“Game Over” for Gaddafi?

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nick Carey and Adam Gray-Block

2011-06-29T203208Z_1646673128_GM1E76U0CR801_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

Stockpiles of ordnance inside a Gaddafi ammunition bunker which is now controlled by rebel fighters are seen approximately 40 kms (25 miles) southeast of Zintan June 29, 2011.

REUTERS/Anis Mili

(Reuters) – Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi could fall within two to three months, the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said on Tuesday, as rebels sought to build on a gradual advance toward Tripoli.
The ICQ’s Luis Moreno-O campo, who on Monday announced an arrest warrant for Gaddafi on charges of crimes against humanity, is the latest international official to say the Libyan leader would soon capitulate to a NATO-backed revolt.

“It is a matter of time … Gaddafi will face charges,” Moreno-O campo told reporters in The Hague, where the warrants were approved for Gaddafi, his son Said al-Islam and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi.

He added: “I don’t think we will have to wait for long…In two or three months it is game over.”

The Libyan administration rejects the authority of the ICC and has denied targeting civilians, saying it has acted against armed criminal gangs and al Qaeda militants.
While there is little chance of Gaddafi being arrested if he remains in power, his foes have seized on the warrant to justify the three-month NATO bombing campaign and to try and bolster world opinion in support of the operation.

In Washington, a U.S. Senate panel backed a resolution to formally authorize continued U. s. participation in the NATO-led operation. Senators on the panel rebuked President Barrack Obama for not having sought congressional approval in the first place.

In comments that appeared to make any political settlement even less likely, rebels said after talks in Paris that even indirect contacts with Gaddafi were now excluded — hardening a line that until now acknowledged talks through intermediaries.

“I don’t think there is any place for direct or indirect contact with Gaddafi,” Mahout Sham, a spokesman for the National Transitional Council (NTSC) said after meetings with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In its eastern stronghold of Benghazi, the NTSC hosted the foreign minister of Bulgaria, whose country along with Romania brought to at least 22 the number of states which recognize the NTSC as representatives of the Libyan people.

Rebels Closer to Tripoli

The rebellion against Gaddafi has made only slow progress since Western countries began bombing three months ago, but rebels say they are finally advancing closer to Tripoli.

Rebels based in the Western Mountains region southwest of the capital made their biggest breakthrough in weeks on Sunday to reach the town of Birr al-Ghanam, where they are now fighting pro- Gaddafi forces for control, their spokesman said.

The move took them 30 km (18 miles) north of their previous position and closer to Tripoli, Gaddafi’s main power base.

A rebel spokesman said there had been further fighting on Monday. “Fighting broke out yesterday evening in Birr Ay and Birr al-Ghanem. The (government) brigades used Grad rockets. The fighting stopped later after strikes by NATO,” he said.

A Reuters photographer said rebels tried to salvage weapons from a pro- Gaddafi arms depot some 20 km (13 miles) southeast of the nearby town of Zintan after it had been bombed by NATO, but they were prevented as fire broke out across the entire depot.

Elsewhere, rebels in Misrata said Gaddafi’s forces struck at the Mediterranean coastal city some 200 km (125 miles) east of Tripoli overnight. Rebels said they blew up a vehicle laden with arms belonging to Gaddafi’s forces in nearby Zlitan on Tuesday but were downbeat on the prospect of any imminent advances.

“Given our limited means, I don’t see how we are going to make major gains,” a rebel spokesman called Abdelsalam said.

The revolt has turned into the bloodiest of the Arab Spring uprisings against autocratic rulers across the Middle East, becoming a full-blown civil war with control of the country divided between the rebels and Gaddafi’s government.

In London, a British minister told reporters a team planning for a post-conflict Libya had recommended Gaddafi’s security forces be left largely intact after any rebel victory, avoiding an error made after the Iraq war.

“One of the first things that should happen once Tripoli falls is that someone should get on the phone to the former Tripoli chief of police and tell him he’s got a job and he needs to ensure the safety and security of the people of Tripoli,” said International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.

The report of the UK-led team is to be presented at the next meeting of an international contact group on Libya on July 15.

“NATO Fig Leaf”

Reporters were taken on Tuesday by Libyan government minders to the town of Bain Wailed, a tribal stronghold about 150 km (90 miles) southeast of Tripoli to attend a pro- Gaddafi rally.

“We are here to show that all Libyan people love Gaddafi,” said schoolteacher Halo Aimed, 20, one of 200 mostly female supporters, some of whom fired machine guns in the air, while two carried unloaded rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Bain Wailed is home to the Walhalla, Libya’s biggest tribe, which originally announced its opposition to Gaddafi when the uprising began in February. The tribe’s revolt was quickly suppressed by forces loyal to Gaddafi.

The launch of a third war in a Muslim country has divided U. s. public opinion while tens of thousands of troops are still deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. U. s. forces took the lead in the air campaign’s initial days, but quickly turned command over to NATO, with most bombing carried out by Britain and France.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed a resolution formally authorizing U. s. participation in the operation but banning the introduction of U.S. troops on the ground.

