How Dubai Unraveled a Homicide, Frame by Frame

March 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A mix of old-fashioned legwork and high-tech razzle-dazzle, scouring hundreds of hours of surveillance videos, helped police home in on suspects in a Hamas man’s slaying, blamed on Israel’s Mossad.

By Borzou Daragahi, LA Times

  • Hatem Moussa / Associated Press

Reporting from Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Lacking witnesses but blessed with hundreds of hours of video, the cops and spooks worked the case of the slain weapons smuggler like a movie in reverse.

Dubai’s cameras never blink. The security system allows law enforcement to track anyone, from the moment they get off an airplane, to the immigration counter where their passport is scanned, through the baggage claim area to the taxi stand where cameras record who gets into what cars, which log their locations through the city’s automated highway toll system, all the way to their hotels, which also have cameras.

Which brings us to the Bustan Rotana hotel on the night of Jan. 19, and an assassination made to look like a run-of-the-mill heart attack.

The dead man, as the world now knows, was a 50-year-old Hamas commander named Mahmoud Mabhouh, wanted by Israel in the killing of two Israeli soldiers. Once Dubai investigators narrowed the time of death to 8 to 8:30 p.m., they quickly found that seven people in the Bustan Rotana had no business being there.

Using facial recognition software, a source familiar with the investigation said, a team of 20 investigators pored over hours of security camera videos to sketch out a picture of the suspects’ movements and accomplices, a group that has grown to at least 27 people.

They tracked down taxi drivers and grilled them about the suspects. They even traced the trip of a female suspect to a shopping center and discovered what she bought.

For years, the United Arab Emirates has been using its considerable oil wealth to build up its defense and security infrastructure, including the National Security Agency, the secret police, which is playing a key role in the investigation.

"They buy the best," said Kamal Awar, a retired Lebanese army officer and editor of Beirut-based Defense 21, a regional military magazine. "They bought the latest technology in satellite and communications."

In the end, a mixture of high-tech razzle-dazzle and old-fashioned investigative work cracked the case.

"What it takes is a few skilled police officers putting stuff on the board and figuring out who relates to what," said Col. Patrick Lang, a former U.S. military intelligence officer who served in the Persian Gulf for years. "It’s not a magic thing. It’s a question of thinking clearly."

A homicide in disguise

The middle-aged man was splayed out dead in his hotel room as if he’d gone into cardiac arrest. The door was chained from the inside. Coroners surmised that he’d died of natural causes.

But one doctor noticed an abnormality in the blood. He later spotted strange puncture marks on a leg and behind an ear. And after the Palestinian militant group Hamas informed Dubai authorities that the dead man was Mahmoud Mabhouh, they decided it couldn’t hurt to double-check. Blood samples were sent abroad. Days passed.

When the toxicology reports showed that he’d been given a lethal dose of a powerful anesthetic, Dubai authorities knew they had a high-profile homicide on their hands. Though Mabhouh was no friend of the Emirates, authorities were furious about the killing.

"The whole operation was based on one key assumption: that the death will be recorded as a natural death," Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center, a Dubai think tank, said of the assassins. "And that was the downfall. The reason why they were so careless was because they thought there would be no investigation."

At least half of the passports used by the 27 suspects bore the names and registration numbers of Israeli dual citizens who held British, Irish, Australian, French or German passports, leading many experts to believe that Israel’s spy outfit, Mossad, had forged the identities.

Israeli officials have been tight-lipped about the case and refused to confirm or deny the nation’s involvement. None of the suspects captured on video or identified in passport photos, including a bottle-blond and an assortment of beefy, balding guys wearing rectangular glasses, have come forward to deny or confirm their involvement.

Interpol announced last week that it was joining the international investigation.

"Investigative information provided by the authorities in Dubai bore out the international links and broad scope of the number of people involved, as well as the role of two ‘teams’ of individuals identified by the Dubai police as being linked to al-Mabhouh’s murder," Interpol said in a statement.

An unlikely place to strike

Perhaps no hotel in Dubai is less amenable to an assassination than the upscale Bustan Rotana, in the Garhoud district adjacent to the airport. The circular building’s rooms are arrayed around a vast airy atrium.

"If you’re sitting in the lobby you can see the door to every room," said Theodore Karasik, a security analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Affairs, a think tank with offices in Dubai and Beirut. "If there’s a scuffle, you can see and hear it."

Security experts around the world have also puzzled over the apparent size of the hit team: 27 bearers of Western passports and, according to Hamas, two or three Palestinians.

Some security experts said the assassins knew what they were doing, organizing themselves into evacuation, surveillance and execution teams.

But others see a classic bureaucratic blunder.

"You have a surveillance team and a counter-surveillance team and the technical people as well as the security people around the perimeter," said Lang, the former U.S. military intelligence officer. "Once you start doing that, you have to have shifts. You have to have two or three sets of these people and rotate them. Once you start doing it that way you’re going to have a lot of people."

The assailants apparently entered the hotel room without any struggle, suggesting that someone on the team knew Mabhouh. A fatal dose of the powerful muscle relaxant succinylcholine quickly paralyzes its recipient and ultimately mimics the effects of a heart attack. It should have killed Mabhouh within 15 minutes.

