroad has got to be anchored in good works and trust.]
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Iraq captures Saudi militant [03mar06]

"IRAQI authorities have captured a Saudi man who confessed to taking part in last week's suspected al-Qaeda attack on Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq oil facility, Iraqi state television said today.

The Iraqiya channel gave no details of the arrest reported in a screen ticker.

Iraq has announced a number of arrests of militant suspects during the past week of intense sectarian violence. Iraqi officials said they had no comment.

In the first direct strike on a Saudi oil target since al-Qaeda militants launched attacks aimed at toppling the pro-Western monarchy in 2003, two cars exploded at Abqaiq's gates last Friday after security forces fired at suicide bombers trying to storm the world's biggest oil processing plant. "

[bth: that Iraq would capture and return him like that suggests there is more to this story than is being reported.]
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Pakistan bomb kills US diplomat

..."Police in Karachi said they believed a suicide bomber had rammed a car packed with high-intensity explosives into the diplomat's vehicle. "

The force of the blast hurled the vehicle into the air and across a seven-foot-high concrete barrier, police said.

Karachi police chief Niaz Sadiqui told a press conference: "We have reached the conclusion that it was a suicide attack, and we have found body parts of the attacker."

Official police spokesman Deputy Inspector Zubair Mahmood said a consulate employee and a paramilitary ranger had died along with the US diplomat. ...
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Glenn Zorpette - Save Iraq One Switch at a Time - New York Times

Glenn Zorpette - Save Iraq One Switch at a Time - New York Times: "...Electricity has become a main focus of the struggle to win Iraqi hearts and minds, with the insurgents doing everything they can to damage power grids and stop the Americans and Iraqi government forces racing to patch them up. In the United States Government Accountability Office's hierarchy of reconstruction financing, 'electricity' is now second only to the category called 'security and justice.' More than $5 billion of American funds and about $1 billion of Iraqi money have gone into repairing the grid. Yet all this money and effort has done little to brighten the lives of Iraqis.
The reasons are many and complicated. One of the biggest, of course, is the insurgents, who have kidnapped, tortured and killed dozens of electrical workers, knocked over scores of transmission towers, and bombed substations with astoundingly effective timing and precision. If you had a few thousand terrorists like these blowing up electrical plants in Texas or Quebec or Austria, you'd have serious trouble with the grids in those places, too.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of problems that have nothing to do with the violence. And there are many steps the Electricity Ministry and its Western patrons should be taking to improve daily life for now and to prepare for the day when the insurgency is more manageable.

First, the ministry needs to get serious about collecting revenue. It could start by charging realistic rates. At the moment it charges residential customers less than a tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour, even though most analysts agree it would have to charge at least 15 or 20 times that just to break even — and more if you include adequate financing to maintain and expand production plants and distribution networks. Even Syria, hardly a rich country, charges residential users the equivalent of nearly 2 cents per kilowatt-hour; New Yorkers pay an average of 17.5 cents.
The ministry also needs to crack down on electricity theft and install more electricity meters. Its own figures show that it manages to collect what it is owed for only about 30 percent of the electricity it produces. Reconstruction officials told me that 10 percent to 25 percent of that power is simply siphoned off with illegal taps. And, officially, 25 percent to 30 percent of Iraqi homes and businesses wired to the grid do not have a working electricity meter, and are therefore not being billed.

It's also likely that those figures are overly optimistic. A National Guard officer I met in Iraq last October, who also happened to be an executive at a Nevada electric utility, told me that in his several months of moving about Iraq he had not seen a single meter.

The Electricity Ministry is also plagued by administrative problems. In the absence of an adequate banking system, most workers in Iraq, including government employees, are paid in cash. This makes it hard to do rigorous accounting at the ministry. Since 2003, its payroll has swelled by 10,000 people, to 48,000. No one doubts that this number includes hundreds, maybe thousands, of "ghost employees"— people invented so their pay can be taken by somebody else....

