Three men convicted in terrorist bomb plot meant to be bigger than 2005 London attacks

http://www.news.com.au/world/three-men-convicted-in-terrorist-bomb-plot-meant-to-be-bigger-than-2005-london-attacks/story-fndir2ev-1226583133867

Britain Bomb Plot

This undated combination image released by Britain’s West Midlands Police shows from left, Irfan Naseer, Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali. Picture: AP Source: AP

THREE young British Muslims were convicted of plotting bomb attacks that were intended to be bigger than the 2005 London bombings.

A London jury found 27-year-old Irfan Khalid, 31-year-old Irfan Naseer and Ashik Ali, 27, guilty of being central figures in the foiled plot to explode knapsack bombs in crowded areas – attacks potentially deadlier than the July 7, 2005 explosions on Underground trains and a bus which killed 52 commuters.

Judge Richard Henriques told the men they will all face life in prison when sentences are imposed in April or May.

“You were seeking to recruit a team of somewhere between six and eight suicide bombers to carry out a spectacular bombing campaign, one which would create an anniversary along the lines of 7/7 or 9/11,” he told them after the jury reached its verdict. “It’s clear that you were planning a terrorist outrage in Birmingham.”

He addressed Naseer directly, calling him a “highly skilled bomb maker and explosives expert” who had tried to persuade his collegues that it was “far preferable” to launch a terror attack inside Britain rather than fighting jihad abroad.

Prosecutors said the men, fired up by the sermons of a US-born al-Qaida preacher, hoped to cause carnage on a mass scale. Their plot was undone by mishaps with money and logistics, and ended in a police counterterrorism swoop in 2011.

By then, the plotters were still experimenting with chemicals and had not assembled any bombs.

Special prosecutor Karen Jones said the men’s final targets had not been set but that their potential for killing people and destroying property should not be underestimated. She said two of the men had received training in Pakistan before returning to Britain to plan attacks.

“Had they not been stopped, the consequences would have been catastrophic,” she said.

She said the conviction showed that even when preparations for acts of terrorism take place abroad, perpetrators will face justice in British courts.

The three had pleaded not guilty to charges of preparing for terrorism

But the jury at Woolwich Crown court agreed with prosecutors that the trio were the senior members of a home-grown terror cell inspired by the anti-Western sermons of US-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in Yemen in September 2011.

The suspects convicted Thursday were among 12 people arrested in September 2011 in counter-terrorism raids in Birmingham, central England.

Several other suspects have pleaded guilty to offenses related to the plot.

Iran installs advanced centrifuges to speed up nuclear work

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano reacts as he attends a news conference during a board of governors meeting at the UN headquarters in Vienna November 29, 2012. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/21/us-nuclear-iran-iaea-idUSBRE91K0XD20130221

(Reuters) – Iran has begun installing advanced centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment plant, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Thursday, a defiant step likely to anger world powers ahead of a resumption of talks with Tehran next week.

In a confidential report, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said 180 so-called IR-2m centrifuges and empty centrifuge casings had been hooked up at the plant near the central town of Natanz. They were not yet operating.

If launched successfully, such machines could enable Iran to significantly speed up its accumulation of material that the West fears could be used to devise a nuclear weapon. Iran says it is refining uranium only for peaceful energy purposes.

Britain’s Foreign Office said the IAEA’s finding was of “serious concern” while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the report “proves that Iran continues to advance swiftly towards the red line that the prime minister drew in his speech in the United Nations”.

Netanyahu has insisted he will stick to the red line laid down in September, when he told the U.N. that Iran should not have enough enriched uranium to make even a single warhead.

U.S. lawmakers meanwhile are crafting a bill designed to stop the European Central Bank from handling business from the Iranian government, a U.S. congressional aide said on Thursday, in an attempt to keep Tehran from using euros to develop its nuclear program.

The bill, in the early stages of drafting, would target the ECB’s cross-border payment system and impose U.S. economic penalties on entities that use the European Central Bank to do business with Iran’s government, the aide said on condition of anonymity.

The aide disclosed the new sanctions push ahead of fresh talks on Tuesday in which major powers hope to persuade the Iranian government to rein in its nuclear program, which the United States suspects may be a cover to produce bombs.

