Centre relieved as Mamata skips security meet
Source : The Times Of India , Mohua Chatterjee , TNN / New Delhi , 17 April 2012
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee chose to stay away from the CMs' conference on internal security on Monday for good reasons and had made it clear to the Centre that she would be sending her representative to the meeting but would not attend it.
The UPA ally and Trinamool chief clearly does not want to be seen as confronting the Centre at a time when the presidential elections are coming up and the Congress will need Mamata on its side. Maintaining peace with the Centre also works out well for her at this juncture as she will be able to gauge how much of funds flow into the state, after the annual budget outlay has been worked out for Bengal. The Centre too is relieved as it certainly avoids the embarrassment of a coalition partner being part of the opposition club.
Her party's stand on most of the issues that were listed on Monday's agenda are well known and are closer to that of the opposition's view rather than with the government.
With many issues like the NCTC, having to do with federal powers of the state, Mamata knew she would have to voice her opinion alongside CMs from the opposition parties. She therefore tactically decided to skip the meeting though she plans to turn up for the NCTC meeting on May 5.
On May 5, the presidential polls issue would have progressed to some extent and Mamata would be clearer on where she stands on it and what the UPA's plans are. Also, she will be clear on whether the funds assured to the state are flowing in at the right pace.
On Monday, the CM's speech, which was read out by state finance minister Amit Mitra at the chief ministers' conference, sought to blame neighbouring states for the Maoist problem and charged the Centre with not supplementing efforts of her government in tackling various internal security-related problems.
"Bengal cannot remain an island of peace if the bordering states remain disturbed and the Maoist problem in those states is not tackled effectively . Our state administration is in constant touch with its counterparts in the adjoining states. However, the central government should play an effective coordinating role in this matter and provide valuable intelligence inputs having inter-state implications and also necessary resources ," she said.
On the issue of the NCTC, Mamata said, "It upsets the country's federal structure. I have already written to you (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) on the matter and will elaborate my views at length and in detail at the separate meet being convened (on May 5)." All non-Congress chief ministers, barring Mamata, who had come together to oppose the Centre on the proposed NCTC and other issues, attended the conference.
"I am sorry to mention here that while the state government's scheme of distribution of rice to all tribal families of leftwing extremism affected area has contributed significantly to the neutralization of discontent among the people in the area, the central government has drastically reduced the quota of BPL rice for the state."
Interestingly, Mamata has asked for a raise of funds from Rs 30 crore to Rs 300 crore (per district) from the Centre for the three Maoist affected districts of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore.
WHAT CMs SAY
West Bengal cannot remain an island of peace if the bordering states remain disturbed and the Maoist problem is not tackled effectively. The Centre should play an effective coordinating role and provide intelligence inputs with inter-state implications and resources
Mamata Banerjee | WEST BENGAL CM
Describing the NCTC issue an "imbroglio" , Gujarat CM Narendra Modi said it was part of a series of unsavoury episodes that had taken place and highlighted the "unilateral" approach of the Centre. He accused the Union govt of failing to instil faith in the common man about the nation's defence preparedness As you know, we have had a crisis involving the abduction of an MLA of the Odisha legislative assembly and also two Italian nationals by Left-wing extremists and this delay (of holding a CMs' meet on federal issues) will only aggravate such problems.
Naveen Patnaik | ORISSA CM
It (officials' meet on NCTC) served little purpose and we are not aware of any positive outcome of that meet. In any case, the core issue being violation of the principle of federalism, the only level at which meaningful discussion could be held is between heads of govt at the Centre and states.
Nitish Kumar | BIHAR CM
MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan opposed NCTC, BSF and RPF Act, saying that steps like these were an attack on federalism and against the constitutional framework The issue of NCTC required national consensus. It must not affect our federal structure.
Raman Singh | CHHATTISGARH CM
Punjab deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal asked for a budget increase of 120 cr for modernization of police & allocation of an additional Rs 50 crore for training and equipment of Special Security Group, allowing raising one more Indian Reserve Battalion Crediting strict surveillance of the border to security forces, J&K CM Omar Abdullah said there was a 45.26% decline in infiltration in 2011. There has also been an increase in the number of pilgrims at Vaishno Devi shrine, crossing the one-crore mark for the first time, signaling normalcy in the Valley.
LeT to Valley sarpanchs: Quit job or face music
Source : The Times Of India , TNN / Srinagar , 17 April 2012
Posters, purportedly put up by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, on Monday asked panchs and sarpanchs in villages of south Kashmir's Pulwama district to resign from their post within a week's time. Written in Urdu, the posters said, "Panchs and sarpanchs will be responsible if they don't obey and put in their papers."
General Officer Commanding 15 Corps Lt General S A Hasnain said, "These new warnings cannot be brushed aside. We are taking necessary measures in coordination with the local police."
The threat came on a day when chief minister Omar Abdullah said in Delhi that he intended to remove 26 more pickets of security forces from Srinagar soon.
The state is planning to hold local body elections in May. In the past one year, terrorists have gunned down nearly one dozen panchs and sarpanchs throughout the state, with the maximum number being killed in south Kashmir.
On Sunday, Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin described India-Pakistan "peace plan" as an attempt to "freeze the Kashmir issue" and asked Kashmiri separatists to be united against this "conspiracy" for "isolating Kashmiris".
Army denies any conflict with Himachal government
Source : The Hindu.com , Correspondent / India , 17 April 2012
The Army's Western Command declared on Monday that it had never issued the statement that appeared in a section of the press on Sunday and denied any conflict with the Himachal Pradesh government over the Annandale ground.
Addressing select journalists here, Brigadier A.K. Sharma of the Western Command said the ground had strategic value for all Army operations. The Army had been in possession of the ground since World War II, and from here, it was regularly carrying out exercises and forward operations.
The ground, Brigadier Sharma said, was used for helicopters to land and take off for rescue and relief operations at times of natural disasters in the forward areas of the region. There was no question of using an alternative site, as suggested by the government, since the location was perfect from the security perspective.
The CPI(M) and the DYFI reiterated their charge that the BJP and the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association had vested interests in seeking to take over the ground. They alleged that the government had become a facilitator for the Cricket Association, as it was being headed by Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal's son Anurag Thakur. According to them, Mr. Thakur's campaign to get hold of the ground for building a stadium had the backing of a land mafia that had bought more than 25 bighas around the site.
Their apprehension was that if this ground was also made into a stadium, like the one at Dharamsala, no individuals or sportsmen would be allowed to play or practise there. The result would be a concrete jungle on the lone green meadow in the congested town, they pointed out.
They suggested that the ground be made available to ordinary citizens for their social and cultural needs, and for conducting various games and sports. The DYFI has been running a campaign against the acquisition of the ground by the Cricket Association.
Gogoi appeals to ULFA hawks to come forward for talks
Source : The Shillong Times , Correspondent / Guwahati , 17 April 2012
As the people of Assam are celebrating Rongali Bihu (Spring Festival) with pomp and gaiety Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has taken the opportunity to make a renewed appeal to the armed insurgents groups still remaining at large to come forward for dialogue with the government to resolve their problem for the sake of restoration of peace and overall development of the state.
Gogoi’s call is basically targeted at the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and other militants groups still at large to give up arms and come over for talks to resolve their problem.
He said on the occasion of Rongali Bihu the people of Assam were aspiring for an atmosphere of peace, overall development and prosperity.
“Those militants who are still holding to their guns should respect the wishes of the people and come over for dialogue by giving up arms,” Gogoi said.
The anti-talks faction of the ULFA led by fugitive ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Barua, has remained elusive despite all the efforts by the government to bring the faction to the negotiation. The ULFA faction is trying hard to regroup after setting up a fresh base in Myanmar in coordination with other insurgent groups like the NSCN-K.
Though one faction of the ULFA comprising all the senior leaders and led by its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa have entered into a truce and has been holding dialogue with the Government of India, the government well understands that a permanent solution to the problem will not be possible sans Paresh Barua’s participation in the dialogue process.
Paresh Barua has continued to insist that the pre-condition that any dialogue with the government of India must revolve around the outfit’s ‘demand for sovereignty of Assam’.
Indian security agencies believe that there was remote possibility of Paresh Barua coming over for dialogue as he was hand in glove with Pakistani ISI.
‘Militancy will fade if border guarded well’
Source : The Shillong Times , Correspondent / New Delhi , 17 April 2012
If India guards its frontier with Myanmar effectively, militancy in the Northeast will fade away, Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh said here on Monday.
Speaking at the Chief Ministers’ conference on internal security here, Singh said his state endorses the central government’s proposal to deploy the BSF, replacing the Assam Rifles, to guard the 1,640-kilometre-long border which will help to ensure effective surveillance of this porous frontier.
“We have been consistently and repeatedly drawing attention of the Government of India to the dire need to effectively guard the India-Myanmar border. We are happy to learn that the Ministry of Home Affairs has finalised a proposal to construct 4,585 kms of roads, 113 helipads and two helibases along the Indo-Myanmar border.
“I understand that the proposal is awaiting approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security. We fully endorse MHA’s proposal to deploy BSF as the dedicated border guarding force for the Indo-Myanmar border,” Singh said.
