09/14/2012 Muhammad Video Protests Protesters Set Fire to German Embassy in Sudan
Following Friday prayers, thousands of protesters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum attacked the embassies of Germany and Britain, outraged by a film that insults the Prophet Muhammad.
Witnesses said that protesters threw rocks at the embassies, which are close to each other, and tried to storm their main entrances. Some demonstrators managed to get past security forces and enter the German Embassy.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Friday afternoon that all embassy employees were safe. Westerwelle confirmed that the embassy had been stormed and parts of it had been set on fire. He said Ambassador Rolf Welberts had briefed him on the situation by telephone.
At the time of the attack, none of the 22 employees were in the building. The embassy in Khartoum is normally closed on a Friday. Westerwelle could not say when the embassy would reopen.
Westerwelle harshly condemned the attack on the embassy. "I condemn this disgraceful video," Westerwelle said. "But it does not justify violence." The Sudanese ambassador in Berlin was summoned to the German Foreign Ministry as a sign of protest. Westerwelle called on the Sudanese government to guarantee the security of the embassy.
News agency reports stated that as many as 5,000 protesters had turned up at the scene. As they stormed the embassy, the protesters reportedly pulled down the German flag and raised one in its place bearing the phrase "There is no God but God and Muhammad is his Prophet."
Hundreds of demonstrators also protested outside the US Embassy in Khartoum, where there were heavy clashes with security forces. According to the news station Al-Arabiya, one demonstrator died when police fired tear gas into the crowd in front of the US Embassy.
Following violent protests over an anti-Islamic film the "Innocence of Muslims" that has been disseminated on YouTube, the German government has boosted security at German embassies and consulates in Muslim countries.
Local reports suggest that the Sudanese government sharply condemned the film on Thursday, leading Islamist groups to call for violent protests after traditional Friday prayers.
Tumult across the World
Friday also saw violence in Muslim countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan and Yemen.
The AFP reports that security forces in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, fired warning shots and deployed water cannons while trying to stop hundreds of protesters from marching on the US Embassy. A day earlier, 15 people were injured and one killed when protesters stormed the embassy compound, according to Reuters.
The protesters in Sanaa reportedly gathered around 500 meters (550 yards) away from the embassy on Friday, where they burned US flags and demanded the expulsion of American diplomats.
Meanwhile, some 10,000 protesters gathered in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, in front of the Baitul Mokarram Mosque, the country's largest. According to the AFP, they burned Israeli and American flags and shouted out epithets, such as "We won't tolerate insults to our great prophet" and "Smash the black hands of Jews".
Hundreds of police and elite security officers held protesters back with water cannons and prevented them from getting any closer to the US Embassy, which is located several kilometers away from where the demonstration was held. Police Chief Golam Sarwar described the protests as peaceful. The mosque's chief cleric, Maolana Mohammad Salahuddin, condemned the film during Friday prayers and called for the filmmakers to be punished, according to the AFP. However, he also asked worshippers not to resort to violence against people or property.
'Declaration of War'
Close to 500 Muslim fundamentalists and their supporters gathered for a protest in front of the US Embassy in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, the AFP also reported. A spokesperson for the group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is fighting to form its own caliphate and organized the protest, called the film a "declaration of war." Indonesian police said 400 officers have been deployed to protect the US Embassy.
In Cairo, a number of clashes occurred between security forces and protesters gathered in front of the US Embassy. Earlier, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood had called for protests against the film after Friday prayers. In Jordan, both fundamentalist Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood called for protests. The AP also reports that protests in the Lebanese capital Beirut left one dead and 25 wounded.
In Tunis, Reuters reports that protesters jumped over the walls of the US Embassy compound on Friday, before breaking windows and setting trees on fire, while police used teargas to push back hundreds of protesters outside the compound.
'Disgusting and Reprehensible'
The wave of protests against the US film, which denigrates the Prophet Muhammad, began in the region on Tuesday, with demonstrations that ended in bloodshed in both Libya and Egypt. Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, and three American workers were killed on Tuesday in a rocket and grenade attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi. The attack took place on Sept. 11, the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the United States -- an important symbolic date for Islamist terrorists.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday that the United States had nothing to do with the film. "To us, to me, personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible," she said. "It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage." Speaking of the video on behalf of the US government, she said: "We absolutely reject its content and message."
Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described the anti-Islam film as a "provocation." Still, he criticized the violence as well during a visit to Yalta, Ukraine, on Friday. "Insulting the prophet can never be justified on grounds of free speech, but even so, this cannot be a reason to insult innocent people or to harm them or attack them."
Originally published Saturday, September 15, 2012 at 1:34 PM
FBI: Operation tracking Chicago teen took months
By MICHAEL TARM and JASON KEYSER Associated Press
HILLSIDE, Ill. —
The investigation started months ago, when the FBI noticed an email message: A man in the Chicago suburbs was using an account to distribute chatter about violent jihad and the killing of Americans.
Two undercover agents reached out and began to talk to him online. In May, they introduced him to another agent who claimed to be a terrorist living in New York.
The operation ended Friday night, an affidavit describing it says, when the man was arrested and accused of trying to detonate what he believed was a car bomb outside of a Chicago bar. Prosecutors said an undercover agent gave Adel Daoud, a U.S. citizen from the Chicago suburb of Hillside, a phony car bomb and watched him press the trigger.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, which announced the arrest Saturday, said the device was harmless and the public was never at risk. Daoud, 18, is due to make an appearance in federal court Monday morning on charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to damage and destroy a building with an explosive.
"We don't even know anything. We don't know that much. We know as little as you do," a woman who answered the phone at his home and identified herself as his sister, Hilba, said Saturday. "They're just accusations. ... We'd like to be left alone."
The FBI often uses similar tactics in counterterrorism investigations, deploying undercover agents to engage suspects in talk of terror plots and then provide fake explosive devices.
In 2010, a Lebanese immigrant took what he thought was a bomb and dropped it into a trash bin near Chicago's Wrigley Field. In a 2009 case, agents provided a Jordanian man with a fake truck bomb that he used to try to blow up a 60-story office tower in Dallas.
