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December 27, 2005

COPTIC VISA-NIX SCANDAL

NY Post
By NILES LATHEM

December 26, 2005 -- WASHINGTON — The State Department has launched an investigation into whether hard-line Islamic employees at the U.S Embassy in Egypt are working behind the scenes to deny visas to Coptic Christians, The Post has learned


State Department officials are closely examining 15 to 20 Egyptian employees of the embassy's consular section after top officials received complaints from lawyers and human-rights groups about discriminatory behavior toward the Copts seeking visas to the United States, sources said.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, may have been wrongly denied visas, sources said

In a recent meeting organized by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), top State Department officials were told that these employees, who conduct prescreening interviews and translations, appear to have unusual influence over a process that is supposed to be controlled by Americans.

"This is a widespread problem that we have been aware of for some time. Now, however, there are people stepping forward and are making formal complaints," said Father Keith Roderick, head of the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights, who attended the meeting.

Among those making complaints to the State Department is a Christian man who was seeking to donate a kidney to an uncle in New Jersey.

He says he was twice told to remove the cross he was wearing if he wanted a visa. He refused and was denied a visa.

Another is a woman who was scheduled to speak at a recent human-rights conference in Washington about what it is like to live in a Muslim-dominated country.

She claimed embassy officials demanded to see her speech.

She and two other Egyptian Copts were denied a visa while Egyptian Muslims were granted visas.

They have asked that their names not be made public for fear of retaliation in Egypt.

There have also been complaints that these employees keep posters in the embassy promoting supporters of the Hamas terror group.

"This should be a concern because if they can influence who they can keep out of the United States, they could also influence who can get in," said Caroline Doss, a Jersey City immigration lawyer who presented State Department officials with affidavits from Coptic Christian clients.

Wolf, who heads a subcommittee that controls the State Department's budget, had no comment because he is conducting a separate probe.
State Department officials wouldn't comment.

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December 26, 2005

Vatican warns against marrying Muslims

ROME, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- A number of Catholic cardinals are warning Italian women against marrying Muslims.

Church officials say some 20,000 mixed marriages took place this year alone, the BBC reported.

The Catholic Church's official position is to encourage dialogue between Rome and other religions, including Islam. But two documents published in Rome have called for extreme caution by Catholic women contemplating marriage to a Muslim, the BBC said.

Vatican Cardinal Stephen Hamao wrote last year about what he called the "bitter experiences" European women have had in marrying Muslims.

The difficulties are compounded if the couple then goes to live in a Muslim country, the cardinal warned.

Cardinal Ruini, the head of the Italian bishops, said last month that in addition to the problems any couple faces setting up a family, Catholics marrying Muslims have to reckon with extra difficulties arising from deep cultural differences.

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December 25, 2005

Unite against terror, Pope says in Christmas speech

By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -

Pope Benedict, in his first Christmas address, on Sunday urged humanity to unite against terrorism, poverty and environmental blight and called for a "new world order" to correct economic imbalances.

The Pope made his comments to tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered under umbrellas in a rainy St Peter square for his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message and blessing.

In his address, telecast live from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica to tens of millions of people in nearly 40 countries, he also urged his listeners not to let technological achievements blind them to true human values.

He said humanity should look to the Christ child for encouragement in times of difficulty and fear.

"A united humanity will be able to confront the many troubling problems of the present time: from the menace of terrorism to the humiliating poverty in which millions of human beings live, from the proliferation of weapons to the pandemics and the environmental destruction which threatens the future of our planet," he said.

"Do not fear; put your trust in him! The life-giving power of his light is an incentive for building a new world order based on just ethical and economic relationships," he said, speaking in Italian.

Marching bands of the Swiss Guard and Italian police played for the crowd near a larger-than-life nativity scene, making for a festive atmosphere despite the rain.

The address by the leader of the world's some 1.1 billion Roman Catholics was different in style than those of his predecessor John Paul, who died last April.

John Paul wrote his Christmas addresses in free-style verse and resembled poetry, whereas Benedict's was in prose like a normal homily or speech.

After the address, Benedict wished the world a Happy Christmas in 33 languages, including Arabic, Hebrew, Swahili, Japanese and Latin. His predecessor sometimes used twice as many languages on Christmas.

DO NOT MAKE TECHNOLOGY A GOD

Since his election, the Pope has repeatedly reminded Catholics not to give in to an "ethical relativism" where circumstances can be used to justify actions that should be considered wrong in all cases.

The Pope, wearing a gold cape and with a gold mitre, continued in that line on Sunday address by focusing on the dangers of technology and progress.

"Today we can dispose of vast material resources. But the men and women in our technological age risk becoming victims of their own intellectual and technical achievements, ending up in spiritual barrenness and emptiness of heart," he said.

"That is why it is so important for us to open our minds and hearts to the birth of Christ, this event of salvation which can give new hope to the life of each human being," he said.

He also urged respect for the rights of people suffering in the Darfur region of Sudan, made another appeal for peace in the Holy Land and called for "actions inspired by fairness and wisdom" in Iraq and Lebanon.

The Pope asked God to favor dialogue on the Korean peninsula so that "dangerous disputes" there and elsewhere in Asia can be solved peacefully.

The Sunday Urbi et Orbi followed a Christmas eve midnight mass attended by a congregation that packed St Peter's Basilica.

In his homily at that mass he urged the world's Catholics to be beacons of peace in a troubled world.

The next major event on the Pope's Christmas season calendar is a mass on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.

In early January, the Pope is due to publish his first encyclical, a major writing addressed to all Church members. The encyclical deals with the individual's personal relationship with God.

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December 19, 2005

Dr. Germ and Mrs. Anthrax Freed

Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq - About 24 top former officials in Saddam Hussein's regime, including a biological weapons expert known as "Dr. Germ," have been released from jail, while a militant group released a video Monday of the purported killing of an American hostage.

The first results of Thursday's parliamentary election were released, with officials saying the Shiite religious bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, got about 58 percent of the votes from 89 percent of ballot boxes counted in Baghdad province.

Across Iraq, meanwhile, demonstrations broke out to protest a government decision to raise the price of gasoline, heating and cooking fuel, and the oil minister threatened to resign over the development.

An Iraqi lawyer said the 24 or 25 officials from Saddam's government were released from jail without charges, and some have already left the country.

"The release was an American-Iraqi decision and in line with an Iraqi government ruling made in December 2004, but hasn't been enforced until after the elections in an attempt to ease the political pressure in Iraq," said the lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref.

Among them were Rihab Taha, a British-educated biological weapons expert, who was known as "Dr. Germ" for her role in making bio-weapons in the 1980s, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, known as "Mrs. Anthrax," a former top Baath Party official and biotech researcher, Aref said.

"Because of security reasons, some of them want to leave the country," he said. He declined to elaborate, but noted "some have already left Iraq today."

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, would say only that eight individuals formerly designated as high-value detainees were released Saturday after a board process found they were no longer a security threat and no charges would be filed against them.

Neither the U.S. military or Iraqi officials would disclose any of the names, but a legal official in Baghdad said Taha and Ammash were among those released.

The official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said those released also included Hossam Mohammed Amin, head of the weapons inspections directorate, and Aseel Tabra, an Iraqi Olympic Committee official under Odai Saddam Hussein, the former leader's son.

The video from the extremist group The Islamic Army of Iraq was posted on a Web site and showed a man purportedly being shot in the back of the head.

The group claimed it had killed civilian contractor Ronald Allen Schulz, a native of North Dakota.

The video did not show the face of the victim, however, and it was impossible to identify him conclusively. The victim was kneeling with his back to the camera, with his hands tied behind his back and blindfolded with an Arab headdress when he was purportedly shot. The video also showed Schulz's identity card.

In a separate video, shown on a split screen, the extremist group also showed a picture of Schulz alive. The group had aired the video of Schulz alive when he was first taken hostage earlier this month.

The group first claimed to have killed Schulz in an Internet posting last week. It had said then that it would show the killing.

Schulz has been identified by the extremist group as a security consultant for the Iraqi Housing Ministry, although family and neighbors from his current home in Alaska, say he is an industrial electrician who has worked on contracts around the world.

Schulz served in the Marine Corps from 1984 to 1991. He moved to Alaska six years ago, and friends and family say he is divorced.

The German government, meanwhile, said kidnappers had freed a German aid worker and archaeologist taken hostage with her driver in northern Iraq more than three weeks ago. Susanne Osthoff, 43, was reported in good condition at the German Embassy in Baghdad. It was unclear whether Osthoff's Iraqi driver had also been freed.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Marine was killed by small arms fire Sunday in the town of Ramadi, in central Iraq, the military said. The death brought to 2,156 the number of U.S. service members killed since the start of the war in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

In other violence Monday, a suicide car bomb exploded outside a children's hospital in western Baghdad, killing at least two people and wounding 11, including seven policemen, officials said.

Police believe the bomb had been targeting a passing convoy carrying a police colonel, who was among the injured.

In western Baghdad, gunmen attacked the convoy of Deputy Baghdad Gov. Ziad Tariq, killing three civilians and wounding three of Tariq's bodyguards, police said. Tariq was not injured.

The fuel prices were raised Sunday - some as much as nine times - to curb a growing black market, Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said.

A gallon of imported and super gasoline in Iraq was raised to about 68 cents, but Iraqis were upset by the fivefold increase. The price of locally produced gas was raised to about 48 cents per gallon, a sevenfold increase.

In Amarah, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad, police fired into the air to disperse the hundreds of protesters who had gathered in front of the provincial government headquarters. The demonstrators, however, didn't leave, and scuffles broke out with police.

Drivers blocked roads and set tires on fire near fuel stations in the southern city of Basra, and hundreds demonstrated outside the governor's headquarters to protest the increases.

Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum said when the Cabinet increased prices, it also decided that the extra money would be used to support more than 2 million low-income families so they wouldn't be burdened. Some aid money was supposed to reach the families before the price hikes, but that didn't happen, he said.

"Dr. Ibrahim will submit his resignation to the Iraqi government if the situation continues as is," he said, referring to himself. "We should take in consideration the living conditions and the economic situation of the citizens."

Iraq's oil minister has previously said that cheap domestic fuel prices had encouraged smuggling to other countries. Iraq's government has continued the practice of ousted leader Saddam Hussein of heavily subsidizing fuel prices.

With 89 percent of the ballot boxes counted in Baghdad province - Iraq's largest district - preliminary results showed the United Iraqi Alliance received 1,403,901 votes, or about 58 percent, while the Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance party got 451,782 votes, and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National List with 327,174 votes, the electoral commission said.

The commission did not say how many people voted in Baghdad province or provide further details. Baghdad is Iraq's biggest electoral district with 2,161 candidates running for 59 of the 275 seats in Iraq's parliament.

Results from southern Basra province, also mixed but predominantly Shiite, saw the clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance significantly ahead, winning 612,206 votes with 98 percent of ballot boxes counted. The list headed by Allawi, a secular Shiite, was in second with 87,134 votes, while the Sunni accordance party trailed with 36,997 votes.

Kurdish parties were overwhelmingly ahead in their three northern provinces.

In a speech Sunday, President Bush praised the vote and warned against a pullout of U.S. forces.

