Monday, September 30, 2013

Al-Qaeda in Syria

Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's official arm in Syria, is quickly entrenching itself in the north and east of Syria, where the Assad regime's rule has collapsed. Jihad will spread outwards to the region, then threaten global security -- possibly with biological and chemical weapons.

Al Qaeda is quickly constructing its main regional Middle East base in Syria, from where it plans to export terrorism and Islamic radicalism to neighboring states, then to the West, a new report released by an Israeli security research institute warned.

The jihadis later aspire, according to the report, to turn "Greater Syria" -- an old geographic term encompassing Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories -- into an Islamic caliphate.

The exhaustive study took a year to compile, according to researchers at the Tel Aviv-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which released it.

The Center itself is a part of the Israeli Intelligence and Heritage Commemoration Center, founded in the 1980s by leading members of the Israeli intelligence community.

The report identified the Al Nusra Front as Al Qaeda's official arm in Syria; they added that the organization is quickly entrenching itself in the north and east of Syria, where the Assad regime's rule has collapsed.

According to Dr. Reuven Erlich, the head of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the Al Nusra Front is entrenching itself in Syria at a rate several times faster than the time it took Al Qaeda in Afghanistan to become a serious international terrorist presence.

Erlich, who served in several posts in IDF Military Intelligence, also cautioned that Syria's location in the heart of the Middle East, its proximity to Europe, and its border with Israel mean that geopolitically, the jihadi threat from Syria is more central than the one from Afghanistan or Pakistan.

He compared Al Nusra's activities in Syria today to the incubation period of a virus, before it begins spreading and infecting other hosts. Later, Erlich warned, the plague of jihad will spread outwards from Syria to the region, then go on to threaten global security.

The researchers who composed the report assessed the chances of Al Nusra realizing its goal of building a caliphate as low, due to Syria's diverse sectarian, ethnic, and religious population, and strong tradition of secular Arab nationalism.

Nevertheless, they said, the group is on course to become one of the most prominent rebel entities, and will play a key role in shaping a post-Assad Syria, while using its growing presence as a springboard to launch international terrorist attacks.

At the moment, Al Nusra's most urgent goal is toppling President Assad; its members are therefore not yet focusing on enforcing Shari'a law in Syria. They show a pragmatic willingness to work with other rebel organizations, including the main Free Syrian Army. But once the Assad regime falls, a violent campaign by jihadis might begin to cement their control over any new government formed by rebels in Damascus.

A second jihadi organization operates in Syria, the researchers said, called the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, formed by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, though Al Nusra is the only one to have received official recognition by Al Qaeda's central leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, in June this year.

"The two branches together have an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 operatives in our assessment, and the number is growing," the report stated.

Erlich said the influence of the group is out of proportion to its numbers, due its operational capabilities and influence on the population.

The Al Nusra Front is led Abu Muhammad al-Julani, who possibly hails from the Syrian Golan, and rules over a network of fighters and local subordinates in Syria's districts.

He is a veteran of jihadist battles against US forces in Iraq, and a former follower of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who set up Al Qaeda in Iraq in the previous decade.

Rank and file members of the group are a mix of Syrians and foreign volunteers from the Arab and Muslim world, the report said, adding that foreign volunteers number in the thousands. Additionally, between 500 and 600 European Muslim volunteers are in the organization, mainly hailing from the UK and France. They are expected, after returning from the battlefields, to spread jihad in their home countries, the report said.

The Al Nusra Front's most senior body is called the Consulting Council of Jihad Fighters. Its leadership is made up of staff dealing with military operations, fundraising, weapons acquisitions and smuggling, religious affairs and public relations. Fighting units are usually called battalions or companies.

The report mapped out the Al Nusra Front's presence in Syria, noting that it was strongest in the north and east, where the Assad regime has collapsed. In these areas, called "liberated zones" by the jihadis, Al Nusra and affiliated groups provide public services, maintain health, legal, and policing systems, and distribute food, clothing and blankets.

In some places, residents have complained about a strict code of Shari'a-based conduct being enforced.

According to the report, the group is weakest on the Mediterranean coast, where the minority Alawite population -- of which the ruling Assad regime is mostly composed -- is located.