But something must have gone wrong, said the source with knowledge of the investigation, because the assassins pressed a pillow against Mabhouh’s face for one or two minutes until he suffocated. "They were panicking for one reason or another," said the source.

The hit team tidied up the room and laid Mabhouh out as though he’d suffered a massive heart attack and dropped dead.

Dubai Police Chief. Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim told satellite channel Al Arabiya that "the murderers tried their best to mislead us."

A knack for putting things together

Just as police were about to conclude that it was a natural death, a Palestinian man trying to contact Mabhouh learned of his death and telephoned his family in Gaza. It was only then that Hamas officials contacted Dubai police, Tamim said.

"Dubai police are very good at piecing together crimes," analyst Karasik said. "I’ve seen it before when you had robberies or murders occur and you’ll forget about the story and then six months later the guys are arrested via Interpol, brought back here and then they disappear into the system."

Although Mabhouh’s assassins managed to enter the country, kill him and get out without getting caught, the case has generated what most analysts consider unwelcome fallout for Israel, which most suspect of being behind the attack.

Authorities are now reexamining the death of Faisal Husseini, a charismatic Palestinian leader who died in his Kuwait hotel room in 2001.

"Now we know their tradecraft," said Alani. "We know how they operate."

If Mossad agents were behind the attack, the operation blew the identities of 27 agents; it takes up to five years to train each agent.

"They’ll never be able to go outside of Israel again, even with disguises," Karasik said. "Biometrics means all of the contours of your face are on file."

daragahi@latimes.com

Those City Lights

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

Dance Club The party capital of the Middle East has long since been Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon. The tiny gulf emirate of Dubai has tried, but miserably failed, to win the hearts and minds of the jet set and party-hungry consumers. The wide open consumer market for clubbing in some parts of the Middle East is enticing and could be very lucrative, as the region was barely scathed by the current credit crisis affecting much of Europe and North America.

A new contender has thrown their hat in the ring to vie for tourists looking to spend their leisure time partying in the windswept deserts of the Middle East. And that country is Jordan. Most famous for its rose-colored city of Petra, one of the 7 new wonders of the world, Jordan is slowly emerging from its well-known lethargic  conservative atmosphere and morphing into a clubber’s paradise. Nowhere is this transformation more prevalent than in the capital city of Amman.

The city of Amman has undergone a total makeover thanks to a younger workforce of skilled workers with extra money to spend. As a result, an affluent class of partiers has surfaced, fully willing and able to party the nights away. Unlike most countries in the Middle East, alcohol is not illegal in Jordan and flows freely in Jordanian restaurants, dance clubs and bars. With names like, ‘Wild Jordan’, ‘Canvas’ and ‘Upstairs’ there are an abundance of high-end party venues for locals and tourists alike. Even conservative Muslims have found a comfortable niche within the party scene while not overstepping the bounds of Islam, opting for a round of Shisha or piping hot mugs of steamy Arabic coffee instead of alcoholic drinks that are forbidden for Muslims.

Quite notably there is also a dark side to the new party atmosphere in Amman, which is an increase in crimes of morality. Promiscuity and adultery are particularly on the rise in Amman. It is not uncommon for men and women partying together to engage in a ‘dangerous liaison’ for a couple of hours. There is even an underground network of clever businessman capitalizing on the need for privacy in this newly found culture in Amman, providing secret rooms for rent by the hour. Even married people are getting in on the indiscriminate action, as a popular steakhouse in Amman called ‘Whispers’ has become a popular meeting place for cheating spouses.

Not to be outdone by their heterosexual counterparts, there is also a thriving homosexual party scene in Amman, a city that often turns a blind eye to homosexual activity. Homosexuals are treated less severely in Jordan than in other Middle Eastern countries. Well-known and openly gay establishments are littered between the ones specifically created for heterosexual clientele. Two of the most famous gay hangouts in Amman are called ‘Fame’ and ‘Books@Café’. However, it’s not uncommon to find people from all sexual persuasions partying together in Amman regardless of the theme of the venue.

And while there have not been any fatwas condemning the newly forged party ethos in Amman, several businesses seeking to serve alcohol have struggled with governmental ‘red tape’ in obtaining the necessary permits. Many business owners have complained that the slowing down of the permit process or denying permits altogether, has been a major and purposeful tactic of some devout Muslims city officials, who are against the whole party culture in Amman, seeking to put a damper on the celebratory scene.

12-9

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

January 9, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–Your author takes his title from John LeClare; a popular British spy novel by that new title above for the subject today is a former Central Intelligence (CIA) operative, Robert Baer, who had come in from the “Cold” for the purpose of promoting his book The Devil We Know.  Baer was an operative in the Middle East with an expertise with Iran shortly before the Iranian Embassy crisis had begun.  His career with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) spanned twenty-five years before he began to have second thoughts.  He had come to the University of California, one of his alumna maters, campus to talk about his book, and to comment on the Obama’s Administration’s intensely controversial policy relationship with Tehran.

