U.S. Drone Missile Kills Filipino Bomber in Pakistan

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Inquirer.net, News Report, Philippine Daily Inquirer

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — An alleged Abu Sayyaf demolition expert wanted by the United States for $1M is believed to have been killed in an American drone strike close to the Afghan border earlier this month, Pakistani intelligence officials said Thursday.

If confirmed, the death of Abdul Basit Usman would represent another success for the U.S. covert missile program on targets in Pakistan. There have been an unprecedented number of attacks this month following a deadly Dec. 30 bombing of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) base in Afghanistan.

There had been no previous indication that Usman, who was captured by Philippine authorities in 2002 but escaped months later, was in Pakistan.

If the reports of his death are true, it may indicate stronger ties between the worldwide terror group al-Qaida and Southeast Asian extremist groups than previously thought.

In Manila, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it was verifying the report.

AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. told reporters military intelligence was still checking if indeed it was Usman who was killed in Pakistan.

Brawner said an intelligence report “sometime last year” indicated Usman was still in Mindanao. “We are still waiting for the report from our intelligence,” he said.

But if the report of Usman’s death was true, it would “to some extent” cripple the capability of the Abu Sayyaf, Brawner said.

MILF Welcomes Report

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) expressed relief at the report.

“We are happy and we welcome the report. We hope it is true,” Eid Kabalu, MILF civil-military affairs chief, said.

Kabalu said Usman’s death vindicated the MILF, which had been accused by the military of coddling the alleged bomber.

Usman was linked to a series of attacks in Mindanao, including the 2006 bombing in Makilala, North Cotabato, that killed half a dozen people.

In 2002, cohorts sprang him from the Sarangani provincial jail. He escaped along with Pentagon gang leader Alonto Tahir.

Maguindanao Tribe

Kabalu said Usman belonged to the Maguindanao tribe, having been born and raised in Ampatuan town.

There were also reports that Usman was involved in extortion activities of the Abu Sofia and the al-Khobar gangs, which have been linked to the Abu Sayyaf.

Kabalu said Usman had never been an MILF member but that his brother, Ustadz Mohiden, belonged to the MILF’s religious committee. Mohiden disappeared in 2004 after government agents seized him, Kabalu said.

“He (Usman) was not a member (of the MILF) but he trained many MILF members in bomb-making,” said Maj. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command.

On Most-Wanted List

Two military intelligence officers in northwestern Pakistan said Usman was believed killed on Jan. 14 on the border of Pakistan’s South and North Waziristan tribal regions. Another 11 militants were also killed in the strike on an extremist compound.

The US State Department’s list of most-wanted terrorists identifies Usman as a bomb-making expert with links to the Abu Sayyaf bandit group and the Southeast Asian Jemaah Islamiyah network.

The State Department has put a bounty of $1 million for information leading to Usman’s conviction, and says he is believed responsible for bombings in the southern Philippines in 2006 and 2007 that killed 15 people.

Home to Terrorists

Waziristan and other parts of Pakistan’s border region have long been home to militants from all over the world, primarily Arabs and central Asians.

Up to several hundred Filipino and other Southeast Asian militants traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1980s and ’90s to fight the Soviets and attend al-Qaida-run camps, but they are no longer believed to be in the region in significant numbers.

The apparent presence of Usman in Waziristan may raise fresh questions as to links between al-Qaida in Pakistan and extremists in Southeast Asia, which has seen several bloody bombings and failed terror plots since 2000. Many were carried out by extremists who had returned from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Pakistani officials cited extremist informers as the source of the information on Usman’s death—which could not be independently confirmed. One of them said Usman had been in Waziristan for one year after arriving from Afghanistan.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media on the record.

Pakistani government officials rarely confirm the identities of those killed in US attacks.

Unmanned Planes

Islamabad publicly complains about the US missile strikes because admitting to cooperating with the United States would be politically damaging, but it is believed to provide intelligence for many of them.

US officials, also, do not often talk about the missile strikes or their targets, but they have in the past confirmed the deaths of several mid- and high-level al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

Most of the missiles are fired from unmanned drone aircraft launched from Afghanistan.

Asked about the drone program during an interview with local Express TV, visiting US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said: “I’m not going to discuss operations but I will say this: These unmanned aerial vehicles have been extremely useful to us, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan.”