REFUSAL TO BOW TO WESTERN PRESSURE

It was not clear how many of the new centrifuges Iran aims to install at Natanz, which is designed for tens of thousands. An IAEA note informing member states late last month about Iran’s plans implied that it could be up to 3,000 or so.

Iran has for years been trying to develop centrifuges more efficient than the erratic 1970s IR-1 model it now uses, but their introduction for full-scale production has been dogged by delays and technical hurdles, experts and diplomats say.

The deployment of the new centrifuges underlines Iran’s continued refusal to bow to Western pressure to curb its nuclear program, and may further complicate efforts to resolve the dispute diplomatically, without a spiral into Middle East war.

Iran has also started testing two new centrifuge models, the IR-6 and IR6s, at a research and development facility, the IAEA report said. Centrifuges spin at supersonic speed to increase the ratio of the fissile isotope in uranium.

Six world powers and Iran are due to meet for the first time in eight months in Kazakhstan on February 26 to try again to break the impasse but analysts expect no real progress toward defusing suspicions that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons capability.

In a more encouraging sign for the powers, however, the IAEA report said Iran in December resumed converting some of its uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent to powder for the production of reactor fuel.

That helped restrain the growth of Iran’s higher-grade uranium stockpile since the previous report in November, a development that could buy more time for diplomacy and delay possible Israeli military action.

The report said Iran had increased to 167 kg (367 pounds) its stockpile of 20 percent uranium – a level it says it needs to make fuel for a Tehran research reactor but which also takes it much closer to weapons-grade material if processed further.

NEW OFFER TO IRAN

One diplomat familiar with the report said this represented a rise of about 18-19 kg since the November report, a notable slowdown from the previous three-month period when the stockpile jumped by nearly 50 percent after Iran halted conversion.

About 240-250 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium is needed for one atomic bomb if refined to a high degree.

Israel, which has warned it might bomb arch-enemy Iran’s nuclear sites as a last resort, last year gave a rough deadline of mid-2013 as the date by which Tehran could have enough higher-grade uranium to produce a single atomic bomb.

But a resumption of conversion, experts say, means the Israeli “red line” for action could be postponed.

Refined uranium can fuel nuclear energy plants, which is Iran’s stated aim, or provide the core of an atomic bomb, which the United States and Israel suspect may be its ultimate goal.

The United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany are to meet Iran for negotiations in Kazakhstan on February 26 to tackle a row that has already produced four rounds of U.N. sanctions against Iran, as well as a European oil embargo.

They want Iran to halt its 20 percent enrichment and shut the Fordow underground plant where this work is carried out.

Iran wants them to recognize what it regards as its right to refine uranium for peaceful purpose and to relax sanctions battering its oil-dependent economy.

In Paris, French deputy foreign ministry spokesman Vincent Floreani said the powers were ready to make a new offer to Iran and that they hoped Tehran would engage seriously in the talks.

“We will make a new offer that will have significant new elements,” Floreani said. “The approach … is to begin gradually with confidence-building measures. We want a real exchange that will lead to concrete results.”

The IAEA report said Iran had informed the U.N. agency during an inspection of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in mid-February that the reactor was shut down, giving no details. The Russian-built plant on Iran’s Gulf coast is the Islamic state’s first nuclear energy station, but has been plagued by delays.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Rachelle Younglai in Washington and Paul Carrel in Frankfurt; Editing by Michael Roddy)

SARS-Like VIRUS Spreading From Person to Person

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-02-14/new-sars-like-virus-shows-person-to-person-transmission/4519386

A third patient in Britain has contracted a new SARS-like virus, showing the deadly infection is being spread from person to person, health officials said.

The latest case, in a man from the same family as another patient, brings the worldwide number of confirmed infections of the new virus – novel coronavirus (NCoV) – to 11.

Of those, five have died. Most of the infected lived or had recently been in the Middle East.

NCoV was identified when the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued an international alert in September, saying a virus previously unknown in humans had infected a Qatari man who had recently been in Saudi Arabia.

The virus belongs to the same family as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that emerged in China in 2002 and killed about a tenth of the 8,000 people it infected worldwide.

Symptoms common to both viruses include severe respiratory illness, fever, coughing and breathing difficulties.

