Sunday, July 29, 2007
Police officers conducting a routine security check in Basra. Iraqis are increasingly fearful of what might happen to them at a checkpoint. (Photo: IRIN)
Iraq: Hundreds Go Missing or Get Killed at Checkpoints
Integrated Regional Information Networks
June 17, 2007
Samir Waleed, 39, said he is scared to go out into the streets of Baghdad after his brother was stopped at a road block, taken away and killed three weeks ago. The deteriorated security situation in the capital has given rise to an increasing number of checkpoints in the city, which, ironically, have become dangerous in themselves.
Manned by the Iraqi police, Iraqi soldiers or sometimes by militias, checkpoints are adding to the immense strain already felt by Baghdad residents. Locals say that people are often arrested at checkpoints on suspicion of working with armed groups—and after being arrested, anything can happen.
"My brother was in a car with his wife and children when police officers stopped him at a checkpoint in Mansour district. They arrested him and we never heard from him again. One week later, after looking everywhere for him, we found his body with three shots to his head in the city morgue," Waleed said.
"My sister-in-law told me that when they stopped them, they were accusing my brother of being an insurgent because of his long beard. He tried to explain to them that he was a pharmacist and just had a long beard for aesthetic purposes but even so they arrested him," he added.
Police Deny any Wrongdoing
Waleed asked the police why his brother was killed but officials in the police station in the district his brother was arrested told him they do not have any information concerning his brother's arrest. They said his brother was probably killed by insurgents when the police released him after interrogation.
"I know that they [police] killed him but I cannot prove it. It is the reality in Iraq. They stop you wherever they want and from there on you don't know what will happen to you. I have three cousins and an uncle who had the same fate; two were killed at insurgents' checkpoints while leaving Iraq and two others went missing at a Baghdad checkpoint while going to their jobs, and were later found dead," Waleed said.
Given the high rate of killings in Iraq today, security forces have been given the right to arrest whomever they want. But while citizens also want to see killers arrested, they have equal fear of the authorities.
"Checkpoints are important in Iraq to prevent terrorism but unfortunately security forces aren't behaving correctly with the local population. Even the military has to offer the minimum of respect to Iraqis while passing though checkpoints but these sad incidents [of people being killed at checkpoints] are increasing and sectarian violence is also in the background," said professor Bakr Muhammad, a security analyst at Mustansiriyah University.
"Sunnis are afraid to pass though Shia checkpoints as well as the Shias through the Sunni ones. It is a rare day on which people aren't arrested or killed, and surely, most of them are innocent victims of sectarian violence. Such abuse is unacceptable and the government should do something to change this," Muhammad added.
Responding to these accusations, the Iraqi army and police say the checkpoints are there to provide security to the local population rather than more violence.
"Security forces in Iraq are providing protection to the local population against terrorists. Police officers and soldiers just arrest people who they are sure are dangerous to the community. And if some people are taken for interrogation, as soon as we have proof that they are innocent, they are released without torture or humiliation," said Col. Ali Hassnawi, a senior officer at the Ministry of Interior.
But according to Muhammad, the reality is very different as many police officers take sectarian sides and humiliate those civilians who are from another sect.
"If they don't arrest, at least they would humiliate families by using bad language, violent action or even talking badly about wives while men are forced to accept this humiliation to save the lives of their loved ones," Muhammad said.
According to Mukhaled al-A'ani, a spokesman for local Iraqi N.G.O. Human Rights Association, the number of people who have disappeared after being arrested at checkpoints in the capital has increased significantly since February.
"Many families have asked for our help in finding their relatives after they were arrested at checkpoints in the capital. Many others aren't sure but have received information that their loved ones were passing through a checkpoint and disappeared later," al-A'ani said.
"Since February, we have registered nearly 100 cases of men disappearing after being arrested by soldiers or police officers at checkpoints in the capital. Another 25 have been arrested at checkpoints in Anbar province by insurgents [and subsequently gone missing]," he said. "Families are scared to go to security forces and ask about their relatives as they might be targeted themselves, so they ask local N.G.O.'s to help."
The Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights said it has looked into many cases of Iraqis missing after being stopped at checkpoints but said police officers have shown sufficient proof that they have not had anything to do with their disappearances.
The apparent lack of justice in Baghdad has led to many of its residents distrusting authorities, whether army, police, or government officials.
"My husband and son were arrested at a checkpoint in Dora district. They were accused of being insurgents and never came home again. I tried to look for them but I was scared that my other sons might suffer the same fate so I prefer to stay at home crying with the hope that soon they might come through my door again," said Samia'a al-Din, 43, whose husband and son were arrested in March.
"Sectarian violence is affecting all people and places in Iraq and there is no safety anymore. Before, I was afraid to go out because of explosions, but now checkpoints have become much more dangerous than any other hazard in Iraq," she added. © IRIN
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Violence broke out in the Zambian capital of Lusaka after anti-Chinese candidate Michael Sata lost the presidential election. Photo: Reuters
Zambian poll unleashes anger at Chinese
David Blair, Lusaka
October 4, 2006
CHINESE shopkeepers have barricaded their properties against gangs of looters in Zambia's capital, Lusaka, as a presidential election sparked a backlash against Beijing's growing influence in Africa.
Michael Sata, an opposition candidate, won 29 per cent of the vote after accusing China of "exploitation" and turning Zambia into a "dumping ground".
Although President Levy Mwanawasa was re-elected with 43 per cent of the vote, Mr Sata won in areas most affected by Chinese investment. In Lusaka, he polled almost three times as many votes as the president.
China has become one of the key foreign powers in Africa as it searches for raw materials.
Chinese immigrants have opened shops in Lusaka, where their community has grown tenfold to about 30,000 in the past decade. But their presence has sparked great resentment.
Chinese businessmen are accused of underpaying workers, ignoring safety rules and driving local companies out of business with cheap, shoddy goods.
Last year, 46 miners died in an accident at Chambishi, a copper mine owned by Chinese investors. Three months ago, its workforce rioted over low wages and poor conditions.
"We want to work with the Chinese, but they must change," said Mr Sata, the leader of the Patriotic Front.
"Their labour relations are very bad. They are not adding any value to what they claim is investment. Instead of creating jobs for the local workforce, they bring in Chinese workers to cut wood and carry water.
"We don't want Zambia to be a dumping ground for their human beings."
When it became clear that Mr Sata had lost the election, riots broke out in his Lusaka strongholds. Mr Sata said the Government had "robbed" him of victory by "stealing votes" from under the noses of "timid and toothless" election observers from the European Union.
Resentment over what his supporters believe was a rigged election caused the unrest. But looters soon began targeting Chinese-owned shops.
In Kamwala market, the Chinese owner of a clothes store locked his heavy metal door as looters ran down the street.
All the shops nearby, many of them Chinese-owned, were empty, their windows shuttered, their closed doors reinforced with metal bars.
People vented their anger over the Chinese in the nearby town of Garden. "Wherever you go — the market, the town centre — the Chinese are there and they are putting Zambians out of business," said Joe Mamba, a 27-year-old cobbler.
"I make shoes with genuine leather. The Chinese people make bad shoes very much cheaper, so people go to them and I have no business."
TIES THAT BIND
■China's enthusiasm for Africa dates back to the 1950s when Chairman Mao presented himself as a spokesman for the developing world.SOURCE: TELEGRAPH
■Beijing is full of large embassies for small, once-socialist African states. China now has a pressing need for oil and minerals.
■China's trade with Africa has quadrupled to $A55 billion in the past five years. Almost one-third of China's oil comes from Africa, mainly from Angola, where a deal to develop a new field was signed in May, and from Sudan, where Beijing built a 1400-kilometre pipeline and invested at least $A20 billion.
■China has given Zimbabwe fighter and trainer jets and helped President Robert Mugabe build his retirement palace.
■In Sierra Leone and Angola the willingness of Chinese companies to do business without conditions has been blamed for encouraging corruption.
■In Gabon, Sinopec, China's largest oil company, was last month ordered to stop prospecting for oil after being accused of blowing up protected rainforest.
Friday, July 27, 2007
U.S. Officials Voice Frustrations With Saudis’ Role in Iraq
By HELENE COOPER
Published: July 27, 2007
This article was reported by Helene Cooper, Mark Mazzetti and Jim Rutenberg, and written by Ms. Cooper.
WASHINGTON, July 26 — During a high-level meeting in Riyadh in January, Saudi officials confronted a top American envoy with documents that seemed to suggest that Iraq’s prime minister could not be trusted.
One purported to be an early alert from the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr warning him to lie low during the coming American troop increase, which was aimed in part at Mr. Sadr’s militia. Another document purported to offer proof that Mr. Maliki was an agent of Iran.
The American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, immediately protested to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, contending that the documents were forged. But, said administration officials who provided an account of the exchange, the Saudis remained skeptical, adding to the deep rift between America’s most powerful Sunni Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, and its Shiite-run neighbor, Iraq.
Now, Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.
One senior administration official says he has seen evidence that Saudi Arabia is providing financial support to opponents of Mr. Maliki. He declined to say whether that support was going to Sunni insurgents because, he said, “That would get into disagreements over who is an insurgent and who is not.”
Senior Bush administration officials said the American concerns would be raised next week when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates make a rare joint visit to Jidda, Saudi Arabia.
Officials in Washington have long resisted blaming Saudi Arabia for the chaos and sectarian strife in Iraq, choosing instead to pin blame on Iran and Syria. Even now, military officials rarely talk publicly about the role of Saudi fighters among the insurgents in Iraq.
The accounts of American concerns came from interviews with several senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they believed that openly criticizing Saudi Arabia would further alienate the Saudi royal family at a time when the United States is still trying to enlist Saudi support for Mr. Maliki and the Iraqi government, and for other American foreign policy goals in the Middle East, including an Arab-Israeli peace plan.
In agreeing to interviews in advance of the joint trip to Saudi Arabia, the officials were nevertheless clearly intent on sending a pointed signal to a top American ally. They expressed deep frustration that more private American appeals to the Saudis had failed to produce a change in course.
The American officials said they had no doubt that the documents shown to Mr. Khalilzad were forgeries, though the Saudis said they had obtained them from sources in Iraq. “Maliki wouldn’t be stupid enough to put that on a piece of paper,” one senior Bush administration official said. He said Mr. Maliki later assured American officials that the documents were forgeries.
The Bush administration’s frustration with the Saudi government has increased in recent months because it appears that Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to undermine the Maliki government and to pursue a different course in Iraq from what the administration has charted. Saudi Arabia has also stymied a number of other American foreign policy initiatives, including a hoped-for Saudi embrace of Israel.