Early in his career he was part of the team to determine who was responsible for the Embassy take over.  During this period, Lebanon was to become part of Persia’s sphere of influence.  “Iran is not so much an opponent to the States than with Israel.”  After the 2006 War with Hezbollah, both the United States and Israel’s influence was driven out of Beirut’s territory.  Iran, thus, has become hegemonic in the eastern reaches of the Middle East.  Essentially, Iran had beaten Israel through proxy (Hezbollah).   Effectively, Tel Aviv did not know what “hit it!”   They were unable to comprehend their own intelligence — which they had been fundamentally at War which they lost.  

Baer considers the Anti-Zionist Shia much more discipled than the Sunni.  Robert Baer has a great deal of respect geopolitically for the Iranians.  “We need Iran…for a peaceful Middle East!”  To come to blows with their million man army, would be suicidal.  According to Bob Baer, their armed forces consume up to 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Further, culturally, they are a more culturally sophisticated than us, for Islam is more flexible than the Occident. 

As Iran backs Hamas, “Al-Qaida is an ideanot an org” as R. Baer, also, stated on the BBC today (January 5th).”  For peace we require Iran!  We have to treat them as a power, hegemonic within their region.  “We can’t use the Bush [Utopian] Doctrine.”  For one thing, “Tehran is in competition with Saudi Arabia.”  Further, “Khomeini isn’t a true Ayatollah.”  His support is in the army.  Washington respects the Iranians as a dynamic power for a peace between us.

“The greatest threat [to Persia] is demographic.”  That is, the imbalance between the growth of the younger generations and the middle and senior age groups.  We should be looking as a partner with them within the Gulf instead of being competitors.  “Iran can become troublesome.”  Therefore, we should “…talk to our opponents…or fail.”

12-2

Israel May Have Planted Spy Gear in Lebanon: U.N.

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

2009-10-18T211529Z_01_BTRE59H1N2100_RTROPTP_3_NEWS-US-LEBANON-ISRAEL

U.N. peacekeepers inspect the site of an explosion between the villages of Meis al-Jabal and Houla in south Lebanon, October 18, 2009.

REUTERS/ Ali Hashisho 

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A U.N. investigation into explosions in south Lebanon indicated on Sunday that Israel had planted spy devices on Lebanese land in what a senior U.N. official said would be a violation of a ceasefire agreement.

The UNIFIL peacekeeping force in Lebanon said its preliminary probe into two explosions in the south showed they had been caused by the detonation of underground sensor devices.

The units were apparently buried by Israeli forces during the 2006 war with the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, it said.

“These do look like some sort of espionage device,” Michael Williams, the U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon, told Reuters.

If confirmed, the devices would represent violations of Security Council resolution 1701 which halted the 34-day war.

A first explosion was reported on Saturday evening and a second on Sunday morning. No injuries were reported. The devices had been placed some 2 km inside Lebanese territory between the villages of Houla and Meiss al-Jabal.

“Preliminary indications are that these explosions were caused by explosive charges contained in unattended underground sensors which were placed in this area by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) apparently during the 2006 war,” UNIFIL said in a statement.

UNIFIL was investigating what had caused the devices to blow up. A Lebanese security official said they appeared to have been detonated by remote control from Israel after their discovery by Lebanese security forces.

Israel did not respond specifically to the Lebanese assertion. But an Israeli military statement said Sunday’s incident proved Hezbollah’s military presence in south Lebanon, especially in rural Shi’ite areas along the border with Israel.

UNIFIL said it had protested to the Israeli military about overflights by drones while the Lebanese army and the peacekeepers were investigating on the ground. Lebanese army troops opened fire on the drones with machine gun and small arms fire, the UNIFIL statement said.

Williams said the use of drones was an obvious violation of Lebanese sovereignty and resolution 1701 “and not particularly helpful at a time of obvious tension in the south.”

UNIFIL is also investigating another incident in south Lebanon last week at the village of Tayr Filsi, a UNIFIL spokesman said. The Lebanese army and Hezbollah said one person was wounded when a shell exploded in the garage of a Hezbollah member in the village on Monday.

Israel has said the blast showed munitions were being stockpiled in violation of resolution 1701 and has complained to the United Nations about the incident.

The next report on Security Council resolution 1701 is due to be filed later this month.

The 2006 war broke out after Hezbollah, an anti-Israeli Shi’ite group backed by Iran, launched a raid into Israel, capturing two soldiers. More than 1,000 people, mostly Lebanese civilians, were killed before the United Nations brokered a ceasefire.

11-44

All-American

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–September 10th–The “Season” has begun and authors are trampling through Northern California – Muslims and non-Muslims, knowledgeable about the Ummah and its people – hawking their books.  Jonathan Curriel, author of Al’America:  Travels Through Arab and Islamic America visited my city the week after Labor Day.  Curiel is no scholar, but was trained as a journalist.  Although employed by the San Francisco Chronicle, he was partially educated in and reported from the Middle East.

The book under discussion was published by The New Press in November of 2008, and details the historic influence of Arab and Muslim culture on America — from the time of Columbus to 9/11 — with the ramifications of the latter event.  This is a book that concentrates on the historical and Pop Cultural aspects of Islamic influence upon America, but it does a great service by exposing the underpinning of Islam at the Grassroots of North American culture.  The author too often degenerates into uncomfortable insensitivity to your reviewers’ target audience. 

