May 01, 2013

Boston Police: Three More Suspects in Custody

Three 19-year-old men - two of them University of Massachusetts Dartmouth college students from Kazakhstan who were friends with Boston bombings suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - were taken into custody Wednesday by authorities in Boston.

The third individual, an American citizen, was also a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where Tsarnaev was enrolled.

Law enforcement sources told NPR and other news outlets that the three are not suspected of having taken part in the April 15 bombings, which killed three people and wounded more than 250.

Rather, they're accused of having given Tsarnaev help afterward by trying to dispose of damning evidence. They're also accused of having lied to the FBI.

Court documents released at mid-afternoon painted a picture of young men who did not play a part in the bombings but allegedly removed a laptop and some empty fireworks (from which powder may have been removed to make bombs) from Tsarnaev's dorm room.

According to those documents, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov of Kazakhstan, and Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Mass., knew on April 18 that Tsarnaev was suspected in the bombings and Tazhayakov, at least, believed his friend was one of the bombers.

But the next morning, after it had been widely reported that Tsarnaev was on the run and that his brother Tamerlan had died after a gun battle with police, at least two of the three young men were allegedly involved in throwing away a backpack containing the empty fireworks and laptop that they had reportedly taken from Tsarnaev's dorm room.

The young men agreed to dispose of the evidence, the criminal complaint says, in order to help their friend "avoid trouble." Authorities later found the evidence in a nearby landfill.

Tsarnaev, 19, survived the gun battle with police in Watertown, Mass., on April 19 and was captured later that day after a massive manhunt. His brother Tamerlan, who died, was 26.


 A new photo of suspect-at-large Dzhokar Tsarnaev has been released by the FBI:
(Federal Bureau of Investigation)
April 26, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect Out of Hospital

The surviving Boston Marathon bombings suspect has been released from a civilian hospital and transferred to a federal medical detention center in central Massachusetts.

The U.S. Marshals Service says Dzhokhar Tsarnaev left Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center overnight and was taken to the Federal Medical Center Devens, about 40 miles west of Boston.

The facility, on the decommissioned Fort Devens U.S. Army base, treats federal prisoners and detainees who require specialized long-term medical or mental health care.

Tsarnaev is recovering from a gunshot wound to the throat and other injuries suffered during his attempted getaway.


Sen. Chuck Schumer during the immigration hearing
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
April 23, 2013

Immigration Overhaul Seems On Track Despite Boston Tragedy

No sooner did the first reports emerge that the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings were Chechen immigrants than did that fact intrude into Washington's debate on immigration.

Opponents of immigration reform seized on the fact to raise doubts about efforts to change immigration laws to, in part, bring the estimated 12 million people now in the U.S. illegally out of limbo.

So a major question a week after the bombings was whether the Boston violence had slowed — or even derailed — momentum for the immigration overhaul. Early indications were that the legislative effort still appeared on track.

"I don't think there's been a change in the fundamental truth that the country needs this broad immigration reform and that there's a commitment from lawmakers in both parties to addressing it this year. That hasn't changed" because of Boston, said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America's Voice, a pro-immigration group. "Most responsible legislators are not only saying, "Let's look at all the facts,' but they're also saying. "Let's move forward.' "

White House spokesman Jay Carney sounded a similar note during his Monday briefing:

"Well, I think we agree with what some of the co-authors of the bill — including, I believe, Sens. [John] McCain and [Lindsey] Graham and [Marco] Rubio — have said, which is that one of the positive effects and one of the reasons why we need comprehensive immigration reform is because it will enhance when implemented our national security. And it is another reason why we need to move forward with this very important bipartisan legislation. That is certainly our view."

Even Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who caused a stir by remarking last week that the immigration-overhaul effort had to now be considered with the attacks in mind, insisted he wasn't trying to stall or kill the effort.

In fact, one of the livelier moments at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Monday came when Grassley took exception to Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat and Gang of Eight member, who accused some critics of using the tragedy to impede the legislation.

"The American people are overwhelmingly for immigration reform," Schumer said. "That's what every poll says. And they will not be satisfied with calls for delays and impediments towards the bill. I would say to my colleagues ... if you have ways to improve the bill, offer an amendment. ... I say that particularly to those who are pointing to what happened, the terrible tragedy in Boston as, I would say, an excuse for not doing a bill or delaying a bill for many months or years."

"I never said that. I never said that," Grassley yelled at Schumer. The exchange caused Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the committee, to bang his gavel to regain order.