Of course, the Saudi government has hardly masked its intention to prop up Sunni groups in Iraq and has for the past two years explicitly told senior Bush administration officials of the need to counterbalance the influence Iran has there. Last fall, King Abdullah warned Vice President Dick Cheney that Saudi Arabia might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulled its troops out of Iraq, American and Arab diplomats said.
Several officials interviewed for this article said they believed that Saudi Arabia’s direct support to Sunni tribesmen increased this year as the Saudis lost faith in the Maliki government and felt they must bolster Sunni groups in the eventuality of a widespread civil war.
Saudi Arabia months ago made a pitch to enlist other Persian Gulf countries to take a direct role in supporting Sunni tribal groups in Iraq, said one former American ambassador with close ties to officials in the Middle East. The former ambassador, Edward W. Gnehm, who has served in Kuwait and Jordan, said that during a recent trip to the region he was told that Saudi Arabia had pressed other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman — to give financial support to Sunnis in Iraq. The Saudis made this effort last December, Mr. Gnehm said.
The closest the administration has come to public criticism was an Op-Ed page article about Iraq in The New York Times last week by Mr. Khalilzad, now the United States ambassador to the United Nations. “Several of Iraq’s neighbors — not only Syria and Iran but also some friends of the United States — are pursuing destabilizing policies,” Mr. Khalilzad wrote. Administration officials said Mr. Khalilzad was referring specifically to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Ms. Rice and Mr. Gates, as well as Mr. Cheney and Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, have in recent months pressed their Arab counterparts to do more to encourage Iraq’s Sunni leaders to support Mr. Maliki, senior administration officials said.
“This message certainly has been made very clear in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi,” a senior administration official said. “But there is a deep reserve directed both at the person of the Maliki government but more broadly at the concept” that Iraq’s Shiites are “surrogates of Iran.” Saudi Arabia has grown increasingly concerned about the rising influence of Iran in the region.
A spokesman at the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not return telephone calls on Thursday. But one adviser to the royal family said that Saudi officials were aware of the American accusations. “As you know by now, we in Saudi Arabia have been active in having a united Arab front to, first, avoid further inter-Arab conflict, and at the same time building consensus to move toward a peace settlement between the Arabs and Israel,” he said. “How others judge our motives is their problem.”
Even as American frustration at Saudi Arabia grows, American military officials are still cautious about publicly detailing the extent of the flow of foreign fighters going to Iraq from Saudi Arabia. Earlier this month, for instance, Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, the top American military spokesman in Iraq, detailed the odyssey of a foreign fighter recently captured in Ramadi.
In his public account, General Bergner told reporters that the man had arrived in Syria on a chartered bus, was smuggled into Iraq by a Syrian facilitator, and was given instructions to carry out a suicide truck bombing on a bridge in Ramadi. He did not identify the man’s nationality, but American officials in Iraq say he was a Saudi.
The American officials in Iraq also say that the majority of suicide bombers in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia and that about 40 percent of all foreign fighters are Saudi. Officials said that while most of the foreign fighters came to Iraq to become suicide bombers, others arrived as bomb makers, snipers, logisticians and financiers.
American military and intelligence officials have been critical of Saudi efforts to stanch the flow of fighters into Iraq, although they stress that the Saudi government does not endorse the idea of fighters from Saudi Arabia going to Iraq.
On the contrary, they said, Saudi Arabia is concerned that these young men could acquire insurgency training in Iraq and then return home to carry out attacks in Saudi Arabia — similar to the Saudis who turned against their homeland after fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The Bush administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has deteriorated steadily since the United States invasion of Iraq, culminating in April when, bitingly, King Abdullah, during a speech before Arab heads of state in Riyadh, condemned the American invasion of Iraq as “an illegal foreign occupation.”
A month before that, King Abdullah effectively torpedoed a high-profile meeting between Israelis and Palestinians, planned by Ms. Rice, by brokering a power-sharing agreement between the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the militant Islamist group Hamas that did not require Hamas to recognize Israel. While that agreement eventually fell apart, the Bush administration, on both occasions, was caught off guard and became infuriated.
But Saudi officials have not been too happy with President Bush, either, and the plummeting of America’s image in the Muslim world has led King Abdullah to strive to set a more independent course.
The administration “thinks the Saudis are no longer behaving the role of the good vassal,” said Steve Clemons, senior fellow and director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. The Saudis, in turn, “see weakness, they see a void, and they’re going to fill the void and call their own shots.”
Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributed reporting from Baghdad.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
U.S. Tracks Saudi Bank Favored by Extremists
Officials Debated What To Do About Al Rajhi, Intelligence Files Show
By GLENN R. SIMPSON
July 26, 2007; Page A1
JIDDA, Saudi Arabia -- In the 1940s, two Bedouin farm boys from the desert began changing money for the trickle of traders and religious pilgrims in this then-remote and barren kingdom. It was a business built on faith and trust, Sulaiman Al Rajhi once told an interviewer, and for many years he would hand gold bars to strangers boarding flights in Jidda and ask them to give the gold to his brother on their arrival in Riyadh.
Today, Mr. Al Rajhi is a reclusive octogenarian whose fortune is estimated at $12 billion. And Al Rajhi Bank grew into the kingdom's largest Islamic bank, with 500 branches in Saudi Arabia and more spread across the Muslim world.
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the bank also set off an intense debate within the U.S. government over whether to take strong action against its alleged role in extremist finance. Confidential reports by the Central Intelligence Agency and other U.S. agencies, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, detail for the first time how much the U.S. learned about the use of Al Rajhi Bank by alleged extremists, and how U.S. officials agonized over what to do about it.
After 9/11, the Saudi monarchy pledged its full support in the fight against global terrorism. And following violent attacks inside the kingdom in the next two years, the Saudis did launch major strikes against militants operating on their soil. But the Saudi government has been far been less willing to tackle the financial infrastructure essential to terrorism. U.S. intelligence reports state that Islamic banks, while mostly doing ordinary commerce, also are institutions that extremism relies upon in its global spread.
As a result, the Bush administration repeatedly debated proposals for taking strong action itself against Al Rajhi Bank, in particular, according to former U.S. officials and previously undisclosed government documents. Ultimately, the U.S. always chose instead to lobby Saudi officialdom quietly about its concerns.
The U.S. intelligence reports, heretofore secret, describe how Al Rajhi Bank has maintained accounts and accepted donations for Saudi charities that the U.S. and other nations have formally designated as fronts for al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.
In addition, Mr. Al Rajhi and family members have been major donors to Islamic charities that are suspected by Western intelligence agencies of funding terrorism, according to CIA reports and federal-court filings by the Justice Department.
A 2003 CIA report claims that a year after Sept. 11, with a spotlight on Islamic charities, Mr. Al Rajhi ordered Al Rajhi Bank's board "to explore financial instruments that would allow the bank's charitable contributions to avoid official Saudi scrutiny."
A few weeks earlier, the report says, Mr. Al Rajhi "transferred $1.1 billion to offshore accounts -- using commodity swaps and two Lebanese banks -- citing a concern that U.S. and Saudi authorities might freeze his assets." The report was titled "Al Rajhi Bank: Conduit for Extremist Finance."
Al Rajhi Bank and the Al Rajhi family deny any role in financing extremists. They have denounced terrorist acts as un-Islamic. The bank declined to address specific allegations made in American intelligence and law-enforcement records, citing client confidentiality.
In 2002, the bank sued The Wall Street Journal Europe after an article said Saudi authorities were monitoring some Al Rajhi Bank accounts at U.S. request, in a bid to prevent them from being used, wittingly or unwittingly, for funneling money to terrorist groups. The bank dropped the suit in 2005 and the Journal published a statement saying its article hadn't reported any allegation that the bank supported or financed terrorism.
Also in 2005, a U.S. judge dismissed Al Rajhi Bank from a lawsuit filed by relatives of Sept. 11 victims. The ruling said banks couldn't be held liable for providing routine services to people who turned out to be terrorists. In a statement in response to questions about suspected terrorists among its clients, the bank noted that "Al Rajhi Bank has a very large branch network, and a very large retail customer base."
U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence agencies acknowledge it is possible that extremists use the bank's far-flung branches and money-transfer services without bank officials' knowledge. The U.S. has never obtained proof that the bank or its owners knowingly facilitate terrorism, according to documents and former officials, despite what they describe as extensive circumstantial evidence that some executives are aware the bank is used by extremists. The 2003 CIA report concluded: "Senior Al Rajhi family members have long supported Islamic extremists and probably know that terrorists use their bank."
Most major banks around the world are bound by a patchwork of treaties and agreements that, in effect, require them to know their customers and report any suspicious activities to regulators. The rules are designed to fight terrorism, money laundering and narcotics trafficking. It's generally acknowledged that Saudi banks are bound by these rules, although experts differ on when compliance became mandatory.
The top counterterrorism official at the U.S. Treasury Department, while declining to comment on Al Rajhi Bank specifically, says Saudi officials haven't met a promise to create a commission to oversee Saudi charities, many of which bank with Al Rajhi. "They are also not holding people responsible for sending money abroad for jihad," says the Treasury official, Stuart Levey. "It just doesn't happen."
The Saudi government maintains it has been working diligently with the U.S. and others to counter terrorism. It cites its arrests of several alleged terrorist fund-raisers in recent years. The Saudis didn't respond to specific questions about their efforts to counter terrorist finance or oversee banks.
A White House statement said that "the Saudis continue to be a strong partner in the War on Terror....We have made significant progress on numerous fronts -- including the freezing of assets and the shutdown of known conduits of [terrorist] funding." A CIA spokesman said "publishing details of how our government seeks to track extremist financing" could undermine those efforts.
For the ruling Saud family, any confrontation with the Al Rajhis could be politically treacherous. To stay in power, the Sauds rely on the tolerance of clerical and business elites, many of whom view the royal family as corrupt. The wealthy Al Rajhis are a clan long at odds with the royal family. And U.S. intelligence files show the Al Rajhis also have close ties to another group critical of the royals: Saudi Arabia's conservative clerics.
The Al Rajhi empire includes hotels, housing developments, commodities trading, shipping, aviation leasing and poultry. Its core is the bank, with more than 500 branches in Saudi Arabia and other offices abroad, from Pakistan to Malaysia. For 2006, the publicly held institution reported $1.9 billion in profit and $28 billion in assets.