This operation unfolded much like the others. After Daoud began talking to the undercover agents, an affidavit says, the third agent and Daoud met six times in the suburb of Villa Park over the summer and exchanged messages. Daoud then set about identifying 29 potential targets, including military recruiting centers, bars, malls and tourist attractions in Chicago, the document said.
After he settled on a downtown bar, he conducted surveillance on it by using Google Street View and visiting the area in person to take photographs, the affidavit said. The document does not identify the bar, but says he told the agent it was also a concert venue by a liquor store.
"It's a bar, it's a liquor store, it's a concert. All in one bundle," the document quotes him as saying. It said he noted the bar would be filled with the "evilest people ... kuffars." Kuffar is the Arabic term for non-believer.
Shortly after 7 p.m. Friday, the affidavit said, Daoud met with the undercover agent in Villa Park and they drove to downtown Chicago, where the restaurants and bars were packed. They entered a parking lot where a Jeep Cherokee containing the phony bomb was parked, the document says.
Daoud drove the vehicle and parked it in front of the bar, then walked a block away and attempted to detonate the device by pressing a triggering mechanism, the affidavit says. He was then arrested.
A neighbor, Harry Pappas, said that a dozen unmarked cars drove up to the family's house on Friday night and several agents went inside. On Saturday, no one answered the door of the family's two-story home, which had a well-kept garden in the yard and a basketball hoop in the driveway. The house faces a Lutheran church; a Greek Orthodox church also is nearby.
Pappas said he was shocked by the arrest, calling Daoud's parents "wonderful" people and him a quiet boy who played basketball in the driveway with friends.
"I heard maybe he had a little trouble in school," Pappas said. "He was quiet, didn't talk much, but he seemed like a good kid."
Pappas said Daoud spent a lot of time at home and that months would go by sometimes before the teen would surface.
"But I was never suspicious," he said.
Prosecutors said Daoud was offered several chances to change his mind and walk away from the plot.
The affidavit said Daoud was active in jihadist Internet forums and was accessing articles written by Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born radical cleric who became a key figure in the Yemen-based al-Qaida offshoot known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen last year.
The FBI says he also was searching online for information on making bombs and reading "Inspire," the English-language online magazine published by Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
In his conversations with the undercover agent, Daoud explained his reasons for wanting to launch an attack, saying the United States was at war "with Islam and Muslims," the affidavit said.
According to the document, he said he was trying to recruit others and that he was confronted by leaders of his mosque who warned he should stop talking about jihad. The affidavit said Daoud's father also had been informed that Daoud was debating jihad and told Daoud to stop talking about it.
Daoud also told the agent he wanted an attack that would kill many people, the document said.
"I want something that's gonna make it in the news," he said, according to the affidavit. "I want to get to like, for me I want to get the most evil place, but I want to get a more populated place."
Ming ceramic used as a doorstop sells for $1.3 million
A Ming Dynasty ceramic has sold for $1.3 million (£800,000) at auction in New York, despite being used as a doorstop.
Helena Kaznowska 5:41PM BST 14 Sep 2012
The rare blue and white moonflask (Bianhu) from the Ming Dynasty, Yongle Period, is said to have been in the same family collection for decades and only came to light when the owners saw a similar piece on a Sotheby's advertisement.
The moonflask, which belong to a family in Long Island, New York, had been kept on a wooden stand and used as a doorstop in their home.
Measuring 6 x 10 inches, Sotherby's described the ceramic as "One outstanding lot" and put an estimated sale price on the lot between $600,000 – $900,000.
The collectable was sold in the second session of the three-part, two day sale, titled Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art held on the 11 and 12 of September.
The Chinese ceramic is just one of the thousands of rare objects that have been put up for auction in the Asian art sales this week.
By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent Mon Sep 17, 2012 8:54am EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - France may be considering arming Syria's rebels but the U.S. and other Western powers have yet to find opposition figures they genuinely trust as they worry over growing jihadi and sectarian forces.
The attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya's Benghazi that killed its ambassador and anti-American demonstrations elsewhere this week over an obscure video that ridiculed the Prophet Mohammad might have no Syria links but will make nervous governments even more cautious.
Western officials say there is little doubt a growing number of foreign jihadi fighters are entering the fray, although it is far from clear whether any have direct links to Al Qaeda. But It is just one worry amongst many.
"This is not a situation where the U.S. can do much to shape what happens," says Mona Yacoubian, a former State Department official and now fellow and Syria expert at the Stimson Centre. "There has always been a lot of caution within the Obama Administration on Syria and if anything things are getting more complicated."
Working with Libya's initially notoriously disorganized rebels, officials complained, was hard enough; but the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al Assad seems even more diffuse.
That makes policy-making much more complicated and supplying weapons, or even choosing who to talk to, more of a gamble.
"We badly need to identify some political and military leaders who can make clear that they seek a political settlement to bring all fighting to an end," said one Western official on condition of anonymity. "Without that the blood letting reinforces the worst aspects of sectarianism and makes a soft landing ever less likely."
Western states have been on a concerted offensive to push opposition figures towards greater unity, facilitating meetings that range from foreign-based conferences to Internet chats and small border gatherings.
But, beyond pushing in humanitarian aid they fear there is a limited amount they can do to change the situation on the ground.
"It's a very difficult situation, and the lack of coherence of the opposition is probably the biggest single challenge," says Melissa Dalton, a senior Pentagon adviser on Syria and the Middle East currently on sabbatical as a visiting fellow at the Centre for New American Security.
"Given everything that is at stake, the United States clearly cannot do nothing. But there are no good scenarios arising from this conflict, and so the most important strategy for the United States to pursue is mitigating the risks to its interests."
That meant to prioritize tracking Syria's chemical weapons, ensuring militant groups inspired by Al Qaeda were unable to set up safe havens and preventing weapons from falling into the wrong hands, she said. It also meant avoiding doing anything to make matters worse.