Like Grassley, Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, appeared to acknowledge the need to continue pursuing an overhaul, though he went further by calling for a pause until the implications of what happened in Boston are better understood. Paul wrote:

"Before Congress moves forward, some important national security questions must be addressed. I believe that any real comprehensive immigration reform must implement strong national security protections. The facts emerging in the Boston Marathon bombing have exposed a weakness in our current system. If we don't use this debate as an opportunity to fix flaws in our current system, flaws made even more evident last week, then we will not be doing our jobs."

Another telling sign came from Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee. After an appearance in Chicago, Ryan told reporters, according to news reports, that the Boston attacks was an argument for, not against, revising the nation's laws sooner rather than later.

It was vital to know which individuals are in the country illegally for national security reasons, alone, he said. "If anything I would say this is an argument for modernizing our immigration laws," Ryan was quoted as saying.

Such national security arguments, the needs of the U.S. economy and the demographic changes that are making Hispanic voters an ever more important part of the electorate gave proponents of an immigration overhaul confidence that Boston wouldn't derail the present effort.


April 22, 2013

Canada Foils 'Al-Qaeda Inspired' Terror Attack on Train

Canada's authorities say they have arrested and charged two people with conspiring to carry out an "al-Qaeda inspired" attack on a passenger train.

At a news conference, the authorities said the suspects Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, were arrested in Montreal and Toronto on Monday.

 

 

They allegedly planned to derail a VIA passenger train in the greater Toronto area. It was not clear when.

The suspects will now appear in court on Tuesday for a bail hearing.

'Strong resolve'

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said the surveillance operation leading to the arrests of the two suspects was "a result of extensive collaborative efforts".

They said the two men were not Canadian citizens and were supported by "al-Qaeda elements in Iran" but there was no evidence of state sponsorship.

Their plan was to derail a train and "kill and hurt people".

Chief Spt Jennifer Strachan said the two men had sought to target "a specific route, but not necessarily a specific train".

VIA operates passenger rail services across Canada.

At the same time, the RCMP said they believed the plot was in the planning stage and "there was no imminent threat to the general public".

"Each and every terrorist arrest the RCMP makes sends a message and illustrates our strong resolve to root out terrorist threats and keep Canadians and our allies safe," Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said.

The RCMP also said that FBI agents from the US were involved in the operation to foil the attack.

There was no connection between the plot and last week's Boston Marathon bombings, a US justice department official was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
(AP Photo/Federal Bureau of Investigation, File)
April 22, 2013

Marathon Bombing Charges Detailed

The two brothers suspected of bombing the Boston Marathon appear to have been motivated by their religious faith but do not seem connected to any Muslim terrorist groups, U.S. officials said Monday after interrogating the severely wounded younger man. He was charged with federal crimes that could bring the death penalty.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was charged in his hospital room with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill. He was accused of joining with his older brother, Tamerlan — now dead — in setting off the pressure-cooker bombs that killed three people and wounded more than 200 a week ago.

The brothers, ethnic Chechens from Russia who had been living in the U.S. for about a decade, practiced Islam.

Two U.S. officials said preliminary evidence from an interrogation suggests the brothers were motivated by religion but were apparently not tied to any Islamic terrorist organizations. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation.

The criminal complaint containing the charges against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev shed no light on the motive. But it gave a detailed sequence of events and cited surveillance-camera images of him dropping off a knapsack with one of the bombs and using a cellphone, perhaps to coordinate or detonate the blasts.

 

 

The Massachusetts college student was listed in serious but stable condition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center with a gunshot wound to the throat and other injuries. His 26-year-old brother died last week in a fierce gunbattle with police.

This still frame from video shows Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev visible through an ambulance after he was captured.

"Although our investigation is ongoing, today's charges bring a successful end to a tragic week for the city of Boston and for our country," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

The charges carry the death penalty or a prison sentence of up to life.

"He has what's coming to him," a wounded Kaitlynn Cates said from her hospital room. She was at the finish line when the first blast knocked her off her feet, and she suffered an injury to her lower leg.

In outlining the evidence against him in court papers, the FBI said Tsarnaev was seen on surveillance cameras putting a knapsack down on the ground near the site of the second blast and then manipulating a cellphone and lifting it to his ear.

Seconds later, the first explosion went off about a block down the street and spread fear and confusion through the crowd. But Tsarnaev — unlike nearly everyone around him — looked calm and quickly walked away, the FBI said.