Britain’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) said the latest patient, who is a UK resident and does not have any recent travel history, is in intensive care at a hospital in central England.

“Confirmed novel coronavirus infection in a person without travel history to the Middle East suggests that person-to-person transmission has occurred, and that it occurred in the UK,” said John Watson, the HPA’s head of respiratory diseases.

He said the new case was a family member in close contact with another British case confirmed on Monday and who may have been at greater risk because of underlying health conditions.

The WHO said although this latest case showed evidence of person-to-person transmission, it still believed “the risk of sustained person-to-person transmission appears to be very low”.

Confirmed cases

Coronaviruses are typically spread like other respiratory infections such as flu, travelling in airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Yet since NCoV was identified in September, evidence of person-to-person transmission has been limited.

Professor Watson said the fact it probably had taken place in the latest two cases in Britain gave no reason for increased alarm.

“If novel coronavirus were more infectious, we would have expected to have seen a larger number of cases than we have seen since the first case was reported three months ago.”

The WHO said on Monday that the confirmation of a new British case did not alter its risk assessment but “does indicate that the virus is persistent”.

Among the 11 laboratory confirmed cases to date, five are in Saudi Arabia, with three deaths; two are in Jordan, where both patients died; three are in Britain, where all three are receiving treatment; and one was in Germany in a patient from Qatar who had since been discharged from medical care.

The WHO said at this stage there is no need for travel or trade restrictions or for special screening at border points.

Reuters

Chinese cyber attacks on West are widespread, experts say

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/02/01/tech/china-cyber-attacks/index.html?iid=article_sidebar

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Hong Kong (CNN) — Allegations that Chinese hackers infiltrated the computers of two leading U.S. newspapers add to a growing number of cyber attacks on Western companies, governments and foreign-based dissidents that are believed to originate in China, experts say.

According to one recent report, one in every three observed computer attacks in the third quarter of 2012 emanated from China.

Chinese officials have denied that Beijing has supported any cyber attacks, stressing that hacking is illegal in the country.

The New York Times reported Wednesday it had been the target of four months of cyber assaults, which started during an investigation by the newspaper into the wealth reportedly accumulated by relatives of the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao. The Wall Street Journal said Thursday that its computer systems also had been infiltrated by Chinese hackers.

Cyber security experts say the alleged attack on The New York Times appeared to be similar to previously reported attacks that were linked to China.

“To do a spear-phishing attack of this kind is a well-established move in attacks against Google and various U.S. defense contractors from China,” said Thomas Parenty, a former employee of the U.S. National Security Agency who now advises foreign firms in China on computer security.

China denies NY Times hack attack

New York Times: We were hacked

“You could say the tools are sort of stock-in-trade” for Chinese hackers, he said.

“Spear-phishing” is a technique of disguising an email so that it appears to be from a trusted source, luring the victim to open an attachment or link that unleashes malicious software on the computer.

Investigators for The Times say they suspect the technique was used by the hackers to break into the newspaper’s system where they were able collect passwords of every Times employee and gain access to the personal computers of 53 employees.

Security experts who helped the newspaper to counter the attacks accumulated evidence that the hackers used methods “associated with the Chinese military in the past” to breach the network, The Times said.

Chinese denials

Asked about The Times’s allegations on Thursday, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that “all such alleged attacks are groundless, irresponsible accusations lacking solid proof or reliable research results.” China has been the victim of cyberattacks and “has laws and regulations prohibiting such actions,” the spokesman, Hong Lei, said at a regular news briefing.

A separate statement from the Chinese Ministry of National Defense said the country’s military “has never supported any hacker activities.”

But data reported by Western companies suggest that even though Chinese authorities say they prohibit hacking, they are struggling to keep it under control.

One-third of all observed computer attacks from July through September last year came from China, according to a report last month from Akamai Technologies, an Internet services company.

The United States was a distant second, originating 13% of observed attacks, followed by Russia with 4.7%.

“China has been consistently responsible for the largest percentage of observed attacks since (the fourth quarter of) 2011,” the report said.

The most recent report shows a dramatic upswing in incidents from the Asian country. In the second quarter, 16% of observed cyber attacks came from China, the company said.

The executive summary of the report didn’t specify from which groups or individuals in China the attacks might have come.