Reading the press release composed for his tour, I notice a “slickness” that makes your reporter feel ill at ease. His publishers are not presenting J. Curriel humbly forcing his readers to concentrate on his credentials rather than his work!  Still, that did not prevent the book from translation into Arabic by Arab Scientific Publishers, the Beirut print house that, also, has exposed several important European and American writers to an Arabic-speaking audience.

In 2005, his Newspaper was honored by Columbia University (the dominant) U.S. J-School (of Journalism) in New York City for Jonathan Curiel’s exceptional articles on race and ethnicity!  Your Observer commentator — does not know about bragging rights — but he should be proud of this!  This is something that he attempts to bring to this study, but he is honest enough to note where he fails.

For him – even after September 11th 2001 – denying Islamic civilization is not being part of the American fabric is wrong.  “Muslims not only belong…but are part of [the American] culture in so many ways!”

In fact, Christopher Columbus reached out to the Muslim “Moors.”  The Admiral of the Ocean Seas was substantially influenced by the Arabs to the point he could not have reached the New World in 1492 without his North African designed sails.  While Arab culture was waning in Southwestern Europe by the late 16th Century (CE), Columbus’ voyages notably brought subtle Arab influences to the Spanish colonies and later the Portuguese colony in the Americas – including those parts in the United States that Washington (D.C.) seized in the Mexican-American and the Spanish-American War plus the Louisiana Purchase!

Although Madrid prohibited Muslims from the Americas, the Alamo now in Texas is a classic example of Arabic Architecture!  New Orleans was a city shunted back and forth between the Iberians and the French.  Finally, President Thomas Jefferson bought it from the Emperor Napoleon.  When the Spanish possessed that famous city, they imported Islamic ironwork for which the Metropolis near mouth of the Mississippi — plus the renowned Muslim-styled courtyards within the Big Easy — migrated from the Middle East via the Iberian Peninsula.   

The date palm was brought to the Western Hemisphere — including the California of yours truly — from the Middle East, also, via Hispania. 

In the United States, a Muslim slave actually wrote a book in Arabic while being held in South Carolina.  Until the Twentieth Century most American Muslims came from West Africa (since they were victims of that ugly Slave Trade).  Jonathan Curriel, as well as a few eminent musicologists, believe that the American “Blues” musical sub-structure comes from Islam’s call to prayer.  

No less than the extremely important American thinker of the Nineteenth Century, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was profoundly influenced by Muslim culture.  Many important American intellectuals have been influenced by Islam, too, throughout the history of the American Republic (and even before –Thomas Jefferson, of course, comes to your reporter’s mind most quickly) up into the contemporary period.  There has been a long-standing cultural interaction between the Potomac and the Islamic nations according to Curriel. 

Of course, some of this interaction was not fully comprehensible to the Americans; and, thereby, can be considered in bad taste.  The Shriners and the Masons adopted pseudo-clothing accoutrement and symbols of the Muslims.  At its most forgiving was mere mimicry, but at its worst was insulting and in bad taste.  (Your scribe must point out that Jonathan Curriel did make these issues transparent, and did not cringe from describing it for what it was.)  Yet, since the immigration reforms under the late President Lyndon Johnson, highly prominent Muslim immigrants have been attracted to, and have joined the aforementioned organizations.  They have pressured these groups to give a form of Zakat and to make them even more service-oriented. 

The iconic Los Angeles rock(-n-roll) band of the 1960s, the Doors, were highly influenced by Arab music while the ultimate Rock star (of the 1950s), Elvis Presley, was a great admirer of Khalil Gibran, a Christian Lebanese immigrant to America.  His best known work was a sequence of inspirational essays, The Prophet.  They were pitifully greeted by the critics when they were published in 1923.  It definitely belongs to the opus of Arabic-language literature, but not Islamic literature.  Having read the book as a young man, when it was still a best-selling “underground” rage, your reviewer considered it to be  overly simplistic.  How much of it might be based on Mohammed (PUBH) is hard to say because of the elevated ambiguity of its poetic language.

Curriel maintained Presley somehow turned this book into his Bible.  Also, along religious lines, the Christian Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II had instructed that his casket placed on a Persian Carpet to demonstrate the unity of all religions.

Back to Pop Culture, the movie cycle and “cult” television series, Stars Wars borrowed motifs respectfully from the religion from Mecca.  Jonathan Curriel concluded, “Cultures go back and forth, and always borrow from each other,” continuing, “Muslims have contributed from the inception of the American nations,” and they are still highly visible and contributing members of our society.  Their contributions are no longer seen as insignificant within North American society.  