Just 10 seconds or so later, the second blast occurred where he had left the knapsack, the FBI said.

The FBI did not make it clear whether authorities believe he used his cellphone to detonate one or both of the bombs or whether he was talking to someone.

The court papers also said that during the long night of crime Thursday and Friday that led to the older brother's death and the younger one's capture, one of the Tsarnaev brothers told a carjacking victim: "Did you hear about the Boston explosion? I did that."

In addition to the federal charges, the younger Tsarnaev brother is also likely to face state charges in connection with the shooting death of an MIT police officer.

The Obama administration said it had no choice but to prosecute Tsarnaev in the federal court system. Some politicians had suggested he be tried as an enemy combatant in front of a military tribunal, where defendants are denied some of the usual U.S. constitutional protections.

But Tsarnaev is a naturalized U.S. citizen, and under U.S. law, American citizens cannot be tried by military tribunals, White House spokesman Jay Carney said. Carney said that since 9/11, the federal court system has been used to convict and imprison hundreds of terrorists.

In its criminal complaint, the FBI said it searched Tsarnaev's dorm room at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth on Sunday and found BBs as well as a white hat and dark jacket that look like those worn by one of one of the suspected bombers in the surveillance photos the FBI released a few days after the attack.

Seven days after the bombings, meanwhile, Boston was bustling Monday, with runners hitting the pavement, children walking to school and enough cars clogging the streets to make the morning commute feel almost back to normal.

Residents paused in the afternoon to observe a moment of silence at 2:50 p.m., the time of the first blast. Church bells tolled across the city and state in tribute to the victims.

Standing on the steps of the state Capitol, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick bowed his head and said after the moment of silence: "God bless the people of Massachusetts. Boston Strong."

On Boylston Street, where the bombing took place, the silence was broken when a Boston police officer pumped his fists in the air and the crowd erupted in applause. The crowd then quietly sang "God Bless America."

Also, hundreds of family and friends packed a church in Medford for the funeral of bombing victim Krystle Campbell, a 29-year-old restaurant worker. A memorial service was scheduled for Monday night at Boston University for 23-year-old Lu Lingzi, a graduate student from China.

Fifty-one victims remained hospitalized Monday, three of them in critical condition.

At the Snowden International School on Newbury Street, a high school set just a block from the bombing site, jittery parents dropped off children as teachers — some of whom had run in the race — greeted each other with hugs.

Carlotta Martin of Boston said that leaving her kids at school has been the hardest part of getting back to normal.

"We're right in the middle of things," Martin said outside the school as her children, 17-year-old twins and a 15-year-old, walked in, glancing at the police barricades a few yards from the school's front door.

"I'm nervous. Hopefully, this stuff is over," she continued. "I told my daughter to text me so I know everything's OK."

Tsarnaev was captured Friday night after an intense all-day manhunt that brought the Boston area to a near-standstill. He was cornered and seized, wounded and bloody, after he was discovered hiding in a tarp-covered boat in a Watertown backyard.

He had apparent gunshot wounds to the head, neck, legs and hand, the FBI said in court papers.

Meanwhile, investigators in the Boston suburb of Waltham are looking into whether there are links between Tamerlan Tsarnaev and an unsolved 2011 slaying. Tsarnaev was a friend of one of three men found dead in an apartment with their necks slit and their bodies reportedly covered with marijuana.


March 09, 2013

Afghan Bombers Strike During Hagel Visit

Militants staged two deadly suicide attacks Saturday to mark the first full day of U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit to Afghanistan, a fresh reminder that insurgents continue to fight and challenges remain as the U.S.-led NATO force hands over the country's security to the Afghans.

A suicide bomber on a bicycle struck outside the Afghan Defense Ministry early Saturday morning, and about a half hour later, another suicide bomber attacked a police checkpoint in Khost city, the capital of Khost province in eastern Afghanistan.

Nine people were killed in the bombing at the ministry, and an Afghan policeman and eight civilians, who were mostly children, died in the blast in Khost, said provincial spokesman Baryalai Wakman.

"This attack was a message to him," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said of Hagel, in an email to reporters about the defense ministry attack.

Hagel was nowhere near the blasts, but heard them across the city. He told reporters traveling with him that he wasn't sure what it was when he heard the explosion.

"We're in a war zone. I've been in war, so shouldn't be surprised when a bomb goes off or there's an explosion," said Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran.