Google had a very public spat with the Chinese government in 2010 after it claimed China had led a hacking attack against Google, other technology companies, defense corporations and Chinese dissidents.

“In the past they’ve been pretty much focused on either intellectual properties, such as the hacking of defense companies, or dissidents they want to get at, like the Google Gmail attacks,” Parenty said. “In this case, it appears they were trying to be able to get to people who talked to The New York Times — they could make their lives miserable and send the message: Don’t do this.

“They love to instill fear so people self censor or limit what they would say or do with the media,” he added.

Compromised computers

Mandiant, the security firm that led the investigation at The New York Times, says there is good reason for concern in the United States.

“There are thousands of computers compromising the United States at universities, at Mom and Pop shops — small organizations without a big cyber security program — and those computers serve as the beachhead to hack blue-chip American companies,” Kevin Mandia, the chief executive of Mandiant, told CNN.

“The majority of victims, well over 90% of the victims we have responded to, really don’t disclose that these attacks occur” for fear of losing customer trust, Mandia said.

“The folks that perpetrated this intrusion have done it to hundreds of other organizations and usually they are very successful,” Mandia said. “What’s really unique here is the fact that the victim organization, The New York Times, has decided to share this information with the public, so people can be more aware of the problem — because it’s a very pervasive problem.”

Marc Frons, chief information officer of The Times, told CNN that the newspaper believed it had prevented this attack from revealing confidential sources.

In the case of the investigation into Wen’s family’s finances, much of the information came from public records.

But Frons said The Times isn’t letting its guard down after expelling the hackers.

“I think we’re over this phase of the attack and obviously the types of things they tried to do previously they’ll have a more difficult time doing, but this isn’t over,” he said. “As long as there are computers and networks we’re going to be faced with cyber espionage threats.”

Hypocrisy in Iran-Syria warning of retribution for Israeli airstrike

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/01/31/world/meast/israel-syria-strike/index.html?hpt=imi_c1

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(CNN) — Shouting condemnation and promises of retaliation, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah on Thursday condemned Israel’s decision to send warplanes into Syria, calling its airstrike a day before “inhuman” and “barbaric.”

Russia also condemned Wednesday’s attack, saying it would represent an unprovoked violation of United Nations charter if confirmed.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry summoned the commander of U.N. forces in the Golan Heights on Thursday to formally complain about the incident, while Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, warned the attack would have “dire consequences” for Israel, according to Iran’s semiofficial Mehr News Agency.

Just last week, Abdollahian warned that Iran would consider any attack on Syria as an attack on itself, Mehr reported at the time.

Getting aid to Syria

World leaders seek aid for Syrians

Meanwhile, a U.S. official said reports that Israel had struck a Syrian research facility were wrong, instead saying warplanes hit only one target: a convoy carrying surface-to-air missiles.

A source said Wednesday that Israeli fighter jets had struck a Syrian convoy suspected of moving Russian-made missile parts that could have been used to attack Israel. A senior U.S. official said the weapons were bound for the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon. Syria and Iran back the group, which the United States has designated as a terrorist organization.

World leaders seeks $1.5 billion for afflicted Syrians

However, Syria’s military said Wednesday and again Thursday in state-run media that Israel had struck at a defense research facility near the capital of Damascus, killing two workers and injuring five others.

The report in Syrian state media tied the attack to Syria’s ongoing rebellion, saying Israel struck the site after repeated attempts by what the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad refers to as terrorist groups failed to capture the facility.

Experts say al-Assad’s regime is faltering after nearly two years of fending off the persistent rebellion, and a former high-ranking Israeli Intelligence official said Hezbollah probably wants to take hold of all the weapons it can before that happens. Providing Hezbollah with Syrian arms would better equip it to attack Israel, the official said.

In recent years, Syria has transferred to Hezbollah Scud missiles that can carry chemical weapons. U.S. authorities say they do not believe the strike was linked to growing concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons, the senior U.S. official said Wednesday.

The attack was not particularly surprising, said senior Brookings Institution fellow Michael O’Hanlon.

“At first glance, it likely won’t be seen as a large escalation, though there’s still a possibility for retaliation.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland and White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on the airstrike Wednesday. Carney referred questions to Israel, which also has been tight-lipped about the strike.