Hours before Bush spoke, Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Baghdad, saying the election's strong turnout had brought Iraq closer to taking control of its own security. But Cheney also cautioned against a rapid U.S. withdrawal.

Bush said last week's voting would not end violence in Iraq but "means that America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror." He warned that a U.S. troop pullout would "signal to the world that America cannot be trusted to keep its word."

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December 19, 2005

Iran's President Bans all Western Music

By NASSER KARIMI

TEHRAN, Iran - Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has banned all Western music from
Iran's state radio and TV stations — an eerie reminder of the 1979 Islamic revolution when popular music was outlawed as "un-Islamic" under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Today, though, the sounds of hip-hop can be heard blaring from car radios in Tehran's streets, and Eric Clapton's "Rush" and the Eagles' "Hotel California" regularly accompany Iranian broadcasts.
No more — the official IRAN Persian daily reported Monday that Ahmadinejad, as head of the Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council, ordered the enactment of an October ruling by the council to ban all Western music, including classical music, on state broadcast outlets.

"Blocking indecent and Western music from the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting is required," according to a statement on the council's official Web site.

Iranian guitarist Babak Riahipour lamented what he called a "terrible" decision. "The decision shows a lack of knowledge and experience," he said.

Music was outlawed by Khomeini soon after the 1979 revolution. Many musicians went abroad and built an Iranian music industry in Los Angeles.

But as revolutionary fervor started to fade, some light classical music was allowed on Iranian radio and television; some public concerts reappeared in the late 1980s.

In the 1990s, particularly during the presidency of reformist
Mohammad Khatami starting in 1997, authorities began relaxing restrictions further. These days in Iran, Western music, films and clothing are widely available in Iran. Bootleg videos and DVDs of films banned by the state are widely available on the black market.

Ahmadinejad's order means the state broadcasting authority must execute the decree and prepare a report on its implementation within six months, according to the IRAN Persian daily.

Earlier this month, Ali Rahbari, conductor of Tehran's symphony orchestra, resigned and left Iran to protest the treatment of the music industry in Iran.

Before leaving, he played Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to packed Tehran theater houses over several nights last month — its first performance in Tehran since the 1979 revolution. The performances angered many conservatives and prompted newspaper columns accusing Rahbari of promoting Western values.

The ban applies to state-run radio and TV. But Iranians with satellite dishes can get broadcasts originating outside the country.

Ahmadinejad won office in August on a platform of reverting to ultraconservative principles, following the eight years of reformist-led rule under Khatami.

During his presidential campaign, Ahmadinejad also promised to confront what he called the Western cultural invasion of Iran and promote Islamic values.

Since then, Ahmadinejad has jettisoned Iran's moderation in foreign policy and pursued a purge in the government, replacing pragmatic veterans with former military commanders and inexperienced religious hard-liners.

He also has issued stinging criticisms of Israel, calling for the Jewish state to be "wiped off the map" and describing the Nazi Holocaust as a "myth."

International concerns are high over Iran's nuclear program, with the United States accusing Tehran of pursuing an atomic weapons program. Iran denies the claims.

The latest media ban also includes censorship of content of films.

"Supervision of content from films, TV series and their voice-overs is emphasized in order to support spiritual cinema and to eliminate triteness and violence," the council said in a statement on its Web site.

The council has also issued a ban on foreign movies that promote "arrogant powers," an apparent reference to the United States.

The probibitions mirror those imposed in neighboring Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, which imposed a strict version of Islamic law, including a ban on music and film. The Taliban was ousted by a U.S.-led coalition in late 2001.

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December 17, 2005

Taliban kill two in attack on Afghan school

KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban guerillas attacked a high school in southern
Afghanistan on Saturday, killing a guard and a male teenage student, a witness said.

Two attackers arrived at the school in Lashkargah, the capital of the troubled southern province of Helmand, just before noon, said the witness, Sargar Mohammad.
"They shot the watchman and opened fire on some teachers but didn't hit any, but they shot dead an 18-year-old student," Mohammad said.

They then went out firing into the air and called on people to obey their orders to shut down schools, saying they would be killed if they did not.

Helmand police chief Abdul Rahman Sabir confirmed that Taliban gunmen had killed two people in their latest attack on a school.

On Thursday, suspected Taliban guerillas dragged a teacher from a classroom of teenagers in another district of Helmand and executed him at the school gate after he ignored their orders to stop teaching girls, police said.

President Hamid Karzai called the killing of the teacher a "heinous act of terrorism."

"I condemn it in the strongest terms," he said in a statement. "The enemies of Afghanistan must understand that their evil acts won't close doors on schools in our country."

The fundamentalist Taliban banned education of girls during their years in power before being overthrown by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.

The guerillas have carried out a series of attacks on schools since then, often burning them down at night.

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December 16, 2005

Another Episode of Terrorizing Coptic Christians in Egypt

http://freecopts.blogspot.com/

The following is an account of eyewitnesses :

Another episode of terrorizing Christians has just taken place in Egypt.

In a small village called Kafr Salama near Menya El Kamh' in the governorate of Sharkeya (north east of Cairo) some Muslims, mainly young men belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood group , attacked the houses, shops and properties of Christians. This took place after a fight between a Christian and a Muslim in the village, during which the father of the latter dropped dead after going through a diabetic coma when he watched the fight. Things quickly escalated after the rumor spread that "Christians killed Muslims." The naive Christians, knowing the tension was only the result of a normal fight, did not believe things would get any worse.

However, members of the Muslim Brotherhood began sending messages to neighboring villages asking for their assistance. Subsequently hundreds of Muslims gathered from different villages, attacking the houses, shops and belongings of Christians. So far, seven houses and one farm have been completely burned, and many houses have been destroyed. The Christian young man who was involved in the initial fight was massacred by the mob of Muslims. Furthermore, the numerous police vans that rushed into the village have been so far unsuccessful in protecting the Christians, most of whom have fled the village. The few Christian families that remain are currently stranded in their houses, awaiting attack by the Muslims, unless protection arrives in due time. Hundreds of Muslims from neighboring villages, screaming "Islam is the solution," are still flooding Kafr Salama and threatening to burn and kill whatever crosses their way.

Please spread the word and let human right groups know of that new barbaric attack on Egypt's Christians. It's about time the Egyptian government learns to respect the human rights agreements it has signed and to protect all Egyptian citizens, regardless of their religion. The Copts are the natives of Egypt. We have been living in Egypt for more than six thousand years. We refuse to be treated as such by the current regime. The Egyptian government must present those who are responsible for this new episode of terrorism to justice.

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December 8, 2005

Islamists build on gains in violent Egypt election

By Tom Perry

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's opposition Islamists increased their seats in parliament nearly six-fold after an election marred by violence, but President Hosni Mubarak's party retained a big majority, official results showed on Thursday.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights said eight people were killed on the last day of voting on Wednesday in clashes with security forces who cordoned off polling stations in areas with strong Muslim Brotherhood support.
The Brotherhood said it had won 12 seats, expanding its parliamentary bloc in the month-long elections to 88 -- nearly a fifth of the seats and its strongest showing. Its previous highest tally was 36 seats in 1987.

"There are results which were rigged," deputy Brotherhood leader Mohamed Habib told Reuters. "It is an achievement despite these dramatic conditions," he said of the group's performance.

The United States criticized the conduct of the elections in its Middle East ally, saying events during the voting raised "serious concerns" about the path of liberal reforms in Egypt.

Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) won 102 seats on Wednesday, results showed, securing well over the two-thirds majority it needs to keep control of the constitution.

As has happened in past elections, the NDP tally was boosted by the return to the party of members who broke ranks to contest seats as independents against officially endorsed candidates.

The officially banned Brotherhood only fought a third of the 444 elected seats so as not to provoke the government, which launches frequent crackdowns on the group, the Arab world's oldest Islamist movement.

Brotherhood candidates contest seats as independents because they are not allowed to form a party.

DEATHS

The authorities gave the Brotherhood unprecedented leeway in the early stages of the elections but rounded up hundreds of its campaign workers and restricted voting later on. The group said this was an attempt to cap its gains.

Wednesday's deaths raised to 11 the number of people killed during the elections, which started on November 9. Ten people were killed in violence in the last parliamentary elections in 2000.

Independent monitors have reported widespread use of coercion and bribery by the NDP. Men in civilian clothes hurled chunks of concrete at Islamist supporters waiting outside some polling stations on Wednesday.

Brotherhood and NDP supporters threw stones at each other at other polling stations. The authorities have blamed Islamists for the violence and say police stayed neutral during the vote.

The Islamists call for more freedoms and Islamic sharia law in Egypt, which has been under emergency law since 1981.

While the Islamists were able to show the depth of their support, secular opposition parties won only a handful of seats.

Dia el-Din Dawoud, leader of the Arab nationalist and leftist Nasserite party, lost his seat on Wednesday. Ayman Nour, head of the liberal Ghad Party, lost his Cairo seat in the early stages of voting.

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December 2, 2005

Kidnappers Threaten to Kill Iraq Hostages

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The kidnappers of four Christian peace activists threatened to kill the hostages unless all prisoners in U.S. and Iraqi detention centers are released, according to a videotape broadcast Friday by Al-Jazeera television. The tape showed what the broadcaster said were two Canadian hostages. An American and a Briton are also being held. In a statement delivered with the tape, the kidnappers gave the two governments until Dec. 8 to meet their demands, according to Al-Jazeera.

The Canadians were shown eating from plates of what appeared to be Arabic sweets. In a second clip, the British and American hostages were shown to talking to the camera, but no audio was transmitted. All four men appeared frightened.

The hostages called on the U.S. and British governments to withdraw from Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported, quoting the statement from the kidnappers, who earlier identified themselves as the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, a previously unknown group.

The corner of the video showed two crossed black swords and the name of the insurgent group written in red Arabic script — the same emblem shown in an earlier video of the hostages.

The group has claimed that the kidnapped men, from the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams, were spies working under the cover of peace activists. The group denied spying.

Robin Buyers, a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Toronto, said the group was still analyzing the threat.

"We have been in Iraq before the bombing of Baghdad. We opposed the war and opposed the occupation," Buyers noted.

The activists were seized Nov. 26 near Baghdad University. A car blocked their car, gunmen got out, threw the driver and translator out and drove away with the four Westerners, security officials said Thursday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.

The men were kidnapped at the same place where Giuliana Sgrena, a reporter for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, was seized Feb. 4 and held for a month by a group calling itself Mujahedeen Without Borders. That group had not been known before and has not been heard from since, but may be using a different name.

The Christian activists — Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Va.; Norman Kember, 74, of London; James Loney, 41, of Toronto; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, of Canada — had been repeatedly warned by Iraqi and Western security officials that they were taking a grave risk by moving about Baghdad without bodyguards.

"He was in Iraq solely for peaceful purposes and was passionate about taking an active role in giving humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people. There were no other motives for him to go to Iraq," Sooden's family said in a statement.

Sooden's brother-in-law, Mark Brewer, said the captor's demand was impractical.

"It couldn't be much worse, could it?" Brewer told The Canadian Press from Auckland, New Zealand. "The family is shocked and devastated by the latest developments, and we'll be watching the news anxiously."

Kember's family said he was opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq.

"He was in Iraq because of human rights abuses against the Iraqi people," the family said in a statement.

