• Up on the Roof: Iraq is such a hectic place in which to work that there's rarely time to relax or think about mundane issues. But correspondent Nick Blanford took five minutes Tuesday morning to nip up to the roof of the Monitor's hotel, determined to get a peek of Venus in transit across the sun. "Iraq was one of the best places to witness the phenomenon," Nick says. "I had been given a pair of sun-viewing spectacles from a journalist colleague.
"I stood on the roof, donned the glasses, and gazed skyward into the blistering hot sun. Sure enough, there was the pinprick of Venus. When I took the glasses off, I noticed I had drawn a bemused crowd of cleaners who were hanging up laundry and wondering what the mad foreigner was doing. I explained about Venus in transit and they took turns to gaze up at the sun themselves."
The step away from the fray was a welcome contrast to pondering the rash of kidnappings in Iraq. Nick had learned that Canon Andrew White (this page) recently received a death threat from kidnappers opposed to his attempts to win the release of hostages. His assistant, Fadel al-Fatlawi, was told that White should abandon his involvement, or he and his team would be killed.
"I asked Mr. Fatlawi if he was concerned," Nick says. "He had a very Iraqi response. He told me he was a member of an important tribe and that if anyone messed with him, the tribe would get involved. 'I had 30 armed members of my family camping in my garden for several days after the warning,' he said."
• Funding Eye-Opener: In his years reporting on militant Islamist groups in Southeast Asia, Dan Murphy would come across the names of Islamic charities from time to time. Omar Al Faruq, the Kuwaiti who helped build ties between Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, which carried out the Bali bombings, used Al Haramain's Indonesian branch to make contacts. In the early 1990s, members of a Philippine Al Qaeda cell, who participated in the first World Trade Center bombing, received money from the International Islamic Relief Organization. So Dan was well aware of the allegations about charities funding terror groups. Despite that, Dan, who has recently moved to the Middle East, says he was amazed by the depth of Al Haramain's alleged ties to terrorism (page 7). This month, the US Treasury added five Al Haramain branches to its list of Al Qaeda supporters - in Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and the Netherlands - joining four others. "The allegations against Haramain are staggering, in both size and scope," says Dan.
Deputy world editor