Asked what his message to the Taliban would be, he said that the U.S. was going to continue to work with its allies to insure that the Afghan people have the ability to develop their own country and democracy.

Hagel's first visit to Kabul as Pentagon chief comes as the U.S. and Afghanistan grapple with a number of disputes, from the aborted handover of a main detention facility — canceled at the last moment late Friday as a deal for the transfer broke down — to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's demand that U.S. special operations forces withdraw from Wardak province just outside Kabul over allegations of abuse.

The prison transfer, originally slated for 2009, has been repeatedly delayed because of disputes between the U.S. and Afghan governments about whether all detainees should have the right to a trial and who will have the ultimate authority over the release of prisoners the U.S. considers a threat.

The Afghan government has maintained that it needs full control over which prisoners are released as a matter of national sovereignty. The issue has threatened to undermine ongoing negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the current combat mission ends in 2014.

U.S. military officials said Saturday's transfer ceremony was canceled because they could not finalize the agreement with the Afghans, but did not provide details. Afghan officials were less forthcoming.

"The ceremony is not happening today," Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said, without elaborating.

Regarding Wardak, Karzai set a deadline for Monday for the pullout of the U.S. commandos, over allegations that joint U.S. and Afghan patrols engaged in a pattern of torture, kidnappings and summary executions.

"Each of those accusations has been answered and we're not involved," said Brigadier Adam Findlay, NATO's deputy chief of staff of operations. "There are obviously atrocities occurring there, but it's not linked to us, and the kind of atrocities we are seeing, fingers cut off, other mutilations to bodies, is just not the way we work."

Findlay said NATO officials have made provisional plans to withdraw special operations forces, if Karzai sticks to his edict after meetings this weekend with Hagel and top military commander in Afghanistan Gen. Joseph Dunford.

"What we've got to try to do is go to a middle ground that meets the president's frustration," but also keeps insurgents from using Wardak as a staging ground to launch attacks on the capital, Findlay said. "That plan would be that you would put in your more conventional forces into Wardak," to replace the special operators and maintain security, he said.

NATO officials see the weekend violence as part of the Taliban's coming campaign for the spring fighting season. "There's a series of attacks that have started as the snow is thawing. We had a potential insider attack yesterday ... and there's been a number of attacks on the border," Findlay explained.

The suspected insider attack occurred in Kapisa province in eastern Afghanistan several hours before Hagel arrived Friday. Three men presumed to be Afghan soldiers forced their way onto a U.S. base and opened fire, killing one U.S. civilian contractor and wounding four U.S. soldiers, according to a senior U.S. military official.

The official said investigators were "95 percent certain it was an insider attack," because the three men came from the Afghan side of the joint U.S.-Afghan base, and rammed an Afghan army Humvee through a checkpoint dividing the base, before jumping out and opening fire on the Americans with automatic weapons. All three attackers were killed.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The Taliban said it was not behind the Tagab base attack, and has not yet weighed in on the attack in Khost, but the group claimed responsibility for the morning attack at the ministry shortly after it happened.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Hagel was in a briefing at a U.S.-led military coalition facility in another part of the city when the explosion occurred. He said the briefing continued without interruption.

Azimi, the defense ministry spokesman, said the bomber on a bicycle struck just before 9 a.m. local time about 30 meters (yards) from the main gate of the ministry.

A man at the scene, Abdul Ghafoor, said the blast rocked the entire area.

"I saw dead bodies and wounded victims lying everywhere," Ghafoor told the Associated Press. "Then random shooting started and we escaped from the area."

The ministry said at least nine civilians were killed and others were wounded.

Reporters traveling with Hagel were in a briefing when they heard the explosion. They were moved to a lower floor of the same building as U.S. facilities in downtown Kabul were locked down as a security precaution.


Sulaiman Abu Ghaith
(HANDOUT/Reuters /Landov)
March 07, 2013

Bin Laden's Son-In-Law Arrested, Brought To U.S.

Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and a former al-Qaida spokesman, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, is in U.S. custody and is being held in a Manhattan jail.

He could appear in a federal court as soon as Friday, U.S. officials familiar with the case say. His capture is considered important not just because he was so close to bin Laden but also because U.S. officials have decided to try him in a federal court, not Guantanamo Bay.