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Syrians seek shelter in ruins

Slain Syrians pulled from river

The long, dark walk to escape Syria

On Thursday, Syria took its case against Israel to Maj. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha, the commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights, former Syrian territory seized by Israel in 1967.

Foreign Ministry officials demanded a U.N. response to the incident, which it said violates the U.N. charter and the 1974 agreement between Syria and Israel negotiated after the Yom Kippur War.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office issued a statement Thursday expressing “grave concern” about the incident, but said U.N. officials lacked details about exactly what had happened.

Russia, a Syrian ally, said it also had “grave concern” about Wednesday’s airstrike.

“If the information is confirmed, we are dealing with unprovoked attacks on targets situated on the territory of a sovereign state that grossly violates the U.N. Charter and is unacceptable whatever motives are used to justify it,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

Iran also backed its close ally. The semiofficial Iranian Student News Agency quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying the attack was “in line with the West’s policies of undermining the victories of the Syrian government.”

Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim, said Syria reserves the right to a “surprise retaliation” against Israel, according to Hezbollah’s official website, Moqawama.

“I cannot predict this, and this depends on the relevant authorities to decide on appropriate retaliation and decide the manner and place,” Moqawama quoted him as saying.

Former L.A. archbishop disciplined over handling of sex abuse allegations

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/02/01/us/california-sex-abuse-documents/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

Roger Mahony, former archbishop of Los Angeles, was cited for serious shortcomings after abuse victims came forward.

Los Angeles (CNN) — In what activists describe as unprecedented, the Catholic archbishop in Los Angeles has relieved a retired cardinal of his public and administrative duties for his mishandling of “painful and brutal” allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of the Los Angeles Archdiocese disciplined his predecessor, the now retired Cardinal Roger Mahony, after a California judge forced the archdiocese to release about 12,000 pages of church documents revealing how it handled allegations of priest sexual abuse.

There were 192 priests and bishops named in litigation, the archdiocese said.

“The cases span decades,” Gomez said in a statement Thursday.Some go back to the 1930s. The documents were released on the Archdiocese’s website.

“But that does not make them less serious. I find these files to be brutal and painful reading,” he said.

Gomez cited Mahony for serious shortcomings after victims came forward during his tenure.

“Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties,” Gomez said in a statement.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abuse by Priests, described Gomez’s decision as unprecedented, but it amounts a mere slap on the wrist long after the fact.

“I can’t think of any instance in which a current Catholic prelate — and that would include bishops and cardinals — restricted or, in this case, promised to restrict their predecessor,” said Clohessy, who has spent 24 years monitoring sex abuse allegations against priests.

Clohessy said that between the ages of about 11 and 16, he was sexually abused by a priest in Missouri.

“But to say to a retired employee that we’re going to give you fewer roles, it’s a symbolic gesture and a pretty shallow one at that,” Clohessy added.

“A meaningless gesture. He should have been demoted or disciplined by the church hierarchy, in Rome and in the U.S.,” he said.

But Mahony was not as much as denounced when he was in power, Clohessy said.

Mahony “expressed his sorrow” for the alleged abuse, which victims reported during his tenure as archbishop from 1984 to 2011, the archdiocese said Friday.

But Clohessy feels that he and other church officials knew too much and did too little, and that there have not been enough consequences to deter future abuse or cover-ups.

“If you successfully conceal your wrongdoing, you can keep your job,” he said.

The archdiocese published the names of accused clergy in a 2004 report, but the release of Thursday’s documents will allow the public to trace how the church handled the allegations. It may bring to light some cases in which accusations were kept under wraps and the accused were kept out of the sight of the law or accusers.

The documents were evidence in 508 civil cases by sex abuse victims that were settled in one stroke in 2007. Victims received $660 million in the landmark judgment.

Most of the documents were inner-church correspondences about accused clergy. The archdiocese fought to purge the names of the accused from the papers until Thursday, when Judge Emilie Elias ruled that they be made public by February 22.

The church published them shortly after the ruling. There are 124 personnel files in total, 82 of which reveal sex abuse allegations against minors.

The release “concludes a sad and shameful chapter in the history of our Local Church,” the archdiocese said.

It warned that although the names of the abused have been deleted, some may recognize their cases.

“We understand this experience may be a difficult one,” it said.