[bth: disruption of the electrical supply is an amazing display of assymetric warfare in action. The insurgents need only continue to break the electrical grid and they have broken the economy of the country and destablized the government all at the same time.]
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The Laws of Targeting Petroleum-Related Interests

This link is to a pdf file entitled, "Al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia: excerpts from "The Laws of Targeting Petroleum-Related Interests" which was excerpted and popsted on Global Terror It give one some sort of understanding about how they think and prioritize their targets. There is nothing about it that indicates to me that it still isn't about shaking down the shieks for extortion money or driving up the price of oil to economically damage the U.S.
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Afghanistan hits back at Pakistan’s dismissal of ‘terror’ intelligence

"KABUL - Afghanistan has hit back at Pakistan�s dismissal of its intelligence about Taleban and Al Qaeda militants in Pakistani territory, notably information about the whereabouts of the reclusive Taleban leader Mullah Omar.
Afghanistan handed over the information during a visit last month by President Hamid Karzai to Pakistan -- a key ally in the US "war on terror".

Pakistan at first denied in statements to the media that it had received the intelligence and then said most of it was outdated, including about the possible whereabouts of the fugitive Omar."....

Abdullah said Afghanistan believed most of the “Taleban leaders which are actively instigating terror in Afghanistan” were in Pakistan, with Omar known to have spent time in the border city of Peshawar and in Baluchistan province.

“We have provided evidence of him being outside of Afghanistan, in Quetta in Baluchistan, to our Pakistani friends...

This was not for “one day, not one hour but time and again in Quetta, in Baluchistan.”

Afghan officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to Taleban training camps on its soil and also alleged that some circles in Pakistan support the hardliners....
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ABC News: EXCLUSIVE: New Al Qaeda Leader Planning Attack Against U.S.

ABC News: EXCLUSIVE: New Al Qaeda Leader Planning Attack Against U.S.: "Officials Say 29-Year-Old Pakistani Militant Emerging as Top Al Qaeda Figure

March 1, 2006 - Pakistani officials told ABC News that they believe they have indications that a new terrorist attack against the United States is being planned there. They told ABC News that while their intelligence does not give any specific details as to a target or time, it does indicate that an emerging al Qaeda figure is making plans.

Pakistani military officials say Matiur Rehman, 29, a Pakistani militant, is behind the new plans for an attack against the United States. Pakistan has posted a 10-million rupee (about $166,000) award for his capture. "

"He is probably Pakistan's most wanted right now," says Alexis Debat, a former adviser in the French defense ministry and now an ABC News consultant. "He is extremely dangerous because of his role as the crucial interface between the brains of al Qaeda and its muscle, which is mainly composed these days of Pakistani militants."

Pakistani officials said Rehman helped train thousands of fellow Pakistani militants at al Qaeda training camps during the late 1990s.

As pressure from the United States and its allies against al Qaeda's leadership has intensified, there is increasing evidence that the terrorist network has relied on Pakistani-based militants to provide logistical support and execute operations.

"Certain Pakistani groups have definitely been acting as if they were subcontractors for al Qaeda by virtue of carrying out certain terrorist attacks on behalf of al Qaeda, or in other cases, simply sustaining the terrorist network that al Qaeda built up," said Husain Haqqani, a Boston Univeristy professor and author of the book "Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military."

Last year the London bombings were carried out by a small group of Pakistanis, all of whom were British citizens. They became terrorists after visiting Pakistan. Pakistani military officials said they now fear that those training operations have set the model for other al Qaeda attacks in the West.

"The Pakistani militant groups that provided [the London bombers] that training clearly did that with the understanding that these people would be acting not in Kashmir, not in Afghanistan but in London," said Haqqani.

"And that could only mean that al Qaeda was taking the lead that these people were doing something that would, if not be at the behest of al Qaeda would definitely benefit al Qaeda's world view."

While Pakistani President Musharraf has moved against some al Qaeda locations where foreign fighters have been discovered, he has been criticized for failing to act strongly enough against Pakistanis connected to al Qaeda and other militant groups.

"The government of Pakistan has been selective in its crackdown," said Haqqani. "In the process, there are many individuals and groups that have been acting on their own, and frankly, until all of them are treated as people who need to be eliminated, al Qaeda and al Qaeda linked groups will continue to survive."

ABC News' Maddy Sauer contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures
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Spurt of Violence in Iraq Mutes Talk of U.S. Troop Cuts, but Decisions Loom - New York Times

Spurt of Violence in Iraq Mutes Talk of U.S. Troop Cuts, but Decisions Loom - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, March 1 -Senior Pentagon officials said Wednesday that in the aftermath of a burst of sectarian violence in Iraq, it was unlikely that a decision would be made on a reduction in troop levels when top Army commanders meet with President Bush next week. "...
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Lawmaker: Port deal never probed for terror ties - Mar 1, 2006 - Lawmaker: Port deal never probed for terror ties - Mar 1, 2006: "WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A review of a United Arab Emirates-owned company's plan to take over a portion of operations at key U.S. ports never looked into whether the company had ties to al Qaeda or other terrorists, a key Republican lawmaker told CNN on Wednesday."....

