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Terrorism & Security

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Members of the United Nations observers mission in Syria return to a hotel in Damascus, May 30. (Khaled al-Hariri/REUTERS)

Syrian rebels call for peace plan to be declared a failure

By Staff writer / 05.31.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Syrian rebel forces are calling for the end of the United Nations peace plan for Syria, which would eliminate the only mechanism in place for instilling any sort of restraint on either side of the anti-government uprising that has become increasingly violent.

The peace plan includes a cease-fire, which has been repeatedly violated since its implementation in April but still has acted as something of a tempering force for both the government and the rebels. If the Free Syrian Army (FSA) abandons the peace plan, any last efforts at restraint could vanish.

FSA leader Col. Qassim Saadeddine said in a video message yesterday that the FSA would consider itself "no longer bound" by UN special envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan if President Bashar al-Assad's regime missed the deadline, BBC reports.

Citing last week's massacre in Houla, in which 108 people were killed, most of them by execution, he said "there is no more justification for us to unilaterally respect the truce because [President Bashar al-Assad] has buried Annan's plan," Agence France-Presse reports.

FSA head Gen. Riyad Asaad denied there was a deadline, but urged Mr. Annan to declare his peace plan a failure "so that we would be free to carry out any military operation against the regime," according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, the US envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, issued a dire prediction about the course of the conflict. The New York Times reports that while speaking to reporters yesterday after a UN Security Council briefing, she said, “There seems to me to be only one other alternative, and that is indeed the worst case, which seems unfortunately at the present to be the most probable. And that is that the violence escalates, the conflict spreads and intensifies, it reaches a higher degree of severity, it involves countries in the region, and it takes on increasingly sectarian forms, and we have a major crisis not only in Syria but in the region.”

If that happens, she warned, “The Council’s unity is exploded, the Annan plan is dead and this becomes a proxy conflict with arms flowing in from all sides.”

Rice also said that the Security Council and international community are "left with the option only of having to consider whether they're prepared to take actions outside of the Annan plan and the authority of this council," according to BBC.

The implication there is that because of the steadfast opposition of council members Russia and China to stronger action against the Assad regime, international actors will not be able to rely on the Security Council to take the lead. The US, Britain, and France seem to hold the Assad government mostly responsible for the violence and have focused on actions against the regime, but Russia and China have been insistent that the rebels also deserve much of the blame and have blocked efforts that only target the regime.

Mr. Annan's deputy, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, was more tempered than Ms. Rice in his remarks, but said that council members "had an understanding that any sliding toward a full-scale civil war in Syria would be catastrophic and the Security Council now needs to have that kind of strategic discussion on how that needs to be avoided," according to The New York Times.

A senior Western official told the Times that Mr. Guéhenno said direct talks between the government and rebels "could not be expected" at this stage. The official also said "it was not a given" that Annan's peace plan would be re-upped by the council when it came time for renewal in July.

Amid the diplomatic discussion, UN monitors in Syria reported yesterday that they found evidence of another massacre, this time near Dair Alzour in eastern Syria. They found 13 men bound and shot, many in the head and seemingly from a short distance, the Los Angeles Times reports.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks to Peru's Foreign Minister Rafael Roncagliolo during their official talks in Moscow, Tuesday, May 29. Lavrov on Tuesday reiterated Russia's belief that both sides are responsible for the Houla massacre. He also called for a full investigation into the incident before apportioning blame. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Syria massacre not enough to break UN deadlock over stronger action

By Staff writer / 05.30.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Despite early talk about the the Houla massacre being a turning point that would goad the international community to take stronger action against Syria, it seems unlikely that the United Nations Security Council will be able to overcome the deadlock that is blocking additional steps.

The May 25 incident in the town of Houla left 108 Syrians dead – by execution, likely by pro-government thugs, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said – in one of the most horrific events of the 14-month-old conflict. The West hoped that the scale of the massacre would at last sway Russia and China's to take further steps against the Syrian government, which they have consistently refused to do. 

The United States, Britain, and France have been trying since the early months of the conflict to convince China and Russia, who have veto power on the council, to back further sanctions against the Syrian government. Russia's support for a May 27 Security Council statement condemning the massacre and criticizing the government for using heavy weapons raised their hopes.

But since then, there have been no signs of a softening of its opposition and yesterday Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Russia's belief that both sides are responsible for the massacre. He also called for a full investigation into the incident before apportioning blame. "There are no signs Russia and China are ready to support tougher steps at the UN, despite what happened in Houla," a council diplomat told Reuters.

