Terrorism & Security
Reuters reports that supply trucks began entering Afghanistan Thursday, after border security was given the green light to open the way. Security officials “received their orders today, and now two trucks have crossed the border into Afghanistan,” said Imran Raza, a customs official.
Supply vehicles remain stalled elsewhere in Pakistan though, reports the BBC, whose correspondent says that NATO trucks are still awaiting the all-clear in the port city of Karachi. The BBC's Aleem Maqbool says that drivers there are not aware of any supply trucks that have left the city to travel to the Afghan border.
Pakistan had long predicated the reopening of the Afghan border on an apology from the US for its attack on the Pakistani military's post at Salala, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers. But while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly apologized on Tuesday for the attack, it appears that the Pakistani government also convinced the US to draft a written agreement of each side's obligations. The Express Tribune of Pakistan reports that as part of a "package deal" to reopen the border, the US and Pakistan would draw up a "black and white" agreement on areas of cooperation, in order to avoid future incidents.
A Pakistani official familiar with the development revealed that the US was initially reluctant to negotiate such an accord since the existing ‘vague’ arrangements served its purpose. However, Islamabad managed to convince Washington on the issue during intense discussions aimed at breaking the deadlock on Nato supply lines, the official added. ...
“Salala like incidents had been taking place for years and the reason was a lack of written agreement,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous.
“It was important that we put an end to this practice and it is only possible if we have clear agreement with the US,” the official added.
Such an agreement might tamp down criticism of the deal within Pakistan. A Pakistani opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Wednesday lambasted the decision to reopen the border, calling it "a source of degradation and humiliation for Pakistan," reports the PakTribune. Mr. Khan noted that parliament, to whom the government had earlier referred the border issue, had demanded that the US cease drone strikes and withdraw covert personnel as a condition of reopening the border. But neither condition appears to have been met, Khan said.
"If they had to surrender and compromise so easily, what was the point in first blocking the NATO routes and then referring the matter with great pomp and show to parliament for ultimate decision," he said.
But even with the Afghan-Pakistani border reopened, logistics remain a huge issue for NATO forces in Afghanistan, particularly as they begin to withdraw. The Washington Post reports that even with Pakistan's cooperation, NATO will still have to move at least a third of its materiel overland, on railways, and roads that cross former Soviet republics to the north of Afghanistan.
Those routes carry strategic risks of their own. Access to the transit lines depends on the whims of several authoritarian Central Asian leaders as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin, a longtime nemesis of NATO. Moreover, the cost of shipping goods along the northern routes is about triple that of the much-shorter Pakistani lines.
The only other option for departing landlocked Afghanistan is by air — an even more expensive alternative, costing up to 10 times as much as the Pakistani ground routes.
The Post notes that the northern routes are seen as a hedge against the possibility of Pakistan shutting its supply routes again.
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The Syrian government has created an “archipelago” of 27 torture facilities throughout its country, according to a report released today by Human Rights Watch. Relying on interviews with more than 200 former detainees, the report offers the most comprehensive view to date of torture and abuse committed by the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Thousands of people are believed to have been tortured by the government since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, but the report is the first to offer a detailed view of the problem.
“The systematic patterns of ill-treatment and torture that Human Rights Watch documented clearly point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment and therefore constitute a crime against humanity,” wrote the report’s authors.
The 81-page report recorded more than 20 distinct methods of torture, including beatings, often with batons; electrocution; detainees being forced to hold stress positions for extended periods of time; and mock executions. By publishing the details of these findings, the report’s authors say that they hope those behind them will now realize that they “will have to answer for these horrific crimes,” reports the Guardian.
IN PICTURES – Conflict in Syria
Although women, children, and elderly people were also tortured, most victims were young men between 18 and 35 years old, reports The New York Times. In one 31-year-old victim’s account, he was stripped naked when interrogators set to work on him.
“Then they started squeezing my fingers with pliers. They put staples in my fingers, chest and ears. I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke. The staples in the ears were the most painful. They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun guns on my genitals twice. I thought I would never see my family again. They tortured me like this three times over three days,” said the victim, a man from near Idlib in northern Syria.
Most of the torture was conducted by Syria’s four main intelligence agencies – Department of Military Intelligence, the Political Security Directorate, the General Intelligence Directorate, and the Air Force Intelligence Directorate. Each intelligence agency has a headquarters in Damascus and regional branches throughout the country, reports Al Jazeera.
