Afghan militants waged an 18-hour assault on Kabul and three other provinces Sunday in what the Taliban called the start of a major spring offensive. The Afghan Defense Ministry said 32 insurgents were killed in the attacks which targeted the Afghan Parliament, the German and British embassies, a supermarket and a hotel. It was one of the most serious attacks on Kabul since the Taliban government was ousted from power in 2001. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said today that the Taliban offensive showed a “failure” by the intelligence services, and especially by NATO.
The first international observers tasked with monitoring a United Nations-backed ceasefire have arrived in Syria, where government forces are reportedly continuing to attack opposition neighborhoods. Syrian activists say at least five civilians were killed on Sunday when Syrian forces shelled areas of the city of Homs. On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to send monitors to Syria. The ceasefire was secured by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan.
Kofi Annan: “This afternoon we’ve had the chance to review where we are, and the agency is doing whatever we can to consolidate the fragile ceasefire that is on the ground. So we were both very relieved and happy that the council has passed a unanimous resolution authorizing the deployment of the observers. And we will try to get them in there as quickly as possible.”
The anti-Muslim Norwegian militant who massacred 77 people last summer admitted to carrying out the killings today but pleaded not guilty to criminal charges. On the first day of his trial, Anders Behring Breivik gave a clenched-fist salute and said he acted to defend his country against Muslims.
Anders Behring Breivick: “I do not recognize the Norwegian courts. You have received your mandate from political parties which support multiculturalism.”
Breivik is on trial for setting off a car bomb that killed eight people at government headquarters in Oslo last July, then killing 69 in a shooting spree at a summer youth camp on an island organized by the ruling Labour Party. Bjoern Ihler survived the massacre at the camp.
Bjoern Ihler: “I think it’s very important that the world sees this and sees it for what it is. It is a tragedy that is founded upon political views that are very common in the rest of the world, as well. And we have to fight that, and we have to fight extremist actions like this.”
Diplomats from Iran and six world powers met Saturday in Turkey, and all sides agreed to hold another set of nuclear talks in Baghdad next month. E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the talks were “constructive and useful” and the start of a “sustained process of serious dialogue.” Negotiators agreed that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is the framework to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programs are peaceful.
Israel has detained at least 45 suspected pro-Palestinians at Tel Aviv’s international airport and blocked hundreds more from boarding Israel-bound flights. Activists were attempting to stage what they described as a “flytilla.” Organizers said some 1,200 Palestinian supporters throughout Europe had bought plane tickets to Israel, planning to travel on to the occupied West Bank as part of a campaign called “Welcome to Palestine.” To disrupt the campaign, Israel distributed no-fly lists to European carriers. The Palestinian activist Abdul Fatah abu Suroor helped organize the flytilla.
Abdul Fatah abu Suroor: “We have many people who were arrested at the airport, who managed to arrive to Ben Gurion Airport, to Al Lod Airport. We have about 400 French and 100 Belgian and many others from other countries who were forbidden to take the plane from origin, and those who managed to get in were also arrested at the airport.”
Two Oklahoma men accused of going on a shooting spree that terrorized Tulsa’s predominantly black north side earlier this month are now facing murder and hate crime charges. Jacob Carl England and and Alvin Lee Watts are scheduled to be arraigned today. They are accused of killing three people and injuring two others on April 6 in what has been described as the Good Friday shootings.
A top National Rifle Association official accused the news media of sensationalizing the Trayvon Martin case and ignoring other crimes that happen across the country. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre didn’t mention the Martin case by name, but he accused the media of “sensational reporting from Florida.” LaPierre spoke one day after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addressed the NRA convention.
Mitt Romney: “We need a president who will enforce current laws, not create new ones that only serve to burden lawful gun owners. President Obama has not. I will. We need a president who will stand up for the rights of hunters and sportsmen and those who seek to protect their homes and their families. President Obama has not. I will. And if we’re going to safeguard our Second Amendment, it’s time to elect a president who will defend the rights President Obama ignores or minimizes, and I will protect the Second Amendment rights of American people.”
Indian film star Shah Rukh Khan has been detained for a second time at a U.S. airport, sparking vocal protests from the Indian government. Khan, who is often referred to as “The King of Bollywood,” was detained for two hours at an airport in White Plains, New York. In 2009, he was detained for two hours at Newark Liberty International Airport. India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said, “This has become a habit of detention and then apology, this cannot continue.” In 2010, Khan starred in a film titled “My Name is Khan,” which is about racial profiling of Muslims after the September 11 attacks.
Protests were held in Bahrain over the weekend ahead of Sunday’s Formula 1 Grand Prix race. Human Rights Watch criticized Formula1 for not canceling the race. The group said the Bahraini ruling party will attempt to use the race as a “political statement of support for its repressive policies.” Meanwhile, political prisoner Abdulhadi Alkhawaja has entered his 68th day on hunger strike.
Former Argentine dictator, General Jorge Rafael Videla, has admitted for the first time that critics of his regime were disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War. General Videla led the military coup which unseated President Isabel Perón in 1976. The 86-year-old Videla is now serving a life sentence for murder, torture and kidnapping. In a recent interview, he admitted that the dictatorship killed up to 8,000 people.
Jorge Rafael Videla: “In every war, there are crippled, killed and disappeared whose whereabouts are unknown. This is a fact. This is the fact, but how many there were can be debated. The problem doesn’t lie in the number, but in the fact — a fact which occurs in every war — that we’ve allowed the pejorative term of 'disappeared,' that could have been necessary at one time, but later stayed on as a term to cover up something dark that was wanted to be kept secret.”
It is believed that the Argentine military dictatorship killed at least 30,000 Argentines.
The Israeli military says it has suspended a senior military officer filmed hitting a foreign pro-Palestinian activist in the face with his gun during a bicycle rally in the occupied West Bank. Footage of the incident was posted on YouTube and aired on Israeli TV.
In political news, Democratic Congressman Ed Towns of New York has reportedly decided to drop his bid for re-election. Towns has represented Brooklyn since 1982. Towns was facing a challenge by two other politicians in the Democratic primary: New York City Council member Charles Barron and state Assembly member Hakeem Jeffries.
More than 100 tornadoes were reported Saturday and early Sunday causing significant damage in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. Five people died. The National Weather Service took the unusual step of warning people more than 24 hours in advance of a possible “high-end, life-threatening event.” Residents described the intense storm.
Kyle Taylor: “It started raining like crazy, and a tree limb was spinning around. I went into the bathroom, and then it was all over with, pretty much.”
In other weather news, the organizers of the Boston Marathon have issued dire warnings about the high heat ahead of today’s race. Temperatures in Boston are expected to reach at least the mid-80s, some 30 degrees above normal. The Boston Athletic Association said, “Inexperienced runners should not run.”