11-40

US Envoy Writes of Israeli Threats

April 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Barbara Crossette

john_gunther_dean In the wake of the accusation by Chas Freeman that his nomination to lead the National Intelligence Council was derailed by an “Israeli lobby,” a forthcoming memoir by another distinguished ambassador adds stunning new charges to the debate. The ambassador, John Gunther Dean, writes that over the years he not only came under pressure from pro-Israeli groups and officials in Washington but also was the target of an Israeli-inspired assassination attempt in 1980 in Lebanon, where he had opened links to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Dean’s suspicions that Israeli agents may have also been involved in the mysterious plane crash in 1988 that killed Pakistan’s president, General Mohammed Zia ul Haq, led finally to a decision in Washington to declare him mentally unfit, which forced his resignation from the foreign service after a thirty-year career. After he left public service, he was rehabilitated by the State Department, given a distinguished service medal and eventually encouraged to write his memoirs. Now 82, Dean sees the subsequent positive attention he has received as proof that the insanity charge (he calls it Stalinist) was phony, a supposition later confirmed by a former head of the department’s medical service.

Dean, whose memoir is titled Danger Zones: A Diplomat’s Fight for America’s Interests, was American ambassador in Lebanon in August 1980 when a three-car convoy carrying him and his family was attacked near Beirut.

“I was the target of an assassination attempt by terrorists using automatic rifles and antitank weapons that had been made in the United States and shipped to Israel,” he wrote. “Weapons financed and given by the United States to Israel were used in an attempt to kill an American diplomat!” After the event, conspiracy theories abounded in the Middle East about who could have planned the attack, and why. Lebanon was a dangerously factionalized country.

The State Department investigated, Dean said, but he was never told what the conclusion was. He wrote that he “worked the telephone for three weeks” and met only official silence in Washington. By then Dean had learned from weapons experts in the United States and Lebanon that the guns and ammunition used in the attack had been given by Israelis to a Christian militia allied with them.

“I know as surely as I know anything that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, was somehow involved in the attack,” Dean wrote, describing how he had been under sharp criticism from Israeli politicians and media for his contacts with Palestinians. “Undoubtedly using a proxy, our ally Israel had tried to kill me.”

Dean’s memoir, to be published in May for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Memoir Series by New Academia Publishing under its Vellum imprint, has been read and approved for publication by the State Department with only very minor changes, none affecting Dean’s major points. Its underlying theme is that American diplomacy should be pursued in American interests, not those of another country, however friendly. A Jew whose family fled the Holocaust, Dean resented what he saw as an assumption, including by some in Congress, that he would promote Israel’s interests in his ambassadorial work.

Dean, a fluent French speaker who began his long diplomatic career opening American missions in newly independent West African nations in the early 1960s, served later in Vietnam (where he described himself as a “loyal dissenter”) and was ambassador in Cambodia (where he carried out the American flag as the Khmer Rouge advanced), Denmark, Lebanon, Thailand (where Chas Freeman was his deputy) and India. He takes credit for averting bloodshed in Laos in the 1970s by negotiating a coalition government shared by communist and noncommunist parties.

He was sometimes a disputatious diplomat not afraid to contradict superiors, and he often took–and still holds–contrarian views. He always believed, for example, that the United States should have attempted to negotiate with the Khmer Rouge rather than let the country be overrun by their brutal horror.

As ambassador in India in the 1980s he supported then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s policy of seeking some kind of neutral coalition in Afghanistan that would keep the American- and Pakistani-armed mujahedeen from establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state. For several years after the Soviet withdrawal, India continued to back Najibullah, a thuggish communist security chief whom the retreating Soviet troops left behind. After the mujahedeen moved toward Kabul, Najibullah refused a United Nations offer of safe passage to India. He was slaughtered and left hanging on a lamppost.

It was in the midst of this Soviet endgame in Afghanistan that Dean fell afoul of the State Department for the last time. After the death of General Zia in August 1988, in a plane crash that also killed the American ambassador in Pakistan, Arnold Raphel, Dean was told in New Delhi by high-ranking officials that Mossad was a possible instigator of the accident, in which the plane’s pilot and co-pilot were apparently disabled or otherwise lost control. There was also some suspicion that elements of India’s Research and Analysis Wing, its equivalent of the CIA, may have played a part. India and Israel were alarmed by Pakistan’s work on a nuclear weapon–the “Islamic bomb.”

Dean was so concerned about these reports, and the attempt by the State Department to block a full FBI investigation of the crash in Pakistan, that he decided to return to Washington for direct consultations. Instead of the meetings he was promised, he was told his service in India was over. He was sent into virtual house arrest in Switzerland at a home belonging to the family of his French wife, Martine Duphenieux. Six weeks later, he was allowed to return to New Delhi to pack his belongings and return to Washington, where he resigned.

Suddenly his health record was cleared and his security clearance restored. He was presented with the Distinguished Service Award and received a warm letter of praise from Secretary of State George Shultz. “Years later,” he wrote in his memoir, “I learned who had ordered the bogus diagnosis of mental incapacity against me. It was the same man who had so effusively praised me once I was gone–George Shultz.”

Asked in a telephone conversation last week from his home in Paris why Shultz had done this to him, Dean would say only, “He was forced to.”

Barbara Crossette, United Nations correspondent for The Nation, is a former New York Times correspondent and bureau chief in Asia and at the UN.