“The reach and inhumanity of this network of torture centers are truly horrific,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch in an article by the BBC. Alluding to Russia and China’s record of blocking United Nations Security Council resolutions against the Syrian regime, he added, “Russia should not be holding its protective hand over the people who are responsible for this.”
Despite China and Russia’s efforts to block an international intervention in Syria, today's report has drawn strong words from other international leaders. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a stern warning after the report saying that his country and its international partners would go to great lengths to ensure those responsible for the acts described in the report were brought to justice, reports The Independent.
“It highlights the horror of what is happening. The scale of the barbaric acts that are being carried out by the regime against the population is appalling. This Human Rights Watch report should act as a clear warning. There should be no impunity or hiding place for those committing these crimes,” said Mr. Hague. “Those responsible for systematic and widespread human rights violations should not delude themselves: we and our international partners will do everything we can to ensure that they will face justice.”
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Islamists in northern Mali have drawn both domestic and international condemnation after they destroyed seven historic tombs and the door to an ancient mosque in Timbuktu over the weekend. The shrines to the saints are important to local Sufi Muslims, but Mali’s Islamists say that such religious landmarks constitute idolatry.
Mali has been unstable since a military coup sparked fighting in March. Much of the country is still in grave turmoil, with Islamist group Ansar Dine now in control of the north. In the face of such an uncertain future, the United Nations’ cultural agency just last week listed Timbuktu as an endangered world heritage site.
The group is already facing harsh international criticism for the attack, which is likely to result in alienation on the global stage, as happened to the Taliban in March 2001 when they blew up 6th century Buddha statues in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province.
“My message to those involved in these criminal acts is clear: stop the destruction of the religious buildings now,” said Fatou Bensouda, an ICC prosecutor, according to AFP. “This is a war crime which my office has authority to fully investigate.”
Timbuktu’s monuments, particularly the Koranic Sankore University, are symbols to many in Mali of the Timbuktu’s golden age in the 15th and 16th century, writes UNESCO, the UN's cultural body. At the time, Timbuktu was a center for scholarship, spirituality, and Islamic theology in Africa.
The destruction of the landmarks and the threat to destroy more has caused considerable outrage among Malians.
“I think this kind of madness of Ansar Dine is horrible. All the place for history in Timbuktu, this is not Sharia. Even if you see what they did, the destruction in Timbuktu, maybe the mosque, the big mosque, the cemetery for person who died, they said is no good – who tell them that? Who tell them it is not in the Koran? We never see that,” said Mahamadou Hima Dit Nourou in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Mr. Nourou is among the tens of thousands Malian refugees who fled to neighboring Niger.
Government officials in Mali have called on the international community to take measured steps and make a concerted effort to stop Ansar Dine from destroying any more cultural landmarks. Yesterday Malian officials made an emotional appeal to the UN for help, at one point declaring, “God help Mali.”
“Mali exhorts the UN to take concrete steps to stop these crimes against the cultural heritage of my people,” said Fadima Diallo, Mali’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, according to the Telegraph. “I am pleading for the international community's solidarity.”
Sufi shrines are a popular target of Islamist hardliners, with Egypt and Libya also seeing the destruction of Sufi shrines this year, reports Reuters. Ansar Dine is made of Salafist Muslim fighters, many of whom come from other countries such as Nigeria and Algeria. The Malian group is an ally of the Al Qaeda splinter group, MUJWA, and now controls about two-thirds of the northern Mali.
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The prospects for the emergency meeting on Syria slated to begin tomorrow looked dim Friday, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad saying that his country's war is an "internal issue which has nothing to do with foreign countries."
The United Nations Security Council members and Turkey are gathering in Geneva to discuss UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Kofi Annan's plan for an interim unity government for Syria. Yet BBC reports that Mr. Assad said in an interview with Iranian state TV, broadcast yesterday, that "foreign pressure will not have an influence on our stance. We have been under pressure for a long time, and it did not have an effect in the past, and it will not have any influence in the future." The interview was recorded last week.
The red lines set out by Assad, the opposition, and foreign powers may scuttle Mr. Annan's plan before the meeting even begins. The opposition has said it will not stand for a government that retains Assad, while Russia, whose opposition to international action against the regime has been the key obstacle since the conflict began, announced in would not endorse a transition plan that required Assad to step down.