Shadow Aircraft

Gates said he was expanding the program by buying more of the aircraft. He also said the United States was considering ways to share intelligence with the Pakistani military, including possibly giving it US-made drones for intelligence and reconnaissance purposes.

U.S. officials said Gates was referring to a proposed deal for 12 unarmed Shadow aircraft.

With reports from AP; Jocelyn R. Uy, in Manila; and Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao

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Paan—Red-Stained Scourge of the Middle East

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

Paan2_new For many residents of Kuwait, litter and pollution have taken a back seat to a more heinous environmental disaster. As the tiny Gulf State continues to looks for ways to improve its global reputation as a country that cares for the environment, at least one segment of the society is determined to pollute the landscape as mindlessly as they can.

It used to be that second-hand cigarette smoke was at the top of everyone’s list of noxious pollutants. However, in many parts of the Middle East, poor Southeast Asian laborers have dotted the landscape with their own homemade pollutant. Commonly known as “Paan”, which is a concoction of natural and chemical substances bundled into a Betel leaf, this chewing-tobacco like substance creates dark red tinged saliva, which the person chewing it usually spits out at any available target. Paan stains can be found outside of buildings, inside elevators, at bus stops and just about anywhere the public shares a common place. As a result, the spit stains its target thus leaving a blood-like appearance on the surface. Most residents would agree that the red hued Paan stains are more offensive than graffiti especially since they contain millions of disease carrying bacteria.

Many business owners in Kuwait have called upon the Kuwaiti government to intervene. Paan is banned in Kuwait, as most of the ingredients are forbidden entry into the country. However, it is widely available on the Black Market, as clever businessmen have found ways to smuggle the ingredients into the country. Since Paan is more affordable than cigarettes, it is a hot commodity with an eager market. Yet enforcing a law against Paan could be difficult, as it would really entail looking in the mouths of every possible offender. However, Paan-spewing crimes might soon appear in Public Service Announcements (PSA) that already educate the public about litter and saving water. Perhaps future PSA’s will include proper receptacles for spitting as well as the dangers of chewing it.

2052708660_1 Paan is just as deadly, if not more so, than cigarette smoking. Since the Paan rests against the interior of the mouth when it is chewed, it can cause a host of oral mouth cancers that affect the throat, cheeks and tongue. Treatment for the cancers may involve the removal of the entire jaw or portion of the mouth.  Chewing Paan also permanently stains the teeth red and causes the gums to recede, which can cause the teeth to fall out prematurely.  And it also creates severely bad breath and is fast becoming a social stigma.

Kuwait is not the only Gulf state suffering from Paan chewing and the by-products of the habit. Dubai has seen its share of Paan stained surfaces and is cracking down hard on anyone who chews or sells it. According to the Director General of the Municipality, Hussain Nasser Lootah, anyone partaking in Paan will face harsh penalties, which includes a fine and deportation. The Dubai government has also offered a $1400 reward for anyone that offers information about people who sell or chew Paan. The municipality recently launched an awareness campaign by distributing leaflets to inform the public about the dangers and unhygienic nature of Paan chewing. In addition, the Dubai government has also launched a media campaign in local newspapers and magazines informing the public about the new laws that will punish Paan dealers and chewers to the fullest extent of the law. 

Even European countries are not spared from Paan staining their capitals, as more and more Southeast Asian immigrants flood to the region looking for a better life. London, for example, is just one city that has recently faced a spat of red-tinged spittle staining its most treasured landmarks.

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UCLA to Close Islamic Studies?

November 2, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

By Adil James, MMNS

Farmington–October 28–UCLA may not be known for having old and distinguished programs or even library collections, yet its Islamic studies department has one of the largest single collections among all American academic libraries, second only to Princeton’s.

G.E. von Grunbaum, for whom UCLA’s Near Eastern Studies program was named, was a noted orientalist scholar who founded UCLA’s Islamic Studies program in 1957.

The Islamic Studies program at UCLA is one of several interdisciplinary subjects, including Jewish studies, Indian and Southeast Asian studies, Latin American studies, and Medieval studies. 

UCLA currently offers MA and PhD programs in Islamic Studies.  A related department is the von Grunbaum Center for Near Eastern Studies. 