The chief minister said that this initiative will ensure effective surveillance along the sensitive and porous border which today is ‘at the core of illegal arms and drugs smuggling and the unchecked trans-border movement of militants’ who are a threat to internal security.
“…Allow me to reiterate that if we can guard this border effectively, militancy in the North East will fade away. This is a core issue which Government of India must tackle with clear foresight and in a sustained manner,” he said.
Assam concerned over Maoists’ presence, illegal coal trading
Source : The Shillong Times , PTI / New Delhi , 17 April 2012
Expressing concern over Maoists’ presence in his state, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on Monday said that illegal coal trading in border areas of a number of northeastern states is fast becoming a major source of funding for terror outfits.
Gogoi, speaking at a conference of Chief Ministers on internal security, cautioned that Maoists’ presence in Assam has the potential to grow into a major threat in the state where militancy related incidents have come down drastically last year.
The Chief Minister attributed change in Bangladesh’s policy of not allowing sanctuary to militants from the region and better coordination between central and state security forces for the drop in militant violence.
However, he said funds coming from illegal coal trading have found their way to militant outfits and favoured better policing in the region to contain militancy.
“The illegal coal trade originating in bordering area of neighbouring states transits through Assam and is fast becoming a major source of funding for different militant outfits,” he said, adding Dimapur in Nagaland is particular emerging as a centre for illegal arms trade and shelter for criminals and militants.
Identifying various challenges of internal security in Assam, he said inflow of fake currency into the state was a matter of concern which needes to be tackled with better border policing.
He said riverine areas of international border with Bangladesh are still a cause for concern as the proposal to have floating Border Outposts (BOP) could not be made operational. Assam has a 267-km border with Bangladesh and 269 km with Bhutan.
In the past, both these countries have been used as sanctuaries by militant outfits. Noting that public mood has been in favour of peace and development in Assam, Gogoi also complemented the Centre for helping the state in enhancing its capabilities to counter the militants. He said Assam Police is now second to none in counter-militancy skills.
“The Centre has played a crucial role in helping to modernise police forces. In the past 10 years 85 per cent of funds allotted have been utilised to construct police stations, achieve better mobility, acquire modern weaponry and ensure effective communication,” Gogoi said.
Eight dead in five mishaps in Assam
Source : The Shillong Times , PTI / Guwahati , 17 April 2012
Eight persons died in five road accidents in Assam adding a note of grief to the ongoing Rongali Bihu celebrations in the state.
Four persons were killed and over 20 injured in a head-on collision between a bus and a truck trailer on the National Highway 37 in Golaghat district on Monday morning, police sources said. The bus caught fire with the victims being the drivers and the handymen, the sources said.
In another incident, a couple were killed when their car fell off an overbridge at Tokoubari on the National Highway 52 in Sonitpur district at 3:30 am, the sources said.
A fireman, Amritjyoti Hira, was killed when a fire engine collided with a truck at Haibargaon in Nagaon district on Sunday night.
In yet another mishap one person, Utpal Dutta was killed and five others injured in a collision between two cars at Duliajan township in Dibrugarh district on Sunday night.
Mahatma’s statue decollated in Manipur
Source : The Shillong Times , NNN / Imphal , 17 April 2012
A statue of Mahatma Gandhi erected at Gandhi Chowk, opposite to Ukhrul Town Hall, about 50 metres away from Police Reserve line, near the office of the Suprintendent of Police, Ukhrul district, Manipur was found vandalized in the wee hours of Sunday, with the head of the statue of the Father of the Nation missing.
Ukhrul district police disclosed that they have listed some suspects involved in the ‘beheading’ of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi erected in Ukhrul town.
K Kabib, Superintendent of Police, Ukhrul district said the arrest of these suspects will be made in two days’ time.
The news of the vandalization of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi had spread very fast in Ukhrul, and it has been condemned by Hunphun Executive Council as a shameless act committed against the universal symbol of non-violence by miscreants.
Two stone plates of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) located in different localities of Phungreitang West, Ukhrul district were also found destroyed by miscreants around the same time.
Police had reportedly expressed suspicion that the two incidents are connected and might have been committed with a pre-plan to target everything related to Mahatma Gandhi.
Be on the vigil, Antony tells Army top brass
Source : The Hindu.com , Special Correspondent / New Delhi , 17 April 2012
A day after the deadly multiple-attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Defence Minister A.K. Antony on Monday flagged the situation in the region and asked the top brass of the Army to be on the vigil.
Inaugurating the annual Army Commanders' conference here, Mr. Antony described the situation in the Af-Pak region as a “continuing cause for concern.” He asked the Army to take all appropriate steps keeping in view the developments in Afghanistan.
He reiterated India's commitment to provide support and assistance to help Afghanistan evolve as a stable country that was strengthened by pluralism and was free from external interference.
“Balancing the imperatives of engaging globally with other powers and maintaining autonomy in decision-making is one of the most important challenges of our times,” a Defence Ministry spokesman said
Referring to the sharp increase in defence spending by China to modernise it armed forces, the Minister said India would continue to bolster infrastructure and strengthen its capabilities along the Sino-Indian border. “However our efforts are focused on safeguarding our security interests and are not dictated by what other nations are doing. Several of the proposals of the Army are under implementation. Some others are expected to be cleared in the days ahead. We will provide all the support to modernise and enhance our defence capabilities to successfully meet any challenge,” he said.
Besides laying stress on developing border roads in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East region for swifter transportation of men and material, India has activated advanced landing grounds in these parts to enable quick movement by transport aircraft. In addition, the government has sanctioned a plan to raise two mountain divisions. Efforts are on to procure ultra-light field guns that can be carried across mountains by helicopters.
Describing the situation in Jammu and Kashmir as stable, Mr. Antony said this was a direct consequence of the untiring efforts of the security forces. He, however, said the peace process was extremely fragile and the armed forces needed to operate with maximum restraint and control without dropping their guard. The statement assumes significance as there is a clamour once again to remove the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
On modernisation plans for the armed forces, he said the government's endeavour was to move forward in a systematic manner. Procedures would be improved and fine-tuned whenever and wherever necessary to ensure that the Army met its modernisation goals within an acceptable timeframe.
Chief of the Army Staff General V.K. Singh said regional situation needed to be monitored closely and the force should be operationally prepared at all times.
While observing that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East region had improved, he underscored the need to maintain utmost vigil during the summer months ahead.
Akhilesh seeks vigil along Nepal border
Source : The Hindu.com , Gargi Parsi / New Delhi , 17 April 2012
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav on Monday expressed concern over the open border with Nepal and sought “special policing” by the Centre to check any anti-national activity along it.
Participating in the Internal Security Conference of Chief Ministers here, Mr. Yadav — in his maiden appearance in a Chief Ministers' Conference — pointed out that due to strict vigil on the country's borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh, the possibility of anti-social and terrorist activity along the Indo-Nepal border has heightened.
“I would like to draw the attention of the Centre to the need for establishing adequate number of integrated check-posts and special police arrangements to control any possible anti-national activities along the 550-km-long open border with Nepal,” he said.
DEMANDING A MASSIVE HIKE IN THE ALLOCATION OF FUNDS TO UTTAR PRADESH FOR THE MODERNISATION OF THE POLICE FORCE, THE NEW CHIEF MINISTER SAID: “CONSIDERING THE CHALLENGES OF MAINTAINING LAW AND ORDER, INTERNAL SECURITY AND COMMUNAL HARMONY IN A LARGE STATE LIKE U.P., THERE SHOULD BE A HIKE IN THE FUNDS FROM THE PRESENT RS. 100 CRORE TO RS. 800 CRORE.”
HE SAID FREQUENT CHANGES IMPLEMENTED BY THE CENTRE IN CRIME TRACKING METHODS WERE NOT ALLOWING FULL IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SYSTEM IN THE STATES.
MR. YADAV SAID A PROPOSAL OF RS. 750 CRORE HAD BEEN SENT TO THE CENTRE FOR MODERNISATION OF THE STATE FORENSIC SCIENCE LABORATORIES. TO CHECK THE GROWING MENACE OF FAKE CURRENCY, HE SOUGHT HELP FOR SETTING UP A SPECIAL LABORATORY IN EITHER LUCKNOW OR KANPUR TO IDENTIFY SUCH NOTES.
GHAZIABAD AND GAUTAM BUDH NAGAR SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN MEGA CITY POLICING PROJECTS AND PROVIDED WITH SOPHISTICATED WEAPONS AND SYSTEMS, HE ADDED.
THE CHIEF MINISTER ALSO SOUGHT ASSISTANCE WITH INTELLIGENCE, MANPOWER AND SECURITY APPARATUS FOR SMOOTH CONDUCT OF THE KUMBH MELA IN 2013.
SEPARATELY, MR. YADAV THANKED PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN SINGH FOR THE MEETING WITH HIM IN NEW DELHI ON APRIL 14. HE SOUGHT BETTER ATTENTION AND FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FROM THE CENTRE FOR “OVERALL DEVELOPMENT” OF U.P., WHICH, HE SAID, WAS LAGGING COMPARED TO OTHER STATES.
Civil-military tensions affecting security: Modi
Source : The Hindu.com , PTI / New Delhi , 17 April 2012
Slamming the Centre for recent controversies with the Army, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said tensions between the civil and military wings are bound to adversely impact the internal security of the country.