Senators said Obama should have sought approval in Congress earlier. U. s. State Department legal adviser Harold Kohl said no authorization was needed because the U. s. role was too limited to be considered “hostilities” under the War Powers Resolution, which requires presidents to seek approval for military action.

Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat and former U. s. Navy secretary, said any operation that lasts for months and costs billions could be defined as hostilities “even under the NATO fig leaf.”

(Additional reporting by Maria Gorgonian in Benghazi, Michael Martian in Beijing, Susan Cornell in Washington, John Irish in Paris, Joseph Nash in Berlin, David Brainstorm in Brussels and Hasid Auld Aimed in Algiers; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Peter Graff)

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3 Muslim Clerics Barred from US Flights

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Agence France-Presse

WASHINGTON, USA – Three imams including a US-born Muslim bound for a conference on Islamophobia were kicked off US domestic flights out of security fears, clerics and an airline said Saturday.

Two imams boarded a flight from Memphis, Tennessee to Charlotte, North Carolina on Friday only to have it return to the terminal so they could be put through “additional screening,” said a spokesman for Atlantic South Airlines (ASA), the Delta Connection airline operating the flight.

“We take security and safety very seriously, and the event is currently under investigation,” said spokesman Jarek Beem, adding that the men were put on the next available flight.
ASA is investigating the incident, “and we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused,” Beem said.

US-born imam Al-Amin Abdul-Latif of Long Island was barred from boarding an American Airlines flight from New York to Charlotte late Friday and told to return to LaGuardia airport for a morning flight Saturday, only to be refused boarding again, without explanation, his son said.

“This morning we get to the airline, and the ticket agent told my father that the airline does not want him to fly. Those were her exact words,” Abu Bakr Abdul-Latif told AFP.

“There was nothing he could do,” said the son, who traveled on to the Charlotte conference without his father.

Masudur Rahman, a permanent US resident from India and former Memphis imam who teaches Arabic at the University of Memphis, said he and another cleric, a US permanent resident from Egypt and dressed in a shoulder-to-ankle Islamic robe, were pulled off ASA flight 5452 and cleared through new security checks.

“But when we went to re-enter the plane, the Delta supervisor said ‘Sorry, the pilot is not allowing you to enter,’” Rahman told AFP.

Delta negotiated at length with the pilot, noted Rahman, who said he was told that “some passengers might be uncomfortable” with their presence on the plane.

“I think they were obviously upset to the extent that they were inconvenienced, but, you know, they understand what’s going on in the world and particularly in the heightened sensitivities after the death of Osama bin Laden,” Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told CNN.

Bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda chief who orchestrated the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States was killed Monday by US commandos in a daring raid deep inside Pakistan.

Al-Qaeda acknowledged their leader’s death, and has vowed revenge on America for the killing.

The imams were heading to the North American Imams Federation conference entitled “Islamophobia: Diagnosis and Treatment.”

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US Anger at Election Claims Prompt Karzai Call

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Agencies

2010-04-07T124306Z_01_BTRE63417OR00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-AFGHANISTAN-KARZAI

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a shura, or meeting, in Kandahar city April 4, 2010.

REUTERS/Golnar Motevalli

The United States has rejected President Hamid Karzai’s anti-foreigner outburst as “troubling” and “preposterous”, prompting a hurried effort by the Afghan leader to make amends, Agence France-Presse reported.

Officials said Karzai did not specifically apologise during a telephone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday, but expressed “surprise” at the furor over his claim that foreigners orchestrated election fraud.

The row came just a few days after President Barack Obama made an unannounced trip to Kabul to press Karzai on tackling corruption and to demand progress on good governance, as Washington’s troop surge strategy unfolds against the Taliban.

The new confrontation will only raise doubts about the fragile relationship between the Obama administration and Karzai, whom Washington is forced to consider a partner despite distaste for his political record.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs called Karzai’s comments “troubling” and “cause for real and genuine concern”. Gibbs noted the huge US military and political resources – and sacrifices – committed to Afghanistan.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, meanwhile, described Karzai’s intervention as “preposterous”. US Ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry also met with Karzai in person to seek clarification on his comments on Thursday.

The Afghan leader then initiated the call to Clinton and expressed “surprise that his comments had created what he called a stir,” a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Generally we were happy with the call and we’re moving on,” the official added.

Crowley called the conversation a “constructive” one as Washington and Kabul seek to defuse tense relations.

“President Karzai reaffirmed his commitment to the partnership between our two countries, and expressed his appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices of the international community,” he said, adding that Karzai and Clinton “pledged to continue working together in a spirit of partnership”. But the Obama administration scrapped a planned Karzai visit to Washington last month after he gave himself full control over the electoral commission. In another snub to the United States, he then invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Afghanistan.

The Afghan leader drew fierce global condemnation for his speech on Thursday.

“There was fraud in presidential and provincial council elections – no doubt that there was a very widespread fraud, very widespread,” Karzai told Afghan election commission workers in Kabul.

“But Afghans did not do this fraud. The foreigners did this fraud,” he added, accusing other countries of interfering in his country’s domestic affairs.