DITCHING SNC FOR FSA
Current and former Western officials say their countries have lost confidence in the Syrian National Council (SNC), the largely foreign-based body initially courted as a government in waiting. With some of its meetings dissolving into fisticuffs, it is increasingly both too chaotic, too sectarian and simply lacking in a significant support.
The main focus of political and diplomatic effort, they say, is now the Free Syrian Army (FSA), particularly as its fighters prove increasingly successful at ousting Assad's forces from significant portions of the country. But even the FSA, they worry, may be a unified body in little more than name.
After a sluggish start, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been overseeing cross border movements from a secret liaison center in Turkey. Ankara denies any direct involvement in channeling of arms across the frontier. U.N. diplomats say Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been transferring weapons to rebels.
Western states have so far restricted themselves to "nonlethal" support such as body armor, radios and medical equipment although a French diplomatic source said early this month that Paris was considering giving heavy weaponry.
Those with knowledge of events say the United States and other Western intelligence agencies are already trying to vet those receiving arms channeled across the Turkish border. Should France choose to supply arms, it could expect warnings from Washington if it dealt with those about whom the U.S. had concern.
But knowing conclusively who anyone is along the chaotic border, experts say, can be all but impossible.
In principle, the FSA remains commanded by former Syrian force colonel Rian al-Assad, an early defector who first announced the rebel group's existence to the world more than a year ago. But in reality, there are growing suspicions that his influence and that of the rest of the group's leadership may be collapsing on the ground.
Kept cloistered by their Turkish military hosts, some Syria experts say the FSA's headquarters now amounts to little more than a media center. The real emerging power bases seem to be within Syria, particularly in cities such as Aleppo and Idlib where Assad's forces have ceded some ground.
"CHAOTIC FREE FOR ALL"
"Every group is sending people (separately) to Turkey to ask for weapons," says Joseph Holliday, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer and Syria expert now a fellow at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington DC, describing the situation as a "free for all"". "Countries, organizations or just wealthy individuals are talking to these individual groups and giving what support they want to people that they want."
Dealing with so many players was itself a challenge for organizations such as the U.S. State Department more used to working on a national level, he said.
Some groups are already accused of reprisal killings, a worrying sign for foreign powers who believe agreement with some of the minority Alawite regime may ultimately prove vital.
Any offer of lethal support, some argue, should bring with it signed assurances of commitment to a peaceful post-war transition. But holding the rebels to account afterwards might prove impossible.
In a potential sign of further escalation, France, which has a colonial history in Syria and showed itself in Libya to be an increasingly assertive Mediterranean power, has also voiced support for a Turkish suggestion of militarily protected "humanitarian zones".
But as well as worries that any such action would simply further inflame the situation, the United States in particular worries that even enforcing a no-fly zone could require it to move forces currently arrayed against Iran.
Washington is also unpleasantly aware that as things stand, any such move would be in the face of angry Russian and probably also Chinese opposition - as well as one of the most militarily challenging battles of recent decades. The downing of a Turkish jet earlier this year showed Assad retained a sophisticated air defense system.
The opposition, however, says Western reticence is already costing lives. Last week in Istanbul, two senior Aleppo rebels accused the outside world of simply watching "like a movie" while thousands died.
"There's a lot of frustration with the West," says former U.S. Army intelligence officer Holliday "they think we encouraged them to rise up and then didn't do anything to support them."
Questions Abound as China Unveils Another Stealth Jet By David Axe September 16, 2012 | 3:58 am Categories: China
Here we go again.
Twenty-one months after China’s Chengdu aerospace firm unveiled its J-20 jet fighter prototype — Beijing’s first stealth warplane — the rival Shenyang company has revealed what appears to be a competing, radar-evading plane.
Over the weekend photos of increasing resolution leaked online depicting a previously unknown, black-painted warplane with the distinctive qualities of a stealth design. Perhaps it’s only a coincidence that the stealth jet was revealed right before U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was due to arrive in China. But the Beijing government is known to use these online leaks to show off its military advancements.
So China now possesses two potentially combat-capable stealth jets. But — and we can’t emphasize this enough — it’s not at all certain that either will make it through development, testing and full-scale production and into front-line service. Just ask the U.S. Air Force, which since the 1980s has overseen creation of no fewer than four different stealth fighter prototypes, but so far has only managed to equip just six war-ready squadrons with fewer than 200 operational jets. And at an extremely high price: up to $700 million per plane, depending on how you count.
The J-21 that appeared this weekend is outwardly similar to the nearly two-year-old J-20. Both have two engines, two tails, big trapezoidal wings and the sharp, faceted features of a radar-evading plane. In that sense the J-21 and the J-20 evoke America’s first batch of stealth prototypes, the twin-tail, twin-engine Lockheed YF-22 and Northrop YF-23.
Those two planes flew head-to-head in 1991, vying for an Air Force construction contract. The YF-22 won and, 14 years, a major redesign and some $70-billion later, entered service as the F-22 Raptor. Ten years later the Pentagon ran a second competition pitting the Boeing X-32 versus Lockheed’s X-35 — both single-engine stealth designs. Again, Lockheed won, and is today developing the F-35 into a combat-ready warplane, though painfully slowly.
It’s unclear whether Beijing intends to compete the J-20 against the J-21 for a single acquisition program. It’s equally possible both jets are meant for production. It’s also conceivable that neither is — that they’re both strictly test vehicles. “Feng,” an analyst writing for Information Dissemination, believes Beijing can only afford to manufacture one of the new planes and will be forced to choose. But that’s conjecture. As with any Chinese weapons initiative, among outsiders there are more questions than answers.
For example, just how stealthy is the J-21 — and for that matter, the slightly older J-20? Both share the general shape of the U.S. F-22. But American stealth design relies on more than shape. Special radar-absorbing materials, sophisticated heat-absorption systems, “silent” electronic gear plus extreme high speed and altitude performance all combine to give the F-22 its so-far unique ability to evade enemy defenses. It’s hard to say whether China has mastered, or even attempted, those techniques.