Loney's family said they, like the others, were praying for his release.Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin said Friday his government was cooperating with the Iraqi, American and British governments in Iraq in an effort to gain their freedom.

"They came to help the people of Iraq; they are men of faith," he said. "We will do all we can to get these men back home."

The earlier video, broadcast Tuesday on Al-Jazeera, showed the four men sitting on the floor. The camera revealed Kember's passport.

A German archaeologist, Susanne Osthoff, 43, also disappeared recently. On a video made public Nov. 29, kidnappers threatened to kill her unless Germany stops dealing with the Iraqi government. Osthoff, who speaks Arabic, had helped distribute aid in Iraq.

The new abductions of Westerners come after a monthslong hiatus. The gruesome killings of past hostages have brought criticism from many Arabs, including an influential Egyptian cleric who issued a fatwa saying that since Iraq remains in a state of war, the kidnapping of those involved in the war is allowed but hostages should not be killed.

Some security experts believe the surge of kidnappings may be a result of lax security, attempts by insurgents to mix up tactics in an intense period of car bombings and suicide attacks — or a desire to disrupt this month's elections.

Insurgents, including al-Qaida in Iraq, have seized more than 225 people in Iraq, killing at least 38.

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December 1, 2005

Iran's President: "I will stop Christianity in this country"

Compass Direct: Global News from the Frontline

An Iranian convert to Christianity was kidnapped last week from his home in northeastern Iran and stabbed to death, his bleeding body thrown in front of his home a few hours later. Ghorban Tori, 50, was pastoring an independent house church of convert Christians in Gonbad-e-Kavus, a town just east of the Caspian Sea along the Turkmenistan border.

Within hours of the November 22 murder, local secret police arrived at the martyred pastor’s home, searching for Bibles and other banned Christian books in the Farsi language. By the end of the following day, the secret police had also raided the houses of all other known Christian believers in the city.

According to one informed Iranian source, during the past eight days representatives of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) have arrested and severely tortured 10 other Christians in several cities, including Tehran. All the detainees have since been released.

One of the arrested Christians was reportedly interrogated about his involvement in relief work after Iran’s deadly Bam earthquake in December 2003. Another working with a legal organization defending human rights was accused of using it as a “cover” for church activities.

In addition, MOIS officials have visited known Christian leaders since Tori’s murder and have instructed them to warn acquaintances in the unofficial, Protestant house fellowships that “the government knows what you are doing, and we will come for you soon.”

A former Muslim of Turkmen descent, Tori had converted to Christianity more than 10 years ago, while in Turkmenistan.

After he returned to his native Iran in 1998, Tori began to share his new Christian faith with friends and relatives. Within two years, a small fellowship of 12 believers was meeting in his home.

But not all welcomed his message; at least one relative attacked Tori, scarring his face. In the past year he received several threats from Islamic extremists vowing to kill him if he did not stop sharing his Christian faith.

Tori is survived by his wife and four children, ages 3 to 23.

He is the fifth Protestant pastor assassinated in Iran by unidentified killers in the past 11 years. Three of the five were former Muslims, under Iranian law subject to the death penalty for having committed apostasy.

Tori’s murder came just days after Iran’s new hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called an open meeting with the nation’s 30 provincial governors. During the session, an Iranian source told Compass, Ahmadinejad declared that the government needed to put a stop to the burgeoning movement of house churches across Iran.

“I will stop Christianity in this country,” Ahmadinejad reportedly vowed.

“This was apparently a green light from the president of Iran to go out and start killing Christians,” the source said.

Slurring Non-Muslims

Last week a Zoroastrian representative in the Iranian Parliament protested a slur against non-Muslims on November 20 by a top aide to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

According to the government-run Entekhaab website, in a public speech Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told youthful Basijis (members of a volunteer militia formed to enforce strict Islamic codes) preparing to join suicide missions that “non-Muslims are sinful animals who roam the earth and engage in corruption.” Jannati, who is secretary general of the powerful Guardian Council, is known to be a mentor and close advisor to Ahmadinejad.

Iranian Member of Parliament Kurosh Niknam declared the comment, “an unprecedented insult to religious minorities.”

Over the past month, Ahmadinejad has conducted a broad shake-up within the government establishment, replacing hundreds of governors, ambassadors and senior ministry officials with young and mostly inexperienced Islamists. Yesterday students at Tehran University protested noisily when a religious cleric without even a high school diploma was appointed rector of the nation’s oldest university.

In November, the new director of prisons also transferred a number of political prisoners of conscience into criminal wards with convicted murderers and drug dealers. At least one of these political prisoners has been killed by fellow inmates, sparking the fears of Iranian Christians for the security of Hamid Pourmand, serving a three-year sentence at Tehran’s Evin Prison for refusing to renounce his conversion to Christianity.

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December 1, 2005

Earthquake survivors wait for humanitarian aid near the devastated town of Balakot, Pakistan, Dec. 1. A Pakistani bishop has reported that Christian families in Pakistan are being kicked out of their homes to make way for Muslim earthquake victims. (CNS photo from Reuters)

Pakistani Christians evicted to make way for Muslims, says bishop

By Simon Caldwell

ONDON (CNS) – Hundreds of Christian families in Pakistan are being kicked out of their homes to make way for Muslims left destitute by the Kashmir earthquake, a Pakistani Catholic bishop told a Catholic charity here.

Earthquake survivors wait for humanitarian aid near the devastated town of Balakot, Pakistan, Dec. 1. A Pakistani bishop has reported that Christian families in Pakistan are being kicked out of their homes to make way for Muslim earthquake victims. (CNS photo from Reuters)

Bishop Anthony Lobo of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, Pakistan, said the Pakistani government has evicted Christians to solve the problem of how to house some 3 million people left homeless by the disaster.

The Oct. 8 earthquake killed more than 73,000 people, but those left homeless continue to be threatened with death from exposure to single-digit winter temperatures.

Bishop Lobo told the British branch of Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity, Nov. 29 that Christians in the neighboring Sind province, which was unaffected by the earthquake, might now also perish because they were being turned onto the streets without alternative accommodation provided for them.

He said that he knew of at least 40 families, or about 200 people, who had been evicted around Joharabad, near Karachi.

"All the people are being thrown out, all of them are Christians," he said. "There is a lot of land which the government has at its disposal, but they (government officials) prefer to select a place that is already developed.

"Their mentality is like this: Why plant a sapling and wait for it to bear fruit when you can select another tree that is already bearing fruit?"
The bishop added: "We are the most vulnerable people, we are very poor and we are easy targets."

Bishop Lobo said he feared that across the region the number of Christians evicted under the policy would run into thousands. He said he aimed to challenge the policy in the courts before the government started targeting other Christian communities.

"If we need to, we will try to get hold of a senior minister," he added.

The forced evictions came amid claims that the 5 million-strong Christian minority in Pakistan is being persecuted.

In mid-November three churches in Sangla Hill, near Lahore, were destroyed by a mob of 3,000 people who also attacked two schools, a hostel and a convent after it was alleged that a Christian had burned pages of the Quran, the sacred book of Islam.

The incident prompted the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion who was touring Pakistan in late November, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, England, to call for the repeal of the country's blasphemy laws on the grounds that they were being misused against minorities.

The laws sanction the death penalty for defiling the Quran or insulting Mohammed, but Christians say they are being used against them in disputes over property.

More than $5 billion has been pledged by international donors to the relief operation in the aftermath of the magnitude 7.6 earthquake.

Much of the aid has come from Christians in the West, but Christians in Pakistan also joined the relief effort, channeling thousands of dollars into providing food, blankets, tents and medicine.

Pakistani bishops sent teams of volunteers to search for survivors and have paid for the construction of an orphanage.

Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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November 30, 2005

Belgium arrests 14 over links to suicide bomber

By Emma Davis Wed Nov 30,12:13 PM ET

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Police in Belgium and France arrested 15 people on Wednesday in a roundup of suspected Islamist militants believed to be linked to a Belgian woman who carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq this month.

The 38-year-old convert to Islam blew herself up on November 9 on the outskirts of Baghdad in what security sources believe was the first suicide attack in Iraq involving a European woman.

Belgian police arrested 14 people and seized documents in raids centered on Brussels and Antwerp. They arrested two Tunisians, three Moroccans and the rest were Belgian nationals, Lieve Pellens, spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor, told Reuters.

The fifteenth suspect was arrested close to Paris.

The group had been under surveillance for four months after Belgium received intelligence about a suspected terrorist cell operating on its soil, but the suicide bomber had slipped out of the country unnoticed.

"It was through this organization that the lady went to Iraq with her husband, but we only knew about her presence ... once she was already there," said Glenn Audernaert, a senior law enforcement official.

Police brought forward the raids by a couple of weeks after leaks in the French media about the investigation, but Audernaert said the raids had netted all the suspects.

They were detained under Belgium's new anti-terrorist law, which defined terrorism as a crime for the first time.

The woman's identity was not disclosed, but officials said she was born in Belgium of European origin and converted to Islam after marrying a Muslim.

REAR BASE

One of the chief suspects arrested on Wednesday was a male Belgian convert to Islam, a police spokesman said.

"We know these groups are always planning attacks ... What we can say is there were no attacks planned in Europe," he said.

No explosives or weapons were found in the raids but police found evidence linking the suspects to what he called a terrorist organization focused on Iraq.

He would not name the group but said it was not the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM) which is held responsible for the 2004 Madrid attacks on commuter trains that killed 191 people.

De Standaard newspaper earlier quoted a U.S. official in Iraq as saying the November 9 attack targeted a U.S. military convoy south of Baghdad. No one was killed apart from the woman herself, it reported.

It added a Belgian passport was found on her body, with papers which showed she had entered Iraq via Turkey.

Belgium, home to European Union institutions and NATO, has suffered no attacks but is thought to have been used as a rear base for Islamic militants active elsewhere.

Earlier this month, 13 men accused of belonging to the GICM, which is also blamed for bombings in Casablanca where 45 people were killed, went on trial in Brussels.

They face charges of providing false papers, safe houses and logistical help to members of the GICM in the Madrid attacks.

German federal police chief Joerg Ziercke referred earlier this month to estimates that "perhaps 200 young people are fighting in Iraq from European countries."

A French intelligence chief said in May that five young men from a Paris suburb had died in Iraq, one in a suicide attack.

Spain arrested 16 suspected Islamist militants in June including 11 alleged followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda's leader in Iraq. It said many of the Zarqawi supporters had expressed the will to become "martyrs for Islam" there.

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November 21, 2005

Egypt Copts sound alarm over Islamist advance

Domination by NDP not at risk but will e have to face substantial challenge from Muslim Brothers.

By Jean-Marc Mojon – CAIRO

Egypt's Christian Coptic minority voiced concern over the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood Monday, after the still illegal Islamist opposition group made impressive gains in parliamentary elections.

"I am sounding the bell to warn Egyptians that if the Muslim Brothers come to power, Egypt will be an Islamic state, like Iran or Sudan," said prominent Coptic thinker Milad Hanna.

The Brotherhood claimed it had won another 13 seats in the second phase of the three-stage elections, adding to the record 34 seats they won in the first, and stood to win more seats in the 454-member legislature in second-round run-offs in constituencies where no candidate won outright.

In the outgoing People's Assembly, the movement commanded the support of just 15 MPs, all of them elected as independents.