The program garners approximately three million dollars per year in government grants, yet has a budgeted expense of only about $130,000 per year for a minimal staff and to pay the department head, and to pay to bring visiting scholar/lecturers to UCLA to teach.  Students benefit greatly from the government grants, as 15-20 students get full tuition plus living expenses.  UCLA in fact takes back most of this money in the form of tuition payments.

The program is very competitive, with about 50 applications per year to begin graduate studies, and only about 8 students admitted per year.

UCLA’s Islamic Studies program annually grants an award to a distinguished professor, and this award has been balanced between Western and Muslim scholars.

Three years ago UCLA made some effort to build their Islamic Studies program by attempting to recruit two new professors, however contract negotiations with the two targeted professors fell through, and the program failed to expand as planned.

Without the top scholars that UCLA had intended to get interest in the program appears to have flagged.  Other departments this year refused to send representatives to head the Islamic Studies dept.

Apparently UCLA has planned a consolidation which would not touch the other departments, but which would consolidate the von Grunbaum Near Eastern studies center with other departments. 

It seems unfortunate that a major university with a department that is distinguished as UCLA’s would consider actually closing such a department, especially since the need for it is growing, and other major universities are moving in the opposite direction, toward expanding such programs to fill the recognized and growing need.

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The Terminal

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

terminal Academy-Award winning actor Tom Hanks wowed audiences back in 2004 with his movie ‘The Terminal’. In the film he portrays Viktor Navorski, an eastern European immigrant coming to America so that he can fulfill a wish of his late father. But things take a turn for the worse as his homeland breaks out into a civil war and is no longer recognized by any government while he is en route. Not only is he stateless by the time he lands at New York’s JFK Airport, but he is also stuck in a political limbo which forces him to make the airport his new found home as he waits for the US government to either grant him entry or send him to another country to seek refuge as a political refugee. The film has innumerable funny moments as Hanks struggles to communicate his needs for money, food and clothing in his native language and broken English. It also has many heart rending ones as the audience is gripped by the plight of a stranger in a strange land.

For many Southeast Asian immigrants that descend upon the Middle East each year to work as laborers in some of the richest countries in the entire world, living in an airport terminal is often a reality that they have no choice but to accept as they embark upon a new phase in their lives to serve others as chauffeurs, office boys, janitors and housemaids.  In almost every Gulf State, there exists a sponsorship system, which states that no foreign immigrant can live independently within the country. All immigrants must have a citizen sponsor to vouch for them and co-sign on their residency documents. Herein is the problem . Out of the sponsorship laws has grown a new breed of criminals known as ‘visa traders’. They lure unsuspecting immigrants from agencies in their own homelands to the Gulf with the promise of a better life. The visa traders sell thousands of visas per years and it is a booming business.

Immigrants pay the traders thousands of dollars for their sponsorship that translates into a work visa. The moment the transaction begins and the cash changes hands, the immigrant is at the mercy of the sponsor. Many sponsors have developed the habit of leaving the new immigrants at the airport for days on end. They are either too busy or heartless to care. For this reason, many airports in the Gulf have developed special waiting areas specifically to cope with the influx of immigrants waiting to be picked up by their sponsors. The areas are well away from paying passengers view but are filled with human cargo simply left to wait. Men and women are mixed together often sprawled within close proximity as they try to sleep on the cold hard floors. Most immigrants only arrive with the clothes on their backs and not even a blanket to shield them from the central air conditioning that is pumped throughout the terminal around the clock. They have nowhere to shower and can only utilize the airport bathroom. As for nourishment, they are at the mercy of whatever the airport can provide.

maids It is common to see women crying and begging airport officials to simply go back home. Many of the immigrants do not know Arabic and yet the airport requires that they fill out processing paperwork in Arabic. While others make futile attempts to call the recruiting agencies that hired them or their individual sponsors. In most cases, the sponsors eventually do show up either several hours or several days after they were supposed to pick up their charges. The sponsors are not reprimanded by airport officials and suffer no ill consequences. Once again, the immigrants pay the price as they are not compensated for the wasted time and are usually forced straight to work without even a chance to rest after the long ordeal.