Most of Al Nusra's attacks are focused on greater Damascus and on northern and eastern Syria, in places such as Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deir al-Zor. Its actions are guerrilla-terrorist campaigns against the regime's bases, facilities and individuals.

Tactics include suicide car bombings, roadside bombs, suicide bombers on foot, and firing on bases and airfields with light arms and mortars. Security checkpoints are a frequent target.

"Suicide bombings are a signature brand" of Al Nusra and are operationally effective, but have resulted in negative public relations among other Syrian rebels, said the report.

The Al Nusra Front plans to attack Israel from the Syrian Golan, according to an assessment that appeared in the report. It "can be expected to establish an operative terrorist infrastructure in the Golan Heights, a continuation of military infrastructure it is currently constructing in Deraa," the southwestern city where the anti-Assad uprising began in 2011.

"In our assessment, Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist organizations may integrate themselves into terrorist attacks from the Golan Heights despite the fundamental ideological differences between them," it added.

Al Nusra can also be expected to link up with fellow jihadis who follow Al Qaeda's ideology in neighboring Lebanon, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gaza Strip.

Pro-Western Arab states are on the target list too, the report said, adding that Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, all of which support the rebels, might be targeted by Al Nusra in the form of subversive, radical Islamists entering them and setting up terrorist cells.

In northern Syria, Al Nusra and its allies have seized key national resources such as oil and gas fields, oil pipelines, dams, power plants and grain silos.

These sites are now operated by jihadis, who sometimes sell oil and gas to the Assad regime for profit, enabling the organization to pay its operatives a monthly salary, purchase more weapons, and run assistance programs in "liberated areas."

As Al Nusra fighters raid Syrian weapons depots, the fear remains, the report stated, that "in the absence of the considerations of restraint that influence other terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist organizations," they could obtain chemical and biological weapons, and use them in terrorist attacks.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Second Quake Hits Pakistan

QUETTA, Sept 28: Another earthquake of 7.2 magnitude struck the Awaran district of Balochistan on Saturday afternoon, killing at least 15 people and leaving over 50 injured.

The earthquake compounded the agony of a populace that has yet to come out of the shock of Tuesday’s massive earthquake which caused large-scale destruction and left over 300 people dead.

It was a new tremor and not an aftershock of the Tuesday’s earthquake, an official of the Metrological Department in Islamabad told Dawn.

“It was a new strong earthquake of 7.2 magnitude that originated some 156km southwest of Khuzdar in Awaran district,” he said.

The National Seismic Centre of Pakistan has warned that the region will continue to receive aftershocks.

According to Zahid Rafi, a director at the centre, 16 aftershocks have been recorded since the Tuesday’s earthquake of 7.7 magnitude, but Saturday’s earthquake is an independent one.

The worst affected by Saturday’s earthquake was Nokjo, a large village of Mushkey tehsil in Awaran district, where over hundred casualties were reported and thousands of people were rendered homeless.

The earthquake rattled other areas in Balochistan, including Quetta, Mastung, Kalat, Khuzdar, Panjgur, Kharan, Lasbela Kech, Gwadar, Sibi, Nasirabad and Jaffarabad. It was also felt in Karachi and some other districts of Sindh.

Official sources have confirmed casualties in Nokjo village. “We have received confirmed reports of 15 deaths in Nokjo,” said Frontier Corps spokesman Khan Wasey. Women and children were among the dead, he added.

A spokesman for the Balochistan government, Jan Buledi, said rescue teams had been sent to affected areas.

Awaran’s Deputy Commissioner Rashid Baloch said the tremor caused large-scale destruction in Nokjo village, housing about 15,000 to 20,000 people. He said a large number of houses had collapsed and communication system was badly damaged, creating hurdles in information gathering.Official sources in Awaran said that on the directives of the chief minister, two medical teams and rescue workers had been sent to Nokjo village.

According to a police officer, Rafiq Lasi, a number of people were trapped under the rubble in Nokjo village. He said villagers had taken out some of them alive from the debris.