"Had these elections been fair and transparent, maybe the Muslim Brothers would have won a majority," Hanna said, in reference to reports of widespread fraud, voter intimidation and violence from ruling party thugs.

The domination by President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party is not at risk but it will for the first time have to face a substantial challenge in the People's Assembly if the Muslim Brothers make further gains.

"I was always friendly with the Muslim Brothers," said Hanna, 81.

"My aim was to prevent conflicts, notably in small villages, so that Coptic minorities are not wiped out. Now I sense that the political map is changing.

"The day the Muslim Brothers win more than 50 percent, the rich Copts will leave the country and the poorer Copts will stay, maybe some of them will be converted... I hope I will die before this happens."

So far only one Copt, NDP heavyweight and finance minister Yusef Butros-Ghali, has won a seat. No candidate from the Christian minority appeared in a favourable position to win a seat in the remaining rounds of polling.

The Copts claim to account for around 10 percent of Egypt's population of 73 million and have consistently complained of under-representation and marginalisation.

The Muslim Brothers, founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, campaigned under the slogan "Islam is the solution" but their political agenda remains vague.

Munir Fakhri Abdel Nur, a leading businessman and one of the country's most prominent MPs, lost his seat in the first phase earlier this month and urged the Islamist movement to spell out its political programme.

Many Copts fear that the Brotherhood, which has displayed great political acumen and flexibility during the campaign, will revert to hardline Islamist policies if they seize power.

"It is high time they outlined their position on economic and social issues... especially their views on the role and place of women and Copts in society," said Coptic writer Samir Morqos.

There was no immediate reaction from the leader of the Coptic community, Pope Shenuda III, who has traditionally enjoyed good relations with the country's secular government.

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November 20, 2005

Zarqawi May Be Among Dead in Iraq Fight

By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer Sun Nov 20, 6:29 PM ET

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. forces sealed off a house in the northern city of Mosul where eight suspected al-Qaida members died in a gunfight — some by their own hand to avoid capture. A U.S. official said Sunday that efforts were under way to determine if terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was among the dead.

Insurgents, meanwhile, killed an American soldier and a Marine in separate attacks over the weekend, while a British soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in the south.
In Washington, a U.S. official said the identities of the terror suspects killed in the Saturday raid was unknown. Asked if they could include al-Zarqawi, the official replied: "There are efforts under way to determine if he was killed."

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

On Saturday, police Brig. Gen. Said Ahmed al-Jubouri said the raid was launched after a tip that top al-Qaida operatives, possibly including al-Zarqawi, were in the house in the northeastern part of the city.

During the intense gunbattle that followed, three insurgents detonated explosives and killed themselves to avoid capture, Iraqi officials said. Eleven Americans were wounded, the U.S. military said. Such intense resistance often suggests an attempt to defend a high-value target.

American soldiers controlled the site Sunday, and residents said helicopters flew over the area throughout the day. Some residents said the tight security was reminiscent of the July 2003 operation in which
Saddam Hussein's sons, Odai and Qusai, were killed in Mosul.

The elusive al-Zarqawi has narrowly escaped capture in the past. U.S. forces said they nearly caught him in a February 2005 raid that recovered his computer.

In May, the group said he was wounded in fighting and was taken out of the country for treatment. Within days, it reported he had returned — though there was never any independent confirmation that he was wounded.

The U.S. soldier killed Sunday near the capital was assigned to the Army's Task Force Baghdad and was hit by small arms fire, the military said. The Marine, assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, died of wounds suffered the day before in Karmah, a village outside Fallujah to the west of the capital.

In the southern city of Basra, a roadside bomb killed a British soldier and wounded four others, the British Ministry of Defense said. The ministry said 98 British soldiers have died in the Iraq conflict.

The U.S. military also said Sunday that 24 people — including another Marine and 15 civilians — were killed the day before in an ambush on a joint U.S. Iraqi patrol in Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad in the volatile Euphrates River valley.

According to the U.S. statement, the attack began Saturday with a roadside bomb detonating next to the Marine's vehicle, followed by a heavy volley of fire from insurgents.

"Iraqi army soldiers and Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding another," the statement said.

The three American deaths brought to at least 2,093 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Meanwhile, four women were killed Sunday night when gunmen stormed their home in a Christian district of eastern Baghdad, police said, adding that valuables were stolen and the motive for the attack appeared to have been robbery.

The latest deaths occurred at the end of a violent three-day period in which at least 140 Iraqi civilians died in a series of bombings and suicide attacks — most targeting Shiite Muslims.

The victims included 76 people who died Friday in near-simultaneous suicide bombings at two Shiite mosques in Khanaqin and 36 more killed the next day by a suicide car bomber who detonated his vehicle amid mourners at a Shiite funeral north of the capital.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that commanders' assessments will determine the pace of any military drawdown. About 160,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq as the country approaches parliamentary elections Dec. 15.

The Pentagon has said it plans to scale back troop strength to its pre-election baseline of 138,000, depending on conditions. Rumsfeld said the U.S.-led coalition continues to make progress in training Iraqi security forces, which he placed at 212,000.

Rumsfeld also said talk in the United States of a quick withdrawal from Iraq plays into the hands of the insurgents.

"The enemy hears a big debate in the United States, and they have to wonder maybe all we have to do is wait and we'll win. We can't win militarily. They know that. The battle is here in the United States," he told "Fox News Sunday."

In Cairo, Egypt, Iraq's president said Sunday he was ready for talks with anti-government opposition figures and members of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath Party, and he called on the Sunni-led insurgency to lay down its arms and join the political process.

But President Jalal Talabani, attending an Arab League-sponsored reconciliation conference, insisted that the Iraqi government would not meet with Baath Party members who are participating in the Sunni-led insurgency and attacking Iraqi and U.S.-led forces in the country.

"I am the president of Iraq and I am responsible for all Iraqis. If those who describe themselves as Iraqi resistance want to contact me, they are welcome," Talabani told reporters. "I want to listen to all Iraqis. I am committed to listen to them, even those who are criminals and are on trial."

Talabani made clear in his remarks, however, that he would talk with insurgents and "criminals" only if they put down their weapons.

In Baghdad, hundreds of Sunnis demanded an end to the torture of detainees and called for the international community to pressure Iraqi and U.S. authorities to ensure that such abuse does not occur.

Anger over detainee abuse has increased sharply since U.S. troops found 173 detainees at an Interior Ministry prison in Baghdad's Jadriyah neighborhood. The detainees, mainly Sunnis, were found malnourished and some had torture marks on their bodies. Sunni Arabs dominate the insurgent ranks.

The 400 protesters carried posters of tortured detainees, disfigured dead bodies and U.S. troops detaining Iraqis as they marched for a few hundred meters (yards) through western Baghdad.

Iraq's Shiite-led government has promised an investigation and punishment for anyone guilty of torture. Attacks against Shiite civilians by Sunni religious extremists have occurred throughout the Iraq conflict but spiked since the detainees were found last weekend.

___

Associated Press reporters Katherine Shrader in Washington, Sinbad Ahmed in Mosul and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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November 9, 2005

Explosions at Three Amman Hotels Kill 57

By JAMAL HALABY, Associated Press Writer

AMMAN, Jordan - A police official said it was believed that suicide bombers carried out the attacks on three hotels in the Jordanian capital late Wednesday, which killed at least 57 people and injured more than 120.

"There were three terrorist attacks on the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS and Days Inn hotels and it is believed that the blasts were suicide bombings," police spokesman Maj. Bashir al-Da'aja told The Associated Press.

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November 8, 2005

Former professor called terrorist ‘crime boss’

Man, 3 co-defendants accused of fundraising for Palestinian Jihad

Updated: 8:25 p.m. ET Nov. 7, 2005
TAMPA, Fla. - A fired college professor acted as a “crime boss” for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a murderous gang that operated like the Mafia, a federal prosecutor told a jury Monday.

Although Sami Al-Arian and three co-defendants are not charged with killing anyone, they conspired to bring about attacks and are just as guilty under the law as the suicide bombers who carried them out, prosecutor Cherie Krigsman said in closing arguments.

“The men of the PIJ you got to know in this case, they didn’t strap bombs to their body,” she said. “They leave that to somebody else.”

Al-Arian, 47, and his co-defendants are accused of using Palestinian charities and educational entities as fundraising fronts for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to help bombings that killed hundreds.
The men deny they supported violence and say they are being persecuted for views that are unpopular in the United States.

Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida computer engineering teacher who was fired after he was indicted, “was a professor by day and a terrorist by night,” Krigsman said.

Phone calls and faxes
Prosecutors built their case around hundreds of pages of transcripts of wiretapped phone calls and faxes intercepted by the FBI from the mid-1990s to about 2003, including discussions about the direction and financing of the PIJ. The participants at times appear to celebrate suicide attacks that killed Israelis and speak glowingly of the Palestinian “martyrs” who carried them out.

Prosecutors said Al-Arian and co-defendants Sameeh Hammoudeh, Ghassan Zayed Ballut and Hatem Naji Fariz used a think tank and a Palestinian charity in Tampa as fundraising fronts. The men claim the money they raised went to Palestinian charities.

If convicted, they could each face up to life in prison.

Al-Arian’s attorney, William Moffitt, rested Oct. 27 without calling a single witness. He said that prosecutors failed to prove Al-Arian did “anything but speak.”

Krigsman was to complete her closing arguments Tuesday and be followed by Moffitt.

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November 7, 2005

Australia foils major attack

By Joanne Collins

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian authorities believe they have foiled a major terrorist attack, arresting 15 people on Tuesday during raids in the country's two biggest cities of Sydney and Melbourne.

The arrests come less than a week after Prime Minster John Howard said Australia received intelligence about a "terrorist threat."
"We believe ... we've disrupted a large-scale operation which, had it been allowed to go through to fruition, we certainly believe would have been catastrophic," New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Moroney told Australian television.

The Australian Federal Police said 23 house searches were carried out under warrants in suburbs in Sydney and Melbourne early on Tuesday as part of a joint counter-terrorism operation with New South Wales and Victoria state police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.

Several searches were still under way, a Federal Police spokesman told Reuters.

"Nine men have been arrested and charged in Melbourne with terrorism related offences, some of which include intentionally being a member of a terrorist organization ... and intentionally directing the activities of a terrorist organization," he said.

Six men had been arrested in Sydney, but had not yet been charged, the spokesman said.

Australia's parliament rushed through urgent amendments to anti-terrorism laws last Thursday to allow police to charge people in the early stages of planning an attack.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally with troops in Pakistan, has never suffered a major peacetime attack on home soil. The country has been on medium security alert since shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

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November 6, 2005

Boyfriend was stabbed 46 times in 'honour killing', court told

By A Correspondent
London Times


A UNIVERSITY student was murdered to “vindicate a family’s honour” after he fell in love with their daughter and made her pregnant, a court was told yesterday.

Chomir Ali, a Bangladeshi Muslim living in Oxford, ordered his son, Mohammed Mujibar Rahman, to kill Arash Ghorbani-Zarin for the “shame and dishonour” brought on their family by Mr Ghorbani-Zarin’s relationship with his daughter, Manna Begum, it was alleged at Oxford Crown Court.