According to the BBC, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday: "We will not support and cannot support any meddling from outside or any imposition of recipes. This also concerns the fate of the president of the country, Bashar al-Assad."
Despite the seemingly irreconcilable positions, Annan said today that he is "optimistic" that the Geneva talks would end with acceptable progress, and dismissed news reports suggesting that the gap between Russia and the rest of the parties at the meeting is too large to bridge, according to The New York Times. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday that it was "very clear" that all the parties to the meeting are on board with Annan's proposal, according to the Associated Press.
Annan has not yet proposed a formal transition plan; the intention is to lay out the parameters at the meeting. But details of the proposal began leaking out earlier this week, angering Russia, according to the Times.
Hints of Mr. Annan’s possible route to a diplomatic compromise emerged Wednesday when Reuters quoted unidentified diplomats as saying Russia and other powers supported his idea of a Syrian government of national unity that would include opposition figures but exclude those whose participation would undermine it — language that clearly was meant to refer to President Bashar al-Assad. But details were vague.
Part of the purpose of the meeting, a diplomat based in Geneva said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, is to uncouple the process of achieving a cease-fire from the increasing demands that Mr. Assad’s government be held to account for human rights abuses, which a United Nations panel said Wednesday have continued on “an alarming scale.”
“I consider it a sign of an unscrupulous approach to diplomacy that there are leaks to the press about certain formulas, certain ideas, that are being recommended as part of a final document by specific countries,” Mr. Lavrov said.
Bloomberg reports that, according to three UN officials, all of the meeting participants agreed to an outline of a unity government plan from Annan. “The conflict must be resolved through peaceful dialogue and negotiation alone,” the outline, which Bloomberg obtained, says. “Conditions conducive to a political settlement must now be put in place.”
Russia denied any sort of agreement. A foreign ministry official told Bloomberg that it made an alternative proposal and won't back a plan that forces Assad to step down. But two UN diplomats said that despite public statements that Russia remains opposed to regime change, a shift has occurred behind closed doors because "Russia is keen to engineer a soft landing to raise its standing in the region by acting as a peace broker."
Russian anger stems from the fact that "the Russians do not like to have deals they are cutting in private to be exposed in public" before they are ready, Jeff Laurenti, a UN analyst at the Century Foundation in New York, told Bloomberg. “They are very concerned that their so-called partners on the other side may be leaking it to force their hands to do more than what they have signaled they were ready to do.”
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World leaders are scrabbling for purchase, calling an emergency meeting in Geneva as the Syrian conflict descends into a full-fledged war. With President Bashar al-Assad's pronouncement two days ago that the conflict is now a war, it seems any modicum of restraint is likely over.
The United Nations Security Council (the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China) and Turkey will gather in Geneva this weekend for a meeting to discuss a plan for an interim government in Syria that was hastily announced late yesterday by UN/Arab League special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan.
Human rights monitors say that the past week has been the bloodiest in the 16-month uprising-turned-civil-war. Almost 160 were killed yesterday alone, according to Agence France-Presse.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed to the meeting after speaking with Mr. Annan about his plan and determining that it provided a good foundation for talks, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, according to CNN. Negotiations have so far mostly ended in deadlock between Russia and the US, Britain, and France (with China following Russia's lead). A peace plan crafted by Annan earlier this year has been left in shreds.
Ms. Nuland would not disclose any details about the negotiations or address whether Russia has softened its opposition to either a political transition directed by outside powers or further action against the Assad regime. She said only that "our litmus test for whether we thought this meeting should go forward, as we've been saying for many days now, was that we expected we could make concrete progress," according to CNN.
Ms. Clinton will travel to Russia tomorrow to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The two countries have been on opposing sides on just about every element of an international response to Syria's uprising. To Washington's consternation, Moscow has continued its arms sales to Syria, defending them as being based on pre-existing contracts and/or only for defensive purposes.
The two most recently clashed over the list of countries invited to the Geneva meeting. Russia wanted Iran, a key ally of Assad, in attendance, which the US rejected. Saudi Arabia, whose presence was desired by the US, seems to have been left out in a concession to Russia, who has insisted in equanimity in negotiations. As the logic goes, if Iran is to be excluded by the US for backing Assad, then Saudi Arabia, which has been widely accused of arming the rebel forces, should also be left out.
