In an audiotaped message broadcast on the Arabic television network Al Jazeera Thursday, Osama Bin Laden warned of new attacks on the United States. Warning Islamic militants were prepared to carry out further attacks, Bin Laden said “[that] reality testifies to the fact that the war against America and its allies is no longer restricted to Iraq, as [Bush] claims, but rather Iraq has become a centre that attracts and renews the energies of those who are qualified (to fight).” Bin Laden added: “mujahedeen have been able to infiltrate all the security measures taken by the unjust allied countries time and time again, and the proof of that is the explosions you have seen in the capitals of the most important European countries in this aggressive alliance. The delay in the perpetrating of similar operations in America is not because of an inability to penetrate your security measures; the operations are being prepared, and you will see them in the midst of your own territory.” Making repeated references to opinion polls showing growing US opposition to the war in Iraq, Bin Laden said: “We have no objection to responding to this with a long-term truce based on fair conditions… so that both sides in this truce can enjoy security and stability. And let us build Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which war has destroyed. There is nothing shameful about this solution, even though it prevents billions of dollars from finding their way to the powerful and to the war mongers in America who supported Bush’s election campaign with millions of dollars.”
The US immediately rejected the idea of a possible truce with Bin Laden. White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said: “We do not negotiate with terrorists. We put them out of business. We must not stop until they are defeated.”
In Israel, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Tel Aviv restaurant Thursday, wounding over 30 people. The Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, a small faction that has carried out all six suicide bombings within Israel during the past year, claimed responsibility for the attack. Palestinian Authority officials immediately condemned the bombing. Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel has “decisive proof that the attack in Tel Aviv was a direct result of the Axis of Terror that operates between Iran and Syria. Iran supplied the money, and [Islamic] Jihad’s headquarters in Damascus directed the organization’s operatives in Nablus, giving operational orders and instructions.”?
In Iraq, two suicide bombers killed at least 22 people in attacks in central Baghdad Thursday. The bombers targeted a police patrol and a nearby café. The government has sealed off Baghdad and other major cities ahead of preliminary voting results expected to be announced later today. The Associated Press is reporting U.S. and Iraqi troops launched a major military operation in southern Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood earlier today. AP reported loud explosions and bursts of machine gun fire were heard coming from the area.
In Nepal, authorities have carried out a broad crackdown against opponents of the royalist government. On Thursday, dozens of activists and politicians were arrested and phone lines cut off in advance of a banned rally against King Gyanendra in the capitol of Kathmandu. The rally, organized by a coalition of the country’s seven main political parties, was to demand the restoration of democracy to the country nearly one year after the king seized complete control last February. Protests against the monarchy have been growing in strength. Last week, close to 100,000 people demonstrated in the southeastern town of Janakpur.
In Britain, a government commission has completed its inquiry into the police shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. Menezes, a native of Brazil, was shot dead by British police in a London subway station one day after an attempted bomb attack on the British subway system in July. At first, British police said they believed Menezes was a suicide bomber. They claimed he had run from police and was wearing a bulky jacket. But since then it has been revealed that he was innocent and that police lied about the circumstances of his death. On Thursday, Menezes’ family appealed for justice.
In Nigeria, members of an armed group are threatening to kill four kidnapped Western oil workers unless the Nigerian government and the Royal Dutch Shell group meet a series of demands. The workers were kidnapped from an oil installation run by Shell just over one week ago. The kidnappers are demanding the government release numerous political prisoners and that Shell pay $1.5 billion dollars for environmental damage caused in the Niger Delta. The kidnappings are part of a wave of actions taken against oil installations in the last month. Reuters is reporting Shell has cut its production by 210,000 barrels a day — a tenth of Nigeria’s output — and pulled out 500 of its workers.
Here in the United States, Michael Fortier, who was convicted for his involvement in the Oklahoma City bombings, is expected to be released from prison today. Fortier has served 10 and a half-years of a 12 year-sentence he received in 1995 after reaching a plea bargain with government prosecutors. Fortier was a star witness in the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Fortier and his wife had advance knowledge of the attack, which killed 168 people. They helped McVeigh and Nichols sell stolen guns and survey the federal building that was later attacked.
In other news, USA Today is reporting the national aviation security authority is preparing a new screening process that could mark the beginning of a two-tiered system for airport security checks. Under the new process, air travelers who agree to pay a one-hundred dollar annual fee and undergo a criminal record check will be allowed to pass through separate security checkpoints. The checkpoints will have quicker service and won’t require passengers to remove items such as suit jackets and shoes. The American Civil Liberties Union immediately criticized the plan. ACLU lawyer Tim Sparapani said: “There’s no question that the lines for non-Registered Travelers are going to be longer because we’re taking away screening space from the mass public and giving it to a few select people.”
In military news, the US Army announced this week it was raising the age limit for new soldiers by five years and doubling monetary incentives for enrollment. Under the new rules, the maximum age for enlistment will be 39 years old. The Army is also doubling enlistment bonuses to up to $40,000 dollars for the regular Army and up to $20,000 dollars for the Army Reserve. The announcement comes after the US Army missed its recruiting targets in 2005.
In West Virginia, rescue teams are searching an underground coal mine for two miners missing since a fire broke out late Thursday. The fire was reported at the Aracoma Coal mine in Melville. A spokesperson for the mine’s owner, Richmond, Virgnina-based Massey Energy, said the fire began on a conveyer belt and that the mine itself was not on fire.The fire comes less than three weeks after 12 miners were killed following an explosion at West Virginia’s Sago Mine.
In Washington, D.C., the American Civil Liberties Union has filed three lawsuits against the district over police tactics during last year’s presidential inauguration. The ACLU alleges D.C. police made several false arrests and indiscriminately used pepper spray against people protesting the inauguration of President Bush. Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the D.C. branch of the ACLU, said: “People who come to the nation’s Capital to demonstrate, or to observe major public events, are supposed to be protected by the police, not be assaulted and arrested. “Soaking people with pepper spray is not a game as the D.C. police seem to have treated it on Inauguration Day last year.”
The second gathering of the International Commission of Inquiry On Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration will begin today in New York. The commission will look into a series of charges the Bush administration has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The indictments were drafted at the first commission held in October. Those scheduled to testify before the commission include the former head of Abu Ghraib, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski; former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray; the entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte, and former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter.
And today marks the 25th anniversary of the end of the Iran hostage crisis. The sixty-six Americans taken hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran were freed on this date in 1981. 20 of the abductees have gathered in Washington to mark the anniversary of their release.