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said yesterday that the council's condemnation is enough for now and that any new steps "would be premature," Agence France-Presse reports. 

Most UN officials have been cautious in their statements about who is responsible for the massacre until a full investigation can be carried out, giving Russia and China a cover for not making any stronger statements. However, peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said yesterday that the Syrian Army and "shabbiha" (the name for pro-government thugs) were "probably" behind the incident, Reuters reports.

Despite speculation that the US, Britain, and France were moving closer to support for military intervention, the White House unequivocally ruled that out for the time being yesterday: "We do not believe that militarization, further militarization of the situation in Syria at this point is the right course of action. We believe that it would lead to greater chaos, greater carnage," said spokesman Jay Carney, according to a separate Reuters report.

The only action taken so far, other than the Security Council condemnation, was the announcement yesterday that a slew of European countries, plus the US, Japan, Turkey, Canada, and Australiawere expelling some or all of the Syrian diplomats in their countries.

A statement from French President François Hollande that he would not "rule out" the possibility of military intervention prompted an angry response from Moscow, Bloomberg reports. “To raise the possibility of some kind of military intervention is more the result of political emotions than careful consideration,” said Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov.

An intervention cannot happen if Russia remains opposed, so Mr. Hollande's comment has little weight at this time.

Russian foreign policy experts told The Christian Science Monitor yesterday that Russia will stand by President Bashar al-Assad while it remains convenient, but that if its ally's grip on power weakens considerably, Russia will turn its focus to remaining in the good graces of the Security Council.

"It's clear now that the Assad regime is weakening," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "The pressure on him will grow, until he's either beaten or runs away. Russia is sticking to its positions, but at the same time it has to show that it is understanding of the situation and flexible enough. The truth is that the Security Council matters more for Russia than Syria does."

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This photo dated Tuesday, May 29, shows the United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, meeting in Damascus, Syria. Annan met Assad on Tuesday following a massacre last week that killed more than 100 people. (SANA/AP)

After massacre in Syria, Annan travels to Damascus to push peace plan

By Staff writer / 05.29.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, arrived in Damascus today to meet with President Bashar al-Assad on the heels of a massacre last week that left 108 Syrians dead.

The massacre is being described as a "turning point" in the Syrian conflict, now in its 14th month, because of the international condemnation it prompted, particularly from Russia, which has been broadly supportive of President Assad until now.

But there has been no change in the international approach. Mr. Annan has merely reiterated the need for both the government and rebels to abide by his six-point peace plan, which has been mostly ignored by the government and rebels since it was unveiled in April.

Details from Annan's visit to Damascus have not been made public. The New York Times reports that he arrived in Syria with "a new mandate from the Security Council – including Russia, which had usually blocked action against its ally in Damascus – to carry out his plan."

The UN Security Council condemned the May 25 massacre in Houla and Annan said he was "personally shocked and horrified," the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the UN, most of the killed -- men, women, children, in some cases whole families -- were "summarily executed." Only 20 were killed by artillery fire, Associated Press reports.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, said that witnesses reported that pro-government "thugs"  (called shabiha) were behind the attacks, not government forces, although the shabiha sometimes work with government forces. Government forces did fire on Houla, Mr. Colville said, but he did not pin the blame for the massacre on them, according to AP. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that the government said its shelling of Houla was retaliation for a rebel attack on an Alawite village that was organized from the area. Rebels admitted to a fight with government forces on Friday.

The New York Times describes the peace plan as "more precarious than ever." UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon admitted last week that the UN has no "plan B" if Annan's plan fails – an outcome many say has already happened. 

From the beginning, the peace plan has been given slim chances of success. But it was seen as an acceptable means to try to bridge the differences over Syria between the West and the Arab nations on one side and Russia, China and Iran on the other.

Some analysts have called it an international stalling measure, because the Western appetite for military intervention in the conflict is low, even in the absence of Russian opposition.

The Wall Street Journal was starker in its description of the peace plan's prospects, describing the diplomatic effort as being "in tatters" and reporting that Western leaders had "few options to pressure the Assad regime," despite international condemnations.

Reuters said it was "an atrocity that shook world opinion out of growing indifference" but noted that with a US, French, and British appetite for intervention low, it's unclear what the result of the renewed fervor for addressing the crisis will be.