Moreover, if the airplane revealed this weekend is the new J-21, then what exactly is the partially-disassembled, shrink-wrapped airplane photographed being trucked through Chinese cities back in June? When that plane first appeared, some observers thought it was the J-21 being shipped in pieces to an airfield for assembly and testing. But the differences between it and Shenyang’s new prototype are too big and numerous for the two to be directly related. Whatever the June jet is, it remains mostly unseen and, to outsiders, entirely unknown.
In other words, China has just pulled the cover off its second type of stealth fighter. But it may already have a third in the works. And it’s even possible one or more of them will eventually evolve into a useful front-line warplane.
Skilled Hunters 300,000 Years Ago ScienceDaily (Sep. 17, 2012)
Finds from early stone age site in north-central Germany show that human ingenuity is nothing new -- and was probably shared by now-extinct species of humans.
Archeologists from the University of Tübingen have found eight extremely well-preserved spears -- an astonishing 300,000 years old, making them the oldest known weapons anywhere. The spears and other artifacts as well as animal remains found at the site demonstrate that their users were highly skilled craftsmen and hunters, well adapted to their environment -- with a capacity for abstract thought and complex planning comparable to our own. It is likely that they were members of the species Homo heidelbergensis, although no human remains have yet been found at the site.
The project is headed by Prof. Nicholas Conard and the excavations are supervised by Dr. Jordi Serangeli, both from the University of Tübingen's Institute of Prehistory, which has been supporting the local authority's excavation in an open-cast brown coal mine in Schöningen since 2008. They are applying skills from several disciplines at this uniquely well-preserved site find out more about how humans lived in the environment of 300,000 years ago.
The bones of large mammals -- elephants, rhinoceroses, horses and lions -- as well as the remains of amphibians, reptiles, shells and even beetles have been preserved in the brown coal. Pines, firs, and black alder trees are preserved complete with pine cones, as have the leaves, pollen and seeds of surrounding flora.
Until the mining started 30 years ago, these finds were below the water table. The archeologists say they are now carrying out "underwater archaeology without the water." Work continues almost all year round, and every day there is something new to document and recover.
Some of the most important finds of the past three years have been remains of a water buffalo in the context of human habitation, an almost completely preserved aurochs (one of the oldest in central Europe), and several concentrations of stone artifacts, bones and wood. They allow the scientists to examine an entire landscape instead of just one site. That makes Schöningen an exciting location and global reference point not just for archaeology, but also for quaternary ecology and climate research. A research center and museum, the "Paläon," is to be opened in 2013 to to provide information to the public about the work going on in Schöningen.
Church of Scientology Responds to Vanity Fair Expose in Angry, Eight-Page Letter 11:28 PM PDT 9/16/2012 by THR Staff
Along with accusations of bigotry, the organization's attorney addresses the issue of Nazanin Boniadi, saying it is inconceivable that Tom Cruise would have trouble getting a girlfriend.
Tom CruiseThe Church of Scientology has fired off an eight-page letter to Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter over its cover story about the organization, accusing the magazine of "shoddy journalism, religious bigotry and potential legal liability."
The magazine's October 2012 issue, with Scientologist Tom Cruise's ex-wife Katie Holmes on the cover, features an expose of the organization, written by Maureen Orth, that includes an allegation that the church held secret auditions to find a wife for Cruise following his divorce from Nicole Kidman.
Among the shocking details: the women weren't told the real reason they were videotaping auditions; the chosen woman, a beautiful, Iranian-born honors graduate named Nazanin Boniadi, was cut off from her family and prompted to break off her engagement as part of her grooming period; she drew the ire of Cruise and Scientology leader David Miscavige over minor things perceived to be major acts of insubordination; Cruise would not break up with her directly and would not acknowledge her as she was forced to vacate his home; and Boniadi was banished to Scientology headquarters in Clearwater, Fla., where she was humiliated by being forced to clean toilets with toothbrushes and dig ditches in the dead of night, all the while forbidden to tell anyone what had just happened to her.
Other allegations include: Kidman was determined by the church to be a Suppressive Person and therefore an enemy to all Scientologists; Cruise's ex-girlfriend Penelope Cruz was dismissed by Miscavige as being a "dilettante" because she refused to give up her Buddhist beliefs; Cruise "was reportedly unable to entice a number of beautiful, well-known actresses" to become his future wife, including Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson; and Cruise underwent a rigorous course of auditing -- long interrogation sessions during which the subject is required to reveal painful and deeply personal information about themselves -- and Miscavige would then reveal the secrets on those tapes to entertain whomever he was with.
On its website, the church posted a letter denying the allegations that was penned by Jeffrey K. Riffer of the law firm Elkins Kalt Weintraub Reuben Gartside LLP and was addressed to Vanity Fair's Carter.
"We are writing regarding your, your editor’s and reporter’s shoddy journalism, religious bigotry and potential legal liability arising out of Vanity Fair’s upcoming story about the Tom Cruise divorce," reads the letter, which has been turning up on the blogs of Scientology watchers for several days. "Significantly, while Maureen Orth was preparing her story, Vanity Fair ignored its staff and contributors who have firsthand knowledge of Mr. Cruise and of Mr. Miscavige and who would burden her storywith the truth."
Riffer also accuses Orth of failing to make a legitimate attempt at a request for an interview with Miscavige, calling it a "disingenuous sham."
"... [S]he couldn’t possibly have thought that an 'Oh, by the way' phone call to the Church’s Public Affairs office requesting an interview with the ecclesiastical leader of the religion could possibly be accommodated," the letter reads. "If she were serious, she would have done at least a molecule of research in seeing that Mr. Miscavige travels across the country and around the world almost non-top, unlike the anti-Scientologist apostate sources who form the basis of her already-written story and who are available on a moment’s notice at the press of 'send' on any anti-Scientology hate-site blog. Is it usual for you to take over the editorial direction of Vanity Fair articles or is that reserved for hatchet-jobs of minority religions and itsmembers?"
The letter goes on to address a list of 32 questions submitted to the church by Vanity Fair, including one seeking comment on the notion that Miscavige has been a "kind of 'third wheel' in Cruise's relationships and marriages."It cites Miscavige's extensive travels as proof that he is "not a 'third wheel' to anything or anyone."