She is the author of So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1995 and in paperback by Random House/Vintage Destinations in 1996, and a collection of travel essays about colonial resort towns that are still attracting visitors more than a century after their creation, The Great Hill Stations of Asia, published by Westview Press in 1998 and in paperback by Basic Books in 1999. In 2000, she wrote a survey of India and Indian-American relations, India: Old Civilization in a New World, for the Foreign Policy Association in New York. She is also the author of India Facing the 21st Century, published by Indiana University Press in 1993.

Pretty in Pink

March 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS

pink

The delicate color pink graces everything from haute couture to the latest techno gadgets geared towards females in the global market, however one of the last places anyone would expect to find the color is on taxicabs. Sure enough, a savvy businesswoman in Lebanon has painted the traditional yellow taxicab a cuter shade of pink. Nawal Yaghi Fakhri is the owner of ‘Taxi Banat’, which means ‘Taxi for Women’. Female drivers decked out in, what else, pink drive a fleet of blush colored Peugeot taxis throughout the capital of Beirut. The uniform they wear is comprised of a pink shirt, pink tie and a complimentary bubble gum shade of lipstick. The customers they cater to are women only, as men are not allowed to ride in the gender specific cabs.

09_ae_pink_taxi01_4 The pink taxicabs are meant to serve as a safe option for women out on the town in Lebanon who want a safe ride home. Crimes against woman traveling in taxis, often by the male driver, is not unheard of in the region as well as in most cities of the world.  The taxis are also popular with Muslim woman who adhere with the Islamic specification of not mixing with non-related men. The Lebanese Ministry of Tourism has backed the initiative whole-heartedly as the country has launched a campaign to draw millions of tourists in 2009. The minister is banking on an influx of rich Muslim ladies from the Gulf descending upon the capital this year and taking advantage of the female-fueled taxicabs.

Female geared taxicabs are nothing new in the Middle East. Both Iran and Dubai have launched similar services. However, Dubai has found the most success with the cabs, in large part due to the sprawling commercial complexes chock full of female clientele looking for a way home with their shopping loot.

The pink taxicabs in Dubai have recently metamorphosed to allow families to use the service even when male family members are included. However, bachelors will still either have to use the ‘shoe leather express’ or hail a different shade of cab.

Like most things in the Middle East, the idea for the pink taxicabs was copied from the west.

In 2006, the British Pink Ladies Club first came up with the idea for the gender biased pink cabs to help inebriated female party goers find their way home safely in the wee hours of the morning after bars and nightclubs have closed.

While the pink cabs have largely been embraced in the west, they have come under harsh criticism from many in the Middle East. Numerous Gulf women have publicly spoken out against the cabs citing that they will just give husbands another excuse to shirk their duties.

11-13

Escape from Bint Jebail

August 3, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, TMO Staff reporter
A Muslim Observer exclusive report

Hussein Khalil looks like a man who spent all night watching a ghost. His face is pale and ashen, with a few days’ growth of beard on his cheeks. His face is young, but his manners show the sincerity that usually results from a close experience of the fragility and beauty of human life. He still sees pictures of the dead people he saw only last week in the south of Lebanon. He still doesn’t sleep quietly through the night, and nor do his children. When airplanes fly overhead, his 3 and a half year old son screams at him to run for shelter before the Israelis kill them.

Mr. Khalil just returned from Lebanon, crossing through a harrowing and miserable odyssey to save his wife and children. On June 6th, his wife and children had left happily for a vacation with her parents in Ainetta, the town immediately neighboring Bint Jebail. They expected to return at the end of the summer, on September 6th.

As the political situation melted down after Hezbollah’s July 12th abduction of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid, he kept in constant contact with his family by phone. The phone calls got worse and worse. Through some of the phone calls, he could hear distant bombs and other sounds of war. The bombardment affected his children—they started to become annoyed, hysterical, crying frantically. His infant daughter Muna cried to him on the phone, “Please come and get us—why are they trying to kill us?” His wife told him, “Don’t even try to come,” because of the fierce bombardment. Terrified of the rumored death traps waiting for fleeing refugees on the roads out of southern Lebanon, the family hunkered down in the house. The pressure affected Khalil—at night, he could not sleep; in the day, he could not work; he could not drink, he could not eat.

Friday July 14th was the worst day. That day, he was talking to his wife during an artillery bombardment when he heard a loud explosion, somebody screaming, and the phone line went dead. Although he would not find out until he arrived there days later, the artillery shell had hit the house, destroying the top floor but (through apparently miraculous intervention) not injuring his family members in the house. But that Friday, he knew no such thing. Frantic, he went to the airport. He flew to Jordan; a flight delay gave him an expected wait of 13 hours, which was too much for him at that point. He found a car and traveled to Syria. Explaining his situation, he was allowed to cross the border.

A friend in Damascus prepared a car for his use and made travel plans for him, giving him contact numbers of other people who might help him in Lebanon. Everyone else in Damascus told him not to go, that Beirut was a war zone.

His heart burning for his family, Mr. Khalil continued on, driving to Beirut. He arrived in Beirut on Tuesday. Then he went to the American embassy; after waiting in line, he spoke to an embassy official, telling him that at least 10 US citizens were in a house close to Bint Jebail under heavy bombardment, including his wife and children and in-laws. The American official told him, “We cannot stop the war for your family.” They told him to let them stay where they were, and asked Mr. Khalil for his phone number [which, not surprisingly, they never called].