Sulaiman Al Rajhi grew up in the Nejd desert, the birthplace of a severe form of Islam, called Wahhabism, that forbids birthday parties, musical instruments and photographing people. In the 1940s, he and a brother, Saleh, went to the Saudi capital city. "From literally nothing -- making change on what were then the dirt streets of Riyadh -- Sulaiman and Saleh al Rajhi built the Al Rajhi Bank," Sulaiman's lawyers told a U.S. court in New York in 2005.
Sulaiman described the business in a rare interview with Euromoney magazine in 1983. With two other brothers, he and Saleh began changing money for pilgrims taking camel caravans across the desert to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. When throngs of migrant workers came to Saudi Arabia during the 1970s oil boom, the Al Rajhis helped them send their earnings home to places like Indonesia and Pakistan.
In 1983, the brothers won permission to open Saudi Arabia's first Islamic bank, one that would observe religious tenets such as a ban on interest.
But relations with the ruling family frayed. The government-controlled press in 1992 publicized Al Rajhi Bank's tangential role in an international scandal of that era, that of the bank called BCCI, U.S. diplomats reported. Then in 1994, an infant relative of the Al Rajhis died in a kidnapping. Official press accounts said the kidnappers slit the child's throat, but Saudi dissidents claimed police shot the child. Mr. Al Rajhi blamed the royal family, the CIA report says.
Although Al Rajhi Bank continued to make a show of support for the Sauds -- annual reports had flowery tributes to the royal family -- the bank began refusing to make loans to the Sauds or to finance their projects, U.S. diplomats said at the time.
With its Islamic procedures, the bank was a magnet for the clerical establishment, which grew rich from alms amid the oil boom. As the clerics' charities spread, they became entwined with Al Rajhi Bank and the conservative Al Rajhi family's own extensive financial support for Islamic causes.
There is no reliable estimate of how much the Al Rajhis have given to promote Islam over the years, but an endowment holding much of Saleh Al Rajhi's wealth gives an indication of the scale. Its Web site details nearly $50 million in direct donations within the kingdom to Islamic causes and at least $12 million in donations abroad. The overseas money went to aid embattled Muslims in Kosovo, Chechnya and the Palestinian territories and to finance Islamic instruction.
There are indications not all the giving was for such purposes. The Al Rajhi name appeared on a list of regular financial contributors to al Qaeda that was discovered in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 2002. The list was authenticated for the Federal Bureau of Investigation that year by America's top judicial witness against al Qaeda, a onetime al Qaeda business manager named Jamal Al Fadl, who is in the federal witness-protection program. He called the contributor list the "golden chain."
A 2003 German police report said Sulaiman Al Rajhi and other family members had contributed more than $200,000 in 1993 to a charity that financed weapons for Islamic militants in Bosnia, in addition to providing humanitarian aid.
The 2003 CIA report tells of efforts by two Al Rajhi brothers to keep some giving secret. It says that Sulaiman and Saleh transferred $4 million to parties in Germany and Pakistan in December 1998 using "a unique computer code to send funds at regular intervals to unspecified recipients, suggesting they were trying to conceal the transactions and that the money may have been intended for illegitimate ends."
The report says extremists "ordered operatives in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen" to use Al Rajhi Bank. Mamduh Mahmud Salim, convicted mastermind of the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, was carrying records of an Al Rajhi account (number 001424/4) when arrested in Germany in 1998, German police found.
In 2000, the CIA report says, Al Rajhi Bank couriers "delivered money to the Indonesian insurgent group Kompak to fund weapons purchases and bomb-making activities."
A U.S. intelligence memo dated Nov. 16, 2001, says a money courier for Osama bin Laden's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, traveled on a visa that the bank had obtained for him. The memo adds, however: "Reporting does not indicate whether bank management was witting" of the courier's terrorist connections.
Al Rajhi Bank maintained at least 24 accounts and handled unusual transactions for Al-Haramain foundation -- a charity that Treasury officials say has acted as a front for al Qaeda in 13 countries -- until the Saudi government ordered the charity shut down in late 2004, according to intelligence and law-enforcement reports. The United Nations has designated top officials of Al-Haramain foundation as terrorists, and most of its offices now are closed.
According to a federal indictment in Oregon, a top Al-Haramain official in 2000 carried $130,000 in $1,000 traveler's checks from Portland to Riyadh and deposited them with Al Rajhi -- funds the indictment says were for the ultimate benefit of al Qaeda fighters in Chechnya. The indicted official, Soliman Al-Buthe, now works for the city of Riyadh. In an interview, he confirmed carrying the checks and depositing them with Al Rajhi Bank but said that they weren't for al Qaeda and that he did nothing wrong.
[Adnan Khalil Basha]
A Jidda-based charity called the International Islamic Relief Organization, or IIRO, arranges for donors to send their donations directly to the Al Rajhi Bank. The IIRO's chairman, Adnan Khalil Basha, says the charity is "absolutely apolitical" and has elaborate spending controls to prevent illicit diversions. The charity says it works with Al Rajhi Bank simply because its fees are low and its service is best.
However, the U.N. has labeled two of the IIRO's branches and some of its officials as al Qaeda supporters. In 2004, the IIRO solicited donations through Al Rajhi Bank for the Iraqi city of Fallujah, then largely under the control of insurgents and the base of the late Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who led al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The IIRO's workers oversaw construction of a trauma clinic in an insurgent-controlled area of Fallujah. The U.S. saw the clinic as a haven for insurgent fighters, and Marines destroyed it in November 2004. That was "a big tragedy for us," says the IIRO's chairman, Mr. Basha.
He denies the charity had any involvement with the Iraqi insurgency. Charity officials complain that the U.S. has produced no evidence of their alleged ties to terrorism.
Two years earlier, federal agents raided the Virginia offices of a network of charities funded by Sulaiman Al Rajhi that worked closely with the IIRO and that -- according to Justice Department court filings -- provided funds to Palestinian terrorists. No charges have been filed.
A year after the 9/11 attacks, U.S. authorities began to lament the lack of Saudi action in taking down terrorists' financial infrastructure. A November 2002 CIA report said the Saudi government "has made little independent effort to uncover terrorist financiers, investigate individual donors, and tighten the regulation of Islamic charities," largely because of "domestic political considerations."
The report advised against a noisy confrontation: "A key factor for continued successful counterterrorism initiatives with the Saudis, whose society is by tradition private, closed, and conservative, will be to ensure that their cooperation with the United States is handled discreetly and kept as much as possible out of the public eye."
The U.S. began to rethink that approach after an al Qaeda attack in Riyadh in May 2003 that killed 26 people, including nine Americans. Deputies from the National Security Council, CIA, Treasury and State departments debated a proposal for legal and political action against Al Rajhi Bank, including the possibility of covert operations such as interfering with the bank's internal operations, according to Bush administration documents and former U.S. officials.
One idea kicked around was "listing or threatening to list" Al Rajhi Bank as a supporter of terrorism. Such a listing can be done if recommended by a committee representing the Treasury, State and Defense departments and the CIA and NSC, and signed by the president. The designation bars U.S. companies from doing business with the named entity. A U.S. designation also normally is forwarded to the U.N., and if that body puts the name on its own terrorist-supporter list, all member states are obliged to freeze the entity's assets.
Other ideas U.S. officials discussed included enlisting friendly countries to step up scrutiny and regulatory action against the Al Rajhis. The CIA report said that "a successful effort against the Al Rajhis would encourage efforts against other donors, or at a minimum, would discourage private funding of Al Qaeda."
Ultimately, the Bush administration again chose merely to continue privately exerting pressure on the Saudis to stiffen their oversight.
Write to Glenn R. Simpson at firstname.lastname@example.org
The News: U.S. intelligence reports say Islamic extremists often use Saudi Arabia's Al Rajhi Bank to move money. The bank has denounced terrorism and denies any role in financing extremists.
The Issue: A confrontation with Al Rajhi would be politically difficult for Saudi monarchy, and U.S. isn't satisfied with its efforts to curb the financial infrastructure essential to terrorism.
Result: U.S. has periodically debated taking action on its own against the bank, but chosen instead to lobby the Saudis quietly about its concerns.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri
Loose Saudi cannons in Lebanon
By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS - More than 10 years ago, Lebanese comedian Wassim Tabbara staged a brilliant satire called Sleep on My Silk about Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri. He showed Hariri having just returned to Lebanon in the 1990s from a fruitful career in Saudi Arabia (where he had made billions). Hariri was known at the time as Saudi Arabia's No 1 man in Beirut.
He is shown telling a wealthy Saudi sheikh about the terrible economic conditions in Lebanon, but tales of the economic misery were not enough to get the sheikh to donate to Lebanon. Hariri adds that if Lebanon falls, "Then there is no longer Bhamdoun or Aley for you!"
This was a reference to the two summer resorts that wealthy Saudis have frequented over the years for gambling and pleasure in Lebanon. Stunned by the reality, the sheikh begins to weep. "No more nightclubs for you!" More sobs. "No more casinos for you!" The sheikh falls apart in tears and starts writing out blank checks to the Lebanese prime minister.
Much has changed since then, yet much remains the same. Lebanon is still strongly allied to Saudi Arabia, thanks to Hariri's son and political successor, Saad. The Saudis invested heavily in the elder Hariri's Lebanon in the 1990s and have worked relentlessly since his assassination in 2005 to prevent the country's disintegration.
Nowadays, however, Saudi Arabia is exporting more than gamblers, tourists and investors to Lebanon. It is - unwillingly - sending terrorists and suicide bombers to Lebanon, particularly to the formerly sleepy city of Tripoli, where a radical Islamic fanatic group called Fatah al-Islam is waging war against the Lebanese Army.
Last week, Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz released his latest report on the assassination of Rafik Hariri. He confirmed that the suicide bomber who murdered the premier was not Lebanese - nor Syrian. Rather, he came from a "hot district", which probably is a reference to Saudi Arabia.
Most terrorists in radical Islamic groups from the Persian Gulf region come from Saudi Arabia. We find fewer suicide bombers from Kuwait, or any from Oman, the United Arab Emirates or Qatar.
The bomber, according to Brammertz, had spent only about four months of his life in Lebanon and nearly 10 years in a "rural area", possibly the mountains of Afghanistan. After all, hundreds of Saudis lived there when working with the United States to combat the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. This sheds light once more on Saudi jihadis in Lebanon.
Coinciding with the Brammertz report were other stories from the Naher al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon. Saudi journalist Faris bin Khuzam, writing for the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, put the number of Saudi jihadis in Lebanon operating from Naher al-Bared at 300. He claims they were "lured" into a battlefield "other than the one they wanted", saying that they had plans to fight the Americans in Iraq, and ended up in Tripoli.
