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President Obama on Monday vowed to track down the plotters behind the attempted Christmas Day airplane bombing attack. The President said the attack was a serious reminder of the danger the nation faces.
President Obama: “I’ve directed my national security team to keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country. We do not yet have all the answers about this latest attempt, but those who would slaughter innocent men, women and children must know that the United States will do more than simply strengthen our defenses. We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the US homeland.”
President Obama also said he had ordered a thorough review of the airport screening process to determine how the alleged bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was able to fly into the United States.
President Obama: “Apparently the suspect in the Christmas incident was in this system, but not on a watch list, such as the so-called no-fly list. So I have ordered a thorough review, not only of how information related to the subject was handled, but of the overall watch list system and how it can be strengthened. The second review will examine all screening policies, technologies and procedures related to air travel. We need to determine just how the suspect was able to bring dangerous explosives aboard an aircraft and what additional steps we can take to thwart future attacks.”
In other developments, the Yemeni government confirmed that the alleged bomber was in Yemen up until early December. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has take credit for the attack. In a message posted online, al-Qaeda said the attempted airplane bombing was in retaliation for US air strikes in Yemen. ABC reported last week that President Obama had recently ordered military strikes in Yemen targeting a pair of suspected al-Qaeda training camps.
The Associated Press reports the two federal agencies charged with keeping potential terrorists off airplanes and out of the country have been without their top leaders for nearly a year. The Obama administration waited more than eight months to nominate anyone to lead the Transportation Security Administration and the Customs and Border Protection agency. The Senate has yet to set a date to hold hearings for the Customs position. And Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has placed a hold on the President’s choice to head the TSA over the senator’s concern that the new leader, former FBI agent Erroll Southers, would let TSA screeners join a labor union.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned international forces for allegedly killing ten civilians in military operations in the eastern Afghan region of Kunar. Karzai said most of the dead were schoolboys. NATO officials disputed Karzai’s account, saying the target of the attack was a group of Taliban militants.
The United Nations reports the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan jumped by ten percent during the first ten months of 2009. The UN says at least 2,038 civilians died during that period.
Iranian security forces are continuing to round up prominent dissidents following Sunday’s mass street protests. Last night police arrested Nooshin Ebadi at her home. She is the sister of Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. Other dissidents arrested included Ali Reza Beheshti, a top aide to political opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. Earlier today Iran summoned the British ambassador in Tehran and accused Western countries of supporting the Iranian protesters. The meeting came one day after President Obama expressed solidarity with opponents of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
President Obama: “The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in detentions, injuries, and even death. For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days.”
The White House has called on Israel to reverse its decision to build 700 new homes in occupied East Jerusalem. Last month Israel announced a moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank except for occupied East Jerusalem. Ali Jarbawi, the Palestinian Minister for Planning, condemned Israel’s move to build more settlements. Mark Regev, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, defended the construction plans.
Jerusalem police arrested nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu on Monday on suspicion he violated his parole orders. Vanunu was released from prison in 2004 after serving an eighteen-year sentence for revealing details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program. Israeli police accused Vanunu of meeting with foreigners. Vanunu’s lawyer said Vanunu was arrested because he has a Norwegian girlfriend, whom police have already interrogated.
In Pakistan, forty-three people died Monday in the city of Karachi when a Shiite procession marking the holy day of Ashura was attacked. Riots erupted after the bombing. Angry mourners torched hundreds of cars and shops, threw stones at ambulances, and fired bullets into the air. Shops, offices and schools are closed in the city today after religious leaders called for a day of mourning.
Two Argentine men have wed in Latin America’s first same-sex marriage. Alex Freyre and Jose Maria di Bello were married in the southernmost state of Tierra del Fuego, where a pro-gay marriage governor welcomed the event. The couple had previously tried to marry in Buenos Aires, but their case became a contested legal battle.
China has executed a British man after he was convicted of drug smuggling. Akmal Shaikh is believed to be the first European executed in China in fifty-eight years. The British government condemned the execution, saying that Shaikh had mental problems.
In Texas, a man with ties to a white supremacist group has been arrested on capital murder charges after he allegedly shot dead a store owner in Liberty, Texas on Christmas night. Police said the alleged killer, Stevie “Bubba” Walder, is a known white supremacist who has a large swastika tattooed on his left bicep. The victim of the shooting was identified as fifty-year-old Naushad Virani. Virani was working on Christmas so his employees could have the night off with their families. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called on the FBI to determine whether hate crime charges should also be filed against Walder.
And in Canada, the Olympic Torch Relay was disrupted Monday by protesters. During a chaotic incident, a woman carrying the Olympic torch was knocked over and fell to the ground. Police accused protesters of pushing the runner over, but protesters disputed this account and said no one purposely shoved her. One protester was charged with assault. Protesters were chanting “Homes, not Games” and “No Olympics on stolen native land.” The Olympic Torch Relay has been marred by protests since it began. Earlier this month, indigenous members of the Six Nations declared that the Olympic torch could not pass through their territory. Vancouver will host the Winter Olympics in February.