Speaking at the Chief Ministers’ Conference on internal security, Mr. Modi said, “It is unfortunate that the present Union Government has failed to instil faith and confidence about our defence preparedness in the common man.”
Mr. Modi said the internal security of the country cannot be viewed in isolation as it is intertwined with the external security scenario and the Armed Forces play an important role in anti-infiltration and anti-insurgency measures which directly impinge on the internal security of the nation.
“In this context, any lacunae in our defence capabilities on account of resource constraints, demoralisation of the rank and file and tensions between the civil and military wings is bound to have an adverse impact on the internal security of the nation,” he said.
The Chief Minister said the Centre should take proactive steps “to clear the fog of mistrust and suspicion” that has arisen on account of the “recent unseemly controversy” and not “remain content with mere issuance of statements”.
Criticising the Centre for its “non-consultative” approach with State governments on key security issues, Mr. Modi said the Centre was creating “State within State” by amending RPF Act, BSF Act which take away powers from State police and meddling with subjects under the State List.
He said politicisation of central agencies, including the CBI, is increasing and they are used to harass and victimise political rivals of the ruling party at the Centre.
“This approach has gravely compromised the credibility of agencies like CBI and is a matter of concern since these agencies are also involved in internal security matters,” he said.
Keywords: Chief Ministers Meet, internal security, security measures, counter terror steps, NCTC, Centre State relations
Antony asks armed forces to be vigilant
Source : The Shillong Times , IANS / New Delhi , 17 April 2012
Describing the security situation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region as a “continuing cause of concern”, Defence Minister A.K. Antony Monday called upon the top brass of the Indian Army to be vigilant and take steps keeping in view the latest terror attacks by the Taliban in Kabul.
Addressing the biannual army commanders’ conference here, Antony said India remains steadfast in its commitment to provide support and assistance to Afghanistan so that it evolves into a stable country, strengthened by pluralism and free from external interference.
Taliban militants Sunday mounted a synchronised attack at key establishments in Kabul. The assault ended after 18 hours Monday when all but one attacker were killed.
Antony called upon the defence forces and all other security agencies to remain prepared to tackle the entire range of security challenges.
“Balancing the imperatives of engaging globally with other powers and maintaining autonomy in decision-making, is one of the most important challenges of our times,” he said. Referring to sharp increase in the defence spending by China for the modernisation of its armed forces, Antony said: “On our part, we will continue to bolster our infrastructure and strengthen our capabilities along the border areas.”
“However, our efforts are focused on safeguarding our security interests and not dictated by what other nations are doing,” he said.
“Several of the proposals of the army are under implementation. Some others are expected to be cleared in the days ahead. We will provide all the support to modernise and enhance our defence capabilities to successfully meet any challenge,” he added.
Describing the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir as stable, Antony said it was “a direct consequence” of the “untiring” efforts of the forces. He, however, said the peace process “is extremely fragile” and the armed forces need to operate with maximum restraint and control without dropping their guard.
Turning to modernisation of the armed forces, an issue raised by Indian Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh in his March 12 letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Antony said the government’s endeavour has been to provide the desired impetus to arming the forces in a systematic manner.
He assured the forces that the government would continue to improve and fine-tune procedures “whenever and wherever necessary” to ensure that the army meets its modernisation goals in an acceptable time frame.
Antony observed that the acquisition of critical technologies from foreign countries would no doubt get subjected to various technology denial regimes and post-procurement dependencies.
“There is clearly an urgent need,” he said, “to achieve self-reliance in the field of critical defence equipment.”
“This can be made possible only with the continuous cooperation of the armed forces, the scientists and other participants in the defence industry,” he added.
Calling for strengthening cooperation in operational, training and administrative facets among the three services and the defence ministry, the defence minister said: “The various security challenges before our armed forces require a concerted effort by all the wings of our armed forces.”
“No single service can achieve the national goals all by itself.”
The defence minister also strongly urged the army commanders to adhere to the highest standards of personal behaviour and professional probity in their day-to-day dealings.
“I wish to emphasise that any act of corruption will not be condoned and we will take the strictest possible action against any wrongdoer,” he said.
Army chief bats for AFSPA
Source : The Shillong Times , PTI / New Delhi , 17 April 2012
Amid renewed demands for the repeal of the controversial AFSPA, Army Chief Gen V K Singh on Monday said the law was a functional requirement for the armed forces in certain areas.
“Everyone knows what our view is on this subject. It is based on functional requirement and how the Army is supposed to be in a particular area,” he told reporters here.(PTI)
Odisha govt hopes MLA will be released soon
Source : The Shillong Times , PTI / Bhubaneswar , 17 April 2012
With the Maoists dropping the name of a hardcore ultra from the list of their 30 jailed associates and extending the deadline, the Odisha government on Monday expressed hopes that BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka could be released on April 18.
“It appears from the fresh message of the Maoists that they will release the MLA on April 18″ as the Maoists are no longer demanding that Chenda Bhusanam alias Ghasi, accused of killing at least 55 police, be freed, State Home Secretary U N Behera said.
The government would provide assistance to facilitate the release of the 29 prisoners, Behera said, adding that he expected some bail petitions will be moved in courts by on Tuesday.
In view of extension of the deadline, he said it was necessary that bail petitions for 15 members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh and eight Maoists were filed immediately.
“The state government once again appeals to Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) to release Hikaka while the process for release of 15 members of CMAS and eight Maoists is on,” he said.
“The government has not taken any decision on the release of four other persons.
The legal aspects are being examined,” the Home Secretary said. Behera said efforts are on to convince lawyers representing Maoists and CMAS members to move bail petitions and the government was hopeful that they would do it at the earliest.
In view of the reluctance by the ultras to seek bail and their insistence on complete withdrawal of cases against them, the state government would have to make special effort to convince them, an official said.
The Maoists, however, have stuck to their condition for a prisoner-hostage exchange. They have demanded that the MLA’s wife Kaushalya and a lawyer to accompany the 29 freed cadres to Balipeta in Koraput district for freeing Hikaka.
It might turn out to be difficult for the Odisha government to arrange the physical presence of the freed prisoners at Balipeta in the Maoist hotbed of Narayanpatna in Koraput district.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who is on a visit to Delhi, is in regular touch with senior officials on the hostage issue, a senior official said. Hikaka was abducted on March 24 in Koraput district.
1. Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) invites tender for "Limited
tender for procurement of Electronic Stethoscope"
Publish Date: 12 April 2012
Last Date: 09 May 2012
2. Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) invites tender for "LIMITED
TENDER FOR PROCUREMENT OF BOMB BASKET"
Publish Date: 16 April 2012
Last Date: 08 May 2012
3. Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) invites tender for "LIMITED
TENDER FOR PROCUREMENT OF OPTIC FIBERSCOPE"
Publish Date: 16 April 2012
Last Date: 10 May 2012
4. Supply, installation, testing and commissioning of CCTV surveillance
system at various locations of CPT including AMC for 5 years after 2
years guarantee period at Cochin Port
Publish Date: 02 April 2012
Due Date: 23 April 2012
SUB – CONTINENT
Terrorists again attack Hazaras: one dead
Source : Dawn . com , Saleem Shahid / Quetta , 17 April 2012
Terrorists belonging to an outlawed organisation attacked members of the Hazara Shia community in two different areas of the city on Monday and killed one person.
The killing brought to 27 the number of Hazaras shot dead over the past two weeks.
Ali Sher Haidri, a spokesman for the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi calling journalists from an unidentified place, claimed responsibility for the sectarian attacks of the past two weeks.
Sources said that in the first incident, terrorists on a motorcycle opened fire on a tyre shop in the Quivery Road area. The owner of the shop, Salman Ali, was killed on the spot. The gunmen escaped.
Police reached the area after the shooting and took the body of the victim to the Combined Military Hospital, Quetta.
Police said that Salman Ali, who lived in Marriabad, had been running the tyre shop in the area for a long time. The incident made a mockery of the government’s claim that it had taken adequate measures to protect people’s lives and honour.
Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani had presided over a high-level meeting on Sunday and decided to launch targeted operations against terrorists involved in sectarian and other killings in the province.
In the second incident on Monday, four Shia Hazaras escaped an attempt on their lives when terrorists on motorcycle opened fire at their yellow cab near the Benazir Shaheed overhead bridge linking Spiny Road with the city.
According to police, the Hazaras were coming to Quetta from their town yellow cab when they were attacked.
“Armed motorcyclists opened fire at the yellow cab when it reached near the bridge,” police sources said.
Miraculously, none of them suffered any injury.
In this attack also, the gunmen escaped from the area without being challenged by anyone.
Angered by continued killing of members of their community, a large number of Shia Hazaras gathered in the Mezeen Chowk area and blocked the road by burning tyres and erecting barricades.
They chanted slogans against the government and law-enforcement agencies for their failure to arrest any of the terrorists involved in the series of killings in the province.
All shops, markets, shopping malls and businesses in the main city were immediately closed.
Police and Frontier Corps personnel rushed to the area where people were protesting. They dispersed demonstrators and restored traffic.
Prison attack: militants claim inside information
Source : Dawn . com , Reuters / Bannu , 17 April 2012
A militant ‘commander’ who helped plan an assault on the Bannu central jail on Sunday which freed 384 prisoners said his group had inside information.