Many residents in the Gulf have long petitioned for an end to the sponsorship system. Nowhere have the voices been raised as loud as in the State of Kuwait, with even citizens publicly declaring shame that their own country would be a willing collaborator in the exploitation of others. This past month the Kuwaiti government has given hope to thousands by pushing for the annihilation of the sponsor system to curb visa trading and improve Kuwait’s standing on human rights in the global arena. The Kuwaiti government also promises to develop a new set of laws to deal with visa traders fiercely and decisively.  Other Gulf nations are expected to rethink their sponsorship systems as well so as to be seen as champions of human rights by the rest of the world and not exploiters bowing to the almighty dollar.

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The Muslims of Sri Lanka

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Oakland–It is scarcely known that there is an ample society of Muslims caught within the middle of Sri Lanka (Ceylon’s) recent tragically war-torn civil insular nation-State. 

There are three major groups of Muslims in that island’s nation – the “Moors,” Indian (originally from the Subcontinent) Muslims and the Malays.  The two Islamic non-South Asian subminoritities – one from the Middle East and other from Southeastern Asia, with the long-standing immigrants from India, make up about the same percentage as European descendant settlers, the Burghers at 8%.  The rest of the population is made up of the ultra-orthodox Hindus in the Tamil areas, and the majority 70% are Buddhists.  The total population of all main groupings within the island is between 19 through 21 million (2009) persons.  In 2005, the Islamic “Moors” represented 2 million of these souls.  The “Moors” were descended from a troupe of traders from the Arabian Peninsula, who came to Colombo’s island between the Eighteenth until the Fifteenth Century (CE) supposedly (by tradition) from the Arabian Peninsula.  In fact, one source I evaluated claimed that the “Moors were traversing the Indian Ocean between Lanka and Mecca before the Hijra (622 CE).  Nonetheless, the “Moors” had settled partially on Lanka bringing Islam to their ancient culture to the island.  Yet, the earliest came late in the Seventh Century as traders between the Middle East and South Asia.  Yet, most did not settle down on this Southern Asian Island, and took up the culture of the Tamils after they established a permanent residence upon the soil.  Although they first employed Tamil as their “Father” tongue — that parole (speech) used outside the house — (they soon devised Awi, which, in turn has become archaic, was a mixture of Tamil and Arabic.)   By marrying converted wives, they became a multi-lingual, multi-cultural people — Tamil, Sinhalese and English — while maintaining their religion inviolate:  They are largely Sunni Muslims of the Shafi School.  Although they can be described as a multi-ethnic, and religious alliance, they lack a linguistic cohesion, though, anthropologically (since they are tri-lingual).

The second group of Muslims, the Malays, came with the Dutch military during the period when Amsterdam controlled the island, and settled there over Ceylon’s Netherlandish period.  The Malays (originally from) Indonesia, and, thus from insular Southeast Asian origin (Ja Minissu), are some of the most orthodox of Muslims in the world today, but, unlike the “Moors,” they did not take up the surrounding Tamil culture, but they resolutely stuck to an adapted Malay cultural and religious norm.  They make up the smallest of minorities – 5% of the total Lankan Islamic citizenry only.

The third group was an alignment of mainly – although not exclusively — South Indian Muslim merchants, who emigrated southward over several centuries and naturally integrated well into the predominantly Tamil (Hindu) culture there on the other side of “Adam’s Bridge” from Tamil Nadu.

The Muslims were well assimilated and accepted into Ceylonese society, but, during the recent civil war, the Tamil Tigers systematized a process of ethnic cleansing that the once flourishing “Moorish” and other Muslim masses are not represented in the Northern Province anymore.  Most of those inhabitants have been forcibly cast largely into the Puttalam Region.  Also, a small Diaspora has been arising in the Middle East, Australia and even North America.  Now, that the Tigers have been defeated, will Islam be allowed back into their former (own) homes with full property rights restored?  Much of this depends upon us individually, and the pressure we can exert upon our own governments plus the Sri Lankan government, and, thereby, institutions of the International Communities – the U.N. et al., and especially Islamic groupings!

The pictures of those large numbers of noncombatants wretchedly entrapped between the Government and the Tigers’ forces during the former’s last stand last stand are staggering.  Amongst them is a significant number of Muslims, and the Islamic charities must especially address their needs, and become involved in their resettlement back to their ancestral homes with other (First World/Western) International NGOs.

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