In Iraq, the captors of four kidnapped Western aid workers have extended their threat to execute them by another 48 hours until Saturday. The Swords of Righteousness Brigade has threatened to the kill four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams unless all prisoners are freed from US and Iraqi-run detention centers. On Wednesday, the captors released a new video of the hostages. The video appears to show hostages Norman Kember, of London, and Tom Fox, of Virginia. Canadian hostages James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden were not shown.
The aid workers’ capture has sparked an international outpour of calls for their release. On Wednesday, a Jordanian cleric jailed in Britain for alleged links to al Qaeda called on the kidnappers to release the four men. In a taped video, Abu Qatada said the aid workers should not be punished for the actions of their governments.
Elsewhere in Iraq, a suicide bombing on a bus headed for the Shiite city of Nasiriyah has killed up to 30 people. Nearly 40 others were injured in the attack. Meanwhile in Baghdad, at least one U.S. soldier was killed in a series of explosions to hit the city earlier this morning.
In Miami, Rigoberto Alpizar, a passenger reportedly suffering from a mental disorder, was killed by federal air marshals Wednesday. Witnesses say Alpizar ran off the plane after claiming he had a bomb in his backpack, shortly before it was set to take off. His wife followed behind him, yelling out to bystanders her husband had not taken medication for a serious bi-polar condition. Air marshals shot Alpiza five times when he refused to lie on the ground. No bombs were found in the backpack or in any of the plane’s luggage. Alpiza and his wife were reportedly traveling back from a missionary trip in Peru. The shooting marked the first time federal air marshals have used their guns aboard planes since they were introduced following the September 11th attacks.
British playwright Harold Pinter accepted a Nobel Prize Wednesday by delivering a stinging criticism of US and British foreign policy. Pinter won the award for literature — the world’s highest honor for a writer — in October. At a ceremony in Sweden Wednesday, Pinter accepted the award via a taped video message from Britain, where is being treated for cancer. Pinter said: “The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatent state terrorism demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore the public.” Pinter is author of such plays as “The Caretaker” and “The Homecoming.”
In a ruling his defense team is calling a major victory, Mumia Abu-Jamal has won the right to appeal his murder conviction on three separate grounds. Convicted in 1982 for the murder of a police officer, Mumia will be able to appeal on grounds of both judge and jury bias. He’ll also appeal on the basis the trial prosecutor misled jurors. In a news release, Mumia’s attorney Robert Bryan wrote the court’s rulings are: “of enormous constitutional significance and go to the very essence of Mumia’s right to a fair trial… Today we achieved a great victory in the campaign to win a new trial and the eventual freedom of Mumia.” Opening briefs in the appeal will be heard on January 17th.
In the third disaster to befall China’s mining communities in recent weeks, an explosion in a northern coal mine killed over 60 workers Wednesday. An additional 13 were missing. Two weeks ago, an explosion at another northern mine killed over 170 people. Over 6,000 miners died in China last year, making it the world’s deadliest country for mine-shafts.
In Egypt, police killed eight people in clashes with angry voters on the last day of the country’s parliamentary elections. The dead included a 14-year old boy. Another two people have been killed, hundreds have been injured and over a thousand arrested since voting opened over a month ago. Government forces have reportedly blocked voters in areas known to be hostile to President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party. Early results show independent candidates affiliated with banned party the Muslim Brotherhood won over 80 seats at the end of the third round.
In Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s trial reconvened Wednesday without the jailed former president. On Tuesday, Saddam Hussein had vowed he would not return to the trial, citing alleged mistreatment. At one point, he yelled at the trial judge: “’I will not come to an unjust court. Go to hell!” Saddam Hussein is currently facing charges over a massacre in a Shiite village in 1982, the first of several war crimes allegations brought against him. The trial was adjourned until December 21.
A group representing Inuit peoples in the northern Artic region has filed a landmark human rights complaint against the United States before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Inuit Circumpolar Conference says the US role as the world’s number one carbon polluter is helping to foster global warming that is destroying their habitat. A spokesman for the group said: “For Inuit, warming is likely to disrupt or even destroy their hunting and food-sharing culture as reduced sea ice causes the animals on which they depend to decline, become less accessible, and possibly become extinct. The complaint comes as over 100 countries continue to meet in Montreal at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The US is leading calls to block a global accord on mandatory emissions standards.
The UN’s top human rights official says the US-led so-called war on terrorism is undermining international safeguards against torture. Louise Arbour, the high commissioner for human rights at the United Nations, made the remarks in a statement marking Human Rights Day. Arbour wrote “[the] absolute ban on torture, a cornerstone of the international human rights edifice, is under attack. The principle once believed to be unassailable — the inherent right to physical integrity and dignity of person — is becoming a casualty of the so-called 'war on terrorism.' ” U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton criticized Arbour’s remarks, saying: “I think it is inappropriate and illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the conduct that we’re engaged in in the war on terror, with nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspapers.” Meanwhile, sources told the Washington Post the Bush administration is backing down on efforts to push for a Senate measure that would exempt the CIA from a ban on torturing detainees.
Israel has launched a series of strikes on the Gaza Strip in what it calls a retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed five Israelis in Netanya Monday. Islamic Jihad, which carried out the bombing, had called that attack a response to Israeli assaults on its members. On Wednesday, an Israeli warplane killed Mahmud al-Arqan, a top member of the local Popular Resistance Committees. Ten other people were wounded in the attack, including three children struck by shrapnel.
In New Jersey, Governor-elect Jon Corzine has named Democratic Congressmember Robert Menendez to fill out the remaining year of his Senate term. Menendez would be the first minority member to represent New Jersey in the Senate, and would be the third sitting Hispanic senator.
And today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the assassination of pop icon John Lennon. On December 8, 1980, Lennon was gunned down by deranged fan Mark David Chapman outside of his home here in New York City. He was 40 years old. The day of world-wide remembrances include a concert in Cuba, an exhibition in Paris, and a memorial service in Lennon’s hometown of Liverpool. A confrontation is brewing over memorial plans in the Strawberry Fields area of Central Park, outside the Manhattan apartment building where Lennon was shot. Police say they’ll prevent Lennon fans from holding a planned overnight vigil.