The Taliban said they were behind the brazen assault by militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault rifles.
“We had maps of the area and we had complete maps and plans of the jail as well,” the ‘commander’, a senior member of the Taliban, told Reuters.
“All I have to say is we have people who support us in Bannu. It was with their support that this operation was successful.”
It was not possible to independently verify that account.
But the inspector general for prisons in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Arshad Majeed, did not rule out collusion.
“It is possible that the attackers had help from the inside. We cannot confirm that but we are investigating to see what happened,” he said.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is seen as the biggest threat to security forces, staging suicide bombings and attacks on military compounds.
The Bannu attackers arrived in a convoy of vehicles, blocking off all access points to the jail before firing rocket-propelled grenades at the black, metal gates of the prison and forcing their way in.
Zardari expresses concern over Afghanistan attacks
Source : Dawn . com , APP / Islamabad , 17 April 2012
President Asif Ali Zardari has strongly condemned the terrorist attacks in capital Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan.
Spokesperson to the president Senator Farhatullah Babar said the president expressed the resolve that people and Government of Pakistan would continue to stand with their Afghan brethren in their time of distress and difficulty.
He expressed the hope that peace would prevail in times ahead.
The president said that Pakistan has always desired a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan as it was in Pakistan’s own national interest and assured that Pakistan would continue to extend all possible support to every effort aimed at restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The president also directed Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan Muhammad Sadiq to ensure security and safety of the Pakistan’s women parliamentarian’s delegation that are currently on a visit to Afghanistan.
The president also expressed condolence over the deaths of members of Afghan security forces and civilians.
Pakistanis ask who'll foot Zardari's $1m Ajmer grant?
Source : The Times Of India , Omer Farooq Khan , TNN / Islamabad , 17 April 2012
More than a week after Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari landed in Ajmer and declared a $1mn donation to the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, there is no clarity about where is the money is coming from: his personal wealth or the state's coffers.
Asked about the donation, Pakistan's foreign office threw the ball in Zardari's court saying, "Only the president can say who will pay the announced amount." On the other hand Farhatullah Babar, the president's spokesman, evaded all questions regarding the donation.
Independent observers have ruled out the possibility of the promised amount coming from the president's own pocket. "The president has huge discretionary funds at his disposal and the money to the Ajmer shrine will certainly go from his official coffers," said Faisur Rehman, a political analyst.
Zardari's visit became controversial, coming as it was on a day an avalanche crushed a Pakistan army camp in Siachen, burying alive 127 soldiers and 11 civilians in the Gyari sector. The president's critics and right-wing parties blamed him for showing appalling insensitivity to the Gyari tragedy and opting to go on a private visit to India.
"Zardari contented himself with issuing a routine statement, of the sort that would be made if a natural calamity were to hit a remote Pacific island," said Arshad Hussain, a fellow with a think tank. Dargah committee members were quoted saying said the shrine was yet to receive the money - as well as the directions to use it - from the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi.
47 JeI leaders and activists arrested in Chandpur and Satkhira Districts
Source : South Asia Terrorism Portal , Bangladesh , 17 April 2012
Police arrested 47 leaders and activists of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) on charge of planning to carry out subversive activities in Satkhira and Chandpur Districts on April 14, reports The Daily Star. Of them, 20 were arrested in Chandpur District while they were holding a clandestine meeting at an office of Ideal Trust to carry out subversive activities and 27 in Satkhira District at a house in Sora village while they were holding a secret meeting there.
Meanwhile, Police arrested seven Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) cadres the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) from a procession in the Chittagong city on April 15. Police said around 40-50 Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) cadres of the city unit brought out a procession near Kazir Dewri intersection as a part of their country-wide demonstration programme.
Bandh affects life across the nation
Source : South Asia Terrorism Portal , Nepal , 17 April 2012
Inseconline.org reports that normal life was affected in Ilam, Dhankuta, Panchthar, Sunsari, Nawalparasi, Arghakhanchi, Kanchanpur, Dang, Pyuthan, Banke, Rolpa, Jajarkot, Dailekh and Bardiya Districts due to the Nepal bandh (general shutdown) called by Rastriya Janamukti Party (RJP) and various ethnic fronts on April 15. The bandh was called by the RJP demanding state restructuring on the basis of ethnic identity and timely constitution. However, the bandh was called off in the afternoon after the Peace and Reconstruction Ministry agreed to urge the concerned body to implement the demand of RJP.
Further, the ongoing second phase of voluntary retirement process of the combatants belonging to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) so far suggests the number of combatants choosing integration is going to be far less than 6,500—the combatants’ intake number in the Nepal Army (NA) set by the seven-point agreement signed on November 1, reports Kantipuronline. Of the 9,705 combatants who opted for integration during regrouping in November 2011, 4,052 combatants from all the seven PLA division camps chose voluntary retirement as of April 15. The major factor prompting combatants to choose voluntary retirement is academic qualification that could be crucial in determining their rank in the NA.
Moreover, the Army Integration Special Committee (AISC) has enforced a 12-point code of conduct for former PLA combatants, barring them from engaging in any political activity inside cantonments. The code came into effect in all the 15 cantonment sites on April 13.
Sheikh Hasina tells no compromise with terrorism and militancy
Source : South Asia Terrorism Portal , Bangladesh , 17 April 2012
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reiterated her Government's tough stance against terrorism and militancy and vowed that the government would never compromise on these issues, reports The Daily Star. She said this when Canada's Special Envoy on Commonwealth Membership Renewal Senator Hugh Segal called on her at her office on April 15.
Hasina told the envoy that her Government has worked hard to keep a control on terrorism and militancy in the last three years. She further said Canada should return Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's convicted killer Maj (retd) Noor Chowdhury, who is currently residing in Canada, to Bangladesh to face justice. In response, the envoy told the PM that he would convey her message to the concerned authorities of the Canadian government.
Identities of those illegally seeking political refuge in foreign countries are protected, says Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
Source : South Asia Terrorism Portal , Sri Lanka , 17 April 2012
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that identities of those arriving illegally in Australia and other countries, particularly in Europe, seeking political refuge are protected, reports Daily News. Thousands of Sri Lankans had received new identities and it therefore denies Sri Lanka an opportunity to target organized criminal gangs responsible for sending people abroad. “Many listed missing during the war could have obtained new identities courtesy foreign Governments. Foreign Governments, including Australia, had refused to assist Sri Lanka in investigations aimed at locating missing persons now living overseas under new identities”. He said.
Meanwhile, naval personnel attached to the Eastern Naval Command had recovered 12.7mm anti-air craft gun and a Multi-Purpose Machine Gun (MPMG) in the seas off Kuchchaveli from a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attack craft in the seas during a salvage operation carried out on April 8.
Maldives probe criticised by Commonwealth watchdog
Source : BBC News , Maldives , 17 April 2012
The Commonwealth's rights watchdog has criticised an inquiry set up by the Maldives to investigate an alleged coup as "neither independent or impartial".
The watchdog, which has already suspended the Maldives, threatened to take further measures if the commission does not change within four weeks.
The inquiry is tasked with investigating events leading to the transfer of power in February.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed claims he was removed from office by force.
Mr Nasheed alleges President Mohamed Waheed Hussein Manik, his former vice-president, conspired with the opposition and military to oust him. Mr Waheed denies the charge.
In its report, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), a nine-strong group of foreign ministers which investigates human rights and democracy issues, also reiterated its call for Mr Waheed's government to hold polls before the end of 2012.
Mr Waheed has previously agreed to put his government to a vote, but said that the conditions were not yet right for polls to be held.
But earlier this week, the government said victories in two by-elections gave it a mandate to keep governing until the end of 2013, when the next polls are scheduled.
The by-elections were called after the disqualification of two MPs by the country's highest court in the weeks after Mr Waheed came to power.
The Commonwealth is an association of 54 countries which has its roots in the former British Empire.
South Korea to halt North Korea rocket debris search
Source : BBC News , South Korea , 17 April 2012
South Korea is to end its search for debris from North Korea's failed rocket launch without finding any fragments, its defence ministry said.
Muddy waters in the Yellow Sea, over which the rocket disintegrated on Friday, hampered the search of naval ships and helicopters, officials said.
The North said the rocket would launch a satellite, but critics saw it as a banned test of missile technology.
The UN on Monday strongly condemned the launch and ordered tighter sanctions.
At least 10 South Korean warships have been combing the waters where the Unha-3 rocket fell after exploding, 165km (105 miles) west of the South Korean capital, Seoul.
"No debris has been found and the operation will end officially at 17:00 (08:00 GMT)," a defence ministry spokesman was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.
Vessels from China, Russia and the US have also been searching for rocket debris, South Korean officials have said. Experts say the debris could offer an insight into the technology used by the North.
The North had warned before the launch that any attempts by other nations to retrieve any debris would result in "ruthless" retaliation.
On Monday, the 15-member UN Security Council, which includes North Korean ally China, said in a statement that the launch highlighted "grave security concerns" in Asia.
It ordered new items to be placed on North Korea's sanctions list, and a revision of the list of people and businesses subject to asset freezes.
The Security Council has already imposed tough sanctions on North Korea after rocket launches in 2006 and 2009.