Hafeez Baloch, a resident of the area, said most houses in Nokjo village remained intact after Tuesday’s earthquake. But the Saturday’s tremor has destroyed the entire village. “The dilapidated mud houses were not able to resist another tremor,” he added.

He said the immediate need of people in the village were tents, food items and drinking water.

In Quetta, the Balochistan Assembly was in session when the tremor jolted its building. Speaker Mir Jan Mohammad Jamali adjourned the session immediately and lawmakers came out of the building.According to a local journalist, Akbar Sheikh, shocks created panic in the house. “I was covering proceedings of the assembly when we felt a tremor and some lawmakers drew the attention of the speaker to it,” he added.

Source: Pakistan Dawn

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Russia's Nuclear Power Contract with Iran

On September 23rd, Russia announced that it had handed over operational control of the Bushehr nuclear power plant to Iran. However, Russian specialists would remain at the facility throughout its 2-year “warranty period.”

The nuclear facility at Bushehr was the focus of a considerable amount of controversy, especially in the United States. The reactor was being built under an agreement between the Russian and Iranian governments for $800-million. Although originally intended to be the location of a German-built reactor in the 1970s, the new reactor was to be built to Russian design specifications, though the original reactor buildings exterior appearance would remain essentially the same. There were two reactors at Bushehr, one was in an advanced stage of completion the other had not been worked on for some time and was not scheduled to be completed as of 2006.

Iran was a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), though it had not ratified two additional protocols to the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Program 93 + 2, which was designed to prevent states from developing nuclear weapons covertly, despite IAEA inspections, as Iraq was able to do prior to the Gulf War. Iran maintained that it would not ratify 93 + 2 due to it being denied civilian nuclear technology for Bushehr, despite its positive record with the IAEA.

Nuclear power industry contacts between Iran and Russia were based on the inter-governmental agreements of 25 August 1992, on cooperation in the civil use of nuclear energy and in the construction of a nuclear power plant in Iran.
Additional Reactors

Iran had also been considering the construction of three to five additional reactor facilities, which might or might not be located at Bushehr, for an estimated cost of $3.2 billion. A 5 September 2001 Moscow Times report indicated that the Russians would be submitting plans for the construction of additional reactors at Bushehr and that negotiations could begin as soon as December 2001, though the number of reactors being proposed was unclear and it was not apparrent how much the project might cost. It was estimated that the total cost of building the reactor complex at Bushehr may be roughly $4-6 billion since construction began in 1976.

During a March 2001 Moscow summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, Khatami confirmed plans to order a second reactor after the first was delivered, possibly by late 2002. The Iranian leader signaled his intention to proceed with a second contract that could be worth up to $1 billion.

On 26 July 2002 the Russian government indicated that it planned to continue building new nuclear reactors in Iran as part of a draft plan outlining potential areas of economic, industrial and scientific cooperation with Iran over the coming decade. The document approved by Prime Minister Mikhail M. Kasyanov outlined plans to build three more reactors at the Bushehr site. The document also indicated that Russia would offer to build two more reactors at a new nuclear power station at Ahwaz, a city about 60 miles from Iran's border with Iraq. These plans were apparently shelved after complaints by the United States.

In was reported on by IRNA on 26 August 2003, that Iran had received from Russia feasibility studies for a second reactor at Bushehr. According to that report, Russian specialists believed that it would be more practical to build two reactors from scratch rather than continue working on the reactor that had been abandoned by Siemens under pressure from the United States. The studies had been achieved by the time of Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev's visit to Tehran in December 2002.

Calls for additional power plant construction were made again by the Chairman of Majlis Energy Commission in October 2004, who sought approval for 9 more power plants. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said in November 2006 that the AEOI had been given 20 licenses for the establishment of additional nuclear power plants. However, by July 2008 Iran was said to be looking to build only 19 more reactors, six of them by 2020. One of these reactors was reported to be planned for construction in Darkhoyen, construction of which had been announced in December 2005.
Beginning of Operations at Bushehr

On 13 August 2010, the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) announced that the first reactor at the Bushehr NPP would be loaded with nuclear fuel on 21 August 2010 and would henceforth make the Bushehr facility qualified as an operational nuclear power plant. The process for transferring the fuel to the pool located near the heart of reactor was estimated to take seven to eight days. It was expected at that time that the Bushehr NPP would come online by September 2010. It was reported on 27 November 2010 that the plant's reactor was fully loaded after numerous delays. Russia's contractor Atomstroiexport confirmed this on 2 December 2010.