The letter also attempts to discredit Orth's sources.
"Ms. Orth appears to have only gleaned her information from fringe hate sites and their webmasters," it reads. "If she were writing a story about a Sikh religious leader, would she first latch onto the sites of white supremacists, then interview their most virulent and violent members and follow it up with mere 'fact check' questions to the Sikhs themselves? At the eleventh hour? And refuse to give the names of her whitesupremacist sources?
"The scenario is no different here. Scientology is a new religion and its beliefs not as well known as those of more ancient history. That does not excuse you or Ms. Orth for being ignorant. Rather, it demands you be even more sensitive to finding out what the true beliefs are of Scientology-which can only be told by the religion itself. Just because youdon't think you are bigoted doesn't mean you aren't. Bigotry and ignorance go hand in hand and you are definitely and wilfully ignorant of the actual beliefs of Scientology and the activities of its Churches."
The letter, which was written before the Vanity Fair issue hit newsstands, also threatens legal action.
"The disgraceful allegations Vanity Fair apparently plan to publish about Mr. Miscavige are defamatory," it reads. "If Vanity Fair goes forward with publication of such defamatory allegations, now that it is on notice that the story is false, the stain on its reputation will lastlong after any reader even remembers the article. The sting of the jury verdict will last longer still; far longer than any pleasure from racing to publish a poorly researched and sourced story."
Cruise's longtime lawyer, Bert Fields, also has denied that Cruise and the church held auditions for a mate.
In a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter earlier this month, Fields wrote, "Vanity Fair’s story is essentially a rehash of tired old lies previously run in the supermarket tabloids, quoting the same bogus 'sources.' It’s long, boring and false.”
Cruise's most recent marriage ended after Holmes filed for divorce June 28 and the couple reached a settlement two weeks later.
Fields has threatened legal action recently against the National Enquirer and other media outlets in the wake of the high-profile breakup.
Originally published Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 4:51 AM
Al-Qaida threatens attacks on US diplomats
By MAAMOUN YOUSSEF Associated Press
Al-Qaida's branch in North Africa on Tuesday called for attacks on U.S. diplomats and an escalation of protests against an anti-Islam video that was produced in the United States and triggered a wave of demonstrations and riots in the Middle East and beyond.
While demonstrations have tapered off in nations including Egypt and Tunisia, protests against the film turned violent in Pakistan and Indian-controlled Kashmir and hundreds of people rallied in Indonesia and Thailand.
In Kabul, the Afghan capital, a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a mini-bus carrying South African aviation workers to the airport, killing at least 12 people in an attack that a militant group said was revenge for the film "Innocence of Muslims," which was made by an Egyptian-born American citizen.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the attack killed eight South Africans, three Afghans and a Kyrgyzstani.
At least 10 protesters have died in riots in several countries, bringing the total number of deaths linked to unrest over the film to 22.
U.S. officials describe the video as offensive, but the American government's protection of free speech rights has clashed with the anger of Muslims abroad who are furious over the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, womanizer and pedophile.
In a statement, Al-Qaida in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb praised the killing of Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11. The group threatened attacks in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania, and condemned the United States for "lying to Muslims for more than 10 years, saying its war was against terrorism and not Islam."
The group urged Muslims to pull down and burn American flags at embassies, and kill or expel American diplomats to "purge our land of their filth in revenge for the honor of the Prophet."
Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula recently issued a similar call for attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities. It is al-Qaida's most active branch in the Middle East.
An Islamist militant group, Hizb-i-Islami, claimed responsibility for the attack in Kabul. The group is headed by 65-year-old former warlord Gubuddin Hekmatyar, a former Afghan prime minister and one-time U.S. ally who is now listed as a terrorist by Washington. The militia has thousands of fighters and followers across the country's north and east.
In Pakistan, hundreds of angry protesters broke through a barricade outside the U.S. Consulate in the northwest city of Peshawar, sparking clashes with police that left several wounded on both sides, said police officer Arif Khan. The demonstrators threw bricks and flaming wads of cloth at the police, who pushed them back by firing tear gas and rubber bullets and charging with batons. The protest was organized by the youth wing of the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami party.
In Kashmir's main city of Srinagar, a strike shut down businesses and public transportation as marchers burned U.S. flags and an effigy of President Barack Obama. When the protesters tried to march into the main business district, police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse them, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. Protesters hurled rocks at the troops, he said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
An alliance of Kashmiri religious groups called the strike in response to the anti-Islam film. The shutdown was supported by the bar association, trade unions and separatist groups in the volatile region, where strikes are a common tactic to protest against Indian rule.
In Indonesia, about 200 people from various Islamic groups torched an American flag and tires outside the U.S. Consulate in the third largest city of Medan. Some unfurled banners saying, "Go to hell America," while others trampled on dozens of paper flags. Also Tuesday, about 100 Muslim students in Makassar, a city in central Indonesia, called for the death penalty against the filmmaker, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.
Some 400 people protested peacefully outside the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand's capital. Protesters carried signs and banners saying, "We love Prophet Muhammad" and "Stop insulting our religion," and chanted, "Down with America" and "Down with Israel."
The government in Bangladesh blocked YouTube on Monday to prevent people from seeing the video. Mir Mohammaed Morshed, a spokesman for the state-run Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Ltd., said the decision will remain effective until further notice.
Google has blocked access to the video in Libya and Egypt following violence there, and in Indonesia and India because it says the video broke laws in those countries.
Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan and Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India contributed to this report.
Poisoning the (Female) Tourist in Asia By Deborah Blum September 17, 2012 | 5:18 pm Categories: Elemental, Science Blogs
This summer, four young women set off on vacations in Southeast Asia. Here’s what they had in common: They were all from North America; they were all in their 20s; they were all pretty, bright, adventurous. And one more commonality: They are all now dead.