Pyongyang agreed in February to a partial freeze on nuclear activities and a missile test moratorium in return for US food aid. But that deal was put on hold last month after the North announced its rocket launch plans.
Under the deal, UN nuclear inspectors would have been allowed into the country. But reports from Japan, citing unnamed senior US diplomats, said Pyongyang had now put talks on this aspect of the deal on hold.
'British businessman killed for threat to expose Bo wife'
Source : The Times Of India , AP / Chpngqing , 17 April 2012
The British businessman whose murder has sparked political upheaval in China was poisoned after he threatened to expose a plan by a Chinese leader's wife to move money abroad, two sources with knowledge of the police investigation said.
It was the first time a specific motive has been revealed for Neil Heywood's murder in November 2011, a death which ended Chinese leader Bo Xilai's hopes of emerging as a top leader and threw off balance the Communist Party's looming leadership succession.
Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, asked Heywood to move a large sum of money abroad, and she became outraged when he demanded a larger cut than she had expected due to the transaction's size.
She accused him of being greedy and hatched a plan to kill him after he said he could expose her dealings, one of the sources said, summarizing the police case.
Gu is in police custody on suspicion of committing or arranging Heywood's murder , though no details of the motive or the crime have been publicly released, other than a general comment from Chinese state media that he was killed.
The sources said Gu and Heywood, who had lived in China since 1990s, shared a long and close personal relationship , but were not romantically involved.
China endorses strong UN statement against North Korea
Source : The Times Of India , PTI / Beijing , 17 April 2012
China has endorsed the strongly worded UN Security Council statement condemning the botched rocket launch by its close ally North Korea and called for more dialogue and consultations.
The UN Security Council statement was a result of consultations by all members of the body and reflects the basic consensus of the international community, Chinese foreign ministry Spokesman, Liu Weimin said.
"It has been proven that dialogue and consultations are the only correct way to solve problems," Liu said in a statement.
His remarks came after the 15-nation UN body issued a presidential statement stating that North Korea's failed April 13 rocket launch has raised "grave security concerns" and demanded that Pyongyang fully comply with relevant Security Council resolutions.
Liu said China participated in the Security Council consultations in a responsible and constructive way and it believes that the Council should make "more efforts to promote dialogue and maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula".
The Chinese government believes it is in the common interest of all relevant parties to resume the six-party talks and continue to make efforts to denuclearise the peninsula, he said.
"China is willing to keep in close touch with all parties concerned to push the six-party talks forward and make unswerving efforts to realise long-lasting peace on the peninsula," state-run Xinhua quoted him as saying.
Analysts said Beijing's endorsement of the resolution indicates China was not pleased with the North Korean government's decision to go ahead with the satellite launch, jeopardising its recent agreement with US to get 21000 tonnes food aid.
Washington has cancelled that agreement following the missile launch to put a satellite into orbit, which failed midway.
Chinese officials also indicated that Beijing was trying to prevail on the North Korean government to not go for the much speculated nuclear test to compensate for the failed launch of the satellite.
RUSSIA AND CENTRAL ASIA
Australian troops to exit earlier from Afghanistan
Source : The Hindu.com , AP / Australia , 17 April 2012
Australia’s Prime Minister says her country will begin pulling its troops out of Afghanistan earlier than planned.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Tuesday that most Australian soldiers in Afghanistan are expected to be home nearly a year ahead of schedule. Most will likely be back in Australia by the end of 2013.
Australia has 1,550 troops in Afghanistan. That’s the largest force provided by any country outside NATO. The soldiers’ main objective has been training an Afghan National Army brigade to take responsibility for security in Uruzgan province.
Australia had originally planned to withdraw its soldiers by the end of 2014. But Ms. Gillard had hinted at an early exit in November when she said the troops’ mission could be finished before then.
Bomb Explodes Under FSB Officer's Car in Dagestan
Source : The Moscow Times , Moscow , 17 April 2012
A bomb attack Monday in Dagestan severely injured a senior officer of the local branch of the Federal Security Service and killed his wife, Kommersant reported, citing local Investigative Committee sources.
The bomb went off under a Ford Focus belonging to Gasan Achilayev, head of the Khunzensky interdistrict branch of the FSB, about 9:20 a.m. in the regional capital of Makhachkala.
The explosion occurred right after Achilayev and his wife, Patimat, got into the car.
The blast killed Achilayev's wife and tore off one of his legs. He remained in emergency care Monday.
Investigators linked the attack to Achilayev’s successful campaigns against regional rebels.
Investigators have opened a criminal case on charges of attempted assassination of a law enforcement officer, murder and illegal discharge of weapons and explosives.
Taken together, the charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Two bombs went off in Makhachkala in the 12 hours preceding the attack on Achilayev, killing a rebel and injuring two students, Interfax reported.
One of the bombs accidentally exploded inside an apartment building as a rebel, identified as Omargadzhi Ibragimov, tried to plant it.
The explosion killed Ibragimov and destroyed two flights of stairs.
The other bomb, equivalent to 200 grams of TNT, went off outside a men's clothing store Sunday evening, injuring two young women.
Elsewhere, a small homemade bomb exploded outside a store in Sochi on Sunday evening and injured a 22-year-old man, Interfax said.
Khimki Forest Activist Beaten Up
Source : The Moscow Times , Jonathan Earle / Moscow , 17 April 2012
A young environmentalist was hospitalized Monday after unidentified men attacked him in the entranceway to his apartment building, striking him on the head and breaking his nose.
Alexei Dmitriyev, 23, is the latest victim in a series of vicious attacks on activists campaigning to stop the construction of a Kremlin-approved highway through the ancient Khimki Forest just outside Moscow.
The beatings — one of which has been linked to Khimki city officials — have galvanized civil activists and turned Yevgenia Chirikova, the movement's leader, into a prominent opposition figure.
Alexei Savelyev, a forest defender, speculated that Khimki officials were behind the attack on Dmitriyev, a professional lawyer, who had been scheduled to testify in court on Monday in an unrelated case about infill construction.
He said Dmitriyev was bloodied and shaken but would make a full a recovery.
The incident drew comparisons to high-profile attacks on journalist Mikhail Beketov and activist Konstantin Fetisov, both of whom had spoken out publicly against the $8 billion highway.
Opponents have charged that the plan is a corrupt scheme that would devastate the forest, known as Moscow's green lungs.
Beketov was left incapacitated by the 2008 beating, which remains unsolved, while a high-ranking Khimki official and five others have been detained in connection with the attack on Fetisov, who was ambushed by assailants near his home and beaten with a baseball bat in 2010.
Police are looking into the Monday's incident, Interfax reported. But Savelyev, the activist, said he didn't trust the police to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Chirikova's Movement to Defend the Khimki Forest has become one of the most high-profile grassroots groups to appear in Russia in recent years.
The group has organized a media campaign and built forest camps to fight the highway, and Chirikova has spoken at opposition rallies and met with U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul.
On Monday, she was in the United States receiving the prestigious Goldman environmental prize, the world's largest monetary award for grassroots environmental activism.
“Energized by the erosion of support for Putin’s ruling party, Chirikova is breathing new life into Russian civil society’s appetite for political reform, and with it, the fight to protect Khimki Forest,” the prize said on its website.
Other recipients of the $150,000 prize included a Kenyan woman fighting the construction of a dam and a Filipino leading a campaign against a nickel mine.
Afghan Taliban says rehearsed attack for two months
Source : The Times Of India , Reuters / Kabul , 17 April 2012
The insurgents who mounted weekend attacks in central Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan carefully rehearsed for months, even building small military-style models and pre-positioning weapons, a Taliban spokesman said on Monday.
Zabihullah Mujahid provided Reuters with a rare insight into how the group plans strategic high-profile attacks designed to deal a psychological blow to US-led Nato forces and their allies in the Afghan security forces.
In the latest, a 30-member suicide squad was dispatched to launch simultaneous assaults on parliament, Nato bases and Western embassies after two months of painstaking discussions on tactics.
"Our military experts sketched maps of the targets and also created a mock-up of them where fighters carried out practice before carrying out the large-scale operations in four provinces," Mujahid said in a phone interview.
"The fighters also learned how to enter their targets and hold them."
His account could not be independently verified.
Heavy street fighting between militants and security forces in the centre of the Afghan capital ended on Monday after 18 hours of gunfire, rocket attacks and explosions that bore strong similarities with an operation last year.
In both assaults, insurgents occupied high-rise construction sites to use as firebases after smuggling weapons into central Kabul past police checkpoints.
The battles that broke out at midday on Sunday gripped the city's central districts into the evening and through the night, with blasts and gunfire lighting up alleys and streets before Afghan special forces soldiers backed by Nato helicopter gunships killed the insurgents.
Mujahid said the insurgents, who were mostly all killed by security forces, had been selected from among the estimated 50,000 fighters battling Nato and Afghan troops and given special training.
"Ordinary fighters can't obviously carry out these important missions," he said. "The fighters who were assigned for this mission received special training on how to use heavy machine guns, suicide bomb vests and other tactics."
Mujahid said heavy machine guns, rocket grenades and ammunition had been put in place well before the assault with inside help from Afghan security forces, but did not elaborate.
A witness to the attack in Kabul's diplomatic quarter saw insurgents in a dark blue Prado SUV opening fire on a policeman before entering a building that he had been guarding.