The reason, he explained, is tight security on the Syrian border (in addition to the Saudi one) preventing them from making a breakthrough into war-torn Iraq. Instead, they found their way into Lebanon and stayed for what initially seemed to be a temporary transit period. "Gradually the pendulum shifted," Khuzam wrote, adding that "they were told that the road to Jerusalem runs through here [Naher al-Bared]". He concluded, "They chose the Saudi dream that Osama bin Laden could not fulfill."
The secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Beirut, Sultan Abu al-Aynein, confirmed this tale, saying that 23 Saudi jihadis had been killed in Naher al-Bared, all members of Fatah al-Islam. They are buried in a collective grave in the battered refugee camp.
Other members of Fatah al-Islam who have surrendered to Lebanese authorities confirmed that 43 Saudi jihadis were in Naher al-Bared. The Lebanese weekly Al-Kifah al-Arabi said more than 50 people (mostly Saudis) were arrested by Lebanese authorities, while another 45 were still fighting.
Government authorities believe that more Saudis can be found in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. Still some claim that Saudis in Lebanon can be divided into two groups: Fatah al-Islam and al-Qaeda. The first are found strictly within the Naher al-Bared camp and have almost been exterminated by the Lebanese Army, after two months of heavy combat. The Saudis in al-Qaeda are in silent cells, however, scattered all over Lebanon. They are a time-bomb that could explode at any moment.
In May, investigative US reporter Seymour Hersh gave a groundbreaking interview to CNN International's Your World Today, discussing the combat in Naher al-Bared. Hersh's comments caused an uproar in the US, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon because he blamed the US administration, the Saudis and the cabinet of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora of creating and arming Sunni fundamentalist groups such as Fatah al-Islam.
The purpose was to use them against the Iran-backed all-Shi'ite group Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Shi'ites have an armed wing, the reasoning went, so why shouldn't the Sunnis as well? In March, Hersh penned an exceptionally detailed essay in The New Yorker called "The redirection", saying that the US was supporting Sunni fanatic groups to counterbalance the spread of Shi'ite Islam - and the power of Iran - in the Arab world.
Part of the strategy was increased US-Saudi planning to undermine Hezbollah in Lebanon. Another way was to encourage Sunni extremists in the region, who, although anti-American, are equally anti-Shi'ite. Hersh pointed out that this was identical to the Saudi-US strategy of the 1980s, when they armed and supported bin Laden to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.
The architects of this policy are US Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, and former ambassador and current Saudi National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan. They are responsible for the "redirection" toward fostering Sunni fanatics, and more recently for the creation of Fatah al-Islam to combat Hezbollah.
Hersh said, "The idea [is] that the Saudis promised they could control the jihadis, so we [US] spent a lot of money and time ... using and supporting the jihadis to help us beat the Russians in Afghanistan, and they turned on us. And we have the same pattern, not as if there's any lessons learned. The same pattern, using the Saudis again to support jihadis."
Fatah al-Islam, and the Saudis within it, rebelled against Siniora and the US, just as bin Laden did after US troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia in 1991. The Saudis, Hersh said, were telling the Americans, "We've created this movement, we can control it. It's not that we don't want the Salafis to throw bombs, it's who they throw them at - Hezbollah, [Iraqi Shi'ite cleric] Muqtada al-Sadr and the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran."
In his CNN interview, Hersh added, "The enemy of our enemy is our friend, just as the jihadi groups in Lebanon were also there to go after [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah. We're in the business of creating in some places, Lebanon in particular, sectarian violence."
All of this was dismissed as something of Hersh's imagination in March, but today, with the increasing number of Saudis showing up in Lebanon - and Iraq - it seems Hersh was not so wrong after all.
In Iraq, it was revealed by US officials that 45% of all foreign militants fighting the Americans come from Saudi Arabia. Contrary to what has been said in the past, only 15% come from Syria and Lebanon combined, and a relatively high 10% from North Africa. This was revealed in the Los Angeles Times, quoting a senior US official whose name remained anonymous.
He stressed that 50% of all Saudi fighters in Iraq arrive as ready-to-explode, indoctrinated suicide bombers, claiming that in the past six months, 4,000 people have been killed or injured in Iraq by these Saudi jihadis.
These words were echoed by Sami al-Askari, a senior adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He said, "The fact of the matter is that Saudi Arabia has strong intelligence resources, and it would be hard to think that they are not aware of what is going on," claiming that clerics at Saudi mosques were encouraging citizens to wage a holy war in Iraq against Shi'ites.
The Saudi government acknowledges some of these realities. General Mansour Turki, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, commented: "Saudis are actually being misused. Someone is helping them come to Iraq. Someone is helping them inside Iraq. Someone is recruiting them to be suicide bombers. We have no idea who these people are. We aren't getting any formal information from the Iraqi government. If we get good feedback from the Iraqi government about Saudis being arrested in Iraq, probably we can help."
It is a pity indeed for all those familiar with contemporary Saudi history that the terrorists in Lebanon and Iraq carry the name "Saudi". This means that they are named after the founder of the oil-rich kingdom, King Abdul-Aziz al-Saud, a heroic Arabian Bedouin who was anything but a terrorist, described often as a gentleman who wanted to develop his country at any cost.
He toyed with the idea of working with the Nazis during World War II, then shifted to the Americans during the era of president Franklin Roosevelt. Since then, Saudi Arabia and the US have worked together to combat a variety of enemies: communism, Nasserism, Khomeinism and terrorism. Hersh insists on portraying them as silent partners once again in combating Nassrallahism in Lebanon.
Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.
(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
Thursday, July 19, 2007
by Austin Bay
July 18, 2007
What happens if the United States and coalition forces withdraw rapidly from Iraq? The U.S. and the Iraqi governments have their own scenarios. Iran, al-Qaida, Syria and Turkey have also analyzed potential outcomes.
Business and government make plans. Every plan anticipates a future outcome. Since the future can't be predicted, the best plans acknowledge uncertainty. Acknowledging uncertainty means accepting risk -- the risk of being wrong. The art of leadership is being "less wrong."
Here are seven "scenarios" sketching "potential outcomes" of a quick withdrawal from Iraq. These scenarios are not mutually exclusive. You will find bits and pieces in all seven:
1) Three New Countries: Kurdistan in the north becomes an independent country -- and immediately starts to wrestle with Turkey over the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is waging a secessionist struggle in southeastern Turkey. Kurdistan has oil. Southern Iraq -- a predominantly Shia area -- becomes a Shia state, also with oil. Parts of Anbar province become a Sunni state (Iraqi Sunnistan) -- which has few oil fields.
But what becomes of Baghdad? Does it divide like a desert Berlin into Shia and Sunni sectors? Baghdad remains a source of continuing conflict.
2) Regional Shia-Sunni War: Iran sees an opportunity to recover not only the Shaat al Arab region -- the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates -- but a chance to extend its border into the economically productive areas of southern Iraq. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait immediately react to Iran's drive into southern Iraq. Iraq has served as a "buffer" between Sunni Arabs and Shia Iranians, and the buffer is dissolving. Jordan and Egypt prepare for action. The War Over Mesopotamia could last for weeks, or it could grind on for years.
3) Turkey Expands: Turkey takes control of northern Iraq to the city of Kirkuk. The Ottoman Empire once controlled Mesopotamia. Turkey has a lingering claim to areas of northern Iraq. For almost two decades, Turkey has fought with the Kurdistan Workers Party -- a Kurdish secessionist group in Turkey that has bases in northern Iraq. Turkey could conclude the way to end the war with the PKK would be to absorb Iraqi Kurdistan.
Turkey would pay a huge political price, however. It would lose all chance of joining the European Union. As ties with the West deteriorate, Turkey might become less secular and more Islamic in both identity and in political orientation.
4) Shia Dictatorship: Shia Arabs win the chaotic battle of neighborhoods, forcing Sunni Arabs to flee. Call it "de facto" ethnic cleansing, as the Sunnis flee to Sunni states, or move to the United States. Al-Qaida, however, retains a presence. A hard-line Shia regime takes power in Baghdad with the mission of eradicating al-Qaida. The Kurds retain a high degree of autonomy with just enough connection to Baghdad to keep the Turks away.
5) "Gang Up": A calculated version of Scenario 4 -- Rwanda in the desert. Shia Arabs and Kurds launch a coordinated campaign to eliminate Iraq's Sunni Arab community. The threat of Iranian intervention prevents Sunni Arab nations from protecting Iraqi Sunnis.
6) Chaos: Iraq shatters into ethnic enclaves, with a few "new Mesopotamian city states" managing to control oil fields. Iran and Turkey exert "regional influence" over eastern and northern Iraq, respectively, but concerned about confrontation between themselves or provoking sanctions from Europe and the United States, neither sends its military forces in large numbers beyond current borders.
Terror attacks and intermittent fighting afflict neighborhoods throughout Iraq. Local warlords rule by fear and make money by either smuggling oil, drugs or arms. This tribal hell is a perfect disaster -- the kind of disaster that allows al-Qaida to build training facilities and base camps for operations throughout the Middle East and Europe.
7) The Iraqi Center Holds: The democratic government proves to be resilient. The assumption behind this scenario is that Iraq's government is just responsive enough and its security forces are just strong enough to withstand attacks by extremists and give Iran pause. After several months of brutal warfare, the Iraqi Army destroys insurgent groups.
Out of seven "rapid withdrawal" scenarios only one -- number seven -- clearly benefits the majority of Iraqis.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory complex, Tennessee (AP Photo)
Nuclear Lab Employee Arrested for Allegedly Attempting to Sell Secrets
Contract Worker Is Accused of Trying to Sell Information to Undercover Agent
By PIERRE THOMAS, JACK DATE, AARON KATERSKY and THERESA COOK
July 19, 2007 —
A contract worker at the Oak Ridge Reservation nuclear research facility has been arrested and charged with trying to sell highly classified information about how to enrich uranium.
The two count federal indictment, unsealed Thursday afternoon, alleges Roy Lynn Oakley, 67, had possession of materials associated with uranium enrichment, and "having reason to believe that such data would be utilized to injure the United States and secure and advantage to a foreign nation, did communicate, transmit, and disclose such data to another person."
Federal sources told ABC News the Oakley, a former employee of contract firm Bechtel Jacobs, thought he was selling the information to a foreign operative, but they said he was actually selling it to U.S. undercover agent. Bechtel Jacobs declined comment for this story.
Federal sources told ABC News that Oakley, an employee of contract firm Bechtel Jacobs, thought he was selling the information to a foreign agent, but was actually selling it to a U.S. undercover agent. Bechtel Jacobs declined comment for this story.