In February 2011, it was reported that the fuel rods were being removed from the Bushehr NPP. Iranian officials stressed that the activities and associated delays were entirely normal and routine. Foreign observers believed that the issues were more a matter of technical competence or issues regarding the Russian technology used to build the reactor, rather than issues stemming from release of the Stuxnet computer virus into computers related to Iran's nuclear infrastructure in the fall of 2010. The Stuxnet virus has primarily affected uranium enrichment operations, such as the operation of centrifuges at Natanz. Iranian authorities later blamed the delays on the Russian contractors.

In early September 2011, Iran reported that the Bushehr NPP had been reloaded with fuel and successfully connected to the nation's power grid. The facility had come online on 3 September 2011, with the power of 60 megawatt after successfully passing a number of unspecified tests. The plant was officially launched on 12 September 2011 after numerous delays. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said during a press conference that "The power plant will be disconnected for different tests some time after the connection. The tests might take several weeks. The power plant will regain the power and will obtain its 100 percent power of 900-1000 megawatt." The Bushehr nuclear power plant had joined Iran's national power grid with a capacity of around 60 megawatts at 11:29 p.m. (1859 GMT) 10 September 2011.

Source:  Global Security

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Quote of the Week - Basil the Great

“The dogmas of the Fathers are held in contempt, the Apostolic traditions are disdained, the churches are subject to the novelties of innovators.”--St. Basil the Great (Letter 90, To the Most Holy Brethren and Bishops Found in the West)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Insider" kills 3 US Soldiers

KHOST, Sept 21: A man wearing Afghan army uniform shot dead three US soldiers in the eastern part of the war-torn country, the Nato coalition said on Saturday.

So-called “insider attacks”, in which Afghan forces turn their guns on their international partners, have killed scores of foreign troops in Afghanistan, breeding fierce mistrust and threatening to derail the training of local forces to take over security duties ahead of Nato’s withdrawal next year.

“Three International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) service members died when an individual wearing an Afghan National Security Forces uniform shot them in eastern Afghanistan today,” an Isaf statement said, adding that both Isaf and Afghan officials were investigating the incident.

A US defence official confirmed that the three victims were from the United States. An Afghan official said the incident happened during a training session in the eastern province of Paktia.

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier opened fire on US soldiers in a military training camp, killing two on the spot, he said. A third later died of his wounds, he added.

The attacker was killed when Americans and Afghan soldiers returned fire, he said.

The threat of “insider attacks” has become so serious that foreign soldiers working with Afghan forces are regularly watched over by so-called “guardian angel” troops to provide protection from their supposed allies.

Isaf officials say that most insider attacks stem from personal grudges and cultural misunderstandings rather than Taliban plots.

Afghan soldiers and police are taking on responsibility for battling the Taliban militants from 87,000 US-led Nato combat troops who will leave by the end of 2014 — 13 years after a US-led invasion brought down the Taliban government.

But the US trained 350,000-strong Afghan security forces are suffering a steep rise in casualties as the Nato combat mission winds down and Afghan authorities try to bring stability ahead of the presidential poll set for April next year.—AFP

Source: Pakistan Dawn

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Doctors new terrorist target in Syria

Civilian medical care for is being targeted in Syria's civil war. Hospital and ambulances are being bombed; doctors, nurses and pharmacists are being tortured, imprisoned and killed. While the international community is outraged over 1400 deaths from chemical weapons, thousands more are dying because a sophisticated health system has been destroyed.

Dr Annie Sparrow, an Australian who is the former director of UNICEF's malaria program in Somalia, says in the blog Syria Deeply: "I have never encountered the scale upon which medical neutrality is being violated in Syria. This targeting of medical care has effectively become a weapon of mass destruction."

A group of 55 medical professionals, including Nobel Prize winners and heads of professional associations, have signed an open letter demanding that their colleagues be allowed to treat patients.