"One Taliban opened fire toward a security guard from a window of the vehicle and another went to a security checkpoint and wounded the man inside, occupying his position," said Ahmad Zeya Azami, 29, a car mechanic, who worked next door.
"Five Taliban ran into the building."
Azami said one insurgent targeted the multi-storey Kabul Star Hotel with a rocket-propelled grenade, while another opened fire on the nearby diplomatic quarter.
"I closed our shop and escaped from the area without any wounds. But now everybody is living in fear and losing hope about the future," he said.
Ahmad Farhad, 19, another shopkeeper, said the insurgents had appeared calm and very well prepared.
"One went to the police checkpoint and others went into the building in an organized way, like they had seen the area before," Farhad said. "All were wearing traditional clothes, black or grey, and all looked to be aged about 30."
Farhad said the men had been armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles, and some had carried bags as they climbed out of a black four-wheel-drive.
Afghan and US officials have blamed the attacks on the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network, based along the porous Afghan-Pakistan mountain border.
Mujahid denied any involvement by the insurgent group, one of the most feared in Afghanistan. The United States has long pressed Pakistan to go after the Haqqani network, which analysts say Islamabad regards as a strategic asset.
Any Haqqani role in the weekend assault would likely further strain relations between Washington and Islamabad.
"The attacks were very successful for us and were a remarkable achievement, dealing a psychological and political blow to foreigners and the government," Mujahid said.
"Although the Haqqanis are part of the Taliban, we did not ask for any help, guidance or support. This is a baseless plot from the West, who wants to show that we are separate."
Afghan president Hamid Karzai slams Nato as 18-hour Kabul attack ends
Source : The Times Of India , Reuters / Kabul , 17 April 2012
Afghan president Hamid Karzai said on Monday that a coordinated Taliban attack showed a "failure" by Afghan intelligence and especially by Nato, as heavy street fighting between insurgents and security forces came to an end after 18 hours.
Battles which broke out at midday on Sunday gripped the city's central districts through the night, with large explosions and gunfire lighting up alleys and streets.
"The fact terrorists were able to enter Kabul and other provinces was an intelligence failure for us and especially for Nato," Karzai's office said in a statement, which also strongly condemned the attack.
Though the death toll was relatively low considering the scale of the assault, it highlighted the ability of militants to strike at high-profile targets in the heart of the city even after more than 10 years of war.
Karzai echoed his Western backers by praising Afghan security forces, saying they had proven their ability to defend their country - a task which will increasingly fall to them as foreign armies reduce their troop numbers in Afghanistan.
His office said 36 insurgents were killed in the attacks which paralysed Kabul's government district, and which targeted three other provinces in what the Taliban called the start of a spring offensive. One fighter was captured.
Eleven members of the Afghan security forces and four civilians were killed in the well-planned attacks in Kabul and the eastern Nangarhar, Logar and Paktia provinces, it said.
"In only a short time we managed to cut short their devilish plans," said defence ministry chief of operations Afzal Aman. "They carried suicide vests, but managed to do nothing except be killed."
The attacks were also another election-year setback in Afghanistan for US President Barack Obama, who wants to present the campaign against the Taliban as a success before the departure of most foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
Insurgents were killed attacking the Afghan parliament, and in a multi-storey building under construction that they had occupied to fire rocket-propelled grenades and rifles down on the heavily fortified diplomatic enclave.
More were killed in Kabul's east, and while attacking a Nato base in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
Fighting in the capital only ended with special forces assaults which were mounted as dawn broke.
Assisting physically for the first time in the attack, Nato helicopters launched strafing attacks on gunmen in the building site, which overlooked the NATO headquarters and several embassies, including the British and German missions.
Elite Afghan soldiers scaled scaffolding to outflank the insurgents, who took up defensive positions on the upper floor of the half-built structure. Bullets ricocheted off walls, sending up puffs of brick dust.
"I could not sleep because of all this gunfire. It's been the whole night," said resident Hamdullah.
The assault, which began with attacks on embassies, a supermarket, a hotel and the parliament, was one of the most serious on the capital since U.S.-backed Afghan forces removed the Taliban from power in 2001.
The Taliban claimed responsibility, but some officials said the Haqqanis, a network of ethnic Pashtun tribal militants allied with the Taliban, who live along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, were likely involved.
"My guess, based on previous experience here, is this is a set of Haqqani network operations out of North Waziristan and the Pakistani tribal areas," American Ambassador Ryan Crocker told CNN.
North Waziristan, in Pakistan, is a notorious militant hub. "Frankly I don't think the Taliban is good enough," Crocker said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the assaults in Kabul and three eastern provinces marked the beginning of a new warm-weather fighting season.
"These attacks are the beginning of the spring offensive and we had planned them for months," Mujahid told Reuters.
He said the onslaught was revenge for a series of incidents involving US troops in Afghanistan - including the burning of copies of the Koran at a Nato base, and the massacre of 17 civilians by a U.S. soldier - and vowed there would be more.
The Taliban said on Sunday the main targets were the German and British embassies and the headquarters of the Nato-led force. Several Afghan members of parliament joined security forces in repelling attackers from a roof near parliament.
The attacks came a month before a Nato summit at which the United States and its allies want to put the finishing touches to plans for the transition to Afghan security control, and days before a meeting of defence and foreign ministers in Brussels to prepare for the alliance summit in Chicago.
Western combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, under a plan to hand over responsibilities to Afghan forces.
But those forces are plagued by poor discipline, and they have apparently failed to learn lessons from a similar assault in Kabul last September, when insurgents took up a position in a tall building under construction to attack embassies and Nato offices below.
Hours before the Kabul attack, in neighbouring Pakistan dozens of Islamist militants stormed a prison in the dead of night and freed nearly 400 inmates, including one on death row for trying to assassinate former President Pervez Musharraf.
Kabul siege: Complex attack by Taliban sends message to the West
Source : The Times Of India , Alissa J Rubin, Graham Bowley & Sangar Rahimi, NYT News / Kabul , 17 April 2012
Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen barraged the diplomatic quarter and the Parliament in the Afghan capital for hours on Sunday and struck three eastern provinces as well, in a complex attack clearly designed to undermine confidence in NATO and Afghan military gains.
Though the overall confirmed death toll was low, with six victims initially reported across four provinces, they were among the most audacious coordinated terrorist attacks here in recent years. The multiple sieges ended in Kabul on Monday morning after nearly 18 hours, and silence fell on the city with roads in the bullet-strafed areas beginning to reopen. The last of the attacks to be resolved was the one on the Parliament, which ended at 7:30am, according to a statement by the Afghan interior ministry. "The situation is normal," the ministry said.
The attacks came near the peak of the American military troop "surge" in Afghanistan, some of it designed around ensuring the security of the capital. And they were an early test for the Afghan National Security Forces, who responded with only minimal help from NATO, Western military officials said.
"No one is underestimating the seriousness of today's attacks," Gen. John R. Allen, the NATO commander, said in a statement. "Each attack was meant to send a message: that legitimate governance and Afghan sovereignty are in peril. The ANSF response itself is proof enough of that folly."
The assaults - at least three in Kabul, two in Nangarhar Province and one each in Paktia and Logar Provinces - began simultaneously at 1:45pm, and witnesses described nearly identical patterns of attack: light gunfire, followed by explosions and then protracted firefights with Afghan security forces, with the militants in several cases fighting from empty buildings or construction sites near their main targets.
Western officials said the attacks bore the hallmarks of the offshoot Haqqani network of the Taliban, which has focused on attacks against high-profile Afghan government and foreign targets. The network is based in Pakistan, a source of tension between the Pakistani government and the United States. The Haqqanis have become one focus of American military efforts, and the attacks on Sunday raised troubling questions about the state of intelligence on the supposedly weakened militants' movements.
The Haqqani network was directly involved in one of the last major attacks in Kabul, an assault on the American Embassy in September, and that, too, involved militants raining down rocket and gunfire from an unfinished building nearby, suggesting a lasting security weakness within even the most secure districts of the capital.
"This does have all the hallmarks of Haqqani on it," said Col. Daniel J. W. King, spokesman for NATO. "It's been over 150 days since the Haqqanis launched a successful attack on Kabul, they have to do this if they are going to have any credibility." He added, "If this is the best they can do to start their fighting season, then obviously the Afghan security forces and others are having a significant impact."
One Taliban spokesman described the onslaught as the opening of the Taliban's spring offensive. "This is a message to those foreign commanders who claim that the Taliban lost momentum," said Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman. "We just showed that we are here and we will launch and stage attacks whenever we want."
Precise casualty figures were unavailable, but The Associated Press quoted the Afghan interior ministry as saying 17 militants had been killed and 17 police officers and 14 civilians injured.
The American ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, speaking to CNN from a locked-down American Embassy, praised the Afghan security forces as having "acquitted themselves very, very well, very professionally."
He added that attacks like this strengthened the case for Americans staying until the Afghans were fully ready to handle the situation on their own.
The scope of the Taliban's threat in Afghanistan is often hard to measure. Sometimes it takes the shape it did on Sunday: periodic complex attacks on specific targets, rather than a concerted effort to hold territory as the movement did in the south a few years ago.