Local media reports said Oakley was an escort who brought visitors around East Tennessee Technology Park, on the other side of the Oak Ridge complex's nuclear weapons research facilities.
Sources emphasize that the public was never in danger, but acknowledge that the case represents a major breach and raises serious questions about the security at some of the nation's most sensitive nuclear installations.
"The FBI should be congratulated for their role in thwarting this situation. However, a series of troubling security breaches show that the nuclear weapons complex simply does not take security as seriously as it should," said Peter Stockton, an investigator for the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, who served as an advisor to then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
This latest incident comes on the heels of a security breach at New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory in the fall.
In that case, a contract employee at the lab took classified documents and computer files home with her. The materials were discovered only after authorities searched her home on a separate matter a domestic disturbance-call-turned-methamphetamine-lab raid.
The former employee at the center of the Los Alamos breakdown pleaded guilty to knowingly removing classified information from the national security research laboratory in May.
Nuclear lab security has been scrutinized after several embarrassing breaches at other government-run nuclear facilities.
Also at the Los Alamos National Lab, a weapons scientist was accused of stealing nuclear weapons secrets in 1999. He later pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information.
The next year, at the same facility, the FBI began an investigation into missing nuclear emergency search team hard drives. The drives were found days later behind a photocopy machine.
In 2004, when an administrative error at Los Alamos led security officials to believe that computer disks containing nuclear secrets had been misplaced, operations at the lab were ordered to essentially shut down. An FBI investigation concluded the disks had never existed.
After that incident, the Department of Energy instituted policies to reduce the amount of files and materials that could be placed on a computer disk.
Other security breaches at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Y-12 nuclear weapons production facility and storage site near the Oak Ridge complex revealed a series of lost security keys at both sites.
The series of breaches lead to the ouster of National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Linton Brooks in January. Brooks had held the position since 2002, and was officially confirmed in 2003.
In announcing the resignation, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman referenced the "serious security breach" a few months earlier at Los Alamos and other management issues that had plagued the National Nuclear Security Administration.
"While I believe that the current NNSA management has done its best to address these concerns, I do not believe that progress in correcting these issues has been adequate," Bodman's statement said.
"I repeatedly have told DOE [the Department of Energy] and laboratory employees, and, in particular, senior managers, we must be accountable to the president and the American people, not just for efforts, but for results," he said.
William Ostendorff took the helm at the NNSA in April.
Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures
Guilty Plea in Los Alamos Security Breach
Meth Lab Search Turned Up Classified Nuclear Weapons Documents
By PIERRE THOMAS, JASON RYAN and THERESA COOK
May 15, 2007 —
A meth lab search-turned-FBI-counterintelligence investigation one that worried top nuclear security officials in Washington, D.C., about security at the nation's nuclear labs has come to an end for the contract government employee at the center of the inquiry.
Tuesday, Jessica Lynn Quintana, 23, a former worker at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, pleaded guilty in federal court to knowingly removing classified information from the national security research laboratory, after she took home sensitive documents and data from the lab last year.
Quintana had been granted a "Q clearance," which provided her with top secret restricted data and national security information, as well as access to some restricted areas at the lab. The government has rescinded her clearance status, and she faces a maximum sentence of up to one year in jail, a $100,000 fine, and a year of supervised release, and possible probation of up to five years.
The case against Quintana started Oct. 17, 2006, when police in Los Alamos, N.M., responded to a domestic disturbance at a trailer park, in which they stumbled across a small methamphetamine lab. After a few twists and turns, investigators found themselves smack in the middle of a counterintelligence inquiry.
From Drugs to Documents
According to the search warrant in the case, police found drug paraphernalia, several glass pipes and a small propane torch at the scene. Officers obtained a search warrant and arrested Justin Stone, Quintana's boyfriend, on a previous bench warrant.
But police also found several pieces of computer hardware containing information they believed to be from Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory.
According to a police statement issued last fall, "During the course of the search, officers realized some of the items seized appeared to belong to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Los Alamos Laboratory security division was contacted for analysis and confirmation."
Upon this discovery, the FBI dispatched a team of more than a dozen agents to determine how the files wound up in the trailer park.
In the plea agreement filed Tuesday, Quintana admitted that she "knowingly removed documents and computer files containing classified information of the United States from a vault-type room at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and stored such documents and files at places outside Los Alamos National Laboratory, including a backpack in which she transported such documents and materials to her residence, and a computer desk drawer inside her bedroom at her residence."
Quintana was employed by Information Assets Management, Inc. and was under contract to archive classified information at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Officals told ABC News there is no evidence that she passed or sold the information to a third party or foreign government.
Sensitive Nuclear Weapons Information
Documents obtained by ABC News show a police search recovered three computer memory sticks and a compact disc containing photographs. Quintana had apparently taken the materials out of the lab so she could work on archiving the documents at her home.
In a written statement after the discovery last October, Los Alamos director Michael Anastasio said, "I regard this matter as one of utmost concern to all of us."
"There is no question this should have been taken far more seriously a long time ago by Los Alamos. The fact that this could still be happening is just absurd," said Danielle Brian, at the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group based in Washington.
Scrutinizing Security at Los Alamos
Security at Los Alamos has been scrutinized in recent years after several security breaches:
In 1999, a weapons scientist was accused of stealing nuclear weapons secrets. He eventually pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information.
In 2000, the FBI investigated missing hard drives at the lab. The drives, which belonged to a nuclear emergency search team, were found days later behind a photocopy machine.
In 2004, an administrative error led security officials to believe that computer disks containing nuclear secrets had been misplaced, and operations at the lab were ordered to essentially shut down. An FBI investigation concluded the disks never existed.
After that incident, the Department of Energy instituted policies to reduce the amount of files and materials that can be placed on a computer disk.
Other security breaches at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Y-12 nuclear weapons production facility and storage site exposed a series of lost security keys at both sites.
'Serious Problems With Security Management'
In congressional testimony in 2005, Linton Brooks, then administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said the 2004 incident "revealed serious problems with security management at Los Alamos."
After the October 2006 breach, Brooks said, "I have directed NNSA's chief of defense nuclear security to personally investigate the facts at Los Alamos, and I have sent a headquarters cyber security team to ensure that there is full compliance with current departmental directives." The Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration also proceeded to launch internal investigations into the apparent security breach.
But the system's flaws didn't seem to be repaired fast enough to save Brooks' job.
Brooks was forced out of his NNSA post in January. In announcing the resignation, energy secretary Samuel Bodman referenced the "serious security breach" a few months earlier at Los Alamos, and other management issues that have plagued the National Nuclear Security Administration.
"While I believe that the current NNSA management has done its best to address these concerns, I do not believe that progress in correcting these issues has been adequate," Bodman's statement said.
"I repeatedly have told DOE and laboratory employees, and, in particular, senior managers, we must be accountable to the president and the American people, not just for efforts, but for results," he said.
Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures
Sunday, July 15, 2007
The Crisis of the Wahhabi Regime: Surprising developments in Saudi Arabia.
by Stephen Schwartz and Irfan al-Alawi
07/16/2007, Volume 012, Issue 41
Long accustomed to abusing their power with impunity, the Saudi mutawiyin or "religious police" (more on that misleading translation in a moment) suddenly find themselves on the defensive. Increasingly challenged by critics, they felt compelled early this year to go through the motions of announcing a "modernization": Warrants would be required for searches, the use of force for moral violations would be banned. In practice, however, nothing changed. And when, this spring, two Saudi men died in custody, events took an unprecedented turn: Controversy erupted in the Saudi media; several mutawiyin members were dragged into court; and the boldest reformers called for dismantling altogether this hated institution.
But to make the story intelligible, it is necessary to begin at the beginning--with the uniqueness of Saudi Arabia. In addition to being the only state named after its rulers, and having no constitution except the Koran, this is the homeland of the radical Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam. Wahhabism, the official sect of the kingdom, is a patched-together, relatively recent expression of the faith of Muhammad, and the Wahhabi institutions that support the Saudi order often seem amorphous and opaque. Given the general absence of transparency in the kingdom, this should come as no surprise.
But there is no Wahhabi institution more difficult to define than the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Founded in the 1920s, when the Saudi state came into being, as an enforcer of collective morals, this body of at least 10,000 individuals is known to Saudi and other Muslims as the mutawiyin, or "devotees." Although often described in Western media as the "religious police," the mutawiyin have little in common with a police force--they wear no uniform and receive no salary--and are better described as an Islamofascist militia, something akin to the Nazi and Communist rank-and-file party members in lands ruled by those movements. Their mission includes ideological indoctrination in the dangers of "imitating the West" (such as watching television), but they mainly enforce Wahhabi standards of behavior in public. Their constant and degrading interference with ordinary people has brought about growing discontent. If judicial scrutiny is imposed on the mutawiyin, Saudi Arabia will undergo a profound change in its social life.
A kind of adjunct to the tens of thousands of state-subsidized clerics, the mutawiyin are a pillar of Wahhabism in the kingdom. They prowl the streets of the main Saudi cities day and night. Jeddah, the commercial capital on the Red Sea, is the notable exception: Local residents claim to have run the mutawiyin out of town. Elsewhere, however, they seek out people they suspect of violating the Wahhabi code of conduct. If a woman walks outside her home in the full body covering known as the abaya but allows a fold of cloth to slip, exposing her ankle or face, the mutawiyin may scold her or strike her. If they suspect that an unrelated man and woman are meeting in public places, the patrollers may detain and harass them, insulting the female for alleged lewdness, and beating the male. If people keep walking when the call to prayer is heard and do not rush into the nearest mosque, the mutawiyin may swarm and assault them for impiety. Given the Islamic ban on intoxication, if the militia are informed that alcoholic drinks or drugs are being used in a private home, they may raid the house and beat and even kill people. If Muslim pilgrims violate the Wahhabi understanding of monotheism by praying at the shrine of Muhammad in Medina, they are likely to be taken aside and roughed up and, if they are foreign, deported.
Until now, the mutawiyin have not been called to account for their sometimes drastic deeds. They have no professional standards or training. They are free to assault people and then shove them on their way, making no record of the encounter, having carried out no official arrest, and making no provision for any hearing or further punishment, although offenses deemed particularly grave--alleged adultery, say--may land the suspect before a sharia court.