Abu Ghaith, 48, may be best known for his multiple appearances in al-Qaida propaganda videos. In one, shortly after 9-11, he is seen sitting next to his father-in-law, the founder of al-Qaida, as he took credit for the Sept. 11 attacks. Then Abu Ghaith took the microphone to praise the attacks as well.

"I commend our CIA and FBI, our allies in Jordan, and President Obama for their capture of al-Qaida spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith," Peter King, a Republican congressman from New York, said in a statement, confirming the arrest. "I trust he received a vigorous interrogation and will face swift and certain justice."

Living In Iran

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Abu Ghaith went into hiding, although officials had a pretty good idea where he was. He was part of a contingent of top al-Qaida operatives who have been hiding in Iran for the past decade, according to U.S. and European counter-terrorism officials.

They say the list of people living there reads like a Who's Who of al-Qaida founding members, including Saif al-Adel, a man who was rumored to have been a top contender to lead the group after bin Laden was killed by U.S. commandos in Pakistan in 2011.

It has been an open secret that those al-Qaida operatives – and often their families — are living in Iran just over the border from Pakistan. Their ability to move around and leave Iran appears to depend on the whims of the government there.

Sources familiar with the case tell NPR that bin Laden's son-in-law left Iran last month to travel to Turkey. He entered the country under a false passport and Turkish authorities subsequently found him and arrested him in a luxury hotel in Ankara, the Turkish capital. They held him briefly but then decided that they couldn't detain him because hadn't committed a crime on Turkish soil.

Abu Ghaith is originally from Kuwait. He was stripped of his passport soon after 9-11, so he is essentially stateless. Nevertheless, the Turkish authorities decided to deport him back to Kuwait via Jordan.

It was during that transfer that U.S. officials picked him up, officials said. Some media outlets are reporting that the CIA was involved. Others say it was the Special Forces.

The U.S. government has not said how Abu Gaith came into its custody. But he was flown to New York after a big internal discussion within the U.S. government on the best venue in which to try him. And it appears the decision was to bring charges in a federal court.

Where To Put Him On Trial?

On the surface, Abu Ghaith would appear to be a perfect candidate for the military commissions tribunal at Guantanamo Bay. That is where the alleged 9-11 defendants – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men – are on trial.

The military commissions were created to try terrorism suspects who are foreign and have al-Qaida links; so bin Laden's son-in-law certainly appeared to qualify.

In fact, Congress has required that these sorts of defendants be taken to Guantanamo, or at least be put in military custody, as a matter of course. But the administration has been very adamant about not being hemmed in on these kinds of prosecution decisions.

There is a chance that Abu Ghaith will appear in court tomorrow, though observers are unlikely to get a look at him. It would likely be a closed court session in which is indictment is officially unsealed.

The FBI has been talking to him since he arrived in New York and it was unclear whether he was cooperating. If he is, then it is less likely that there will be in court appearance on Friday. The prosecution may want to see how much he is willing to cooperate before he is charged.

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People walk down a market street in Eastleigh
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
February 23, 2013

Fighting Stream Of Terrorist Capital, Kenya Cracks Down on Somali Businesses

U.S. counterterrorism efforts include choking off the flow of cash to extremists, and urging friendly countries to help. But in Nairobi, Kenya, suspicion of Somali money — and an increase in terrorist attacks — has prompted a country-wide crackdown, with Kenyan police accused of extortion and arbitrary arrests of thousands of Somali refugees.

But how do you tell the difference between tainted money and honest cash?

Take Eastleigh, a neighborhood in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Depending on whom you're talking to, the Eastleigh market is either a tangle of back alleys where Islamist terrorists and pirates go to launder money, or it's one of the brightest spots of African capitalism, a dynamic 24-hour shopping center that's the only place for hundreds of miles where you can buy new jeans and sneakers at 2 in the morning.

Part of the reason Eastleigh attracts such investment, and such suspicion, is that Somalis make up the majority of people doing business there.

"When you come to Eastleigh, you feel that you are in Mogadishu or in other parts of Somalia, so you don't feel that you are an outsider," says Mohammed Shakul. "You feel at home."

Parallel Financial System

Shakul was born in Mogadishu, but he fled the war in his country in the 1990s and managed grocery stores in Nashville, Tenn. Seven years ago, he moved to Kenya and opened a hotel in Eastleigh aimed at other American Somalis and British and Canadian Somalis who like him want to come to the Kenyan capital and invest the money they've saved up in immigrant jobs as taxi drivers and shopkeepers and airline stewards.