The picture is less clear in eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban still have real control of some areas and exert intimidating levels of influence in others.
"There's a very dangerous enemy out there with capabilities and with safe havens in Pakistan," Mr. Crocker said. "To get out before the Afghans have a full grip on security, which is a couple of years out, would be to invite the Taliban, Haqqani, and al-Qaida back in and set the stage for another 9/11. And that, I think, is an unacceptable risk for any American."
While such large-scale attacks accomplish the classic terrorist goal of shaking people's confidence and temporarily halting daily life, it does not necessarily win support for their cause. On Sunday, in at least one case, it rallied a cry of direct opposition.
In a moment of fellowship and perhaps reckless bravery as the assault began on the Parliament building, three lawmakers from disparate backgrounds decided to stay, even as rockets exploded just outside the compound. One, Muhammad Naim Hamidzai Lalai, the head of Parliament's Internal Security committee, grabbed a PK machine gun from his bodyguard and headed for the roof of the Parliament.
"The Parliament is the house of the nation, and we are representatives of the people and we need to defend the nation's house," he said. "So I took the gun from my bodyguard and began shooting at the terrorists."
He stopped when the interior ministry's crisis response teams arrived, he said.
One of his colleagues, Khudadad Urfani, a Hazara lawmaker from Ghazni, south of Kabul, described Mr. Lalai as "a brave boy of Kandahar who defended the Parliament." But he deplored the situation and said it showed the weakness of the government - and in particular security officials, who appeared to have lacked sufficient intelligence to stop the attack and who he said were shooting wildly.
"First, it shows the weakness of the government and the incompetence of the security ministers," said Mr Urfani, who added that he agreed with others who believed that this was a show of strength by the Taliban. "They wanted to disrupt the past few months' calm and peace in Kabul City."
Kabul is a city in the midst of a construction boom, and on every other block in heavily populated areas there are either unfinished or unoccupied buildings, often with few guards to stop people, much less gunmen, from entering. The attackers relied heavily on that fact, as they did in the September embassy attack: In all three attacks in Kabul as well as one in Logar and another in Paktia Province, the insurgents occupied unused buildings near sensitive installations.
Multiple suicide bombers occupied a half-finished building within firing range of the German and British Embassies in the diplomatic area of Wazir Akbar Khan; at least two occupied an empty building opposite the Parliament, and others either intentionally occupied or took refuge and then took up positions in an empty building on the Kabul-Jalalabad road between a NATO base known as Camp Warehouse and the Kabul Military Training Center for the Afghan National Army.
The attack on the diplomatic area was the most elaborate, with a minivan with six suicide bombers dressed in burkas driving up to the half-finished building and taking up positions on high floors with a vantage point on the British and German embassies, witnesses said. Rocket-propelled grenades exploded near both embassies as well as the nearby Canadian Embassy.
Just across the street from the insurgents' hide-out, Dr Mohammad Jawed Shahab had just inaugurated the newly constructed Kabul City Hospital when the attack began and he dashed under a staircase with three of his shareholders who had come for the inauguration.
"The insurgents occupied a half-finished building just across from the hospital, and there is a dead body in front of our gate for the last five hours and nobody dared pick it up," Dr Shahab said, because they feared that the gunmen in the building might shoot them.
"A police truck was hit by R.P.G.'s right in front of our gate but we can't go out. Whenever we gather all our courage and look out the window to the street, all we can see is the dead body and the bullet- and shrapnel-riddled police truck, and then we dash back," he said.
The Taliban did not drive car bombs into areas packed with people, which would have resulted in far more casualties. However, a minibus full of explosives detonated outside Parliament. The shooting and explosions in the embassy neighborhood came to an end at 6:15am Monday and a third attack, on installations on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway, finished on Sunday night, the ministry said Monday.
In Gardez, the provincial capital of Paktia in southeastern Afghanistan, gunmen wearing suicide vests stormed into a business center in the middle of the city, where a number of students lived in rented rooms because the university is too poor to provide a hostel for them. There, the attackers fired on the nearby police training academy and the headquarters for the regional police zone. When the gunmen entered, students jumped from the windows, breaking legs and hands, said a doctor at the hospital.
The deputy governor, Abdul Rahman Mangal, added that "two of the students were paralyzed by fear and remained in the building as it was occupied by the terrorists and then they were killed by them."
Late Sunday, the attack in Logar was still going on, with four attackers shot dead by the police and three cornered in a basement and flinging grenades out at the police as American troops fought alongside them, said the provincial police chief, Ghulam Sakhi Rogh Lewani. "ISAF forces helped us and are here with me now," he said. "There are three more suicide attackers in the basement of the same building. I think they have plenty of grenades left."
Fierce clashes as observers begin work in Syria
Source : The Times Of India , AFP / Damascus , 17 April 2012
Syrian forces were locked in fierce gunfights today with rebels in one city and shelled another, as the UN chief urged "maximum restraint" after the arrival of observers to oversee a truce aimed at ending 13 months of bloodshed.
President Bashar al-Assad's forces killed 12 civilians and were fighting rebels at Idlib in the northwest, while also shelling the flashpoint central city of Homs, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Since a UN-backed ceasefire came into force at dawn on Thursday, at least 55 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in violence that prompted UN chief Ban Ki-moon to urge Syria to ensure the truce does not collapse.
The Observatory said today that 11,117 people have been killed in 13 months of unrest -- 7,972 civilians and 3,145 military and gunmen, including fewer than 600 rebel fighters.
In Brussels, Ban called on Damascus to exercise "maximum restraint" and the opposition to "fully cooperate" to cement the shaky ceasefire.
An advance team of six international observers arrived in Damascus late on Sunday, the United Nations said.
The delegation -- the first of 30 monitors the UN Security Council approved on Saturday -- will set up a headquarters and prepare routines to verify a cessation of hostilities.
"They've arrived and they will start work (on Monday) morning," UN peacekeeping department spokesman Kieran Dwyer said. "The other monitors in the advance party are still expected in Syria in coming days."
The remainder would come from around the Middle East and Africa "so we can move people quickly and they are experienced in the region," he told AFP.
Their mission is just one part of the six-point peace plan that Syria agreed with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
Burden of action falls on Iran in nuclear talks: Clinton
Source : The Times Of India , AFP / Brasilia , 17 April 2012
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has said the "burden of action" falls on Iran to prove it is serious in nuclear talks, dismissing Iranian appeals for world powers to ease sanctions first.
"The burden of action falls on the Iranians to demonstrate their seriousness and we're going to keep the sanctions in place and the pressure on Iran" as they prepare for new talks in Baghdad in May, Clinton said on Monday.
"And we'll respond accordingly," Clinton said at a press conference with Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota.
Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday called on the West to look to lifting its sanctions if it wants to quickly resolve the showdown over Tehran's disputed nuclear activities.
He hinted Iran could make concessions on uranium enrichment in return.
Clinton said the United States is prepared for reciprocal action, but not right now.
"I believe in action for action," the chief US diplomat said.
But she said Iran must first address the concerns of the international community about its nuclear program, which the West suspects masks a drive to build a nuclear bomb. Iran insists its program is entirely peaceful.
"There has to be evidence by Iran that they would be seriously moving for removing a lot of their nuclear ambiguity that exists now," she said.
Bahrain criticised for 'inadequate' reforms
Source : Al Jazeera News , Agencies / Bahrain , 17 April 2012
Amnesty International says government did little to bring justice to protesters after inquiry proved rights violations.
Rights violations continue in Bahrain and the government's response to the findings of an international commission of inquiry have proved inadequate, Amnesty International has said.
In a report released on Tuesday, the rights group found that Bahrain had failed to achieve justice for protesters with the piecemeal reforms implemented following the November 2011 report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
The BICI, set up by King Hamad bin 'Issa Al Khalifa submitted a hardhitting report of its investigation into human rights
violations committed in connection with the anti-government protests last year.
It found that security forces had used excessive force to suppress protests and tortured detainees to extract confessions.
Amnesty's investigation found that despite some institutional and other reforms, Bahrain's overall response to those findings has been inadequate.
"The authorities are trying to portray the country as being on the road to reform, but we continue to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests. Their reforms have only scratched the surface," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa deputy director.
"The government's huge financial investment in international experts to help them reform will go to waste unless it shows real political will to take difficult decisions - in particular, holding to account senior members of the security forces accused of violations, releasing prisoners of conscience and addressing the underlying discrimination against the Shia majority population."
"With the world's eyes on Bahrain as it prepares to host the Grand Prix, no-one should be under any illusions that the country's human rights crisis is over," Sahraoui said.
Formula One drivers are making their way to Bahrain for the race set to take place there this weekend, despite hundreds of protesters who continue to clash with police in what has become a regular occurrence in the capital Manama.
Riot police fired tear gas to disperse protesting crowds on Monday, as they gathered to show their anger against the government and the planned race.
"I think it's problematic to hold an event like this in a place where such human rights abuses have been taken place. Where the government hasn't lived up to its obligations where we haven't seen the kind of steps of progress that were called for by this independent international commission," Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of Amnesty in the US told the Reuters news agency.
"If you're going to turn on the tv and focus on Bahrain this weekend you ought to focus on the full picture, " she said.
Last year's race was cancelled due to the political uprising in the gulf nation.