Members enter the mutawiyin from the kingdom's strictest schools and mosques. They are not paid, but are assigned to regular patrols. They wear no identifying uniform except a red-checkered headscarf. They travel in unmarked cars. Instead of a firearm, they carry an asaa, a long stick resembling a riding crop. But they have offices and detention centers, and both the chief Islamic cleric in the kingdom, grand mufti Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheik, and interior minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz (notorious for asserting that 9/11 was the handiwork of Israel), say the mutawiyin are supported by the state. The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has a chief, Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ghaith, and has lately appointed public-relations representatives, still unpaid.
The mutawiyin have benefited from the secrecy surrounding their internal functioning, and their "surprise" tactics help them maintain an atmosphere of intimidation. Their defenders claim the mutawiyin follow a prece dent in the strictest school of Sunni sharia, identified with the 9th-century jurist Ahmad ibn Hanbal, whose followers organized patrols for "prevention of sin." But such patrols remained a marginal phenomenon in Islamic history, often condemned, until the emergence of the Saudi state in the 20th century.
The Mutawiyin in Court
On July 1, three Saudi judges began a court inquiry into the death last month of a Saudi citizen, Ahmed Al-Bulawi, 50, who had been detained by the mutawiyin in the northwestern town of Tabuk. On July 2, however, four members of the religious militia accused of responsibility for the death, and whose trial had already been postponed once, were released on bail; the previous Friday, mosques in Tabuk had broadcast sermons calling on local Muslims to defend the accused.
Al-Bulawi's case represents a microcosm of the mutawiyin's history. His alleged crime consisted of inviting a Moroccan woman who was not his relative and was unchaperoned by another male into his car. His relatives demand that those who caused his death be executed. Local authorities claim that Al-Bulawi died of natural causes, although the lawyer for his family told the media that the victim's remains showed he had been beaten in the face and head. The official medical report has not been released. For what it's worth, the unnamed Moroccan woman has revealed that Al-Bulawi formerly worked as her driver.
A little before Al-Bulawi's death, in May, Salman Al-Huraisi, aged 28, died in mutawiyin hands in Riyadh. His home had been raided by militia members looking for alcohol and drugs. The Saudi daily al-Watan (The Nation) reported on June 28 that a lawyer for Al-Huraisi's family had been denied access to a medical report on the fatality, but that Al-Huraisi had died after blows to the eye and head.
Some 18 mutawiyin participated in the raid on Al-Huraisi's home, and one of them is now due for trial. Local authorities initially sought to absolve the mutawiyin in the case by throwing a blanket of equivocation over them. Representatives of the governor of Riyadh claimed that the as-yet-unidentified individual accused of the killing was not on patrol when the victim died. The pro-al-Qaeda media enterprise Al-Sahat (The Battlefields) praised this attempt to deflect blame from the mutawiyin as appropriately protecting the militia's status. But some Arabic media insist Al-Huraisi's assailant was a leader of the mutawiyin. As in the past, vagueness about how the mutawiyin operate enables their alleged misconduct.
Finally, a 50-year-old Saudi woman known as Umm Faisal ("mother of Faisal"--her full name is undisclosed) has filed suit against the mutawiyin for an incident in 2003 when she, her daughter, and a foreign maid were verbally and physically harassed while waiting in a car for her two sons. The three women were charged with public immorality, in line with Wahhabi teaching that the presence of women in cars amounts to solicitation of prostitution. On July 3, the complaint of Umm Faisal became the first ever civil action in which a representative of the mutawiyin was summoned to court, although, again, the trial was postponed, this time until September.
With all this, the kingdom is atwitter about the mutawiyin. It is proof of the entrenched totalitarianism of Saudi society that such small steps as the charging of four militia members for Al-Bulawi's death and the court appearance of a militia member in the Umm Faisal matter are seen by ordinary Saudis as significant developments, potentially heralding a new epoch in the kingdom's life.
Naturally, the defenders of the Wahhabi order are intent on the mutawiyin's survival. Prince Nayef has publicly reaffirmed his support, though not loudly enough for Al-Sahat, which complains that the all-male Shura Council appointed by the king has failed to open more mutawiyin centers and authorize payment of members. The Shura Council seems to walk a fine line between popular disaffection with the mutawiyin and extremist pressure; it also rejected reform proposals that the mutawiyin wear uniforms and include female personnel.
Predictably protective of the institution is the Wahhabi establishment. On June 21, the newspaper Al-Madina reported that the grand mufti had denounced "unfair" media criticism of the religious militia and called for repression of the critics. The grand mufti is a descendant of Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab (1703-1792), originator of the Wahhabi sect. His position has been hereditary since the Al-Wahhab family contracted a permanent alliance with the Saud clan, who leave religious affairs to the Wahhabi offspring while keeping the reins of state power for themselves.
Amid these investigations and declamations, other sporadic and confusing measures have been proposed to ameliorate public dissatisfaction with the mutawiyin. When the case of Al-Bulawi first came to light, it was announced that 380 members of the militia would be trained in "interpersonal skills," surely one of the most bizarre statements yet from the Saudi authorities. The mutawiyin further promised to create a review process for their members' practices. At the same time, however, they rejected questions about their activities put forward by Saudi human rights activists.
Moreover, recent examples of outrageous behavior by the mutawiyin abound. At the beginning of June, a certain Fahd Al-Bishi of Riyadh complained to the media that the militia had crashed their vehicle into his family car and harassed him on his daughter's wedding day because they suspected his son of drinking or traveling in the company of women unrelated to him. In March, the mutawiyin burst into Prince Salman Hospital in Riyadh and fought with security personnel while ostensibly chasing a drug dealer. A few days before that, the mutawiyin had been taught a lesson in the restive Eastern Province, whose large Shia Muslim population is subject to continual discrimination. A patrol detained a man who was listening to music, a prime offense in Wahhabi eyes. After the individual was released, he returned with several friends and beat up the mutawiyin.
Indeed, by early this year, criticism of the institution had become so frequent that the militia refrained from its usual practice of violently interrupting the Riyadh International Book Fair, which opened in February, to search for banned literature. Many Saudis saw this as another small, positive step by the circle around King Abdullah, who is at odds with Prince Nayef, and is widely believed to seek a break with the past.
Throughout this chronicle one sees the contradictory symptoms of a deepening, as yet hidden crisis of the Saudi regime. The state defends the mutawiyin while promising change, but not too much change. People speak out more candidly, but a primitive institution like the mutawiyin continues to get away with shocking acts. Trials are promised, and begin, and then are put off, under the sinister gaze of Nayef. Precisely how events will unfold is impossible to foretell, but it is not too much to say that if the mutawiyin are ever finally held to answer for their long career of oppression, the entire Wahhabi establishment may begin to crumble.
Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Irfan al-Alawi is a close observer of Saudi affairs based in the United Kingdom.
© Copyright 2007, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.
A couple embrace on Thanh Nien street by the West Lake in Hanoi June 25, 2007. A 'quiet' sexual revolution is unfolding in Vietnam, an intensely family-oriented society that holds strong traditions of women being married by their mid-20s and having children. In the heart of the capital, Hanoi, a tree-lined boulevard aptly named Thanh Nien (Young People) runs between two lakes and is known as a 'lover's lane' for romantic trysts. (Kham/Reuters)
Vietnam experiences a "quiet" sexual revolution
By Grant McCoolWed Jul 11, 9:55 AM ET
A young woman lives with her boyfriend but hides it from her family, girls write blogs about love and relationships and couples seeking privacy cuddle in public parks at nightfall.
A "quiet" sexual revolution is unfolding in Vietnam, an intensely family-oriented society that holds strong traditions of women being married by their mid-20s and having children.
Huyen, a 30-year-old public relations executive, came to work in Ho Chi Minh City two years ago from Hanoi. After first staying with an aunt, she secretly moved into her boyfriend's apartment.
"I didn't tell my aunt," she said. "It is quite popular to move in together. Besides, Saigon is big and many couples who have moved together from other provinces live together."
Young people are dating more before marriage, having pre-marital sex, and have more outlets through the Internet to talk about the joys and problems of relationships than previous generations.
Parks in the city still called Saigon are popular at night among canoodling couples for whom privacy is a premium. Although economic change has altered the model of three generations living under one roof, it is still the norm for most.
Sitting on motorcycles with their backs to the road and oblivious to the surroundings, these couples are usually in their 20s, the age group that makes up more than half of Vietnam's 85 million population.
In the heart of the capital, Hanoi, a tree-lined boulevard aptly named Thanh Nien (Young People) runs between two lakes and is known as a "lover's lane" for romantic trysts. Couples cuddle and kiss on their bikes under the trees or in swan-shaped paddle boats out on the water.
The tradition dates back to the early 1980s when assignations were tacitly permitted by the straight-laced authorities, recalled sociologist Le Bach Duong.
"I still remember they would turn off the lights on Thanh Nien street at 7.30 or 8 at night so it was like an unwritten agreement between the electricity authority and the youth," said Duong, director of the Institute for Social Development Studies.
"At midnight, they turned the lights back on again."
Nowadays, the lights stay on.
It is all part of the socio-economic transformation in the communist-run country that was relatively isolated only 15 years ago after decades of war and economic failure.
"Somebody said it is a time of sexual revolution in Vietnam but it is a bit quieter than that, than what happened say in America in the 1960s and 1970s, but it's growing," said psychologist Khuat Thu Hong.
"It's difficult to explain such a rapid change."
The changes are especially sharp for single women, whose job opportunities and mobility have become equal to those of men in recent years of high economic growth and increased incomes as agrarian Vietnam moves toward industrialization.
Living arrangements are changing, especially for migrants who left home villages to study at university or work in offices and factories around the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City.
Internet chat rooms, web sites, blogs and columns in the state-run "mass media" have become forums for young people to discuss love and sex and sexual orientation.
Vietnamese say attitudes toward sex and relationships have become much more open. However, most preferred not to use their full names in interviews, a telling sign that traditional family values still hold sway.
One outspoken woman is Nhu Khue, a petite 30-year-old who writes her own blog and is an active member of a web site for women www.traicasau.com/forum.
"In Vietnam, old people still want girls to be virgins but times are changing," she said.
Khue and others said that there is a perception that only Vietnamese women who date foreign men have pre-marital sex.
In general, Westerners living in Vietnam view Vietnamese as abiding by traditional norms, but it is not a prudish society.
"Rice six days a week and pho (noodle soup) on the seventh," is a comment some Vietnamese make to indicate an extra-marital affair or liaisons with a prostitute.
Sharp beeps or vibrations on a married man's mobile phone can elicit quips about "the cat" (lover) calling.
Research on youth by a variety of organizations show that young people are sexually active at the same age as their parents, but the difference is that their parents were married and they are not.