Annan said last week that he considered Iran's participation essential, decrying the rivalries between the US and Russia and Saudi Arabia and Iran that have so far blocked it, Tony Karon writes in Time Magazine. “I have made it quite clear that I believe Iran should be part of the solution,” Annan said in Geneva last Friday. “If we continue the way we are going and competing with each other, it could lead to destructive competition and everyone will pay the price.”
Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, was careful to say that Moscow's agreement to attend the meeting was not a guarantee that it would accept Annan's plan – only that it agreed to it as a basis for discussion, according to AFP.
Annan's interim government would include officials for both sides. Concrete details beyond that are either undisclosed or undecided, although a UN diplomat told AFP that it would not include any officials whose inclusion "might jeopardize the transition 'or undermine efforts to bring reconciliation'."
"The language of Annan's plan suggests that Assad could be excluded but also that certain opposition figures could be ruled out," a second UN diplomat told AFP, noting that there isn't anything in the plan to specifically exclude him either.
A senior member of the Syrian opposition said today that the opposition would only agree to a transition plan if it explicitly requires Assad to leave power before the unity government is formed, Reuters reports.
"The proposal is still murky to us but I can tell you that if it does not clearly state that Assad must step down, it will be unacceptable to us," said Samir Nashar, an executive member of the international Syrian National Council. "If the proposal said Assad must step down, then the idea of allowing other members of the current government to participate could be open to discussion."
But those fighting on the ground took a harder line. A Free Syrian Army fighter in Homs told Reuters that they could not accept the plan, period, and that the time for peace-making was long past. "This is just a new labyrinth. It is new silliness for us to get lost in and haggle over who can participate and who can't," said the fighter, Ahmed.
Mr. Karon writes in Time that the US-Russia antagonism leaves little room for optimism about the Geneva talks bringing about any change, or even ending with anything concrete. There are no signs that either party will change elements of its position that the other considers a deal breaker.
Indeed, the parties that will meet with Assad in Geneva have different ideas on resolving the crisis, but none appears to have decisive leverage to bring to bear in order to shape its preferred outcome. The U.S. insists that the conflict can’t be resolved while Assad remains in power; the Russians point out that Washington has no credible plan for dealing with the fallout that would follow the regime’s precipitous collapse. For much of the past year, officials in Washington have speculated that Russia might break with Assad, but the passage of time has made those claims look Pollyannaish.
Indeed, Russia’s willingness to push back against U.S. plans for tackling the Syrian crisis were evident in its effort to support Iran being invited to Annan’s conference. The U.S. nixed that idea, meaning that the conference that will be held in Geneva will be more limited in its scope and ambition. And nobody is expecting an outcome that makes much difference what even Assad himself now calls a “state of war” in Syria.
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last night pronounced his country to be in a state of war and told a new government to spare no effort in achieving a victory.
"We live in a real state of war from all angles," Mr. Assad said in a speech broadcast on state television, according to Reuters. "When we are in a war, all policies and all sides and all sectors need to be directed at winning this war."
The comment, made during a speech to his newly appointed cabinet, is Assad's first pronouncement of war; he has previously dismissed Syria's conflict as an armed insurgency led by foreign militants. News organizations and international leaders, including some at the United Nations, began describing the conflict as a civil war weeks ago.
But the rebel forces now number between 10,000 and 15,000, according to US estimates, and they have stepped up their campaign, staging bolder, higher-impact attacks, CNN reports. They've also benefited from several high-level defections from the Syrian Army.
Today, gunmen stormed the headquarters of pro-government TV station Al-Ikhbariya south of Damascus, leaving seven people dead and kidnapping several more before blowing up station buildings, the Associated Press reports. "What happened today is a massacre, a massacre against the freedom of the press," Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi said in comments broadcast on state-run Syrian TV. "They carried out a terrifying massacre by executing the employees."
Meanwhile, the outskirts of Damascus are home to the site of some of the fiercest fighting the capital area has seen. Violence so close to the center of the capital – roughly five miles from the city's oldest open air markeplace and downtown – has been rare. Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the Globe and Mail that today's fighting marked the first time the regime forces have used artillery in such proximity to Damascus.
The fighting happened close to bases of the elite Republican Armed Guard units. That rebel forces were willing to fight so close to their main bases is "unprecedented" and possibly an "indicator of increasing prowess," according to The Globe and Mail.