Shakul also manages another hotel, two shopping malls and three housing complexes and is in the process of building four more. How did Shakul raise enough cash to go from running grocery stores in Tennessee to managing a minor Kenyan real estate empire?

He did not walk into a bank and fill out a loan application. Rather, he made a few phone calls: to a second cousin in London, a brother-in-law's uncle in Dubai.

"This money, mostly it came from Somalis in the diaspora and also local here, and it's based on trust," he says. "I know you ... you're related to my mother's uncle or so on."

Known as amanah, it's a system for raising and moving money through clan networks, and it's about as old as the nomadic Somali people. And it's informal: Shakul called up relatives, explained the details, they were in or out. No courts, no contracts.

That's just the beginning of the problem for counterterrorism experts like Juan Zarate, former assistant secretary of the Treasury for terrorist financing and financial crimes under George W. Bush.

"These are networks that run parallel to the formal financial system, based on trust," Zarate says. "The question becomes when those very networks have been used by groups like al-Qaida."

In some instances, that happens without anyone in the trusted circle knowing that terrorists are using their money.

 

$2 Billion Of Somali Funds

Parselelo Kantai is the East Africa editor for The Africa Report.

"The Kenyan government started to actively question what is the nature of this money," Kantai says. "And part of the questioning was motivated by the American counterterrorism push in East Africa."

He says what a Kenyan audit uncovered was $2 billion being quietly piped into Eastleigh through Somali channels — this in a year when Kenya's total GDP was about $40 billion.

"In this way, the Kenyan government began to understand the size of Somali capital. And one of the reactions, and this is a natural reaction from any government, was absolute panic," Kantai says. "It's like, how is it possible, that there is this kind of money, floating about, and we don't know about it?"

He says Kenya's reaction did not have to be one of fear — it did, after all, discover that its economy was 5 percent bigger than originally thought.

But this was in 2009, when Somali pirates were claiming multimillion-dollar ransoms. And in 2010 the radical Somali group al-Shabab declared jihad on Kenya with terrorist attacks.

 

Crackdown Begins

It wasn't too long before the Somali business people in Eastleigh began to be seen as a collective national security threat.

Rukia Abdi Hadele used to sell kids' clothes from her kiosk in Eastleigh. Police confiscated her inventory, saying she didn't have the right to sell because she wasn't a Kenyan citizen.

"I was a good-living person," she says. "Now I feel helpless and hopeless."

Hadele's problems really started this December, when the Kenyan government announced that all refugees in Nairobi — at least 50,000 people — would be rounded up and driven to refugee camps or deported. That included refugees who were legally operating shops, paying taxes and employing Kenyans.

Three days earlier, two policemen showed up at Hadele's house.

"I was fearing. I'm a single mother; I didn't know what to do," she recalls.

Hadele says she prepared her documents and opened the door. The police demanded she identify herself.

So she showed the police her ID, a refugee paper stamped by the U.N. The police told her she had to show them Kenyan citizenship or they were taking her to the police station.

What about my children? Hadele asked.

"They said, 'We're not interested in your children. Bring money.' Which I told them I don't have," Hadele says. "Then they said, 'If you don't have money, and you don't have an ID card, then we need you as a woman.' "

Hadele screamed, and a neighbor scared off the cops, who probably knew what they were doing was illegal. A Kenyan court has banned the government from relocating refugees, for now, as a violation of international law.

'Wherever The Money Is, We'll Go'

But ever since the government announced its intention to relocate people — and ever since Eastleigh began to be seen less as an economic boon and more as a terrorist den — Kenyan police have been accused of arbitrary arrests and abuses against the Somalis living in the area.

And the 24-7 shopping mecca is now a lot more quiet. Rents are down. Thousands have fled. Shakul says his hotel used to have a waiting list; now it's half empty.

Although business is down, Shakul is nothing if not an optimist. He thinks Somalis will once again feel at home in Kenya, maybe when tensions ease after the presidential elections in March. But, he says, if it is time for him to pack his bags, that's OK.

"We are a nomadic business culture," Shakul says. "Wherever the money is, we'll go with it. We'll follow the honey just like the bee."

Following the honey, in this case, may lead him back to the place he was born. Mogadishu is experiencing its first real security in two decades. And the real estate market there is booming. Shakul might have occasion to make a few more phone calls.