Julian Baughan, QC, for the prosecution, said that Mr Ali, a 44-year-old waiter, became “angry” in summer 2003 when his 19-year-old daughter began going out with Mr Ghorbani-Zarin, 19, who was from a Muslim Iranian family living in Oxford. Mr Baughan told the trial that Miss Begum already had a marriage to someone else arranged for her; but despite her family’s disapproval, the lovers continued to see each other, the court was told.

Mr Ali banned his daughter from contacting her boyfriend, taking her mobile phone from her and prohibiting her from leaving the family home.

This led her to attempt suicide and run away from home to stay with a friend’s aunt, the court was told. In August last year the couple got engaged after Miss Begum discovered that she was pregnant with Mr Ghorbani-Zarin’s child. Miss Begum returned home in October, and again her boyfriend was told by Mr Ali that he was not welcome.

On November 20 Mr Ghorbani-Zarin was found dead in his car, a green Renault, in Spencer Crescent, Oxford, which is close to his home. He had been on his way to watch a DVD at a friend’s house. His friend began looking for him when Mr Ghorbani-Zarin did not turn up.

He was found with 46 stab wounds, mainly to the chest, the trial was told. His head had been tied to the headrest of the car following his death, Mr Baughan said, and he was found by passers-by. Mr Baughan alleged that Mr Ali’s son, known as Muji, had committed the murder. Muji, 19, was arrested the next day.

Three days later a man, alleged to be Mr Ali, was spotted stopping his red Toyota car at nearby allotments and throwing a bag over a hedge. The supermarket carrier bag was found to contain a knife covered in Mr Ghorbani-Zarin’s blood and clothes which DNA tests showed were worn by Mr Ali’s son.

The father and son are standing trial for murder. Also on trial for murder is a 16-year-old, who cannot be named. Mr Ali also faces an alternative charge of assisting an offender. He is not said to have been present at the killing. Mr Baughan told the jury that the “family’s dislike of the relationship was the motive” for the murder.

Mr Baughan said: “The relationship brought shame and dishonour on the family that drove the accused to murder Mr Ghorbani-Zarin to vindicate the family’s honour.”

He added that in November 2003 the treatment to which Miss Begum’s family subjected her led to her slitting her wrists. Ambulance staff were contacted and Mr Ali and his wife refused to let them in, pushing Miss Begum out of the house and causing her head to hit the pavement, the court was told.

In the week before his murder Mr Ghorbani-Zarin had shown friends a scan of his unborn child, inviting them to his forthcoming wedding. Mr Ghorbani-Zarin, an electronic engineering student at Oxford Brookes University, was described by Mr Baughan as “fun-loving” with a great sense of humour and “without an enemy in the world”.

On realising Miss Begum was expecting his baby, he quit his course and got a job at a toy store, intending to provide for his family, the court was told.

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November 3, 2005

U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Press Conference on the Plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt

To: Assignment Desk, Daybook Editor

Contact: James E. Geoffrey, II, of the Helsinki Commission, 202-225-1901

News Advisory:

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission, announced that the Commission will hold a press conference to discuss recent attacks on the Coptic Christian community in Egypt. The press conference will be held on:

Wednesday, Nov. 9, 11 a.m. to Noon

WHERE: 430 Dirksen Building

Media interested in participating should contact James Geoffrey, director of Communications, at 202-225-2054, or by e-mail at James.Geoffrey@mail.house.gov. Please indicate PRESS CONFERENCE on the subject line of the e-mail response.

---

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce

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November 2, 2005

France's PM calls for calm in Paris suburbs

Chirac promises firm hand as violence highlights criminality in poor areas

Police clash with angry youths in Aulnay-sous-Bois, near Paris, on Tuesday night.
Travers / EPA via Sipa Press

Updated: 9:32 a.m. ET Nov. 2, 2005

PARIS - French President Jacques Chirac, intervening after six nights of rioting in suburban Paris, called Wednesday for calm and said authorities will use a firm hand to curtail what may become a “dangerous situation.”

The violence, sparked initially by the deaths of two teenagers, has exposed the despair, anger and deep-rooted criminality in the poor suburbs, where police hesitate to venture and which have proved fertile terrain for Islamic extremists.

“The law must be applied firmly and in a spirit of dialogue and respect,” Chirac said at a Cabinet meeting. “The absence of dialogue and an escalation of a lack of respect will lead to a dangerous situation.” Chirac’s remarks were passed on to reporters by government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope.

The rioting, which spread Tuesday night to at least nine Paris-region towns, has exposed rifts in Chirac’s government, with Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy — a potential 2007 presidential candidate — being criticized for his tough talk and police tactics.

It also has renewed debate about France’s failure to fully integrate its millions of immigrants, many of whom are trapped in poverty and grinding unemployment, living in low-cost, sometimes decrepit, suburban housing estates where gangs dealing drugs and stolen goods sometimes are in control.

'Profound frustrations'
That Chirac intervened personally was a measure of the crisis. He acknowledged the “profound frustrations” of troubled neighborhoods but said violence was not the answer and that efforts must be stepped up to combat it.

“Zones without law cannot exist in the republic,” the French leader said.

In Tuesday night’s clashes, riot police fired rubber bullets at advancing gangs of youths in Aulnay-sous-Bois, where 15 cars were burned, officials said. Youths lobbed Molotov cocktails at an annex to the town hall and threw stones at the firehouse. It was not immediately clear whether there were any injuries.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told Europe-1 radio that police detained 34 people overnight.

Sarkozy — blamed by many for fanning the violence with his “zero-tolerance” approach to suburban crime — defended his approach and vowed to restore calm. He recently called rioters “scum” and vowed to “clean out” troubled suburbs.

Housing projects to the north and northeast of Paris are heavily populated by North African Muslim immigrants.

Because of the unrest, Sarkozy canceled a visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan planned to begin Sunday, his office announced Wednesday.

Investigation planned
The rioting began Thursday in the northeastern suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois after the electrocutions of two teenagers hiding in a power substation because they believed police were chasing them.

Officials have said police were not pursuing the boys, aged 17 and 15.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin met Tuesday evening with the parents of the three families, promising a full investigation of the deaths and insisting on “the need to restore calm.”

In the northeastern suburb of Bondy, 14 cars were burned and four people arrested for throwing stones at police, authorities said.

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October 31, 2005

Vatican anger at beheaded girls

The Vatican called the beheading of three Indonesian girls from a Christian high school a barbaric act and said that the Pope was praying for peace among the people of the region.

Unidentified assailants attacked a group of girls from a private Christian school in the tense province of Central Sulawesi, beheading three and seriously wounding another. Police said that one of the heads was left in front of a new Christian church and the others near a police station.

Joaquín Navarro-Valls, the Vatican spokesman, said: “The Holy Father charged Monsignor Joseph Theodorus Suwatan, the Bishop of Manado, to offer his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and the diocesan community.”

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation, but Central Sulawesi has a roughly equal number of Muslims and Christians. A sectarian war in the region in 2001 and 2002 killed about 1,000 people from both communities. Beheadings, burnings and other atrocities were common. The Government mediated a truce, but the killing of Christians resumed. (AP)

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October 30, 2005

Kashmir militants claim Delhi blasts

By Shailendra Bhatnagar and Palash Kumar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An obscure Kashmiri militant group claimed responsibility on Sunday for bomb blasts in India's capital which killed at least 59 people, but analysts said it was probably a front for a larger Pakistan-based group.

New Delhi has so far refused to speculate on who was behind Saturday's trio of blasts, but security experts see the hand of Lashkar-e-Taiba (Force of the Pure) behind the attacks, in an attempt to derail the peace process between India and Pakistan.
The explosions took place within half an hour in markets packed with shoppers just days before major Hindu and Muslim festivals. Many of the victims were women and children.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed terrorists, but said it was too early to say who was behind the attacks.

On Sunday, the Islami Inqilabi Mahaz (Islamic Revolutionary Group), telephoned local newspapers in Indian
Kashmir to claim responsibility for the blasts and warn of more to come.

Delhi Police said they were verifying the claim.

"This is a very old organization, it was formed in 1996 and has not been very active recently. They are linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba," Joint Commissioner of Police Karnal Singh told a news conference.

Singh denied local media reports that police had detained 20 people. "We have only questioned some people during investigations. We will crack this soon," he said, adding that the death toll stood at 59 while 210 were wounded.

Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based expert on terrorism, said the blasts were almost certainly carried out by groups from the subcontinent but inspired by the methods of al Qaeda.

"It is very likely the attacks were meant to affect the peace process between Pakistan and India," he said.

"SENSE OF FEAR"

More than 110 people were still in hospital, many of them critically injured, some with severe burns.

Delhi's chief minister appealed for people to stay away from public areas for the next few days ahead of the major Hindu celebration of Diwali, or the festival of lights, on Tuesday and the Islamic Eid al-Fitr a few days later.

The markets where the blasts occurred opened on Sunday but were almost empty.

There were also scares at two fairs in the capital on Sunday after an unattended bag was found at one and information received about a bomb at another. The schools where the fairs were being held were searched, but no bombs found.

Elsewhere, extra armed police manned new barricades on the streets and the turnout at some temples and mosques was lower than normal on a cool, clear autumn day.

"There is some sense of fear, obviously," said 40-year-old resident Mohammad Salim.

LIFE GOES ON

But the scene at India Gate, a monument in the heart of New Delhi, was like any other holiday. Dozens of teenagers played cricket on the lawns, and domestic and foreign tourists were walking around and taking photographs.

Hawkers and ice cream sellers were doing brisk business.

"It is a sad event but life has to go on," said Meenakshi Dutta, a tourist from Kolkata.

The attacks were also not seen hurting stock markets.

"The blasts are negative but I don't see a major fall in stocks ... as the market has already been through a tailspin in the past few sessions," said Arun Kejriwal, strategist at Mumbai research firm KRIS.

The blasts came as Indian and Pakistani officials meeting in Islamabad agreed to open their Kashmir frontier to help victims of this month's devastating earthquake, the latest step in a peace process opposed by Kashmiri separatists.

Pakistan, the United Nations, the United States and other countries condemned the attacks.

India has blamed previous attacks on Pakistan-based militants. But the country is also racked by scores of revolts and in May two blasts blamed on Sikh separatists killed one person and wounded dozens in Delhi.

The blasts struck two markets and near a bus at another as dusk fell across the capital of 14 million people, a time when bazaars were packed with people shopping for special sweets and last minute presents for the coming festivals.

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October 26, 2005

Pope Shenouda Cries

Pope Shenouda, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church cried during a public meeting on Wed October 26, 2005, as he reflected on the plight of his people, the Christians of Egypt. The Copts are under continuous threat of annihilation. Please, pray for the Copts.

 

 

 

 

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October 24, 2005

Four die in DVD-fed Muslim rioting

Leaders in Egypt call for calm after Christian churches attacked

In Alexandria, Egyptians stand Saturday where thousands of Muslims rioted.

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (AP) -- Thousands of police manned barricades around Christian places of worship in this Mediterranean coastal city Saturday after seething sectarian tension spilled into the streets.

Egypt's top Muslim and Christian leaders called for calm Saturday, a day after 5,000 Muslim rioters rampaged through two predominantly Christian neighborhoods in Alexandria. The attack on churches and shops constituted Egypt's worst Muslim-Christian violence in five years.