But US intelligence officials told Reuters that despite the military defections and the rebels' growing strength, Assad's "inner circle" remains strong and they see no sign that the regime will fall anytime soon. The more likely scenario is that the conflict, already ongoing for 15 months, will continue.
"Our overall assessment ... would be that we are still seeing the military regime forces fairly cohesive, they've learned some lessons over the last year and a half about how to deal with this kind of insurgency," an official said. "Both sides seem to be girding for a long struggle. Our sense is that the regime still believes it can ultimately prevail or at least appears determined to try to prevail and the opposition at the same time seems to be preparing for a long fight."
The head of United Nations peacekeeping operations said yesterday that the situation remained too dangerous for the UN monitoring mission in Syria, which suspended its work earlier this month, to resume operations, Syria's Day Press News reports.
Russia agreed yesterday to attend a meeting in Geneva with the rest of the permanent UN Security Council members and Kofi Annan, the UN-appointed mediator for Syria. Mr. Annan has been attempting to broker an end to the fighting for months. He crafted a peace plan that failed rapidly and spectacularly, despite the fact that both the government and rebels agreed to its terms.
That Moscow – which has been at loggerheads with Britain, the US, and France for remaining an ally of the regime – agreed to attend gives the Geneva meeting some substance, the Globe and Mail reports. Iran, another Assad ally, could also be invited. If the US accepted Tehran's involvement – something it has not supported so far – it would signal a new level of concern about the situation on the ground in Syria.
Indian authorities have arrested a man believed to have been remotely directing the terrorists who carried out the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 166 people.
Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, who is also known as Abu Jundal, was arrested after officials in Saudi Arabia deported him at the request of the Indian government. Mr. Ansari is believed to be the only Indian who took part in the attack, orchestrated by Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Indian officials say that since his arrest on June 21, Mr. Ansari has played a critical part in potentially revealing the role of the Pakistani government and intelligence service in the attack. In custody, the LeT member has reportedly already told Indian authorities that officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and military participated in planning the three-day attack on Mumbai.
India has long accused Pakistan of involvement in the attack, something that officials in Islamabad have denied. If Indian authorities verify Ansari’s claims, it is likely to strain relations even further between the two neighbors and isolate Pakistan on the international stage.
The Hindustan Times adds that cooperation between Saudi and Indian intelligence officials has increased markedly over the past two years as the Gulf state sees India’s rich potential as a growing oil market. Traditionally, Saudi Arabia has been a strong ally of Pakistan.
B. Raman, a retired Indian intelligence official, writes in Outlook India that despite India’s initial excitement over Ansari’s arrest, authorities still must confirm his identity. In addition to his Abu Jundal alias, he is believed to also have gone by the name, Abu Hamza. Mr. Raman explains that Abu Hamza has long been a popular nickname for LeT members dating back to the 1990s, making it difficult to confirm identities.
He is presently in police custody. But India’s anti-terrorism squad, however, says it is confident it can identify whether Ansari is the Abu Hamza and Abu Jundal wanted for the Mumbai attacks once he is in their custody.
As the only Indian national, Ansari is said to have relocated to Pakistan and played a critical role in training the attackers how to operate in Mumbai. According to Indian detectives, Ansari coached the gunmen of the Mumbai attacks on how to make the terrorist plot appear to be homegrown by saying they were Indian Muslims from the Tolichowki area of Hyderbad, reports The Guardian. The gunmen were also instructed to say the attack was revenge for the treatment of Muslims in Kashmir.
“He knows a lot. He claims that they prepared for years for the 26/11 attack and every person was assigned a separate task. Being a Maharashtrian, he was given the task to familiarize the killers with local dialect as well as Mumbai's topography. He instructed the gang on how to ask for directions and what to say if checked and quizzed,” said an Indian official familiar with the details of the interrogation according to the Times of India.
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The group included 33 soldiers and their families – a total of 224 people, including at least three with a rank of colonel or higher. One of those three may be a general, but reports on the rank of the third high-level defector remain inconclusive.
Defections among low-level Syrian conscript soldiers remain relatively common but such high-level defections have been relatively rare so far. If a general were among those who fled their posts in the Syrian Army, as some reports suggest, it would mark the 13th general to defect to Turkey since the uprising began about 16 months ago, reports Al Jazeera. Turkey is now host to nearly 33,000 Syrian refugees, the government announced last week.