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An image, made from amateur video released by the Shaam News Network and accessed Wednesday, May 23, purports to show a building on fire from shelling in Homs province, Syria. (Shaam News Network via AP video)

UN chief: There is no 'plan B' for ending the Syrian conflict

By Staff writer / 05.25.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

In a live television interview on the CNN program Amanpour yesterday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon admitted that, despite the failure so far of a UN peace plan for Syria, there is no "plan B" for ending more than a year of violence that has killed an estimated 10,000 Syrians. 

"At this time, we don't have any plan B. The joint special envoy Kofi Annan has proposed six peace proposals, among which the complete cessation of violence is No. 1. Unfortunately, this has not been implemented…" Mr. Ban said.

IN PHOTOS: Conflict in Syria

The interview followed the release of a report yesterday on the UN investigation into the conflict in Syria. While finding evidence on both sides of "gross human rights violations" since a UN-backed cease-fire went into effect in April, the report pinned most of the blame on the Syrian military and security forces controlled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Reuters reports.  

Government abuses included heavy shelling of residential areas, executions and torture. Syrian forces routinely drew up a list of wanted persons and their families before blockading and then attacking a village or neighborhood, the report said. 

"Most of the serious human rights violations documented by the commission in this update were committed by the Syrian army and security services as part of military or search operations conducted in locations known for hosting defectors and/or armed persons, or perceived as supportive of anti-government armed groups," the report said.

However, the rebels are also guilty of violations, the report states. It notes that they executed and tortured soldiers and government supporters and abducted civilians for bartering in prisoner exchanges and to secure ransom payments. 

Investigators, who were not allowed into the country and based their findings on more than 200 interviews, said there have been at least 207 deaths in the almost two months since the cease-fire went into effect, Reuters reports. 

Agence France-Presse notes that the report came  "hot on the heels of accusations by Amnesty International that 'the pattern and scale of state abuses may have constituted crimes against humanity.' The London-based rights watchdog denounced the UN Security Council for failing to refer Assad to the International Criminal Court as it had done with Libya's Muammar Gaddafi."

Syria's Day Press News reports that President Assad told a special envoy from Iran yesterday that Syria has "overcome the pressures and challenges that faced it" and will emerge from the crisis "thanks to its people's steadfastness and adherence to its unity and independence."

In his television interview Mr. Ban told Christiane Amanpour, the host of the program, that violence has been "dampened" by the deployment of 300 UN monitors throughout the country, but acknowledged that the complete cessation of violence was far off. However, he dismissed the assertion by Ms. Amanpour – who compared the UN monitors' job to "trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon" – that the problem was the low number of monitors in the country. 

"Of course it's not a matter of a number of monitors. We have almost 300 [inaudible] number of monitors. …  They are deployed in seven cities, including Damascus ... Homs, Hama, Idlib, Aleppo. They are patrolling every day wherever possible. They try their best to cease this violence. [Inaudible] strong political will at the level of President Assad and also it requires full cooperation by the opposition forces," Ban said. "There are so many spoilers at this time which really make the situation very difficult. We have not been able to commence a political dialogue."

Despite the seeming intractability of the conflict and signs it could be spilling over into Lebanon, Ban seemed to dismiss a suggestion from Amanpour that the UN might consider an intervention like the one authorized in Libya.

QUIZ: Can you find Lebanon and Libya on a map?

While not outright rejecting her suggestion, Ban did not acknowledge it, instead responding, "The Security Council members, when they are united, they can make a huge impact to maintaining peace and security of the international community."

At least 10 people have been killed in Lebanon in the past two weeks in violence linked to Syria's own unrest. According to Lebanese officials, armed gunmen in Syria kidnapped 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims earlier this week, prompting protests in Beirut, Associated Press reports.

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Pakistan to US: Respect our decision to sentence CIA informant

By Staff writer / 05.24.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

In response to US ire and a pledge to assist a Pakistani doctor charged with treason for helping the US capture Osama bin Laden, the Pakistani foreign ministry called on the US to "respect" its legal process.

Dr. Shakil Afridi ran a vaccination program to help the CIA collect DNA to verify that the man hiding in Abbotabad was, indeed, Mr. bin Laden. Yesterday Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in prison by a tribal court and issued a $3,500 fine on charges of "conspiring 'to wage war against Pakistan or depriving it of its sovereignty,' 'concealing existence of a plan to wage war against Pakistan' and 'condemnation of the creation of the state and advocacy of abolition of its sovereignty'," Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports.