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bomb explosion site in syria
(AP Photo/SANA)
February 21, 2013

Syria Conflict: Many Dead in Huge Damascus Bombing

A massive car bomb explosion in the Syrian capital, Damascus, has killed at least 53 people and injured another 200, reports say.

State media blamed "terrorists" for the blast, in a central district near the headquarters of Syria's ruling Baath Party.

TV pictures showed images of bodies, wrecked cars and shattered windows.

The violence comes as Russia and the Arab League say they want to broker direct government-opposition talks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the war as "a road to nowhere".

The opposition Syrian National Coalition is holding a two-day meeting in Egypt to discuss a framework for a possible solution.

Some 70,000 people have died since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011, the UN says.

'Upside down'

Police and witnesses said the blast was a car bomb. It went off in the central Mazraa neighbourhood, close to the Baath offices and Russian embassy.

State and pro-regime TV showed pictures of dead bodies and destroyed cars. State media said at least 53 were killed and another 200 injured in the blast. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, said 42 had died, most of them civilians.

Surrounding roads are reported to have been closed off to traffic and firefighters and medical staff were soon at the scene.

Witnesses told AP news agency the car had exploded at a security checkpoint between the Russian embassy and the Baath Party central headquarters.

"It was huge. Everything in the shop turned upside down,'' one local resident said. He said three of his employees were injured by flying glass that killed a young girl who was walking by when the blast hit.

"I pulled her inside the shop but she was almost gone. We couldn't save her. She was hit in the stomach and head."

State media said the explosion had struck near a school and clinic and that schoolchildren were among the casualties.

It seems to have been targeted at the Baath party offices, but also affected residential areas, says the BBC's Lina Sinjab in Damascus. No group has yet admitted to the attack.

Heavy fighting between government and rebel forces is continuing around the city, with the government carrying out air strikes in the suburbs.

Shortly after the car bomb, two mortars were fired at a military headquarters in Damascus, reports say.

And there have been two other explosions in the city, also at security checkpoints, according to the SOHR.

The UK-based activist group is one of the most prominent organisations documenting and reporting incidents and casualties in the Syrian conflict. The SOHR says its reports are impartial, though its information cannot be independently verified.

Opposition 'softens'

Mr Lavrov said the Kremlin and the Arab League wanted to establish direct contact between the Syrian government and the opposition.

Speaking in Moscow, where he hosted league officials and several Arab foreign ministers, the Russian foreign minister said that sitting down at a negotiating table was the only way to end the conflict without irreparable damage to Syria.

"Neither side can allow itself to rely on a military solution to the conflict, because it is a road to nowhere, a road to mutual destruction of the people," he said.

Mr Lavrov and Arab League General Secretary Nabil Elaraby said their priority was to create a transitional government to navigate a way out of the violence.

No conditions for the negotiations have been set, they said.

The proposal initially received a cool reception from the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), with senior member Abdelbaset Sieda insisting Mr Assad and his allies "must go first".

"After that we can discuss with others in the regime who didn't share in the killing of our people," he said.

But the news agency Reuters says it has seen a draft SNC communique being discussed in Cairo which demonstrates an apparent softening in the group's stance.

The document reasserts the group's position that Mr Assad's apparatus cannot be part of any political solution in Syria, but omits previous demands that Mr Assad's regime must go even before any talks, Reuters says.

But that may still prove unacceptable in Damascus, says the BBC's James Reynolds in Istanbul.


February 16, 2013

Pakistan: Dozens Dead in Bomb Attack on Quetta Market

At least 47 people have been killed and many others wounded in a bomb attack on a crowded market in the Pakistani city of Quetta, police say.

Senior local police officer Wazir Khan Nasir told the AFP news agency that at least 200 people had been injured and the death toll could rise.

The bomb was detonated by remote-control in a Shia-dominated area of Quetta, he said.

He called it a sectarian attack: "The Shia community was the target."

Quetta is the capital of Balochistan province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan and has been plagued by a separatist rebellion as well as sectarian violence.

Last month, at least 92 people were killed in a bomb attack and 121 were wounded when suicide bombers blew themselves up at a crowded snooker club in a Shia-dominated area of Quetta.

The banned Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi said it carried out the attacks on 10 January, one of the deadliest days of bombings in Pakistan in recent years.

Such was the Shia community's anger at the lack of protection for them in Quetta they refused to bury the dead until they received assurances of security from the authorities.

Following talks with Shia representatives from Quetta, Pakistan's Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf sacked Balochistan's chief minister.


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