"Systematic assaults on medical professionals, facilities and patients are breaking Syria's health-care system and making it nearly impossible for civilians to receive essential medical services. Thirty-seven percent of Syrian hospitals have been destroyed and a further 20 percent severely damaged. Makeshift clinics have become fully fledged trauma centres struggling to cope with the injured and sick. An estimated 469 health workers are currently imprisoned and around 15,000 doctors have been forced to flee abroad. According to one report, there were 5,000 physicians in Aleppo before the conflict started, and only 36 remain.

"The targeted attacks on medical facilities and personnel are deliberate and systematic, not an inevitable nor acceptable consequence of armed conflict. Such attacks are an unconscionable betrayal of the principle of medical neutrality.

"The number of people requiring medical assistance is increasing exponentially, as a direct result of conflict and indirectly because of the deterioration of a once-sophisticated public health system and the lack of adequate curative and preventive care. Horrific injuries are going untended, women are giving birth with no medical assistance, men, women and children are undergoing life-saving surgery without anesthetic, and victims of sexual violence have nowhere to turn to."

Source: BioEdge

Friday, September 20, 2013

Matthew Shepard is not a gay martyr

If Matthew Shepard was killed strictly because of drugs by his sometime gay sex partner, what will that do to his martyr status in the gay community and in the larger world including at the United Nations?

Read it all here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Is religion the #1 cause of war?

Atheists and secular humanists consistently make the claim that religion is the #1 cause of violence and war throughout the history of mankind. One of hatetheism's key cheerleaders, Sam Harris, says in his book The End of Faith that faith and religion are “the most prolific source of violence in our history.”1

While there’s no denying that campaigns such as the Crusades and the Thirty Years’ War foundationally rested on religious ideology, it is simply incorrect to assert that religion has been the primary cause of war. Moreover, although there’s also no disagreement that radical Islam was the spirit behind 9/11, it is a fallacy to say that all faiths contribute equally where religiously-motivated violence and warfare are concerned.

An interesting source of truth on the matter is Philip and Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, which chronicles some 1,763 wars that have been waged over the course of human history. Of those wars, the authors categorize 123 as being religious in nature,2 which is an astonishingly low 6.98% of all wars. However, when one subtracts out those waged in the name of Islam (66), the percentage is cut by more than half to 3.23%.

Read it all here.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Quote of the Week - Gerald Bray

"Often, holiness is a whole lot of little, non-heroic things, but they're the difference between life and death."--The Rev. Dr. Gerald Bray

Monday, September 16, 2013

Syria: Terrorists slit throat of Christian

Ghastly attacks on Christians mocked as “Crusaders” in Syria continued unabated as Jihadists reportedly forced one man to convert to Islam at gunpoint and slit the throat of another Christian woman’s fiancé and then told her, “Jesus didn’t come to save him.” Residents who fled from the ancient town of Maalula in Syria told AFP that jihadists ambushed the town last week and forced a man to convert to Islam at gunpoint.

“They arrived in our town at dawn… and shouted ‘We are from the Al-Nusra Front and have come to make lives miserable for the Crusaders,” said one woman identified as Marie in Damascus, where many people from Maalula fled after rebels first attacked that town on Sept. 4.

One of the most renowned Christian towns in Syria, many of Maalula’s approximately 5,000 residents speak Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. Rebels want to tighten their control of the town for its strategic value as a launching point to level attacks on the highway between the capital and Homs, a key regime supply route.

The ancient city of Maalula

On Tuesday, Marie and hundreds of others in exile in Damascus, attended the burial of three Christian pro-regime militiamen who were killed in fighting.

Adnan Nasrallah, 62, told AFP that an explosion destroyed an archway just across from his house that leads into Maalula during the fighting last week.

“I saw people wearing Al-Nusra headbands who started shooting at crosses,” the Christian senior told the AFP. One of the shooters, he said, “put a pistol to the head of my neighbor and forced him to convert to Islam by obliging him to repeat ‘there is no God but God’…Afterwards they joked, ‘he’s one of ours now’.”

Nasrallah said he operated a restaurant, called Maalula, in the State of Washington in the U.S. for 42 years when he decided to return to Syria shortly before the uprising erupted in Syria in March 2011.