Held to account
Amnesty's report found that no senior members of Bahrain's security forces, including the National Security Agency and Bahrain Defence Force, had been held to account for their part in last year's violence.
It also said that some security officials accused of using torture methods, and a few who were found to be responsible for the deaths of protesters, still remained in their posts.
The special office created to investigate violations against protesters also lacked independence, Amnesty said, with only a small number of low-ranking officials having faced trial so far.
In practice, Bahrain's security forces remain largely unaffected by the changes called for in the BICI, Amnesty said, despite the government introducing a new code of conduct for members to follow.
Detainees also continue to face ill-treatment, including torture, in unofficial detention centres.
Dozens of prisoners who were tried for participating in anti-government protests without using or advocating violence have still not been released, the rights group found.
Amnesty called on the government to release all prisoners of conscience, and ensure that the changes called for in the commission of inquiry be fully implemented.
"Nearly five months after the report's publication, real change has not materialised," Amnesty's Sahraoui said of the BICI findings.
"It is time for the Bahraini government to match its public pronouncements with genuine actions."
Israeli soldier suspended for gun-butt attack
Source : Al Jazeera News , Agencies / West Bank , 17 April 2012
Footage posted online showed officer striking pro-Palestinian activist in face during West Bank cycling rally.
An Israeli soldier has been suspended after video footage showed him hitting a foreign pro-Palestinian activist in the face with his gun during a bicycle rally in the occupied West Bank, according to the Israeli military.
Footage of the incident posted on YouTube was picked up by Israeli television on Sunday, prompting condemnation from Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
"Lieutenant-Colonel Shalom Eisner has been suspended until the conclusion of the inquiry which has been opened," a military spokesman said on Monday.
The assault took place on Saturday during a bicycle ride in the Jordan Valley near Jericho involving Palestinians and foreign activists.
The footage shows a soldier smashing a male demonstrator in the face with the butt of a rifle in an apparently unprovoked attack as soldiers confront protesters.
The demonstrator, reported to be a Danish national, falls to the ground and is then carried away by others at the scene.
"Such behaviour is not characteristic of the soldiers and commanders of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces)," Netanyahu said in a statement released on Sunday. "It has no place in the IDF and the State of Israel."
Benny Gantz, Israeli military's chief of staff, also condemned the attack which he said would be "thoroughly investigated and treated with the utmost severity".
The military described the incident as "very serious" and said it was looking into "the circumstances leading up to this incident as well as on its repercussions", a spokeswoman said.
Quoting a military source, Israel's Channel 10 television said the officer apparently lost his patience as he and his troops tried to turn away cyclists shouting anti-Israeli slogans and waving Palestinian flags from an area defined as a closed military zone.
'Flytilla' activists barred
In another development, Israel has barred nearly 80 foreign activists from flying into the country on grounds they were linked to a pro-Palestinian campaign, police said on Monday, with 60 of them still awaiting deportation.
As of midnight, police at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv had detained 78 people, more than two-thirds of them French nationals, spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
Among those detained were 51 French nationals, 11 Britons, six Italians, five Canadians, two Spanish nationals and three others from Switzerland, Portugal and the US.
Officials had already sent 18 people back to their ports of origin, while another 60 had refused to leave voluntarily and had been taken to two facilities near Tel Aviv, she said.
Hundreds of Israeli police were deployed at the airport from Saturday night in a bid to prevent the arrival of a wave of foreigners taking part in the "Welcome to Palestine" fly-in campaign, also known as the "flytilla."
Organisers of the campaign, now in its third year, had been expecting to welcome up to 1,500 people, but Israel vowed to prevent them from entry, warning airlines they would be forced to foot the bill for the activists' immediate return home.
Most of Europe's main airlines quickly fell in line, cancelling the tickets of at least 300 Israel-bound passengers, and sparking angry protests in several European capitals.
Police at the airport also arrested nine Israeli activists who had come to support the visitors.
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U.S. strikes kill 6 in Yemen, say officials
Source : CNN News , Hakim Almasmari / Yemen , 17 April 2012
Five U.S. drone strikes killed six suspected al Qaeda militants in the southeastern Yemeni province of Shabwa on Monday, two security officials and one defense ministry official told CNN.
The drones targeted militant hideouts, checkpoints, training facilities and weapons warehouses in the Azzan districts, considered the stronghold for al Qaeda in Yemen, officials confirmed.
Al Qaeda took over Azzan district March of last year, from which it has launched numerous attacks in the south of Yemen. It was the first district to fall into the hands of Islamic militants in Yemen.
Residents told CNN that the explosions were powerful and were heard miles away. Two security officials expected the death toll to rise.
One of the strikes targeted a checkpoint run by militants near the entrance of the district.
"The attacks were fierce and we have not been able to get complete death tolls from the attacks due to the security situation in Azzan," one official not authorized to talk told CNN.
Dozens of militants blocked roads leading to the areas of the attack, residents said.
Experts are concerned that the growing number of U.S. strikes will cause a backlash and hurt the Yemen's efforts in fighting terrorism.
According to two Defense Ministry officials, at least 11 U.S. attacks were conducted on Yemeni soil over the last week alone.
"U.S. involvement is far more than ever in Yemen. We have no evidence that all those being killed are terrorists," Abdul Salam Mohammed, director of Abaad Strategic Center, told CNN.
"With every U.S. attack that is conducted in Yemen al Qaeda is only growing in power and we have to ask ourselves why that is happening."
On Monday, the Defense Ministry announced that seven al Qaeda militants were killed in Abyan province, where government forces have been clashing with militants for 11 months. Two of the killed were from Somalia, the ministry said.
Syrian-Americans struggle with human cost of revolt
Source : CNN News , Salma Abdelaziz / Yemen , 17 April 2012
Far from the mortar shells and sniper fire, Syrian-Americans are trying to cope with the humanitarian crisis plaguing their beloved country since the southern city of Daraa sparked an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's police state in March 2011.
"With us being here, the question that is always hurting us the most is: Where is this going to end up? It hurts to watch these people every day coming out to protest just to try to make a difference in their life and really to try to make difference in the lives of so many other people," said Abboud Malla, a Damascus native.
In stark contrast to the bloody violence and destruction crippling cities and towns across Syria, several hundred guests gathered Saturday night in Atlanta for an elegant dinner at the Georgia World Congress Center.
"Those who are away from Syria, today Syria lives in their heart. Even if they no longer live in Syria, they carry it in their hearts," said Shahir Raslan, an Atlanta-area mechanical engineer turned fundraiser for a series of humanitarian relief charity events across the United States.
After more than 40 years under the al-Assad dynasty's authoritarian rule, Syrians abroad carry battle wounds and deep-seated fears of a ruler whose name many did not even dare to utter until revolt gripped their country. But despite the brazen show of defiance on the ground, many abroad remain concerned that political activity may harm relatives back home.
"This is a stepping stone. Being a humanitarian event, it's one cause we could all unite on and move forward on, but there is still fear, and understandably. I have fear. My family has fear. My neighbor has fear. This is how it is. They have built a blanket of fear for the past 40 years," said Amira, a graduate student who did not provide her last name out of concern that her family in northern Syria may face consequences.
The Syrian regime maintains that the government and its citizens are victims of armed terrorist groups and a foreign conspiracy intent on dividing its people and territory. Members of the opposition dispute the government's stance and claim that al-Assad's troops have launched a full-scale military assault to impose collective punishment on dissenting cities and towns.
"I think one of the most frustrating things to watch is ultimately, a lot of people here have been divided on what is the best path for Syria, and our delay has resulted in more deaths on the ground. The longer we are sitting here fighting about what's right, what's wrong, people are dying every day," Amira explained.
Regardless of the differences among the diverse Syrian-American community, their personal stories created a bond that moved the group to action.
"When I think of my uncle ... these tears are really a daily occurrence for us now. Anytime we watch any video or hear any news or any child that has been tortured or killed, no matter where you are from, the humanity in you has to take over," Yasmine Jandali said. She fought tears as she explained how her family members in Homs, trapped in their homes by snipers, smuggle food by dangling baskets from the back balcony for fearless activists to drop off a few basic supplies.
Memorabilia decorated with Syria's 1961 independence flag, now a symbol of the opposition movement, adorned the hall, but the organizers insisted that "A Syrian Affair: A Night of Humanitarian Relief" remained apolitical.
"We are not here for the Syrian revolution tonight; that was nine months ago. We are here because Syrians are fighting for the right to survive. We are here for the innocent men, women and children. This is a humanitarian issue, not a political one," Raslan said before starting a fundraising bid.
In only a few hours, the group managed to raise nearly $300,000 for the Syrian Sunrise Foundation, a Michigan-based nonprofit that provides humanitarian relief to victims of the conflict.
"Even something tiny like this -- which is really just a drop in the bucket compared to what people are going through and what their needs are, because their needs are just huge for the humanitarian assistance -- that really motivates me to want to be involved," Jandali said with an optimistic smile as she cleared unsold auction items after the charity event.
For the tens of thousands of Syrians, physical distance from their homeland strengthens their emotional ties to the bloodsoaked land. The U.N. estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in a year of unrest, but after months of calling for huraiyah -- "freedom" -- many at the Atlanta event plead only for insaniah, or "humanity."