Then he went to the Red Cross. They said the same thing, that “It is hostile there—we are not allowed to go there, we are not permitted to go.” They told him to try the UN.

He went to the UN, where no one actually met with him, other than to make a generalized announcement that they were trying to obtain a cease-fire there.

Desperate to help his family, he began to contact taxi drivers. He offered some of them $10,000 to drive him to Bint Jebail. No one would take the money—“it’s not an issue of money,” they said, “it is impossible.”

Exhausting all of his friend’s contacts, he turned to an old friend from years ago, whose number he still had. That friend agreed to drive him to Tyre, without ever mentioning money. Their plan was to leave after fajr on Wednesday morning. That night the Israeli air force bombed the Beirut airport. After fajr they left for Tyre.

Lebanon is small, and travel is a minor act relative to what it is in America—if a driver could drive 60mph in a straight line from the south to the north, he could travel the length of Lebanon in less than two hours. When the Israeli army invaded Lebanon in 1982, they waltzed to Beirut in four hours. Tyre is normally a 45 minute drive from Beirut (from Tyre, Khalil planned to hitchhike or walk the 25 miles to Bint Jebail). Against all the advice of those in Lebanon, they drove a van—and it is for this reason that they would be able to save so many of their relatives in Bint Jebail.

The Israelis had bombed the normal roads going south from Beirut, so only someone with knowledge of the back roads could succeed in going south to Tyre. Fortunately the driver knew the back roads through the mountains, and after four hours they began to approach Tyre. Refugees going away from Tyre tried to flag them down, telling them not to go forward.

The driver wanted to turn around, but Khalil begged him, “Just get me to Tyre.”

Asking for directions through the remnants of the devastated roads of southern Lebanon, they tried dead end after dead end. Finally, two people having just come out of Tyre directed them to pass through a nearby orchard, which they did, to find their way.

That was when they found the bodies. They passed at least four cars and one van, full of people, most of whom were dead but some of whom were still alive and moving in agony in those burnt-out shells of cars, all of which still had white flags; body parts and luggage was strewn across the ground. All of the cars had been hit where the heat of the engine provided a signature for missiles to hone in on—this fire was targeted by Israeli helicopters or jets, and was not the result of errant artillery. The smell of burnt human flesh still haunts Mr. Khalil. One man had tried to escape his doomed vehicle, but not in time. The door hung open, and the man’s headless body still leaned out of the car when they passed.

Desperate to save his family, with no medical training and himself on a mission which would save tens of people, Mr. Khalil and his friend continued on. Warned of the danger they faced, Khalil kept his eyes glued to the sky, his hand attached to the door handle, while the driver focused on driving. At a moment’s notice they were prepared to jump out of the van and run away.

He prayed continuously and sincerely, accepting that if he died on this journey at least it would be in the course of doing a good deed, as a martyr, trying to save lives and serve his family.

For some reason, as they left Tyre, the driver continued on and never asked Mr. Khalil to continue on by himself on foot.

They passed through Tibneen. Tens of people waited next to the Tibneen hospital on the road, desperate for food. If Mr. Khalil had stopped here, it would have been impossible to continue on. Many people would have crushed the car. They pushed the bread through the windows to the starving people, about 30 bags of bread, and continued on. Mr. Khalil estimates there are about 15,000 refugees in Tibneen, close to the hospital.

After journeying, they arrived at the split in the road between Bint Jebail and Aineta. To the right there is a valley, from which they saw the white streaks of Hezbollah missiles streaking south towards Israel—the only evidence they ever saw of the presence of Hezbollah in Bint Jebail—“I never even saw one man holding a Kalashnikov,” said Mr. Khalil.

Jet fighters banked and turned in the sky, immediately directing their fire downwards at the source of those plumes of smoke. Artillery flew into the valley, and into Ainetta, the rocket attack providing a focal point for the Israeli military. This barrage affected the travelers as well—they flew down the road past destroyed buildings. One top story of a building was blown up as they passed. They heard and saw an Israeli drone patrolling above. Smoke was everywhere, missiles were flying down, artillery was bombing everywhere.

When he saw his family’s destroyed house Mr. Khalil’s heart sank to his knees. The artillery shell had blown off the top of his roof, he sprinted from the van, through the bombardment, to the house, wrenching open the door, to find his wife and children sitting on the floor, crying under the merciless Israeli bombardment. In a short time, he crowded his entire family into the van; neighbors ran to him, giving him their children to put into the van with him, not caring about themselves but only caring that he save their children. In their minivan, they stacked 32 people, mostly women and children, of several different families.

Later, Khalil learned, only 3 hours after he left the house in which his family had sheltered was splintered by an Israeli attack, killing three people who had been sheltering there—so if he had only waited a day, or had been delayed by only a few hours, his entire family would have been killed.