Syria, Father, Son
A father clutches the body of his son, who was killed by the Syrian army, in Aleppo in October 2012. There are reportedly a few hundred Muslims from Western countries who are fighting alongside the rebels to topple Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

“I had a great dream. I came back to my country to promote tourism. I built a guesthouse and spent $2,000 installing a windmill to provide electricity in the town…My dream has gone up in smoke. Forty-two years of work for nothing,” he lamented.
He said when the rebels came to town, his Muslim neighbors rejoiced. His sister Antoinette disputed that story, however, saying the people rejoicing were refugees from out of town.

Another Maalula resident, Rasha said the jihadists brutally murdered her fiancé Atef, who was a part of the town’s militia.

“I rang his mobile phone and one of them answered,” she said.

“Good morning, Rashrush,” a voice answered, calling her by her nickname according to AFP. “We are from the Free Syrian Army. Do you know your fiancé was a member of the shabiha (pro-regime militia) who was carrying weapons, and we have slit his throat?”

Rasha said the man told her Atef was asked to denounce his faith and convert to Islam and he refused.

“Jesus didn’t come to save him,” the rebel taunted.

Source: The Christian Post / CP World

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Jihadists make threats in Spain

A jihadist group affiliated with Al Qaeda has threatened to carry out terrorist attacks in Catalonia, an autonomous region in northeastern Spain that is home to the largest concentration of radical Islamists in Europe.

The threats were issued by a group called "Africamuslima" in response to efforts by Catalonian lawmakers to increase surveillance of radical Salafists seeking to impose Islamic Sharia law in Spain and other parts of Europe.

Catalonia -- a region of 7.5 million people centered on the Mediterranean city of Barcelona -- is home to the largest Muslim population in Spain. Most of the estimated 450,000 Muslims in Catalonia are from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

Many of the Muslims living in Catalonia are shiftless single males who are unemployed and "susceptible to jihadist recruitment," according to diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks and published by the Madrid-based El País newspaper.

Spanish authorities are especially concerned about the threat posed by Salafism, a radical strain of Islam that seeks to re-establish an Islamic empire [Caliphate] across the Middle East, North Africa and Spain, which Salafists view as a Muslim state that must be reconquered for Islam.

Read it all here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

World War III - You gotta support it!

A new tongue-in-cheek YouTube video mocks those who support President Barack Obama's plan to launch a limited military strike on Syria, painting them as mindless "Obamabots" who are in favor of World War III. 

Created by improvisational comedy group Second City, the YouTube clip has already generated more than 650,000 views since Monday. The video shows a series of "Americans" urging their fellow citizens to donate to a fictional Kickstarter campaign for World War III.

Read about it and watch the video.

2 Million Bikers to Washington

Thousands of bikers descended on Washington, D.C., Wednesday to protest a Muslim march provocatively timed for the 12th anniversary of 9/11.

While the "Million Muslim March" looked likely to be a flop, the "2 Million Bikers" event brought participants from throughout the eastern seaboard. One estimate put the number of bikers there at 880,000.

So many turned out that plans to have them ride through the streets of the Capital had to be changed. "There are so many motorcycles that trying to go through Washington, D.C., would not have worked," ride organizer Eric Zern told WTOP-Radio.

Read it all here

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Harvesting Organs from the Poor

Organ trafficking and illicit transplant surgeries have infiltrated global medical practice. But despite the evidence of widespread criminal networks and several limited prosecutions in countries including India, Kosovo, Turkey, Israel, South Africa and the US, it is still not treated with the seriousness it demands.

Since the first report into the matter in 1990, there has been an alarming number of post-operative deaths of “transplant tour” recipients from botched surgeries, mismatched organs and high rates of fatal infections, including HIV and Hepatitis C contracted from sellers' organs. Living kidney sellers suffer from post-operative infections, weakness, depression, and some die from suicide, wasting, and kidney failure. Organs Watch documented five deaths among 38 kidney sellers recruited from small villages in Moldova.

Distressing stories lurk in the murky background of today’s business of commercialised organ transplantation, conducted in a competitive global field that involves some 50 nations. The World Health Organisation estimates 10,000 black market operations happen each year.

