(CBS News) LONDON - Moderate Libyan activists have organized a protest Friday in Benghazi, Libya, to demand that the well-armed Islamic militias which virtually run security in much of the country lay down their arms.
Friday is the Muslim holy day, and one of the most powerful militias in Benghazi has called their own protest to coincide with the so-called "Save Benghazi" rally.
Ansar al-Sharia - one of the groups U.S. officials say was likely involved in the attack on the consulate which left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens dead - announced its own protest, "in defense of our prophet on Friday 21."
The prospect of both Ansar al-Sharia, with its conservative Muslim supporters and its well-stocked arsenal of weaponry, rallying on the same streets on the same day as groups calling for them to be disarmed and replaced by state security forces, presents an obvious risk of tension, and possible clashes.Continue »
(CBS News) - LONDON - The North African branch of al Qaeda, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has praised the militants who attacked the U.S. Consulate in northern Libya, and called on Muslims across the region to try and kill more American diplomats.
"We incite Muslims to carry on and escalate their protests, and we invite Muslim youths for follow the footsteps of the Lions of Benghazi, by tearing down U.S. flags off their embassies in all our capital cities, torching them, after stamping them with our feet, and killing their ambassadors and diplomats, or expelling them to cleanse our land from their evil," said the group in a three-page statement posted on a jihadi web forum.
The Libyan government and U.S. officials disagree over the nature of the Benghazi attack, with Washington suggesting the incident - which left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens - appears to have been essentially a protest which turned extremely violent when local well-armed militants joined the melee.Continue »
(CBS News) LONDON - The FBI and a specially trained team of Marines are on the ground in Libya trying to determine exactly who was behind Tuesday's deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, but the "who" may be less important than the "why".
"60 Minutes" correspondent Lara Logan says for the intelligence agencies of the West, what's "important is to look at the ideology that's fueling them ... because it's the same all over the world, with every group that's al Qaeda or al Qaeda-affiliated ... they're driven by a belief that the United States is engaged in a war with Islam."
That message may actually be getting harder for the leaders of al Qaeda and similar groups to sell to young Muslim men - even the young, uneducated ones ripe for terror recruitment - as the war in Iraq and the grim images from Abu Ghraib slowly fade into memory and as the U.S. military prepares to pull out of Afghanistan.
But recent history across North Africa has created fertile ground, with huge populations of long-oppressed Muslims suddenly finding themselves free to join political movements of their choice, and with regional Salafist Muslim groups quickly achieving levels of power they couldn't have dreamed of two years ago. Men with their eye on power - some of whom have spent much of the last three decades in prison as terrorists - are now eager to sell the message to anyone who will buy it, and they are operating in countries with weak central governments and poorly trained, corrupt security forces.Continue »
(CBS News) LONDON - Former CIA director Michael Hayden has told an Israeli newspaper that the Jewish state is not capable of carrying out and sustaining military action against Iran's nuclear sites without U.S. support, and that there is still time before a decision on any such strike needs to be made.
"I do not underestimate the Israeli talent, but geometry and physics tell us that Iran's nuclear program would pose a difficult challenge to any military," Hayden told the widely-circulated Haaretz daily in an interview published Tuesday, adding that, "Israel's resources are more limited than those of the U.S."
"There is no absolute certainty that all targets are known," he told the paper, suggesting that Iran's alleged efforts to conceal a nuclear weapons program may be outwitting even the world's most advanced espionage agencies.
He reiterated previous comments by American officials who have said a single bombing raid would not be able to inflict significant damage on Iran's heavily-fortified nuclear sites. "They will have to be revisited - which only the U.S. Air Force would be able to do."Continue »
(CBS News) LONDON - Eighteen months after anti-Assad street protests spiraled into all-out civil war, sources inside Aleppo tell CBS News that many of the business leaders, scholars and other prominent figures in Syria's largest city, who have backed President Bashar Assad and his family for decades, no longer see a future under his rule.
CBS News has learned that at least 48 of Aleppo's elite, calling themselves the "Front of Aleppo Islamic Scholars" (FAIS) - which has a Facebook page established just last year - have hand-picked a provisional city council to take over Aleppo when Assad loses his grip on the country - and they are gambling on one of the many rebel groups fighting in the city to become its eventual protectors.Continue »
(CBS News) LONDON - Virtually all of the independent reporting from inside Syria in recent months has come from journalists who sneak into the country and travel with the rebel fighters battling to oust President Bashar Assad. Now, for the first time, a veteran British war reporter has provided the other side of the story.