“I think as far as the case of Mr. Afridi is concerned, it was in accordance with Pakistani laws and by the Pakistani courts, and we need to respect each other’s legal processes,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Moazzam Ali Khan told reporters today, according to Dawn.

But the US State Department said yesterday that there is "no basis" for Afridi's arrest. "We continue to see no basis for these charges, for him being held, for any of it," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, according to the Guardian. "We will continue to make representations."

The Guardian reports that the Obama administration is "privately" angry, insisting that the doctor was acting against Al Qaeda, not Pakistan. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed his concerns about Afridi's arrest as early as January and the administration hoped for months that he would be released as the controversy stirred up by the bin Laden raid settled. 

The Christian Science Monitor notes that it's not a given that the US will intervene further on Afridi's behalf because the US and Pakistan have less and less common ground. That the US turned to a Pakistani citizen for help locating bin Laden, rather than Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) "speaks volumes" about the deterioration of relations between the two, he writes.

To Pakistan, Shakil Afridi is a traitor who helped a foreign power locate and kill an enemy on its territory. To the US, Dr. Afridi is a hero who will now, apparently, spend the next 33 years of his life in prison.

Now his sentencing marks another low-water mark for the US-Pakistani relationship, and highlights how little common ground the two countries share. But expectations for each side are now so low that it’s unlikely the US is going to adopt another full-court press as seen when another US spy – Raymond Davis– faced detention in Pakistan.

There’s also much less riding on the US-Pakistan relationship than even a year ago when the Davis affair erupted. NATO has managed to keep the Afghan war effort going, despite Pakistan cutting off supply lines through its territory. Then, too, trust has evaporated since the discovery of bin Laden in Pakistan and the unauthorized US raid to kill him.

Afridi's arrest is only today's headline example of the two countries' conflicting interests. The US drone campaign against suspected militants in Pakistan – wildly unpopular among the Pakistani public – continued with two strikes in the past two days. Ten people were killed today and four yesterday, according to Reuters. Pakistanis see the drone strikes as a violation of their sovereignty that also inflicts civilian casualties. 

Pakistan has repeatedly demanded an end to the attacks, although it also provides some assistance finding targets, Reuters reports. 

The two countries are negotiating the reopening of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan via Pakistan, but negotiations have been repeatedly complicated by diplomatic spats between the two countries. The dispute regarding Afridi's arrest is likely to further strain negotiations. Pakistan shut down the trucking routes in retaliation for a November US airstrike that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. 

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A man rides his bicycle past fuel tankers, which were used to carry fuel for NATO forces in Afghanistan, parked along a roadside in Karachi, Pakistan, May 23. The US hopes Pakistan will soon agree to re-open supply routes to NATO troops in Afghanistan, a US official said on Wednesday. (Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)

US drone strike in Pakistan highlights divergent interests of US, Pakistan

By Staff writer / 05.23.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Just after Pakistan's president left the NATO summit in Chicago earlier this week, a US drone killed four suspected militants in northwest Pakistan today. As the two countries attempt to reconcile, the attack is a reminder of disparate US and Pakistani interests.

Associated Press reports that today's strike targeted Datta Khel Kalai village in North Waziristan, according to Pakistani intelligence.

Pakistan has repeatedly demanded an end to the American drone campaign, and negotiations over the strikes have held up a deal to reopen NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, which Pakistan closed last year in retaliation for a US airstrike that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers. 

The closure of Pakistan supply routes has forced NATO to use alternate, more expensive routes for roughly 30 percent of its noncombat supplies for troops in Afghanistan, according to AP. The alternate routes go through Russia and Central Asia via land, air, and water.  Pakistan appeared to be close to reopening the routes last week, prompting an invitation for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to the NATO summit earlier this week. But negotiations were once again pushed off track by Pakistan's demand for higher transit fees.

President Zardari's invitation to the meeting was widely viewed as a goodwill gesture from the US, although the fact that he was never invited to meet with President Obama is a clear sign that relations remain strained, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

Chaudry Fawad, the special assistant to Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, told the Monitor that upon Zardari's return, there will likely be a change in Pakistan's attitude toward the US. Pakistan needs to reciprocate for the invitation to the summit, he said.

“We want to tell the world that we are not a hurdle in Afghanistan’s pull out of NATO forces. And I believe the bigger disputes between both countries have been resolved,” he said.