Read it all here.

Related reading:  Organ Harvesting in Belgium; China Crackdown on Organ Trafficking; Costa Rican Organ Trafficking

Quote of the Week - Stanley Hauerwas

If I am right about the story that shapes the American self-understanding, I think we are in a position to better understand why after 11 September 2001 the self-proclaimed 'most powerful nation in the world' runs on fear. It does so because the fear of death is necessary to insure a level of cooperation between people who otherwise share nothing in common. That is, they share nothing in common other than the presumption that death is to be avoided at all costs.

That is why in America hospitals have become our cathedrals and physicians are our priests. Accordingly medical schools are much more serious about the moral formation of their students than divinity schools. They are so because Americans do not believe that an inadequately trained priest may damage their salvation, but they do believe an inadequately trained doctor can hurt them.-
-Dr. Stanley Hauerwas

From an intriguing essay titled "The End of American Protestantism"

Monday, September 9, 2013

Afghanistan: 62 acts of violence against journalists

The Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) has registered 62 cases of violence against freedom of the media and journalists over the past eight months across Afghanistan. This raises serious concerns about the safety of journalists and the state of press freedom as the country prepares for 2014 presidential and provincial council elections and the withdrawal of international troops.

AFJC registered these cases from January to August 2013; the incidents include murders, injuries, physical and verbal abuse, death threats and the closure of media outlets. Government officials and security forces, the Taliban and illegal armed groups are among the perpetrators of these violent attacks.

Over the course of this period, there were two cases of murder, four injuries, the detention of a journalist and the sentencing of another one, the closure of two radio stations, the dismissal of a reporter for merely liking a Facebook post, along with 51 cases of threats, insults and beatings.

AFJC's findings show that violence against reporters is on the increase amid fears that illegal armed groups would resort to further violence in future.

Along with the shrinking number of media outlets, the media are falling into the hands of powerful provincial leaders and foreign interests. The organisation takes special note of the problem facing women journalists in Afghanistan, many of whom are leaving the profession because of threats to their families.

In accordance with the Afghanistan Media law, every person has the right to freedom of thought and speech, which includes the right to seek, obtain and disseminate information and views within the limit of law without any interference, restriction or threat by the government or officials. This right also includes the ability to freely engage in the publication, distribution, and reception of information.

The law also stipulates that the government should work to support, strengthen, and guarantee freedom of the mass media. Except as authorized under this law, no real or legal entity, including the government and government offices, may ban, prohibit, censor or limit the informational activities of the mass media or otherwise interfere in their affairs.

The AFJC is concerned about what will happen post-2014 and the government's continued negligence to protect freedom of speech, which has encouraged illegal armed groups to threaten journalists.

As security is deteriorating, the government increasingly denies journalists access to information, mostly in the provinces.

Meanwhile, most media outlets in Afghanistan have been reliant on foreign aid, and will likely be facing financial challenges after 2014 when there will be a shortage of international assistance.

The AFJC is deeply concerned about the situation of media outlets, their future and the challenges and threats facing them. The organisation calls on the Afghan government to step up efforts to strengthen media organisations, and protect freedom of speech as well as sustain free media in the country.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Egypt Army Goes After Al-Qaeda in Sinai

CAIRO, Sept 7: At least 10 people were killed as Egypt’s armed forces launched an air and ground assault on Sinai militants on Saturday while foiling a railway bombing near the canal city of Suez, officials said.

The military claimed it has been facing an insurgency in north Sinai, a haven for Al Qaeda-inspired militants who launch almost daily attacks against security forces.

And on Saturday it pressed a crackdown on suspected militants on the sensitive peninsula bordering with Israel.

Air strikes were carried out on suspected militant hideouts while armoured vehicles were deployed in the area and along the Rafah border with the Gaza Strip, officers said.

Security officials said at least 10 Islamist fighters were killed in the air attacks launched by US-built Apache helicopters and in ground operations, while 20 others were wounded and 15 arrested.

The military has stepped up its operations against suspected Sinai militants over the past few weeks and frequently report the deaths of terrorists.