Two of these deaths occurred in June in Thailand, two in June in Vietnam. All four women were diagnosed with the symptoms of acute poisoning. And while some explanations have been offered by the authorities, these have been either vague, improbable (see my recent post on the deaths in Thailand) or opaque (see CNN’s Friday story on the deaths in Vietnam). My favorite statement is one from the Thai police that it could be “months before official results are revealed if ever.” (Emphasis mine).
If ever? What kind of a police response is that? Does it mean that that investigators know something they don’t want to tell? Or that they don’t have a clue? It’s no wonder that the rumor mills are spinning stories of murder, of a serial killer stalking female tourists in Southeast Asia, of a police cover-up to protect the valued tourist industry. The serial killer idea, of course, builds on earlier mysteries: the 2009 death of a Seattle woman, still unsolved today. The similar and also unexplained death of a 22-year-old woman from Norway the same year. An odd cluster of deaths in another Thai city during winter of last year, including a 23-year-old woman from New Zealand.
The other theory circulating is that the police are covering up the careless use of insecticides by Asian hotels; an explanation denied, of course, by the hotel industry. It doesn’t explain, of course, why most of these deaths involve females in their 20s. But there’s some support for it from an independent investigation into the 2011 death of New Zealander Sarah Carter.
Carter was staying at a hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand, when she died (along with five other tourists). The police blamed a coincidental outbreak of food poisoning. But Carter’s family turned over tissue samples to investigative journalists from a New Zealand television station. The resulting laboratory analysis reportedly found traces of an old-time organophosphate pesticide called chlorpyrifos.
This insecticide has been around since the mid-1960s. It’s a Dow Chemical Company product sold in the United States under the tradename Dursban. Like all organophosphate pesticides, it’s highly effective due to its action on the the nervous system Although it’s only considered moderately toxic to humans, it is linked to neurological effects and can pose developmental risks to children. Although it’s still widely used in agriculture, it’s no longer registered for use in residential settings in the U.S. But Dow does market it for such uses in developing countries, leading to suspicions that it had been surreptitiously used in Carter’s hotel to treat for bed bugs.
The problem with this theory — as with so many of the theories floated in the case of these Asian tourist deaths — is that it doesn’t hold up well under scrutiny. Autopsies reportedly found myocarditis (put simply, an inflammation of the heart muscle) in some of the dead tourists but the classic symptoms of chlorpyrifos poisoning tend to be those of classic neurotoxicity, starting with dizziness and loss of coordination, ending with a gradual shutdown of heart and lungs. As Thailand’s tourism-focused publication, Phuket Wan, reported the investigation into the death of Sarah Carter and others in 2011 simply ended in mystery.
The possibility of chlorpyrifos or some other insecticide poisoning has also been raised in this summer’s deaths of American Karin Bowerman, 27, of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and Canadian Cathy Huynh, 26, of Hamilton, Ontario. The two friends – both working as English language teachers in South Korea – were backpacking in Vietnam, when they were admitted to a hospital in Nha Trang in late July, suffering from vomiting, dehydration and difficulty breathing. Bowerman died that day; Huynh two days later.
But so far no information seems to be available about how they might have been exposed to that or any poison. “No police report. No hospital report. No nothing,” Bowerman’s sister, Jennifer Jacques told CNN in a fury of frustration. The lack of information has led friends of Bowerman’s from Winona State University in Minnesota, where she graduated, to launch a letter writing campaign to U.S. officials, begging for help.
Another group of friends has launched a Facebook page, Protected Travels, which serves as both an archive of such mysterious deaths and a resource for travelers. Among the unexplained deaths you’ll find on the page is that of Seattle’s Jill St. Onge, who died of an apparent – and still unexplained – poisoning while visiting Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands in 2009.
In the case, I wrote about earlier, the deaths of Canadians Noemi and Audrey Belanger in Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands in June, the police have posited a string of theories, beginning with food poisoning and ending, for the moment, with a toxic bar drink. The Belanger sisters, aged 26 and 20, were vacationing in the islands when they were found dead in their hotel room on June 15, reportedly smeared with vomit and feces and marked by bloody skin lesions and blue-black fingernails.
In early September, investigators announced that the two young women had been killed by the mosquito repellent DEET, which they explained was often mixed into beach cocktails, known as bucket drinks. As I pointed out in my earlier post, this would be a good explanation if DEET were really all that poisonous but, in fact, even a basic check of the toxicology databases will tell you that it isn’t, that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies it with “low level” toxicity for mammals.
Is it entirely benign? Absolutely not. There were some studies following the Gulf War, for instance, that found that DEET, in combination with other pesticides, could induce some dismaying neurological symptoms. Can it kill people? Yes, people have successfully committed suicide by mixing one more or more bottles of pure DEET with pure alcohol. Do those deaths look like the bloody messy ones of Belanger sisters? No. DEET’s effects are, again, primarily neurotoxic.
There was, in fact, an immediate skeptical outcry at Teakdoor, a listserv for ex-patriots living in Thailand. As one Teakdoor member wrote me off-list: “I have lived in Thailand for years and I have been immersed in all-things Thailand and I have never heard for mixing DEET into a bucket drink. Google ‘bucket drink’ and see if you can find anything regarding DEET or insecticide-in-bucket-drinks that is not related to the Belanger sisters story.”
I did just that and I could not find a single story UNTIL I found this one, which made it clear that DEET is not regularly mixed into Phi Phi Island cocktails. The standard recipe instead is kratom leaf extract (a slightly hallucinogenic compound derived from a regional tree), cough syrup (containing codeine, I presume), Coca-Cola and ice, and is known as a 4 x 100. So even if we disregard the question of improbable symptoms, we’re left with these questions: If DEET is not a standard ingredient in a bucket cocktail, if it’s only lethal in a deliberately high dose, if the Belanger sisters were the only tourists poisoned that night, then who killed them? If this is murder, for instance, there are other compounds that more neatly fit the toxicology, ranging from the solvent toluene to the date-rape drug, GHB.
I’m not owed answers regarding the deaths of these young women. But their families deserve an honest response. And women traveling in Southeast Asia are owed more concern for their safety that this. And if the authorities in Southeast Asia want to sound something other than indifferent, I can promise you, that ”if ever” is never going to be good enough.