Fahd Husein, a senior journalist who hosts a political prime time talk show, told the Monitor that he believes Pakistan will be forced to concede on some of the demands the parliament set for reopening the supply routes. “We will not get the money that we are looking for, the drones will not stop, and most likely, we will not get an apology from Obama,” he said.

But not all Pakistanis feel that Pakistan has been backed into a corner and should concede on the supply routes. Former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, now vice-chairman of opposition party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, said that Zardari failed to "effectively fight Pakistan's case vis-a-vis the NATO supply routes," The Hindu reports.

Pakistani authorities should have refused to go to the summit unless the US agreed to meet the Pakistani parliament's conditions, such as the end to the drone campaign and an apology for the November airstrike that prompted the closure of the supply routes, Mr. Qureshi said.

Reuters reports that a US Senate panel voted yesterday to cut Pakistan's aid by 58 percent for the 2013 fiscal year out of frustration over the supply route issue, putting additional pressure on Pakistan. 

An anonymous US official told Reuters today that talks about reopening the supply routes are ongoing and currently focused on technical issues, not the transit fees. A senior Pakistani government official said that the fee issue had already been "resolved." 

"The biggest snag is who is going to make the announcement? Which arm of the government is going to be made the fall guy for re-starting the not-at-all-popular NATO supply?" he said. "Who is going to be the villain of this drama?"

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Yemen's President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi applauds as he watches a parade marking the 22nd anniversary of Yemen's reunification in Sanaa May 22. Yemeni soldiers marched in a National Day parade watched by the president from behind a bullet-proof glass shield on Tuesday, one day after a suicide bomber killed more than 90 of their colleagues in an attack on the rehearsal. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

Yemen vows to defy Al Qaeda's intimidation campaign

By Staff writer / 05.22.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

The day after more than 90 Yemeni soldiers were killed in a bombing during a rehearsal for a holiday parade, the real event was completed safely, something President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi portrayed as a show of defiance against terrorism.

Both Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a regional Al Qaeda affiliate, and a local offshoot, Ansar al-Sharia, claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack. 

"The war on terrorism will continue until it is uprooted and annihilated completely, regardless of the sacrifices," Mr. Hadi said, according to Reuters. 

"We are sad for our comrades, but al Qaeda will not scare us," soldier Khaled al-Ansi, standing on a street corner in the capital today, told Reuters. "We will confront it and defeat it."

The parade marked National Day, which celebrates the unification of north and south Yemen in 1990. The streets of Sanaa, the capital, were mostly empty, aside from the parade participants and dozens of policemen, partly because the day is a national holiday and partly because of fear of a repeat attack, Reuters reports. Only military cadets, not troops, took part in the parade today as a "security precaution."

A Yemeni soldier participating in the rehearsal carried out the bombing with explosives hidden under his clothing, Associated Press reports. In addition to killing more than 90, he wounded at least 200 others in the vicinity. 

The US has offered Hadi assistance investigating the bombing, Reuters reports. Washington has increased its support for the Yemeni government out of concern that the country has become a fertile breeding ground for militants hoping to target the US. The US has also ratcheted up its drone campaign, which targets militants.

A Los Angeles Times editorial says that the Obama administration's actions in Yemen indicate that it considers AQAP "the most dangerous incubator of terrorist plots directed at America."

AQAP said yesterday's attack was retaliation for a US-backed operation against it in southern Yemen, the Associated Press reports. In a statement yesterday, AQAP said "our main battle is against America so don't stand as a deterrent in the way or be tools or soldiers commanded by [Obama administration counterterrorism adviser] John Brennan and the American ambassador in Sanaa."

The Los Angeles Times reports that AQAP also said "Yemeni officials had been 'turned into mercenaries' carrying out US and Western policies. … 'We will get revenge.... What happened in Sana is only the beginning.'"

Many Yemeni officials believe that while the US drone campaign is achieving its goal of picking off militants operating in Yemen (most recently, key leader Fahd al-Quso), it is also becoming a "recruiting tool" for Al Qaeda by angering ordinary Yemenis, writes Timothy Fairbank, the managing director of Development Transformations, which specializes in "stabilization and development in countries in transition."