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While Assad loyalists still have plenty of weapons to inflict serious damage on rebel forces in Syria, the recent defections are bad news for Assad's regime. And they come at a time of worsening relations between Syria and Turkey, after a Turkish jet was shot down by Syria.
With international actors loath to launch a military intervention in Syria, such defections – if they become more widespread – are seen as one of the only actions that could lead Assad's regime to collapse.
“The military defections become more and more important for Assad's future as it appears that there will be no military response from Turkey, NATO, or the European Union after Syria shot down a Turkish jet. If the attack on Turkey isn't enough to warrant Western intervention, it seems that the only way Assad's regime will fall is if it crumbles from the inside,” writes the Atlantic’s Dashiell Bennett.
Separately, another three Syrian officers, all of them fighter pilots, defected to Jordan yesterday with their families. This came after another Syrian pilot flew his plane into Jordan seeking asylum on June 21.
“The three pilots have entered Jordan in an illegal way and they are currently held by the Jordanian security authorities who are taking them through the regular routine procedures,” reported Al Arabiya’s Ghassan Abu Louz.
Amid the defections, Syria is also facing increased regional pressure as anger mounts among Turkish officials about the downed fighter jet. While the jet reportedly accidentally crossed into Syrian airspace during a training exercise, Turkish officials contend that it was shot down 13 nautical miles outside Syria.
“No one should try to test the capacity of Turkey,” wrote Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in his Twitter feed, reported the New York Times. “Turkey has never acted alone concerning Syria. Has always been part of regional and intl initiatives.”
Turkey has called for a meeting with NATO tomorrow to discuss the incident. Still, it remains unlikely that the incident will change the international stance toward Syria. Britain’s Daily Telegraph, reported that the incident would not “fundamentally alter the situation in Syria,” citing an interview with the UK’s foreign secretary, William Hague.
“I don't think it illustrates a different phase. It's very important that we increase the pressure with additional sanctions,” said Mr. Hague. “Other countries will be very active in arguing for a new resolution from the [United Nations] Security Council.”
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Wrapping up months of testimony, the lawyer defending Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik said in closing arguments today that his client should be considered sane, but acquitted for killing 77 people last summer in a nationalist terrorist attack.
Breivik has admitted to bombing government buildings in Oslo, killing eight, and going on a shooting spree at a Labor party youth camp, killing 77, in July 2011. However, he has pleaded not guilty to charges of voluntary homicide and committing acts of terror, claiming that he did so to protect his country from the Labor party's policies promoting immigration and multiculturalism, which he says are undermining Norwegian society.
Because Breivik has admitted to the attacks, at the crux of this case is not whether he did it but whether he was sane when he did. He insists he was, and is fighting to be declared sane "so that, as he says, his political ideas can stand stronger," The Christian Science Monitor reports.
“When other revolutionaries break the law, they don’t put a diagnosis on them,” Breivik said in court earlier in the trial. “This case seems easy after weeks of witnesses that show this case is about ideology.”
If judges determine Breivik to be mentally ill, his maximum sentence would be commitment to a mental asylum as opposed to 21 years in prison. Breivik's lawyer, Geir Lippestad, has requested that the judges dismiss the prosecution's claim that his client is mentally ill, however. He said in court today that his client should be acquitted of charges on the grounds of "necessity" – that he had to do it – and that if he couldn't be acquitted, he should at least get the lightest possible sentence, CNN reports.
Determining Breivik's mental health has been a drawn-out, convoluted process, with lawyers soliciting the opinions of many psychiatrists and the defense bringing in political and religious extremists to shore up its argument that Breivik is sane. Two conflicting reports from the Norwegian Forensics Board – the first finding him paranoid schizophrenic, the second sane – further complicated the process.
The prosecution's claim that Breivik was insane is based on the first report. A spokeswoman from the prosecutor's office told CNN that if Breivik is declared sane by the court, it will seek a prison sentence of 21 years instead of compulsory mental care.
Mr. Lippestad grounded his closing arguments in Breivik's long history of political activism, including his development of extremist political ideology, which he wrote about online. "The central criterion for insanity is that the ability of realistic assessment of one's relationship to the outside world is largely abolished," he said in court today, according to CNN. "Is it violent fantasy that is the mother of these actions, or is it his political opinion?"