Warner Bros. Files More Mass Litigation Targeting 'Counterfeit Products' on Amazon
7:54 PM PDT 9/17/2012 by Eriq Gardner
The studio giant is doubling down on its war against unauthorized goods on the site's reseller market by filing 21 new lawsuits.
Warner Bros. is very serious about cracking down on counterfeits on Amazon.com.
Following a round of lawsuits in July, the studio's home entertainment division filed another 21 lawsuits last week. Again, the company is going after those who sell discounted DVDs in the Amazon Marketplace, a resellers' venue that the studio believes has been hijacked to some degree by those selling "unauthorized" copies of works ranging from Boardwalk Empire DVDs to Harry Potter Blu-rays.
The complaints don't offer much detail about the allegedly copyright infringing works that are up for sale besides claiming that they are violations of the rights, titles and interest of Warner Bros. There's more than one way that a work could potentially run afoul of the studio's rights -- from a seller who might not have proper "license" to resell a work to a seller who creates a camcorded copy and attempts to pass it off as being an authentic store-purchased copy.
Warner Bros. maintains that the works in question are blatant counterfeits without giving up further information about their investigations.
Not all of the lawsuits are the same, however.
Almost all of the suits target one named individual along with a handful of John Does.
In reaction to those past "joinder" lawsuits, a few judges have expressed wariness at the practice of intimating a co-conspiracy among defendants who have little to do with each other besides allegedly violating the same laws in the same venue. Other judges, though, have allowed such litigation to proceed
The purpose of bringing such a lawsuit, with big claims and a lack of specificity, is typically to get a judge to sign off on subpoenas so that more investigation can ensue.
For example, to quote one of Warners' lawsuits, "The true legal status, identity and residency of RG is currently unknown to Warner Bros., but Warner Bros. is informed and believes that Amazon.com will release the true identity of RG upon service of a subpoena once legal action has been filed concerning RG."
If a judge agrees, Amazon will then have the choice of either attempting to quash the subpoena or giving up the information. (There's no indication that Amazon is fighting any of the lawsuits that were filed back in July.)
It's also worth noting that Warner Bros. could theoretically bring a lawsuit against Amazon, arguing the e-commerce site holds vicarious liability for inducing or failing to do more to stop counterfeiters.
However, such an endeavor doesn't look to be in the studio's plans at the moment. In fact, the two companies are hardly at odds. In July, just a few days before the initial round of lawsuits, Warner Bros. and Amazon struck a deal for Amazon's Prime service to get exclusive rights to stream shows including West Wing and Fringe.
At the moment, the two companies are delicately handling the situation of unauthorized goods on Amazon's reseller market. According to the lawsuit, more than two million of Amazon's users use the Marketplace to offer up goods.
China implicates Bo Xilai in criminal case for first time
By Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina Wed Sep 19, 2012 8:38am EDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - China for the first time on Wednesday implicated former senior politician Bo Xilai in a criminal act while avoiding naming him directly in a published account by state media of the trial of his one-time police chief.
The Bo scandal has rocked Beijing, exposing rifts within the ruling Communist Party - elements of which are strong supporters of Bo's populist, left-leaning policies - at a time when China is preparing for a once-in-a-decade leadership change.
Wang Lijun, ex-police chief of southwestern Chongqing city, tried to tell "the Chongqing party committee's main responsible person at the time" - in other words, then-Chongqing Communist Party boss Bo - that Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was suspected of murdering a British businessman.
But Wang was "angrily rebuked and had his ears boxed", according to Xinhua news agency's official account of Wang's trial this week in Chengdu city, near Chongqing.
The virtually unmistakable reference to Bo increases the chances of him facing criminal charges, possibly for covering up a crime or corruption.
So far, Bo has only been accused of breaching internal party discipline. He has not responded publicly to the allegations against him.
Wang, 52, lifted the lid on the murder and cover-up of British businessman Neil Heywood in February when he went to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu and, according to sources, told envoys there about the murder that would later bring down Bo.
Within two months of Wang's 24-hour visit to the consulate, Bo was sacked as party boss and from the Communist Party's Politburo and Bo's wife Gu was accused of poisoning the businessman.
A court has since given Gu a suspended death sentence for the killing in late 2011.
Xinhua said that the day after Gu had poisoned Heywood in a Chongqing hotel, Wang met her and she acknowledged that she had killed him. Wang secretly recorded that conversation, but did not act on Gu's admission.
"After arriving in Chongqing, I would often go to the home of Bogu Kailai. I felt Bogu Kailai was very good to me," Xinhua said, citing Wang's testimony.
Bogu is Gu's official but rarely used family name.
"At the time, my selfish motives were guiding me. I didn't want to face this case," Wang said.
However, as the weeks went on Xinhua said problems began to arise between Wang and Gu. He felt that she was turning on him.
Several of Wang's colleagues became targets of "illegal investigations" and Wang began to feel he was in danger and so decided to flee, ending up in the U.S. mission in Chengdu.
"Inside the U.S. consulate, after Wang spoke briefly with consular officials about environmental protection, education, and science and technology, he stated that because his personal safety had been threatened while investigating cases, he requested shelter with the U.S. side, and furthermore made an application for political asylum," Xinhua said.
The only corruption cases mentioned in the Xinhua account involved close business cronies of the former politician - potentially opening a corruption angle against Bo himself.
Xu Ming, a plastics-to-property entrepreneur whose long association with Bo extended for over two decades, offered two homes in Beijing worth over 2.85 million yuan to a relative of Wang's, Xinhua said.
In return, Wang helped free three of Xu's associates that had been taken into custody in Chongqing. Xu was detained in March, the day before Bo's ouster was announced.
A former intelligence agent, Yu Junshi, who has also been detained since March, was cited as renting expensive villas for Wang, in return for the freedom of another man held by the Chongqing police. Yu had also known Bo since the 1990s.
Bo had been considered a strong candidate for the next top leadership body, which is expected to be unveiled at the party's 18th congress next month. Vice President Xi Jinping is seen as all but certain to take over as party chief and inherit the challenge of trying to heal internal wounds.