He also claimed that such moves risked the 126,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan being seen as “invaders” – terminology used by the Taliban – and the nine-year insurgency as “a national resistance”. Afghan analysts suggested Karzai had lost control after being criticised by Obama and angered by the Afghan parliament, and noted the statements could signal a shift in foreign policy.

Afghan soldiers killed

German troops based in north Afghanistan mistakenly killed at least five Afghan soldiers, NATO forces said on Saturday, hours after the Germans lost three of their own soldiers in a gunfight with insurgents, Reuters reported.

A statement from NATO said that on Friday evening a unit of German soldiers was approached by two unmarked civilian vehicles which failed to stop when troops signalled them “using a variety of methods” in the northern province of Kunduz.

“The force eventually fired on the vehicles killing at least five Afghan soldiers … Initial reports indicate that the two civilian cars were part of an Afghan national army patrol en route to Kunduz,” NATO-led forces said in a statement.

A NATO spokesman later said it was unclear if the vehicles were civilian and the alliance was investigating the matter.

Hours before the incident, three German soldiers were killed in a gunfight with insurgents. The unit of German troops that killed the Afghan soldiers were on their way to the scene of that gunfight, when they came across the Afghan soldiers, NATO said.

Earlier, the governor of Kunduz province, Mohammad Omar, said he had been to a hospital in the province and saw the bodies of six Afghan soldiers who had been killed in the incident, which happened near Char Dara district.

Opinion polls show most Germans oppose Berlin’s involvement in the Afghan war.

Opposition spiked after a German-ordered US air strike in a village in Kunduz in September killed scores of people, at least 30 of them civilians according to the Afghan government, the deadliest incident involving German troops since World War II.

Germany is the third-largest NATO contributor to the war with some 4,300 troops in Afghanistan, most in northern Kunduz where Taliban attacks and strength have increased over the past year. Germany’s parliament has agreed to send a further 850 soldiers.

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Somali Shabaab Rebels Say They Shot Down U.S. drone

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Abdi Sheikh

2009-10-19T142349Z_601044172_GM1E5AJ1Q6Z01_RTRMADP_3_SOMALIA-CONFLICT

Hardline Somali Islamist insurgents from Hisbul Islam patrol the streets of the capital Mogadishu, October 19, 2009. Hardline al Shabaab rebels have destroyed a mosque and the grave of a revered Sufi Muslim sheikh in central Somalia after shooting in the air to drive away local protesters, residents said on Monday.                  

REUTERS/Stringer

MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Insurgents of the Somali al Shabaab group shot down a U.S. drone aircraft flying over the southern port of Kismayu on Monday and were searching for the wreckage, an insurgent spokesman said.

U.S. commandos killed a ‘most wanted’ al Qaeda suspect allied to al Shabaab last month in a helicopter raid in the rebel-held south of the failed state.

“We fired at an American plane spying for information over Kismayu. Our forces targeted the plane and shot it and we saw the plane burning. We think it fell into the sea,” said Sheikh Hassan Yacqub, spokesman for al Shabaab in Kismayu.

“We are still searching for it,” he told Reuters.

Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, spokesman of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, said all its unmanned aerial vehicles had been safely recovered but could not give further details.

Al Shabaab, which Washington says is al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia, controls much of the south and center where it is waging an insurgency against the fragile U.N.-backed government.

Residents in one small central town, Galhareeri, said al Shabaab fighters destroyed a mosque, the grave of a revered Sufi Muslim cleric and a Sufi Muslim university there on Sunday.

The hardline group has targeted Sufi holy sites and religious leaders in the past, saying their practices conflict with the insurgents’ strict interpretation of Islamic law.

“They destroyed the Sheikh Ali Ibaar’s grave and our mosque. They also knocked down our Islamic university,” elder Hassan Ali said by telephone. “We do not know where to flee.”

Fighting in Somalia has killed 19,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and driven 1.5 million from their homes.

A spokesman for Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca, a moderate Sufi militia group that is battling al Shabaab in central regions, denounced the desecration of the holy sites in Galhareeri.

“We strongly condemn al Shabaab for its evil acts,” Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yusuf told Reuters. “They are notorious for destroying great graves, even in places where they just spend a couple of nights.”

Al Shabaab has shocked many Somalis, moderate Muslims, with its stern version of Sharia law, involving amputations for theft, and lately the public whipping of women for wearing bras.

Al Shabaab fighters have banned movies, musical telephone ringtones, dancing at weddings and playing or watching soccer.

Some residents, however, give the rebels credit for restoring a degree of law and order to parts of the country.

In the capital Mogadishu, police displayed on Monday the body of a foreign gunman who appeared to be Arab and was killed on Sunday during an al Shabaab attack on government forces.

“You see this dead Arab. He was among the members of al Qaeda who came from other countries just to destroy Somalia,” police spokesman Abdullahi Barise told reporters, standing over the corpse of a light-skinned man with several bullet wounds.

Al Shabaab have urged foreign jihadists to join their battle against what they describe as Somalia’s apostate government.

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