The violence sparked clashes with rubber bullet-firing police in which two rioters and two policemen were killed, police and hospital officials said Saturday on condition of anonymity. At least 90 people were injured.

The violence followed a week of protests over a stage play deemed offensive to Muslims and performed two years earlier in the St. George's Coptic Church, which was one of seven churches attacked. Although unnoticed at the time, the play was recorded by someone and distributed on DVD recently, angering a large section of Alexandria's predominantly Muslim community.

Local political leaders and security officials claim local hard-line Islamists were behind the release of the DVD to coincide with next month's parliamentary elections. The Islamists are being accused of trying to tarnish a Coptic Christian candidate on the ruling National Democratic Party's ticket in Alexandria's impoverished constituency of Ghorbal.

But Maher Khalah, one of two Copts running as NDP candidates throughout this mainly Sunni Muslim country, announced later Saturday that he was withdrawing from the election race because of the violence and to prevent any reccurrence.

"This violence is not about the DVD, it is all about the elections," Khalah told The Associated Press.

A senior security official also blamed Islamic extremists for spreading rumors of Copts handing out DVDs showing the play, which is entitled "I Was Blind But Now I Can See." The play tells the story of a young Christian who converts to Islam and becomes disillusioned.

Worries of violence spreading
Coptic Christians account for about 10 percent of Egypt's 72 million population and generally live in harmony with the Muslim majority. But violence flares occasionally, particularly in small southern communities. Many Copts also complain of discrimination.

Friday's violence was the bloodiest since January 2000, when 23 mainly Christians were killed after an argument between a Coptic shopkeeper and a Muslim customer degenerated into street battles in el-Kusheh, south of Cairo.

In a joint-statement, Coptic Orthodox Church head Pope Shenouda III and Egypt's highest Islamic authority, Grand Sheik of al-Azhar Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, urged Christians and Muslims to resort to dialogue instead of violence.

"We call on everyone to be calm so we can spread the grace of peace, security and affection among us," the statement said. "If something happened and was misunderstood, then it is our duty to deal with it in the spirit of dialogue and understanding."

Shenouda was scheduled to visit Alexandria on Saturday for his annual Ramadan fast-breaking meal with Muslim officials, but canceled because of the violence, church leaders said.

The protests over the DVD started October 14, and Islamic leaders accused Copts of distributing DVD copies of the play. The church denied having any role in the production or distribution of the DVDs and refused Islamist demands to apologize.

Coptic community leader Kamil Sediq warned that the repercussions of Friday's violence could spread to Cairo and other provinces and stressed that Copts would not be apologizing over the DVD.

"We're not going to apologize because we don't want it to become a precedent," said Sediq of the Coptic Community Council, a secular body of prominent Copts established in 1874 to oversee affairs of the community. "We did nothing to apologize for."

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October 19, 2005

Coptic Christians in Alexandria, Egypt, attacked by Muslim Mob.

Christian Copts of California

P.O. Box 661336, Los Angeles, CA 90066
calcopts@sbcglobal.net
October 19, 2005
Press Release

Coptic Christians in Alexandria, Egypt, attacked by Muslim Mob.
A nun was stabbed on the chest and the back. One of her fingers was severed. A Coptic man was injured.

It all started on last Friday, October 14, 2005, when a crowd of about 500 angry Muslims demonstrated in front of St. George Coptic Orthodox church in Moharam Bey, Alexandria. The demonstrators came from the near by mosque after the Friday prayers and as a result of being inflamed by the mosques Imam. They were chanting anti Christian slogans and hurling rocks at the church.

Yesterday, Tuesday October 18, 2005, the situation intensified. Another crowd of angry Muslims demonstrated in front of Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox church in the same area. They attacked a nun several times by a knife from the back and one piercing stab on her chest. Also they severed one of her fingers. She was rushed to the hospital where she underwent an emergency surgery. Her condition is serious. Another man was also stabbed, but his condition is stable.

The new wave of sectarian strife was caused by a CD that was being distributed of a play that was shown in the church about 2 years ago. The play discusses the subject of polygamy in Islam. Muslims charge that the play smeared the Islamic faith, and demanded a public apology from Pope Shenouda, the head of the Coptic church. Those who conducted the play maintain that the play was meant to be educational and that it didn't include any wrong information about Islam.

The situation in Alexandria, Egypt is escalating with threats of burning the church, verbal abuses and physical attacks.

We ask religious, human rights organizations and all freedom loving people to intervene on behalf of the helpless Coptic Christian minority of Egypt.

Please call the White House and members of the Congress to demand President Mubarak protection of the Christians of Egypt.

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October 15, 2005

Imam who defends wife-beating loses in court

French judges rule against Algerian cleric, women's groups rejoice

REUTERS

Updated: 10:59 a.m. ET Oct. 14, 2005

LYON, France - A Muslim prayer leader expelled from France to his native Algeria for defending wife-beating received a suspended prison sentence and a fine in absentia on Friday for approving attacks on women.

A local feminist group hailed the decision by the Lyon appeals court to sentence Abdelkader Bouziane to a suspended six-month jail term and a fine of 2,000 euros ($2,398) for inciting an attack that was not carried out.

“This ruling says the law protects women no matter what religion their husbands have,” said Michele Vianes, head of the group. “It is very important for all self-proclaimed imams who say the Koran is above French law.”

Bouziane, who has two wives and 16 children, became a symbol of Islamic fundamentalism in France last year when the magazine Lyon Mag quoted him as saying the Koran allowed husbands to beat unfaithful wives.

Twice expelled
Amid a public outcry over his comments, he was summarily expelled to Algeria, where he had not lived since 1979. When an appeals court ruled his expulsion illegal, he returned to France, only to be expelled again for disturbing public order.

Another Lyon court had originally found him innocent of incitement to battery, saying he had only recounted what was contained in the Koran, the sacred scripture of Islam.

However, the prosecutor’s office and two Lyon feminist groups sued him on appeal and won. Bouziane’s lawyer said he would now seek an appeal in a higher court.

Bouziane, a prayer leader in the Lyon suburb of Venissieux, said after the uproar broke out that he was only stating what was actually in the Koran and not giving his opinion.

Law makes expulsion easier
However, the French parliament moved quickly to approve a law making it easier to expel foreign imams suspected of preaching radical views such as second-class status for women or hatred of Jews.

France, whose five-million-strong Muslim community is Europe’s largest Islamic minority, has about 1,200 imams. Most are poorly trained and many speak little or no French.

Paris has been trying to set up university courses to train imams, hoping that would promote a moderate Islam among them, but this effort has been stymied by the official separation of church and state and no such training has been arranged.

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October 15, 2005

Coptic Christians form about 10% of the Egyptian population

Egypt Muslims protest 'offensive' play

Saturday 15 October 2005, 3:35 Makka Time, 0:35 GMT

Coptic Christians form about 10% of the Egyptian population

About 3000 Muslims have protested angrily outside a Coptic Christian church in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, charging that a drama that was presented in the church was offensive to Islam.

City authorities dispatched about 200 police to St Gergis church in the Muharram Bec neighbourhood in Alexandria on Friday to keep the demonstrators from entering and disrupting the play.

The production features a poor Christian university student who converts to Islam when a group of Muslim men promise him much-needed money.

When he becomes disenchanted with his decision, the men threaten him with physical violence to prevent him from returning to his original faith.

DVDs of the performance, entitled I Was Blind But Now I Can See, were being distributed by Coptic Christians, who make up about 10% of Egypt's population of 70 million.

Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, a Muslim in Alexandria, said that he had watched a recording of the play and found it "offending".

The protesters have given the church a week to apologise and dismiss its priest, Aljazeera's correspondent in Egypt said.

Negative portrayal

"It tells you how Muslims are all terrorist and how they deceive Christians to convert to Islam either by force or money," Mahmoud said.

Church officials could not be reached for comment.

Accusations of forced conversions are routine in Egypt.

In December, angry Copts protested in Cairo for four days and clashed with police when the wife of a priest fled her home in the south to convert to Islam.

She later returned home and resumed practising Christianity.

Aljazeera + Agencies

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October 2, 2005

Bali terrorist blasts kill at least 26
Bloody attacks recall 2002 bombings linked to al Qaeda

(CNN) -- Terrorists brought death to Indonesia's Bali paradise for the second time in three years, as blasts killed at least 26 people at two resort spots packed with tourists.

The blasts struck the seaside area of Jimbaran Bay and the bar and shopping hub of Kuta, 30 kilometers (19 miles) away at about 8 p.m. Saturday night (8 a.m. ET).

In addition to the 26 fatalities, hospital officials said 102 people were wounded. One of those who died was a 16-year-old Australian boy, officials said, while South Koreans, Americans, Japanese and Britons were among those wounded.

Earlier, officials said 36 people had died, but on Sunday morning, Sanglah Hospital in Bali -- charged with overseeing the emergency response -- reduced the number of dead to 26.

A hospital emergency room where victims were treated resembled a war zone, journalist Sean Mulcahy told CNN. "The ground is just covered in blood, people walking around with arms missing," said Mulcahy, who, at the time of the blasts, happened to be next door to a restaurant that was hit in the town of Kuta.

The attack came almost exactly three years after terrorists bombed Kuta nightclubs on October 12, 2002 -- killing 202 people.

"People were just starting to build up confidence again, and to have this happen was devastating for the locals. But I think it's the nail in the coffin for people coming to this place," Mulcahy said.

Video of the scene in Kuta showed windows of several upscale stores shattered, glass littering the street, and the awning of Raja's noodle house blown askew.

Maria Bakkalapulo, a journalist who arrived at Kuta about an hour after the blasts, said it appeared a bomb detonated inside Raja's, which "was pretty much gutted."
Hallmarks of terror group

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned Saturday's bombings as an act of terrorism. There were no claims of responsibility.

But terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna told CNN that the attacks had the hallmarks of Jemaah Islamiyah -- a Southeast Asian terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda.

"There is no other group with this level of capability," he said.

The 2002 bombings were blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah.

Four key militants involved in the 2002 attack have been sentenced -- three to death -- while dozens of others have also been convicted.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan joined Yudhoyono in condemning the latest attacks in Bali, as did other world leaders.

The White House issued a statement Saturday offering sympathy to victims, "their families and the people of Bali who have suffered meaningless violence before. We also express our solidarity with the government of Indonesia and convey our readiness to assist in any way."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard told the Nine television network on Sunday morning that he was horrified and deeply saddened by the attacks, which he characterized as an attempt to undermine democracy in Indonesia.

He said Australia was offering medical evacuation facilities to Indonesia for anybody wounded in the blasts. In a statement, Qantas Airways said it would send a special flight Sunday to bring Australians home.

Kuta and Jimbaran -- the other resort spot targeted -- were "chock-a-block" with tourists celebrating a holiday weekend, Mulcahy said.

It was a school holiday for Australians, and many had traveled to Bali for the weekend, he added.
'Tried to save myself'

In the Jimbaran attack, two explosions tore through a long row of outdoor tables at a beachfront cafe where tourists often gather to watch the sun set, Mulcahy said. The blast sites were about 40 meters apart, he said.

Ketut Suartana, 33, told Reuters he was eating when the first Jimbaran bomb exploded.