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

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Growing Threat Seen In Afghan Insurgency

Growing Threat Seen In Afghan Insurgency: "The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress yesterday that the insurgency in Afghanistan is growing and will increase this spring, presenting a greater threat to the central government's expansion of authority 'than at any point since late 2001.'

'Despite significant progress on the political front, the Taliban-dominated insurgency remains a capable and resilient threat,' Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples said in a statement presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee at its annual hearing on national security threats."

Appearing with Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, Maples said attacks within Afghanistan were up 20 percent between 2004 and 2005, suicide bombings increased "almost fourfold" and use of makeshift bombs, similar to those used in Iraq, had "more than doubled."...

Maples's prepared remarks seemed to frame some of the initial questions, including his statements that, "with over a million Sunni Arab military-aged males in Iraq, insurgents have little difficulty mobilizing enough fighters." He also said, "The elections appear to have heightened tension and polarized sectarian divides."

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the panel, led off by asking Negroponte what the "benchmarks" of civil war would be. Negroponte responded he would see it as involving "a complete loss of central government security control, the disintegration or deterioration of the security forces of the country," and "unauthorized forces . . . getting the upper hand in the situation."...
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US seeks funds to build prisons in Iraq - Yahoo! News

US seeks funds to build prisons in Iraq - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department is winding down its $20 billion reconstruction program in Iraq and the only new rebuilding money in its latest budget request is for prisons, officials said on Tuesday. "...

[bth: so we spend $100 million on fake news, cut the reconstruction money that might give jobs and actually change hearts and minds. With the $100 million we do dedicate, we build prisons. What a plan.]
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Pak freezes 16 bank accounts for their involvement in financing Taliban movement, other terrorists

Pak freezes 16 bank accounts for their involvement in financing Taliban movement, other terrorists - PakTribune: "PESHAWAR: Government of Pakistan has frozen 16 bank accounts operating in Pakistani banks on the charges of their involvement in financing Taliban movement and other terrorists.

Sourced told Online that special investigation group of Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) froze 16 bank accounts opened in various commercial banks, which were being used to finance Taliban movement and terrorists. These accounts were operated on fake national identity cards in the banks including Standard Chartered Bank Peshawar, Muslim Commercial bank Chowk Yadgar, Union Bank Islamabad, Askari Bank Peshawar Cantt, Bank of Punjab Chowk Yadgar and United Bank Chowk Yadgar. SIG has expanded the scope of inquiry and initiated investigation against higher officials of the these banks. "

Sources said that about 600 million rupees were drawn from the bank branch at Chowk Yadgar Peshawar in 2003 through cheques and the money so drawn was provided to Taliban as financial assistance. The evidence are also available with the concerned authorities on this count. .

Sources informed that senior officials of provincial government and Customs have launched efforts to persuade the relevant authorities not to freeze these accounts.

It may be recalled that government of Pakistan under UN resolution No 1267 had frozen the accounts of two international companies of Afghan traders including Sharkat Special and Amria food for the reason that Mullah Omar was share holder of both of these companies and financial assistance was being provided by these companies to Taliban and terrorists regularly. ...

The owners of these two companies including Raees Abdul Bari, Abdul Hadi, Abdul Baqi, Noor Muhammad, Muhammad Nabi and Abdul Nasi fled from the country after the accounts were frozen.

During the course of investigation, one Kamran Sikandri was arrested who used to obtain clearance from customs in regard to companies matters.

As per Interpol both of these companies were set up during Taliban regime. The companies had transferred to their bank accounts $2.8 million, Euro, 1.7 million and German mark 1.5 million to extend financial aid to the terrorists.

The offices of these two companies were also functioning in Dubai, Indonesia and Malaysia and in Afghanistan these companies used to be run under the names of Hayat and Kandhar.

Haji Gul Dad right hand man of Taliban commander Jalal ud Din Haqqani had transferred a cheque amounting to over 5.8 million rupees in the name of Din Muhammad son of Abdul Bari, owner of the company from Muslim Commercial Bank Miran Shah to Chowk Yadgar and this led security agency to establish the fact that these two companies were linked to Taliban and other terrorists.
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