Bo's downfall has stirred more public division than that of any other party leader for more than 30 years. To leftist supporters, Bo became a charismatic rallying figure for efforts to reimpose party control over dizzying, unequal market growth.
But he had made some powerful enemies among those who saw him as a dangerous opportunist who yearned to impose his harsh policies on the entire country.
(Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby, Terril Yue Jones and Sally Huang; Editing by Ron Popeski)
Google Spans Entire Planet With GPS-Powered Database By Cade Metz 09.19.12 6:30 AM
Illustration: Ross Patton/Wired
Three years ago, a top Google engineer named Vijay Gill was asked what he would do if someone gave him a magic wand.
At the time, Gill helped run the massive network of data centers that underpins Google’s online empire, and he was sitting on stage at a conference in downtown San Francisco, discussing the unique challenges facing this globe-spanning operation. Jonathan Heilger — the man who oversaw Facebook’s data centers — sat a few seats away, and it was Heiliger who asked Gill what he would add to Google’s data centers if he had a magic wand.
Gill hesitated before answering. And when he did answer, he was coy. But he seemed to say he would use that magic wand to build a single system that could automatically and instantly juggle information across all of Google’s data centers. Then he indicated that Google had already built one. “How do you manage the system and optimize it on a global level?” he said. “That is the interesting part.”
It was little more than a teaser. But about four months later, Google dropped another hint. At a symposium in the mountains of Montana, Jeff Dean — one of Google’s most important engineers — revealed that the web giant was working on something called Spanner, describing it as a “storage and computation system that spans all our data centers.” He said the plan was to eventually juggle data across as many as 10 million servers sitting in “hundreds to thousands” of data centers across the globe.
The scope of the project was mind-boggling. But Dean provided few details, and it wasn’t clear whether Google was actually using the platform in its live data centers. Then, on Tuesday, the paper hit the web.
This week, as reported by GigaOm and ZDnet, Google published a research paper detailing the ins and outs of Spanner. According to Google, it’s the first database that can quickly store and retrieve information across a worldwide network of data centers while keeping that information “consistent” — meaning all users see the same collection of information at all times — and it’s been driving the company’s ad system and various other web services for years.
Spanner borrows techniques from some of the other massive software platforms Google built for its data centers, but at its heart is something completely new. Spanner plugs into a network of servers equipped with super-precise atomic clocks or GPS antennas akin to the one in your smartphone, using these time keepers to more accurately synchronize the distribution of data across such a vast network. That’s right, Google attaches GPS antennas and honest-to-goodness atomic clocks to its servers.
“It’s a big deal — and it’s really novel,” says Andy Gross, the principal architect of Basho, an outfit that builds an open source database called Riak that runs across thousands of servers — though not nearly as many as Spanner. “The conventional wisdom — at least among people with modest resources — is that time synchronization like that, on a global scale, that is accurate enough for such a big distributed database … just isn’t practical.”
Spanner may seem like an extreme undertaking, and certainly, it tackles an unusual problem. Few other companies on Earth are forced to deal with so much data so quickly. But Google’s massive data center creations have a way of trickling down to the rest of the tech world. The prime example is Hadoop, a widely used number-crunching platform that mimics technologies originally built at Google, and this trend will likely continue.
“If you want to know what the large-scale, high-performance data processing infrastructure of the future looks like, my advice would be to read the Google research papers that are coming out right now,” Mike Olson, the CEO of Hadoop specialist Cloudera, said at recent event in Silicon Valley. According to Charles Zedlewski, vice president of products at Cloudera, the company was already aware of Spanner — after recruiting some ex-Google engineers — and it may eventually incorporate ideas from the paper into its software.
Facebook is already building a system that’s somewhat similar to Spanner, in that it aims to juggle information across multiple data centers. Judging from our discussions with Facebook about this system — known as Prism — it’s quite different from Google’s creation. But it shows that other outfits are now staring down many of the same data problems Google first faced in years past.
France steps up security at embassies as magazine publishes Prophet Mohammed cartoons.
11:26AM BST 19 Sep 2012
France will close its embassies and schools in around 20 countries on Friday because of fears of a hostile reaction to a magazine's publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, the foreign ministry said.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius earlier announced that he had ordered special security measures "in all the countries where this could pose a problem."
Demonstrations in the Islamic world often follow Friday prayers.
Fabius admitted that he was "concerned" by the potential for a backlash to satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo's printing of a series of cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed against a background of violent protests in the Muslim world over an anti-Islam film.
The crudely-made US film is the main subject of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons but the sketches are open to wide interpretation.
The weekly carries a total of four cartoons.
The cover of Charlie Hebdo shows a Muslim in a wheelchair being pushed by an Orthodox Jew under the title "Intouchables 2", referring to an award-winning French film about a poor black man who helps an aristocratic quadriplegic.
Another cartoon on the back page of the weekly magazine shows the prophet re-enacting a scene from a Brigitte Bardot movie.
Charlie Hebdo's website crashed on Wednesday after being bombarded with comments that ranged from hate mail to approbation.
The magazine's editor, originally a cartoonist who uses the name Charb, denied he was being deliberately provocative at a delicate time.
"The freedom of the press, is that a provocation?" he said. "I'm not asking strict Muslims to read Charlie Hebdo, just like I wouldn't go to a mosque to listen to speeches that go against everything I believe."
Dalil Boubakeur, the senior cleric at Paris's biggest mosque, appealed for France's four million Muslims to remain calm.
"It is with astonishment, sadness and concern that I have learned that this publication is risking increasing the current outrage across the Muslim world," he said.
"I would appeal to them not to pour oil on the fire."
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said anyone offended by cartoons could take the matter to the courts after expressing his "disapproval of all excesses".
But he emphasised France's tradition of free speech. "We are in a country where freedom of expression is guaranteed, including the freedom to caricature," he said on RTL radio.
"If people really feel offended in their beliefs and think there has been an infringement of the law – and we are in a state where laws must be totally respected – they can go to court," Ayrault said.