Thus began their escape. They careened through the streets of Ainetta and towards Tibneen, artillery pounding so close to them that one 155 mm howitzer round blew out the back window of the van. He begged his family, “Do not look outside the van—do not look left or right,” not wanting his children to see the dead people in the road. “Allah Allah please help us,” he prayed fervently. Some in the van read Qur`an, some did other zikr, begging for safety from above. And so, miraculously, 32 people crowded into a minivan did the unthinkable—escaping a merciless Israeli barrage that explicitly targeted all vans and pickup trucks.

When he got to Tibneen, Mr. Khalil felt better, less pressure from the Israelis. When he got to Sida, he got out of the minivan and kissed the earth, thanking God for having brought him out safely. From Beirut, the family was evacuated via the USS Nashville to Cyprus, then by military transport to New Jersey, then via a surreal rental car ride from New Jersey home to Dearborn, Michigan.

When he returned home, he learned that the driver that saved him and his family was later blinded by an Israeli attack while making a second attempt to pass the gantlet and save more people.

Speaking of the state of Lebanon today, Khalil says it is “three times worse than it was during the civil war. They are targeting the infrastructure.” The roads, the gas stations, the small and large factories, the electricity and phone switchboards are all catastrophically devastated. Prices for travel, he says, are astronomically inflated—it now costs about $1,000 or $1,500 to take a taxi from Beirut to Syria.

The tragedy of this past two weeks was not the first of Hussein Khalil’s life. His background reflects the terrible history of Lebanon. His father, a baker, never himself involved in any fighting, was brutally murdered when Mr. Khalil was only 6 years old for the crime of being a Muslim who lived in a Christian neighborhood. Mr. Khalil’s mother first brought him to the United States in 1982, when he was 12 years old, to escape the Lebanese civil war. And we hope that he and his family have finally escaped war for good.

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Many Arabs Favor Nuclear Iran

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Many Arabs Favor Nuclear Iran
By Jonathan Wright
CAIRO (Reuters) – The United States found little support in the Arab world when it invaded Iraq in 2003.
In a military confrontation with Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program, it should not expect any more.
Some Arabs, mainly outside the Gulf, are positively enthusiastic about Iran’s program, even if it acquires nuclear weapons, if only because it would be a poke in the eye or a counterweight to Israel and the United States.
Others, especially in countries closest to Iran, are wary of any threat to the status quo and the instability it might bring.
Most in the Arab world see the U.S. and European campaign against Iran as hypocritical, while Israel refuses to allow international nuclear inspections and is thought to have some 200 nuclear warheads.
“I want the whole region free of all nuclear weapons but if the West continues its double-standard approach on this issue then Iran has the right (to have them),” said Abdel-Rahman Za’za’, a 29-year-old Lebanese engineer.
“This could provide some balance against Israel and help the Palestinians in their negotiations. We have to take our rights because they are not going to be given to us,” he added.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, said this week it saw no harm in Iran developing nuclear arms.
“That would create a kind of equilibrium between the two sides — the Arab and Islamic side on one side and Israel on the other,” said deputy Brotherhood leader Mohamed Habib.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa said on Tuesday policies toward nuclear programs in the region needed thorough review.
“These policies which are based on double standards will blow up and escalate this issue and this escalation will not include only Iran and Israel,” he said. The Arab League represents 22 Arab governments, from Morocco to the Gulf.
Iran says it has no intention of making nuclear bombs and wants enriched uranium only to generate electricity. The United States says it does not believe it.
Analysts said they detected a surprising level of sympathy and support for Iran in the region.
WOUNDED DIGNITY
“It’s amazing how encouraging people are of the whole thing. Some think the Iranians are on the way to acquiring it (nuclear weapons capability) and are quite excited,” said Hesham Kassem, editor of the independent Cairo newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.
“There doesn’t seem to be any awareness that it might be a calamity,” added Kassem, who said he personally was afraid of an arms race bringing in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.
Mohamed el-Sayed Said, deputy director of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo think tank, said: “People are very very warm about it (Iran’s nuclear program).”
“Anyone who challenges the United States will find a great deal of support. That’s a very profitable enterprise in public opinion terms,” he added.
“Even if it takes an arms race, people don’t mind. What we have here is wounded dignity and revulsion about the lack of fairness and double standards.”
Most Arab governments have called for a peaceful solution to the confrontation with Iran, in the hope that diplomacy will enable it to develop nuclear energy under U.N. supervision.
If they speak about nuclear weapons, they say the whole Middle East should be nuclear-free, implicitly including Israel. U.S. officials say they can only deal with Israel’s nuclear activities after a comprehensive Middle East peace.
Analysts in the Gulf raised special concerns. “Gulf states are legitimately concerned about Iran joining the nuclear club,” said Abdel-Khaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science in the United Arab Emirates.
“The possibility of a fourth Gulf war is just beyond our ability to manage. We don’t want it. It will just make life miserable and hell,” he added.
Saudi analyst Dawoud al-Sharayan said an Iranian nuclear bomb could give the United States a pretext to maintain its military forces in the Gulf and add to the tension.
Saudi Arabia would then have the right to think about having its own nuclear weapon, he added. –
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas in Cairo, Alaa Shahine in Beirut, Miral Fahmy in Dubai and Andrew Hammond in Saudi Arabia)