"We were eating and suddenly it just went dark," Suartana said from a hospital bed, where he was treated for scratches on his face and chest.

"I tried to run but I kept falling over. Then the second blast happened. People were in panic. I just tried to save myself."

Mulcahy -- who felt the blast while inside a restaurant next to Raja's -- had plans to dine with friends at Jimbaran, but the streets were backed up with heavy traffic so they headed to Kuta, instead.

"Had we gone to Jimbaran, we would more than likely be dead," Mulcahy said.

The attack left tourists filled with "fear and terror," and they are fleeing their hotels in Bali with suitcases in hand, Mulcahy said.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Australia's ABC radio that a 16-year-old Australian boy was among those killed, and there were "grave fears" for two other Australians.

Downer said it appeared most of those killed were Indonesian. He said 17 Australians were among the injured. Local media reports also said several foreigners are among those wounded.

So far 15 bodies had been identified, according to Reuters news agency, quoting hospital officials. It said among the dead were 12 Indonesians, including a six-year-old boy, two Australians and a Japanese national.

The wounded included 17 Australians, six South Koreans, three Americans, three Japanese and one Briton.

Downer said Australia was sending a response team to Bali, and Australian Federal Police were ready to work with their Indonesian colleagues in investigating the attacks.
Warnings of terrorism

Shortly after Saturday's blast, Yudhoyono addressed the nation on state television, expressing his concern and condemning what he called a terrorist attack.

"These were clearly acts of terrorism because the victims were indiscriminately chosen and the targets were public areas. As president and on behalf of the Republic of Indonesia, I strongly condemn these inhuman acts," the leader said.

Yudhoyono said he had received intelligence information in July about terrorist elements in Malaysia and Philippines planning to target Indonesia, and had increased security in Jakarta and Bali as a precaution.

Recently, Yudhoyono issued a warning that terrorist cells inside the country were still active, despite hundreds of arrests.

Several other governments, including the United States, had warned about a high terrorist threat to foreigners in Indonesia ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins next week.

A report issued in early September warned that Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, may be planning a series of attacks in October, dubbed "The Great Ramadan Offensive."

On Friday the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta reiterated its warning of last May that the threat of terrorism is high and Americans there should be vigilant.

"Attacks could occur at any time and could be directed against any location, including those frequented by foreigners and identifiably American or other western facilities or businesses in Indonesia," the message said.

The island of Bali -- a popular spot for international tourists -- is a Hindu enclave in Indonesia, which has the highest Muslim population of any nation in the world.

The Australian government warned immediately after the Saturday night blasts that the possibility of further explosions could not be ruled out. It urged Australians in Bali to remain in their hotels.

Aside from the 2002 Bali attack, there have been a number of other terrorist incidents in Indonesia in recent years.

The Australian embassy in Jakarta was bombed in September 2004 in an attack that left 10 people dead, while in August 2003, 12 people were killed after a suicide bomber struck the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta. Both attacks were blamed on JI.

Australia and the United States consider Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir to be the spiritual head of JI.

In March this year, Ba'asyir was sentenced to 30 months in jail for involvement in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, but was cleared of all other terror-related charges, including those related to the Marriott Hotel bombing.

CNN's Elaine Quijano and Geoff Hiscock, and journalists John Aglionby and Maria Ressa contributed to this report.

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September 28, 2005

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September 25, 2005

Muslim employees at Tyson halt strike pending talks over praying

Associated Press 25 Sept 2005

NORFOLK, Neb. (AP) -- Muslim employees at the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Norfolk have agreed not to strike pending negotiations of alleged religious discrimination by management.

The meeting between both sides on Friday was productive, said Fardusa Council, a negotiator for the Muslim employees. All Muslim employees had planed to strike if a resolution was not reached, but that is being put on hold as the two sides work together, she said.

The employees are alleging that they are being denied the right to pray -- something that they say was previously approved by Tyson officials, said Ahmed Hashi, a spokesman for the Muslim population in Norfolk.

Council said Tyson officials were open-minded and committed to reaching an agreement.

"I've got a good feeling that we'll reach an amicable agreement," Council said.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company was likewise encouraged by the meeting.

"It was an opportunity for us to listen to their concerns and an opportunity for us to share our position," said Mickelson, a spokesman at the company's headquarters in Dakota Dunes, S.D.

The situation began to come to a head last Friday when 10 Muslim employees walked off of the job. Subsequently, the 10 individuals were counseled for violation of Tyson's policies and the union's labor agreement with the company.

Mickelson said the same 10 deliberately walked off the job the following day and were fired as a result.

The Muslim faith requires five prayers, or "salats," during the day, one each at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall. If the prayer is not completed within a specified amount of time, the prayer is then considered void.

Mickelson said the Tyson plant provides a prayer room for Muslims and that plant officials consistently are trying to work with the religious leaders to accommodate prayer time.

"However, because we're a manufacturing operation, we're not able to let everyone leave the production line at the same time without shutting down entire sections of our operations," Mickelson said. "Since we have more than 200 Muslims working our second shift, this has sometimes been a point of contention and misunderstanding."

Plant manager Randy Sexton agreed to take action immediately if there are reports of discrimination.

Shamso Ahmed, one of the Tyson employees to walk out, said she's hopeful a decision will be reached that will benefit both sides. Said Yousuf, a member of Tyson's union, agreed.

"We'd like to keep our job and keep our religion," Yousuf said.

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September 25, 2005

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

Pakistan Says Bin Laden Is Isolated

By SADAQAT JAN, Associated Press Writer

Osama bin Laden is hiding out with a small core of mainly Arab supporters, and the al-Qaida leader now only sends messages by courier because his communications network has been destroyed, senior Pakistani military and intelligence officials said Sunday.

There have been no fresh clues to bin Laden's whereabouts, but he generally is believed to be in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"In our opinion, the reports on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden are more speculative stories rather than based on accurate intelligence," said Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, chief spokesman for Pakistan's army.

Pakistan has deployed some 80,000 troops to its rugged border regions running along Afghanistan, fighting intense battles with al-Qaida-linked militants.

CBS' "60 Minutes" will report Sunday that Pakistani officials believe bin Laden may be hiding in Afghanistan, where he is protected by a very small number of people to keep a low profile.

A Pakistani intelligence official in the northwestern city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border, said bin Laden probably is accompanied by "dozens" of mainly Arab supporters. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the secretive nature of his job.

Security officials in Pakistan — Washington's front-line Muslim ally in the war on terrorism — also believe bin Laden's communications network has been destroyed.

"For a very long time there are no intercepts about Osama bin Laden giving instructions to his regional commanders, either through radio, telephone, satellite phone or the Internet," a senior security official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject.

"If he is unable to give orders physically or otherwise, it clearly indicates that his communication has been severed."

In the past, bin Laden would be surrounded by up to 500 people, the Peshawar-based intelligence official said, adding that his communications network has been reduced to human couriers, where a message "changes several hands" between its point of origin and final destination.

"This is a very slow and exposed way of communicating," the official said.

Security forces seized a letter from bin Laden during a raid in Rawalpindi in 2003 in which al-Qaida's then-No. 3 leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — a suspected planner of the Sept. 11 attacks — was captured. Mohammed is believed to have received the letter via the courier network, the official said.

Pakistani officials say more than 700 al-Qaida suspects, including senior figures like Mohammed, have been arrested.

Officials also say that information gleaned from al-Qaida has led to the arrests of militants outside Pakistan and helped prevent terrorist attacks abroad.

"The arrest of Naeem Noor Khan led to the arrest of a big gang ... ahead of the British elections," Sultan said, claiming that the people arrested in Britain planned to attack Heathrow Airport.

Last year, intelligence agents arrested Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, 25, an alleged Pakistani computer expert for al-Qaida. A reported tip-off from Khan led to the arrest of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian on the FBI's most-wanted list for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa that killed more than 200 people.

There were media reports that Mohammed Sidique Khan — one of the suspected bombers in the deadly July 7 explosions in London — may have had ties with members of an alleged terrorist cell that matched information from Noor Khan's computer.

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September 15, 2005

Iran offers nuclear know-how to Islamic states

By Paul Hughes
TEHRAN (Reuters)

Iran is ready to share its nuclear technology, considered to be a front for bomb-making by Washington, with other Islamic countries, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying on Thursday.

The comments were likely to heighten Western concerns about Tehran's nuclear program just ahead of a key meeting of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog this month which could decide to refer Iran to the
"The Islamic Republic never seeks weapons of mass destruction and with respect to the needs of Islamic countries, we are ready to transfer nuclear know-how to these countries," the official IRNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

The remarks were made during a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the
United Nations General Assembly in New York, IRNA said.

Washington and its allies say Iran has failed to provide full and timely information about its nuclear program and are alarmed that Tehran last month broke U.N. seals at a uranium processing facility.

A vote on sending Iran's nuclear case to the U.N. Security Council may be taken at a meeting of the
International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) board on September 19. However, Western diplomats acknowledge that many non-aligned countries and the IAEA itself oppose referring Iran at this stage.

Seeking to avert referral to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions, Iran is engaged in intense lobbying for support from non-aligned countries at the U.N. summit.

'NOT THE PRESSING QUESTION'

Iran state media reported that Ahmadinejad, who took office last month, had also held meetings with the leaders of Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan and Chile in New York.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said it was not clear what Ahamdinejad's offer to Islamic countries involved.

"In any case, this is not the pressing question," he said. "The issue is the lack of confidence in Iran's nuclear program as a result of two decades of non-disclosures and concealment."

Iran insists it has every right as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to develop a full atomic program to generate electricity.

"We have firmly decided to use this technology for peaceful purposes within the framework of the NPT, international regulations and cooperation with the IAEA," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

Turkey has said it plans to generate about five percent of its energy demand by 2012 from nuclear power through the construction of reactors with 4,500 megawatt (MW) capacity.

Like Iran, Egypt has been accused of carrying out undeclared nuclear work which Cairo says was linked solely to peaceful applications such as power generation and desalinization.

Saudi Arabia has said it is open to IAEA inspections but is not interested in developing either a nuclear weapons or power program.

Iran, which received much of its own nuclear know-how from Islamic neighbor and nuclear weapons power Pakistan, says it wants to produce at least 6,000 MW from nuclear power by 2021 with eventual plans to generate 20,000 MW from atomic reactors.

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September 14, 2005

Filipino Converts from Islam Facing Death Threats

By Jay Esteban
CWNews

CWNews.com –In the Philippines, militant Muslims are warning church leaders that, quote, "blood will flow" if they continue to minister to Muslims. But, I met some Muslim converts who are standing firm in their Christian faith.

Yusef is now dependent on a wheelchair to move him around. We’ve protected his identity. Last year, an assassin shot him twice for evangelizing Muslims. One bullet is still lodged in his spine causing paralysis from his chest to his feet.

Yusef was born a Muslim, but 5 years ago, he converted to Christianity when an uncle introduced him to Christ. Yusef says he immediately began to experience miracles in his life.

One of those miracles, Yusef said, "I was a heavy smoker, but after I received Christ, I stopped smoking instantly." He experienced another miracle when God enabled him to read despite the fact that all his life, he never went to school.
.
Yusef quoted Matthew 21:22 which says: "If you believe you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” He said, “I really asked God to enable me to read, so He can use my life."