These and other phenomena indicate that sex is no longer seen just for reproduction of children or an heir to work the farm, but more than that, experts said.
"Through our counseling we hear a lot of young people both girls and boys, talk about their pleasure," said Hoang Tu Anh, a medical doctor with the Consultation of Investment in Health Promotion non-governmental organization.
"In the last two or three years, there has been an upsurge in short stories or novels written by female writers on female sexuality," Tu Anh said.
The group runs a web site www.tamsubantre.com that provides a forum for people to chat under the auspices of a moderator about marriage, relationships and reproductive and sexual health.
Donors such as the United Nations Population Fund and others back a Sunday evening call-in show on Voice of Vietnam radio called "Windows of Love," a forum for people of all ages.
"It is quite remarkable that at least outwardly, all this change has not resulted in a break-up of social cohesion," said Ian Howie, UNFPA representative in Vietnam. "The rapidity of change seems to have been accommodated."
Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
A Chinese man sings at a karaoke club (KTV) in Shanghai
Nation bans karaoke bars, Internet cafes?
Wed Jul 11, 9:48 AM ET
North Korea's security agency has ordered the shutdown of karaoke bars and Internet cafes, saying they are a threat to society, a South Korean newspaper reported Wednesday.
Refugees from the reclusive state say such outlets are largely located in the northern region that borders China and are frequented by merchants involved in cross-border business rather than ordinary citizens.
The North's Ministry of People's Security said in a directive that all karaoke bars, video-screening rooms and Internet cafes operating without state authorization must shut immediately, the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said.
The paper did not say how it obtained a copy of the directive.
"It is so promulgated under the mandate of the Republic in order to crush enemy scheming and to squarely confront those who threaten the maintenance of the socialist system," the daily quoted the ministry directive as saying.
"Most of the people who would go to these places are people who made quite a bit of money, normally not officials or the average person," said Park Sang-hak, an activist for human rights in the North based in South Korea.
Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
Insights: Strategy and Politics
Women under Islam: Female genital mutilation
Globally, 130 million women and girls are said to have been 'circumcised'. As a cultural practice, FGM has probably been in existence for thousands of years.
Monday, July 09, 2007
By Adrian Morgan
Much has been written on the so-called "circumcising" of women, more appropriately called female genital mutilation or FGM. Globally, 130 million women and girls are said to have been "circumcised". As a cultural practice, FGM has probably been in existence for thousands of years. It has traditionally happened across Equatorial Africa, yet in the East and Horn of Africa it appears more widespread, probably as a result of Islamic influence.
In Yemen and Saudi Arabia the custom takes place, but in the Saudi kingdom it is only common in the south of the kingdom. In the United Arab Emirates FGM is not illegal, though public hospitals are forbidden from carrying out the procedure. It was primarily a custom of Somali, Omani, and Sudanese expatriates. However, there have been stories of European Muslims been sent to private clinics in UAE to have the operation. A study from the mid-1990s found that 30.8 percent of girls between the ages of 1 and 5 had undergone FGM.
In Egypt, at least 90% of women are believed to have undergone FGM. In 2005, a report by UNICEF had claimed that 97% of Egyptian women aged 15-49 had undergone the operation. Here, the issue has been a source of controversy. A CNN broadcast from 1994, in which a 10-year old girl in Egypt was shown being "operated upon" by an unskilled practitioner, caused hostile reaction. Egypt sued CNN for $500 million for damaging its reputation, but the case was thrown out by courts.
In 1995, after President Hosni Mubarak announced his intention to ban the practice, he was persuaded to drop prohibitive legislation. The move to ban FGM had been supported by the Dr Mohammed Syed Tantawi, the Mufti of Egypt, but had been fiercely opposed by the Sheikh of Al Azhar University, the largest Sunni theological college. Even a gynecologist from Cairo University, Dr Munir Fawzi, stated: "Female circumcision is entrenched in Islamic life and teaching." However, FGM was banned in general in Egypt in 1996, but was allowed in some circumstances if carried out by a doctor.
In November 2006 an international conference of scholars took place at Al Azhar in Cairo, and the general consensus was that the practice was "un-Islamic". In a final statement, the scholars announced: "The conference appeals to all Muslims to stop practicing this habit, according to Islam's teachings which prohibit inflicting harm on any human being." Finally, on June 28 2007, it was announced that the Egyptian health ministry had banned the medical profession from carrying out FGM, effectively outlawing it universally. On Sunday June 24 the Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa had said that there was no Islamic justification for FGM.
The edict by the Mufti and health ministry had come after an 11-year old girl, Budour Ahmed Shaker, had died after such an operation on June 21. Budour's mother had paid a doctor in Mina, just south of Cairo, $9 to perform the operation. The procedure had gone wrong and the girl died from an overdose of anesthetic.
There is one Hadith in the collection of Sunan Abu Dawud which claims that Mohammed approved of the practice for girls. Book 41 (Kitab Al-Adab or "General Behavior"), Hadith 5251 states:
Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah:
A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.
Though Sunan Abu Dawud is not regarded as "sahih" or "authentic" in the manner of the Hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim, the above Hadith is often quoted by Islamic scholars as a justification for FGM. The "spiritual leader" of the Muslim Brotherhood is Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He has stated: "It is reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to a midwife: 'Reduce the size of the clitoris but do not exceed the limit, for that is better for her health and is preferred by husbands'. The hadith indicates that circumcision is better for a woman's health and it enhances her conjugal relation with her husband. It's noteworthy that the Prophet's saying 'do not exceed the limit' means do not totally remove the clitoris... Anyhow, it is not obligatory, whoever finds it serving the interest of his daughters should do it, and I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world."
The World Health Organization has long campaigned for FGM to be abolished. Three "types" of FGM are described. The method approved of by Qaradawi is Type 1: "Excision (removal) of the clitoral hood with or without removal of all or part of the clitoris." Type 2 is "Excision of the clitoris, together with part or all of the labia minora (the inner vaginal lips). This is the most widely practised form." Type 3 (sometimes called infibulation) is extreme: "Excision of part or all of the external genitalia (clitoris, labia minora and labia majora), and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening, leaving a very small opening, about the size of a matchstick, to allow for the flow of urine and menstrual blood. Also known as pharaonic circumcision." There is a Type 4, which refers to pricking, stretching or cauterizing. Type 4 rarely happens in Muslim communities.
In Somalia, the types of FGM most commonly employed are Type 1 and Type 3. The latter method is extremely dangerous. The woman is bound for a period of up to 40 days for scar tissue to form, increasing the risk of infection. It also increases the risks when a woman becomes pregnant. The US State Department quotes a 1999 study which found that in Somaliland (north west Somalia), 91% of women had undergone Type 3, and 9% had undergone Type 1 FGM. In many parts of the nation, people believed the custom to be a religious obligation.
In Yemen, a 1999 study found that in the coastal region, 69% of women had undergone some form of FGM. Overall, the figure for FGM was around 23% of women aged 15-49. In outlying areas, the prevalence of FGM rises to 40%. Surprisingly, FGM was more common amongst educated women than the illiterate, though most girls were subjected to FGM during infancy. Only 9% of those who had been operated upon had the procedure performed by a doctor. The US State Department maintains that in Yemen most FGM is of the Type 2 variety, with Type 3 happening mainly amongst East African immigrant communities. The State Department quotes studies which claim that the Shafi'i sect demands FGM, and the Sunnis regard it as optional. One third of respondents to a 1997 survey claimed the custom was compulsory on cultural or religious grounds.
FGM occurs in south Jordan and Iraq. In the rural area of Germian, in Kurdish Iraq, a study found that more than 60% of women had undergone FGM. There is circumstantial evidence that FGM occurs in Syria, and suspicions that it also happens in Iran. It does not occur in Afghanistan, nor is it a practice in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Libya). The Bohra Muslims who live in Pakistan and parts of Gujarat in India do practice FGM. The Bohra are mostly Hindu in origin, who became converts to an Islamaili subsect of Shia Islam. A Bohra woman wrote: "I was circumcised when very young. I do not remember at what age. But I do recall the incident. My mother took me to the house of a woman in our Bohra mohalla. Except for the lady, no one was at home. I was told to lie down on my back on the floor and spread my legs. It hurt me bad and brought tears to my eyes. The whole thing was over in a matter of minutes."
There have been moves by many countries to outlaw FGM and to educate people of its dangers. However, in the West, where immigrants and refugees have settled, some have imported with them the problem of FGM. Many Western countries have introduced legislation to combat the practice. In France, where most victims of FGm come from Africa, a fine of 150,000 Euros ($203,911) and a 10 year jail term can be imposed for FGM against an adult, with a 20 year jail term for FGM against a minor under 15.
In Australia, six out of eight states have outlawed FGM. In the United States, FGM was banned under Federal Law in 1996 and between 1994 and 2006 it was also outlawed under State Law in 17 states. Britain outlawed FGM in 1985. Sweden outlawed FGM in 1982, but it soon became obvious that some migrants were taking their girl children abroad to have the procedure. As a result, a new law was imposed in 1998 to ban trafficking of girls outside of Sweden to undergo FGM.
In June 2006, 41-year old Ali Elmi Hayow became the first person to be convicted under Sweden's FGM laws. Hayow had arrived in Sweden in the 1980s and had gained citizenship. In 2002, when his daughter was 12 years old, he took two of his children to Somalia, where the daughter underwent the surgery. He claimed that "other people" had done the operation and denied the charges against him. He had taken the two children to Somalia with, he claimed, their mother's permission. The court was told that he had held his daughter down while she was mutilated.
The District Court at Gothenburg found him guilty of illegally taking the two children abroad, and guilty of arranging for his daughter to be mutilated. Both judgements were passed unanimously. Hayow was further told to pay his daughter 300,000 kronor ($41,000) in compensation, though she had demanded 650,000 kronor ($88,818). The judge said that the daughter had been a "credible" witness.
The issue of FGM has become political in Sweden and Norway. Nyamko Sabuni became Sweden's first black minister in October 2006. She was the country's integration minister. Ms Sabuni had previously argued against girls under 15 wearing the Muslim headscarf, she opposed honor killings, and suggested that all girls should undergo compulsory checks to ensure they had not been subjected to FGM. Muslim commentator Kurdo Baksi said: "I am very disappointed that a person whom I consider to be an Islamophobe has been appointed integration minister. It is a very poor start to a centre-right government's integration policy."