Lippestad also argued that Breivik had chosen his targets politically, noting that he didn't attack nonpolitical people like the captain on the boat to Utoya, and the youngest children on the island.
"Breivik knew that killing was wrong, but it's what any classic terrorist does," he said. "This will not be understood unless you know the extreme right."
The lawyer told the court he shared the prosecutor's view that the attacks, which he called "a cruel act of terrorism," were almost too horrible to be true.
But, he said, the key question for his client was whether he acted under the legal principle of "necessity."
The psychiatrists behind the second forensics board report, which found him sane and considered more heavily the role of Breivik's extremist political ideology, testified earlier this week. “[His] political beliefs are extreme, but not reality-bursting in the psychotic sense,” said psychiatrist Terje Tørrisen, according to the Monitor.
The prospect that Breivik might be judged insane and committed to a mental asylum has led to a reconsideration of laws regarding the detainment of insane criminals.
The government recently amended the Norwegian Mental Health Care Act "to strengthen the security measures relating to a small group of particularly dangerous patients" because as it stands the law carries "too great a risk for escape, hostage-taking, and severe violence against patients and staff," CNN reports.
Under the new legislation, a high-security mental health unit could be opened within a prison, allowing those deemed dangerous to be placed there instead of a mental asylum. The law goes into effect July 1.
The judges' verdict in Breivik's case will be delivered either July 20 or August 24.
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The Syrian conflict is becoming more intractable as rebels, bolstered by weapons from Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, are turning into a more effective adversary against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
According to a report today by The New York Times, the CIA is helping to funnel the arms to rebel groups, vetting potential recipients to avoid arming Al Qaeda-affiliated groups. The weapons include automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition, and some antitank weapons, according to the report, which cited unnamed American officials and Arab intelligence officials.
Nearly 100 people were killed across Syria yesterday alone – 35 of them Syrian Army soldiers, showing that rebel forces are becoming a fighting force to rival the actual military, according to data from the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited by Agence France-Presse.
The Army has staged an assault on Qusayr, a town outside Homs, after being dealt losses by rebel fighters. Heavy fighting also erupted in Arman Az in Idlib Province after rebels attacked Army barracks. The town of Inkhel in Deraa Province was also shelled.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and its partner Syria Red Crescent are on standby outside Homs today, waiting for a temporary truce so that they can evacuate the wounded from the beleaguered city.
Homs has been under siege for two weeks, but government and rebel forces agreed yesterday to a two-hour pause in fighting to allow the humanitarian groups access to hundreds of civilians who have been caught in the crossfire. The shelling has continued, however, according to several news reports.
The BBC reports that logistics such as how many aid vehicles will be allowed into the city and where the wounded will be taken could also hold up the evacuation process and could take days or weeks to resolve. Hundreds of civilians are believed to have died during the assault on the city.
The Guardian reports that Christians trapped in the city – of which there are about 90 – are particularly vulnerable and they are concerned about being caught between rival Muslim groups, as Christians were in Iraq. There were three separate attempts to evacuate them from Homs, all of which failed. A local priest told the Guardian that he believes they are being kept in the city to use as a bargaining chip.
Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Jaafari said that the government has tried unilateral cease-fires, but that the rebels used the lulls in fighting to gather more arms. He also accused Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey of intentionally undermining the observer mission.
"They are providing weapons, sending in al-Qaeda, giving them haven, allowing them to cross the border with Syria and then run back to neighboring countries, " Mr. Jaafari said, according to The Wall Street Journal. "This is becoming so blatant and flagrant, it is too much."
Indeed, violence appears to be continuing unrestrained since the UN observer mission was suspended last week. WSJ reports that a UN diplomat said that the observers had taken "direct fire" at least 10 times and were caught in the crossfire of fighting many more times.
The head of UN peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous, delivered a sobering assessment of the Syrian conflict yesterday, telling the UN Security Council that "there were no good options" for the UN to bring an end to the fighting, WSJ reports. Deploying peacekeepers was not possible because such a mission needs the Syrian governments' approval, requires more troops, and risks upsetting the opposition for seeming to protect the "status quo," Mr. Ladsous said.
Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the observer mission, said that his campaign could only be restarted if there was a "significant reduction in violence."