Yusef has really put his new ability to work for ministry. He reads and memorizes Bible verses and boldly shares the good news of salvation to his family and his neighbors.

To some Muslims, he disgraced Islam. So his own family tried to kill him. But Yusef remained strong, defending the Christian faith.

Yusef's story is one among a growing number of Filipino Muslims who have converted to Christianity.

Pastor Rudy is a former Muslim himself; he is also receiving death threats. He says persecution against Muslim converts has intensified in the past three years because radical Wahabi Muslims have arrived in the Philippines from the Middle East.

Pastor Rudy told us, "They are threatening the members of the church to stop being Christians and go back to being Muslims. They threaten to kill them, to kidnap them, to harass their family."

The Pastor says radical Muslims are trying to entice new Christians to return to Islam by offering them a house and property, free education for their children and $6,000 in cash.

“Some members,” the Pastor commented, "were doubting if they should go on with Christianity. So, in our commitment as leaders, we tell them we are willing to die for Jesus. A lot of them are willing to stand for their faith in Jesus Christ because we leaders have been setting a good example."

A fishing community locally is a predominantly Muslim area. But in a home, 28 Muslims who have converted to Christianity come here every Wednesday to meet and attend literacy classes. On Sundays, they come here to have worship services.

Although their lives have been threatened, they continue living out their new found faith.

Just recently, Filipino Christian leaders received this nationwide email threat from radical Muslims:

It orders them to "pull out your workers before anything happens to them." It gave a warning to "stop holding seminars on how to convert our people"…if not, "war will be inevitable...blood will flow."

Members of one congregation all belong to the same Muslim tribe. Some have been beaten and abused by family members and friends.

Despite ongoing threats, many of the new Christian converts say no amount of persecution can shake their faith.

And what has become of Yusef? His parents and his siblings accepted Christ because of his determined faith.

In addition, Yusef has been offered help to have the bullet in his spine removed. But his desire to continue serving God keeps him from proceeding with the surgery.

Yusef explained why. "If I am unable to speak, as a result of the operation, I would rather stay like this. What is important to me is that I can still witness. That makes me happy. I believe that this is only temporary. One day God will make me walk again."

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September 12, 2005

WEST BANK: TAIBA ATTACK EXPOSES CHRISTIAN VULNERABILITY

Late on Saturday evening 3 September, a riotous, murderous Muslim
mob from the West Bank village of Deir Jarir attacked the
neighbouring Christian village of Taiba, northeast of Ramallah. They
came armed with clubs, kerosene and Molotov cocktails, chanting,
"Let's burn the infidels, let's burn the Crusaders." Residents were
beaten, houses were looted and cars were burned. At least 13 homes
were torched. The attack lasted until the early hours of Sunday
morning when Palestinian Authority (PA) security police finally made
it through the Israeli checkpoints.

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September 6, 2005

Security Forces Storm Saudi Arabia Villa

By ADNAN MALIK, Associated Press Writer

DAMMAM, Saudi Arabia - Saudi security forces stormed a villa where Islamic militants were holed up Tuesday, ending three days of fierce fighting that killed four policemen and a number of militants, a security official said.

Gunfire and explosions rocked the district in the eastern Saudi city of Dammam for hours Tuesday morning as special forces dropped off by helicopter besieged the villa. At one point, an explosion blasted debris and sent smoke out of a neighboring building.
After noon, the fighting fell silent, and special forces buses were seen leaving the area. A security official confirmed that the fighting had ended and police were clearing the scene.

Some charred bodies were found inside the building, the official said, adding that four security troops were killed and 10 wounded during three days of fighting.

The official spoke condition of anonymity because of Interior Ministry rules. State-run television quoted unnamed security officials giving the same information.

Police cordoned off the entire Mubarakiah district in Dammam, 250 miles northeast of the capital, Riyadh.

The Interior Ministry has said the gunmen were affiliated with a "deviant group" — a term Saudis usually use for the local branch of al-Qaida. The terrorist network wants to topple the Saudi royal family because of its close ties with the West, particularly the United States.

The fighting began Sunday when running battles between police and militants erupted in a seafront district of Dammam, killing two militants before other fighters fled to the apartment building, where they holed up.

Residents were kept awake on Monday by sporadic gunfire and the deafening explosions of rocket-propelled grenades fired by the special forces at the villa.

A convoy of security vehicles brought in fresh troops and ammunition Tuesday morning. A line of ambulances was parked at the perimeter of the battle zone.

Late Monday night, officials at Dammam Central Hospital said about 30 Saudi police officers had been admitted, and some were critically wounded.

Security officials declined to give overall figures for the dead and wounded.

But late Monday, a security official said one of the two militants killed Sunday was No. 3 on the country's most-wanted list. He was identified as Zaid Saad Zaid al-Samari, 31, a Saudi sought in connection with the numerous terror attacks launched in the kingdom since May 2003.

The shootout caused the U.S. Embassy to close the American consulate in Dhahran, 15 miles southwest of Dammam, on Monday.

Since May 2003, Islamic militants have carried out numerous attacks, suicide bombings and kidnappings in the kingdom, tending to target Westerners in a bid to cripple the economy. Westerners occupy important positions in the oil industry.

The violence in Dammam flared as U.S. Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend met King Abdullah and other top Saudi officials Monday in Riyadh. The deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, also met the Saudi deputy defense minister, Prince Khalid Bin Sultan.

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September 5, 2005

International protests against Shariah tribunals in Ontario set for Thursday

Sunday, September 4th, 2005 (The Brandon Sun) http://www.brandonsun.com/pfstory.php?story_id=2643

OTTAWA (CP) - Protesters will take to the streets this week in cities from Amsterdam to Victoria, all because of a bureaucratic proposal that would allow Islamic law to be used in Ontario family arbitration cases.

The long-delayed decision on whether to formally include - and regulate - Shariah religious arbitration in the province has raised alarms among Canadian and European women's groups, dissidents from hardline Islamic states such as Iran, human-rights activists, writers and humanist advocates.

Almost 100 organizations have banded together under the banner of the International Campaign against Shariah Court in Canada. On Thursday, they'll march in six European cities and at least five in Canada.

Ottawa, Toronto and Waterloo, Ont., Montreal and Victoria all have protests planned, along with Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Gutenberg, Stockholm, London and Paris.

Sohaila Sharifi, an Iranian emigrant who is organizing the protest in front of the Canadian High Commission in London, said the Ontario situation is emblematic of a global battle between secular societies and "political Islam."

"If they win this fight in Canada, there is always the possibility that they would see it as a victory that could bring them one step forward," Sharifi said in an e-mail exchange.

"They would use the same argument to establish the same religious system here in Europe and elsewhere."

The "they" in question represent an odd, informal coalition of hardline Islamic fundamentalists, mainstream Muslim groups and a former NDP attorney general from Ontario who studied the issue at length and came up with the current proposal.

But Marion Boyd's vision of provincially regulated religious arbitration - an existing 15-year-old system that would be further tightened under the mantle of Ontario family law and Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms - bears little resemblance to the Shariah law being debated by warring camps.

The Boyd report was prompted by a retired Muslim lawyer, who in 2003 announced he was setting up the Islamic Institute for Civil Justice to train arbitrators to use Ontario's existing arbitration act. But Syed Mumtaz Ali's view of Shariah was unabashedly fundamentalist and political.

The Ontario government ducked for cover by asking Boyd to examine the issue. It has sat on her report since last December.

In the meantime, opponents have dug in.

"The volatility of the debate has a lot to do with what people have experienced . . . in countries like Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, where there is no doubt that Islamic law - particularly these medieval rules of law - are being enforced in various ways and have the effect of discriminating against women," said Anver Emon, an American scholar in Islamic law recently hired by the University of Toronto.

But Emon said both extremes in the debate are choosing to define Islamic law as a medieval model that simply will not fit in the modern Canadian context.

"What's interesting is both of these (warring) groups have the same conception of Shariah: it's these medieval rules," he said.

"Both of them adopt the same definition and both adopt the kind of fundamentalism about the law that you find in the Wahhabi circles: that Islamic law is nothing more than this strict, really rigorous, fundamentalist, literal reading of the Qur'an, the traditions of the prophet and these medieval rules.

"My retort is, certainly the process of Shariah is a very different conception than simply the rules of Shariah."

Emon said there's an entire medieval legal theory in Islamic law "that no one seems to be talking about."

That theory, said Emon, explains Islamic law as an interpretive process in which the norms and cultures of society are constantly engaged to construct a legal system.

But try telling that to advocates such as Michele Vianes, president of the Paris-based group Regards de femmes.

In France, proponents of Shariah courts have served to isolate young Muslim girls, for instance, by insisting they must not consort with males, even in school classrooms.

Political Islam doesn't recognize secular law, Vienes said in an interview.

"For all Europeans, women particularly, we think Canada is a country where women's rights are very strong. For us, it is unbelievable that Shariah institutes are possible in Canada."

Their protests this week, she said, are aimed both at sending a clear message to their own governments and to the current attorney general of Ontario.

"We hope that all together we can make a difference, change the law in Ontario and (make) Mr. Michael Bryant change his mind."

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August 29, 2005

Muslims Deliver Two Threats to Pope

Benedict met with Muslim leaders and said they had "a great responsibility" to educate young Muslims about the evils of extremism.

(RNS) The Vatican was on high alert Aug. 26 after two written threats, but a spokesman for the Holy See said it had no reason to think the threats -- which mentioned Pope Benedict XVI by name -- were especially credible.

The threats, which were faxed to a Spanish television station and newspaper earlier in the week, carried the heading "The Pope of the Vatican Goes to War," and were signed by an unknown person named D. Abdouh. The document said that after years of neutrality, the Vatican has come out against the Islamic world since Benedict became pope in April.

"The Vatican ... has moved to support the Christian side of the countries in the world, and if possible, the Catholic side," the document said. "The tendency of the Vatican (in the past) was to not take part in numerous wars."

The document went on to say: "Many children of Islam signed themselves up to the ranks of those who fight Western terrorism, with sincerity, following what ... intellectuals say through the media and motivated by the speeches of (U.S. President) George Bush, (Italian Premier) Silvio Berlusconi, and (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair. The new head of the Catholics, Benedict XVI, has launched a powerful message against these fighters."

Berlusconi and Blair head the two European governments most closely allied with the U.S.-led war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Vatican is located within Berlusconi's Italy.

The document said the pontiff's remarks to Muslim leaders during the recent World Youth Day activities in Cologne, Germany, proved that the Holy See was an integral part of the Western coalition that has pitted itself against Islam.

In Cologne, Benedict met with Muslim leaders and said they had "a great responsibility" to educate young Muslims about the evils of extremism, telling the Muslim leadership, "I am certain that I echo your thoughts when I bring up the concern of the spread of terrorism."

Some media reports pointed out that Benedict was subtly redefining Vatican relations with Islam, departing from the more conciliatory overtures of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, to forge an approach that presses for reform.

A Vatican press office official said the charges in the threats were groundless, pointing out that the Vatican has not taken a stand against Islam, but against Islamic extremists. The Vatican also opposes non-Islamic extremists, he said.

"The statements are not based on fact, but the threat could still be very real," the spokesman said.

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Next 2005 News Continued

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