The latest report cannot be verified because the area is closed to the media.

Also on Saturday, Egypt closed the Rafah border crossing for security reasons, said Maher Abu Sabha, the crossing’s director in the Gaza Strip.

Elsewhere, police called in military bomb disposal experts after residents from Abu Aref village said they spotted a bomb on the railroad that links Suez with another canal city, Ismailiya.

Two mortar rounds and a rocket-propelled grenade were attached to a fuse and appeared to have been intended for a 6:00 am train, officials said.

Hours later, unidentified assailants hurled a grenade at a police station in Cairo, which exploded without causing any casualties, security officials said.

It was the third such attack after the military takeover on July 3 on the police station in the working class neighbourhood of Boulaq al-Daqrour.

The developments raised tensions after a car bomb targeted military-appointed Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim on Thursday as he left his house for work.

Mr Ibrahim, who was unhurt in the attack that killed one person and wounded several others, warned afterwards of a wave of terrorism.

Source: Pakistan Dawn

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Syrian Appeal to USA: Please stay away!


Beloved Hierarchs, Clergy and Faithful of our God-Protected Archdiocese:
Greetings to you and your families as we begin a new ecclesiastical year. I pray you had a pleasant summer. I write to you today as our president and United States Congress contemplate military action against Syria. As those of us with deep roots in that land already know, more bombs and destabilization of the country will only lead to further bloodshed and devastation. In my opinion, based on a lifetime of knowledge in that area of the world, it serves neither the interest of the United States, nor the Syrian people (or the people of the Middle East at large for that matter) to bomb and further destabilize the country. Extremists groups such as Al-Kaeda are waiting in the wings to prey on any weakness in the Syrian government and infrastructure. The results of such a bombing would be yet another step in the extermination of our Christian presence in the Middle East, a presence that dates to the dawn of Christianity. Our Church has already suffered greatly and has new martyrs waiting to be glorified –we do not need any more!
Therefore, I urge all of you during the next few days to contact your respective senators and congress people to urge them to vote NO to any unilateral military action by the United States. Time is of the essence so please distribute this email to everyone you know as quickly as possible and share this message on your Facebook and other mass media sites.
Wishing you all a peaceful new Church year, I remain, Your Father in Christ,
Metropolitan Philip
Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of all North America

Quote of the Week - Fr. Robert Hart

"Rome and most kinds of Protestantism are built partly on the Catholic Faith, but partly on innovations that have no basis in Scripture and Tradition. The reason to be Anglican is to be free from innovations."--Fr Robert Hart (from here.)

Oh, if only this were true about all who call themselves Anglican! Here are a few Anglican innovations:

women "priests"
non-celibate homosexual clergy
same-sex blessings in the Episcopal Church
the 1979 prayer book

Monday, September 2, 2013

Who used Sarin in Syria? That's the question.

victims of Sarin attack

More than 1,400 people, including 400 children, were killed in the Aug 21 chemical weapons attack in East Damascus.

The United States claims that the Syrian government used the weapons to subdue rebels in an opposition-controlled neighbourhood. The Syrian government denies the charge and has blamed the rebels for the attack.

In interview to ABC News, Mr Kerry said President Barack Obama could act even if Congress did not back him, but “we are not going to lose this vote”, he added.

In a statement he read at the White House Rose Garden on Saturday, President Obama declared that he would take a military action against the Syrian government but with congressional approval. He sent the matter to Congress “for a debate and a vote”.

Congress resumes on Sept 9 after a summer break and congressional leaders have promised to start the debate early next week.

While both Republicans and Democrats have welcomed Mr Obama’s decision to seek congressional assent, some also warned there’s no assurance that Congress would approve his plan.

Senator James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Fox News he didn’t think the use of force would be approved. “Our military is so degraded right now,” he said.

Congressman Peter King, another Republican who chairs a House subcommittee on counter-terrorism, also warned that it would “be difficult to get the vote through” a Republican-dominated Congress. “If the vote was today it would probably be a ‘No’ vote. The president has not made the case.” he said.

The congressman said he would vote for the action but he was among a few who would do so as most lawmakers were reluctant to back Mr Obama.

Read it all here.