Based on a recent assessment trip to Yemen, Fairbank writes in Al-Monitor:

While drone strikes can be effective and necessary, the failure of the Yemeni government and international community to address the core issues driving instability – such as deficiencies in effective governance, economic development, the availability of goods and services, and youth engagement – undermines the security situation and facilitates the rise of terrorist groups such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Without a comprehensive approach, the US will continue to alienate the population and create an increasingly unstable and fragmented country, hostile to US national interests. US drone strikes are helping to radicalize a growing segment of the population. 

When viewed in isolation, eliminating Yemen’s terrorism threat is significantly more important to US national security interests than strengthening Yemen’s institutions and economy. But in Yemen, these issues are inextricably linked. The US must continue trying to eliminate the threat of terrorism, but only within the context of understanding and addressing the sources of instability and root causes of conflict and discontent. Some Yemeni citizens are joining AQAP because they lack hope in the current system and are increasingly furious over US drone strikes.

 

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Forensic policemen collect evidence at the site of a suicide bomb attack at a parade square in Sanaa, Yemen, May 21. (Khaled Abdullah/REUTERS)

Suicide bomber kills scores in Yemen as government pursues Al Qaeda group (+video)

By Correspondent / 05.21.12

A suicide bomber dressed in a Yemeni military uniform detonated himself during rehearsal for a parade on Monday in the capital city of Sanaa. As many as 96 people are reported dead and scores more wounded.

Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi was scheduled to attend the parade on Tuesday to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the unification of north and south Yemen, but he was not present during the bombing. The Yemeni defense minister and chief of staff were present during the blast, but were uninjured.

The bombing is the largest attack in Yemen’s capital since Mr. Hadi took office in February.

“We heard a massive explosion. Minutes later, there were so many emergency vehicles, it seems as if hundreds were injured,” said Ali al-Husseini, a local who was near the attack in an interview with CNN.

Though no one has claimed responsibility for the bombing yet, it has escalated concerns that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an Al Qaeda affiliate, remains a serious threat despite Hadi’s pledges to combat the group.

Most of the fighting in Yemen has been confined to the south since President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down. Since then the capital has remained relatively quiet, reports the BBC.

“[T]his is a message, almost certainly from Al Qaeda, to the new President, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, that he can expect no let-up in the fight between the Army and the militants,” said the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner.

The Army has been carrying out an offensive against AQAP in the south of Yemen for 10 days now. The operation is taking place in Abyan Province, where the group has taken over several towns over the course of the past year. According to Agence France-Presse, 213 people have died in the offensive so far, including 147 Al Qaeda fighters.

Monday’s bombing comes just one day after militants in the south attacked three US Coast Guard trainers in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida. The trainers were reportedly driving back to their hotel when a car pulled up alongside them and opened fire with an automatic weapon, injuring one American, reports the Associated Press. The extent of the injuries remains unclear at the present time.

Militants in the south benefited from the instability in Yemen last year as thousands of demonstrators protested for the removal of Mr. Saleh, reports the Daily Telegraph.

“The spread of Islamist control in southern Yemen has deeply embarrassed the Yemeni government and is seen by analysts as a source of grave concern to the United States and Saudi Arabia, the two chief targets of the local Al Qaeda affiliate,” wrote Alan Cowell of The New York Times.

It remains unclear if tomorrow’s parade will go forward as planned, but several Yemeni officials vowed they would not be deterred by Monday’s act of terrorism.

Yemenis must stand together in the face of this deadly terrorist threat,” said Brigadier Karim Nahil in an article by Reuters. “We will celebrate our unity tomorrow with the blood of our martyrs on our hands and faces.”

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to journalists after his meeting with Czech President Vaclav Klaus at the Prague Castle, Friday, May 18. Netanyahu and several ministers of his government are in Prague for a two-day visit. (Michal Kamaryt/CTK/AP)

Netanyahu: Iran won't take nuclear talks seriously

By Correspondent / 05.18.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he has serious doubts that Iran will stop its nuclear program or take upcoming talks seriously. Mr. Netanyahu made the remarks on Friday after a meeting with Czech President Vaclav Klaus.

There has been much focus on Iran’s nuclear program as the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany prepare to meet for talks with Iran on May 23 in Baghdad.

"I have seen no evidence whatsoever that Iran is serous about stopping its nuclear weapons program," said Netanyahu during his remarks in Prague, recounted by The Jerusalem Post. “It looks as though they [Iran] see these talks as another opportunity to deceive and delay, just like North Korean [sic] did for years.”

Israeli officials have said that time is running out to find a diplomatic solution and avoid a military strike. But despite Netanyahu’s strong words, Israel’s Haaretz reports that he stopped short of making any ultimatums.