Norway outlawed FGM in 1995. In 2000, Kadra, a brave woman of Somali origins used a hidden camera to expose the way in which imams in Norway were encouraging FGM. This action caused her to be resented by the some members of the Somali community. In April she was beaten senseless by seven or eight Somali men. She said: "I was terrified. While I lay on the pavement they kicked me and screamed that I had trampled on the Koran. Several shouted Allahu akbar (God is great) and also recited from the Koran." Kadra received broken ribs in the attack.
Last week Oslo's largest hospital announced that over the past three years they had assisted 260 women who had suffered physical after-effects of FGM. Sarah Kahsay, a midwife said that young women had been suffering from urinary dysfunction and infections after their vaginal openings were sewn shut in "infibulation" (Type 3 FGM). Mostly the victims came from several Muslim African countries and Northern Iraq, where Kurdish girls as young as 11 or 12 had undergone FGM. Kahsay noted that 90% of referrals were of Somali origin, but her clients had also included young women from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Gambia and Senegal.
One famous Somali-born woman is Ayaan Hirsi Ali who fled to Europe where she became an MP in the Dutch parliament. She had been held down by her legs to undergo Type 2 FGM when she was aged five. She wrote: "I heard it, like a butcher snipping the fat off a piece of meat." Though Hirsi Ali acknowledges that FGM is not exclusively Muslim, does not happen in all Muslim countries and pre-dates Islam, she writes in her book Infidel that FGM is often "justified in the name of Islam".
Indonesia does not have a culture of FGM, but many of its Islamist leaders have Yemeni and Middle Eastern origins, such as the leading figures in the Front Pembela Islam and the officially disbanded group Lashkar Jihad. This group was founded by Umar Jafar Thalib in 1999. Thalib, who fought alongside bin Laden in Afghanistan, led this group to commit some of the worst atrocities in the religious sectarian conflict known as the Moluccan War. Between 1998 and 2003 this conflict claimed the lives of 9,000 people in the Indonesian islands, most of the victims being Christian.
In 2001, Lashkar Jihad used FGM as a tool in its forced conversion of 3,928 Christians living on six islands in the Moluccas (the Spice Islands). The converts, male and female, were forcibly circumcised without anesthetic. Researchers from Ambon island stated that those who carried out the circumcisions were Muslim clerics. Young girls, pregnant women, and even elderly women up to the age of 70 were forced to endure the procedure. A Christian priest said: "But we have never before seen anything like forced circumcisions in these islands. This is especially terrible for the women. How can they do that? Even Muslim women are not circumcised like this... it is forbidden in Islam."
Violence In The Name Of Allah
Afghanistan may not be one of the countries where FGM is "justified in the name of Islam" but the treatment of young girls is harsh. I have discussed forced marriage and child marriage, as well as honor killings in Afghanistan. One aspect of Islamist ideology in the country is the opposition to the education of young girls. The Taliban, friends of Al Qaeda and supposedly the "fundamental" proponents of Islam have consistently tried to prevent women from being educated.
The word "Taliban" meant "students". They tried to revive the form of Islam practiced in the 7th century. Most Taliban leaders had been educated at Deobandi madrassas, such as the Haqqania seminary in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. Deobandi teachings accord women second-class status. Deobandis believe that "Women must not mix with men in public.Â Deoband tradition teaches that men are more intelligent than women and that there is no point in educating girls beyond the age of eight."
The Taliban came to power on September 27, 1996, when they castrated and tortured President Mohammed Najibullah, and hung him from a lamp-post alongside his brother. During their rule, the Department for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice enforced the Taliban decree that women should stay at home and not be in employment. They beat women with sticks, wire cables and hose pipes. Women were forced to wear the burka, which even covers the eyes with a grille of crochet work.
A US State Department report claimed: "In 1977, women comprised over 15% of Afghanistan's highest legislative body. It is estimated that by the early 1990s, 70% of schoolteachers, 50% of government workers and university students, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women. Afghan women had been active in humanitarian relief organizations until the Taliban imposed severe restrictions on their ability to work."
Forced to live indoors, unable to make an income, with many widowed, the regime of poverty and privation led to women becoming malnourished. As one 35-year old widow said in the State Department report: "The life of Afghan women is so bad.Â We are locked at home and cannot see the sun."
Confined indoors away from sunlight and starved, many developed osteomalacia, a symptom of rickets, caused by a lack of sunlight and Vitamin D. The condition involves softening of the bone, making it liable to green-stick fractures. Dr Sima Samar was given the John Humphrey Freedom Award for her work for the human rights of women in Afghanistan. She ran schools and health clinics, and was subjected to death threats from the Taliban. She said at her medical clinic in Kabul in 2001: "Almost every woman I see has osteomalacia. Their bones are softening due to a lack of Vitamin D. They survive on a diet of tea and naan (bread) because they can't afford eggs and milk and, to complicate matters, their burqas and veils deprive them of sunshine. On top of that, depression is endemic here because the future is so dark."
When the US invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 the cruel regime of the Islamofascists in the Taliban came to an end, but their influence has not gone away. They continue to fight coalition forces and the Afghan government, but they also continue to deprive women of education. Those who defy their edicts against educating girls are despatched in revolting fashion.
In November last year, 46-year old Mohammed Halim from Ghazni paid the price for educating girls. He was snatched at night by Taliban members. He was partially disembowelled and then his limbs were tied to motorbikes. As the bikes sped apart, his body was ripped. The remains were publicly displayed as a warning to any who dared to teach girls. Halim was the fourth teacher in succession to be killed in the region. Fatima Mustaq is a woman director of education in Ghazni, and she and her family of eight children were subjected to death threats for educating girls.
On July 23, 2006, Michael Frastacky, a Canadian carpenter from Vancouver, was shot dead in Afghanistan. His crime had been to help build a school in the Nahrin Valley, a remote part of the Hindu Kush, where half the students were girls.
On March 8 2006, on International Women's Day, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said: "From fear of terrorism, from threats of the enemies of Afghanistan, today as we speak, some 100,000 Afghan children who went to school last year, and the year before last, do not go to school."
A 2006 report by Human Rights Watch stated that last year, attacks upon teachers, students and schools increased dramatically, particularly in the southern regions. In January, there were 24 such attacks, in February there were 14, 8 attacks in March, 28 in April, 22 in May and 12 in June. From January to June 2006, the highest number of such attacks took place in Kandahar (36 incidents), followed by Helmand (27), and then Ghazni and Khost with 16 cases each.
A report from Oxfam from November last year paints a gloomy picture for the future of education, particularly for girls, in Afghanistan. More than half of Afghan children of school age - 7 million - do not attend schools. This is in denial of Article 43 (1) of the national Constitution, adopted on July 11, 2006, which states: "Education is the right of all citizens of Afghanistan, which shall be provided up to secondary level, free of charge by the state."
Only one in five girls are able to make their way to primary schools, but only one in 20 girls receive a secondary education. Human Rights Watch and Oxfam agree that the presence of accessible schools is a problem, and where there is access to education, it is often provided by poorly trained teachers working in run-down buildings, often with only one or two rooms. These schools can be in need of repair, and most have no clean drinking water or toilet facilities. Textbooks are few and far between.
Oxfam claimed that 53,000 trained primary school teachers are needed immediately, with a further 64,000 in the next five years. There is a need for more women teachers, as only one in three are female. eachers in Daikundi province in central Afghanistan only receive $38 per month. Sometimes these teachers have to offer bribes, just to receive their wages.
There are 20,000 "ghost" teachers who are paid salaries but do not attend schools. The international community, states Oxfam, must donate $563 million to rebuild 7,800 schools across the country. An additional $210 million is needed to print and distribute textbooks over the next five years. Currently, $125.6 million has been given to Afghan's education sector. The largest donors of these funds are USAID and the World Bank. Coalition military forces in Afghanistan also contribute towards education.
When the Taliban were in power, their behavior towards women was contemptuous. A woman doctor was stopped while traveling without a male escort (mahram) in a taxi. She said: "The Religious Police chased my taxi, and when I got out in front of the hospital, they stopped me and asked why I was traveling alone. I said I was a doctor and had to go to work, but they said women of Kabul are just prostitutes and addicted to traveling in cars alone. I had to call my boss to identify me as an employee of the hospital, but my boss said he could not confirm who it was because I was wearing a chadari. The Taliban asked me to put up my veil, and once my boss identified me, they hit me with their wire on my head and injured my eye. It took fifteen to twenty days to heal."
The Taliban may be seen as extremists, but there are plenty of "devout" Muslims who are still funding their activities. The Taliban experiment, which allowed Osama bin Laden a refuge where his cronies could plot atrocities such as 9/11 and work on chemical weapons and bombs in the Derunta training camp, was designed to be a return to original "Islamic values". Islamists and "devout" Muslims criticize the decadence of the West, but rarely if ever do these same people consider the social abomination that made up the Taliban regime.
All of the worst, most primitive aspects of Islam were exemplified by the Taliban - who were true "fundamentalists". They took to heart the notion that a woman's testimony was worth only half that of a man, and with their Deobandi ideology they even believed women were half as intelligent. They denied women education, health and human rights, and did nothing to prevent the Afghan culture of honor killings and violence against women. They believed in Sura 4:34 which gives a man the right to beat his wife to keep her under control.
Currently we have politicians in both the United States and Britain who are trying to "negotiate" with the Muslim Brotherhood. The true face of the Brotherhood can be found in the Gaza Strip, in the violence of Hamas against their opponents. Although the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood may dress in suits and ties, they are still ideologically primitive and rooted in the sexist tyranny of the 7th century. Their spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi supports Type 1 female genital mutilation, and preaches that it is acceptable to kill Israeli civilians. For Hamas, women are expected to go around veiled, and like women under the Taliban they are denied sunlight. Not surprisingly, cases of rickets amongst Palestinian children have increased with the rise of Hamas' Islamist factions. The WHO reported last year that more than 4% of all children on the Gaza Strip aged between 6 and 36 months were suffering from clinical rickets.
There are no women with positions of authority either in Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. Until there are, there is no point in discussing issues with these groups. Women in the West have equal rights to men, and that means having access to power. Islamists would deny women that power, and until they can acknowledge women as equals, they live in another ideological universe to our own.
Muslim women are probably more oppressed today by Islamist conventions than they were 20 years ago. Two decades ago women did not have to wear veils to prove their religiosity. Now, women who do not cover their hair, or even their faces, are bullied by their peers into compliance. For women to have genuine equal rights under Islam, the tenets and texts of that faith would have to be interpreted allegorically and not literally. Islamists do not understand allegory. They are slaves to dogma and expect everyone else, their womenfolk included, to eventually become their slaves.
This article was also published at FamilySecurityMatters.org