Netanyahu’s remarks come at time of increasingly heightened rhetoric in the US and Israel about using potential military force against Iran if it continues developing its nuclear program.

“It would be preferable to resolve this diplomatically and through the use of pressure than to use military force,” said US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro according to The New York Times. “But that doesn’t mean that option is not fully available. And not just available, but it’s ready. The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready.” 

The New York Times adds that while US officials have often made it clear that “all options are on the table regarding Iran,” it’s extremely unusual for an American official to explicitly mention crafting specific plans to strike Iran.

Israel would like Iran to stop all of its nuclear development and enrichment activities, which it says is part of a nuclear weapons program. Iran has always contended that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, namely the generation of electricity.

It is unlikely that Iran will entirely stop its nuclear program, reports Reuters, adding that a compromise will have to be reached. Iran insists that stopping it from developing a nuclear program is a violation of its sovereignty. The UN priority now is for Iran to allow its inspectors unfettered access to its facilities and for Iran to stop its higher-grade enrichment program.

There is concern that if Israel pursues a military option, the results could be disastrous for the region. Reza Pahlavi, the son of Iran's late Shah, told Al Arabiya that Israel would be much better off if it helped the Iranian people try to topple the current regime, rather than carry out a military strike.

“If Israel wages war against Iran now, this will cause a kind of tension with the Jewish people that had not existed since the time of Cyrus the Great,” said Mr. Pahlavi. “At the end of the day, the priority should be, and the whole world will agree, that the entire Iranian regime has to go.” 

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Report: North Korea resumes construction on nuclear reactor

By Staff writer / 05.17.12

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

North Korea has resumed work on an experimental light water reactor (EWLR) after several months of inactivity, which could expand its capacity for producing nuclear weapon material, according to a report from the North Korea analysis website 38 North.

That conclusion is based on commercial satellite imagery from North Korea's main nuclear site at Yongbyon that indicates construction of the reactor building may be almost done, according to 38 North, a project of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. Images indicated that rapid progress on the EWLR halted in December – likely because of the onset of winter – and resumed in February or March.

"Pyongyang’s construction of an ELWR – which the North Koreans have indicated is the prototype for additional reactors – as well as a uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon is an important indication of the North’s intention to move forward with the expansion of its nuclear weapons stockpile in the future," the report states.

The North Korean government insists that the reactor is for energy production, but it can also be used to build weapons, according to 38 North. Once operational, the EWLR could produce enough plutonium for a new bomb every year.

While North Korea is not yet producing any plutonium, it might be producing highly enriched uranium, nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker told Reuters. The country has substantial uranium reserves, so it could soon have "dual tracks" for producing nuclear weapons.

The construction work comes amid rumors that Pyongyang is working toward a third nuclear test, Reuters reports. 

In April, Pyongyang prompted international condemnation with a rocket launch that the US believes was a ballistic missile test.

Isolated Pyongyang's main economic and political partner is China (Reuters describes Beijing as "the closest thing to an ally that North Korea has"). And China has the most influence on the country and will be "key to whether North Korea presses ahead" with the nuclear test, according to Reuters. While Beijing has warned against a third test, it has not cut off aid or taken other steps to penalize Pyongyang.

It has backed UN sanctions on North Korea twice in the past and briefly cut off fuel after a previous missile test, but blamed the cessation on technical problems, Reuters reports.

In a second story, Reuters reports that, according to a source with connections to both Beijing and Pyongyang, China has been "quietly and gently" pushing North Korea to abandon its plans for a third test, but any retaliation it takes will "not be substantive."

Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, told Reuters that China is most likely to use "financial levers" to pressure North Korea.

The United States wants China to do more to rein in North Korea but China has little leverage over it and is unlikely to pull the plug on food aid due to fears of instability in its northeast, said [an unidentified Western diplomat] and Jin. 

"China can't stop food aid. If that stops, it would endanger the regime," the envoy said of North Korea's leadership.

The main factor keeping China from using harsh measures to restrain North Korea is the fear of a destabilising exodus of refugees into northeast China, preceded or followed by collapse of the North Korean regime.

 "Experience has shown that sanctions have little impact on North Korean decision-making. And, of course, the comprehensive sanctions regime will be sabotaged by China, for whom a nuclear North Korea is a lesser evil than an unstable and or collapsing North Korea," said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kookmin University

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