Robert Fisk, who writes for The Independent, was given permission to work alongside the top Syrian Army commander on one of the most active front lines of the civil war at present; the battle for control of Syria's largest city, Aleppo.
The picture Fisk paints from his time with the general, who is not identified by name, provides more evidence - if largely anecdotal - for the Assad regime's long-running claim that foreign Islamist fighters are playing a significant role in the Syria's civil war.Continue »
(CBS News) Gu Kailai, the wife of a man who had been one of the Chinese Communist Party's rising stars, stood in court Monday and declared her suspended death sentence for the murder of a British businessman, "fair," suggesting that it "reflects the court's special respect toward the law, reality and life."
Her remarks were almost certainly scripted by court authorities - or at least pre-approved by some government official - and her gratitude at seeing her life spared by the court may have been very real. But it came as little surprise.
Contrary to her remarks, many Chinese see her sentence as a blatant example of power continuing to trump justice in the country.
"I could have told you before the trial there would be no death penalty," Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Beijing's Renmin University tells CBS News. "It is not custom for the rich and powerful in China to get the death penalty. The family's connections go way back, generations."Continue »
(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - A teenage girl in Pakistan has been arrested after furious mobs surrounded her house, accusing her of violating the nation's strict blasphemy laws - an offense which can, but rarely does, lead to the death penalty - by allegedly burning pages of a Koran. The case has highlighted the tremendous sway radical Islamic groups hold over society in many parts of Pakistan.
Much remains unconfirmed about the girl, a member of Pakistan's Christian minority from the impoverished outskirts of Islamabad, including her exact age and whether she suffers from a severe mental or physical disability. Various reports say she is anywhere between 11 and 16, and there has been one claim that she suffers from Down's Syndrome.
The case has evoked fears that Pakistan's radical Islamic factions might try again to use the blasphemy laws to target the country's religious minorities - to the extent that President Asif Ali Zardari has intervened, asking the Ministry of Interior to examine the circumstances of her detention.
"The president is very disturbed over this case and wants it to be thoroughly re-examined," an official who works with Zardari tells CBS News. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says it remains unclear what ailment the girl might suffer from, but her age alone is cause for an investigation into the case.Continue »
(CBS/AP) KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan police officer shot and killed three U.S. Marines after sharing a meal with them before dawn Friday and then fled into the desolate darkness of southern Afghanistan, the third attack on coalition forces by their Afghan counterparts in a week.
Thirty-one coalition service members have now died this year at the hands of Afghan forces or insurgents disguised in Afghan uniforms, according to NATO -- a dramatic rise from previous years.
U.S. officials told CBS News correspondent David Martin that the three slain troops were members of a Marine special operations force. Afghan sources in Helmand told CBS News Kabul bureau chief Fazul Rahim that they were part of a team overseeing the training and recruitment of Afghan local police. The sources said it was one of the police officers who opened fire on his mentors during dinner.Continue »
(CBS News) LONDON - Israel's defense chief suggested Thursday that the U.S. has new intelligence that changes the American assessment of the imminent danger represented by Iran's clandestine nuclear work, bringing its views closer to those held by the Jewish state.
An article published Thursday by the Haaretz newspaper said Defense Minister Ehud Barak had "confirmed" the paper's earlier report that Mr. Obama had received a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) "which shares Israel's view that Iran has made surprising, significant progress toward military nuclear capability."
Speaking later to Israeli Radio, Barak was not as definitive, but said there is "apparently a report by American intelligence agencies - I don't know if it's under the title NIE or under another title - which is making the rounds of high offices," in Washington that makes the American government's concerns more urgent.
"As far as we know, it comes very close to our own estimate, I would say, as opposed to earlier American estimates. It transforms the Iranian situation to an even more urgent one and it is even less likely that we will know every development in time on the Iranian nuclear program," Barak said.
CBS News is seeking clarification on the latest U.S. intelligence assessments on Iran's nuclear program. The Obama administration has said nothing publicly about a change in their overall assessment of the risk currently posed by Iran.Continue »
(CBS News) - The State Department tells CBS News it believes Syrian rebels' claims that 48 Iranians they are holding hostage are members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard military unit.
Iran has flatly denied the claim that the hostages are military personnel, insisting they are all civilians who were in Syria to visit the Sayyida Zainab shrine, south of Damascus, when they were abducted. The shrine has been frequented by Shiite Muslim pilgrims in the past, including many from Iran.
On Wednesday, however, Iran's foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by the Islamic Republic's government-controlled media as saying, "some retired individuals from the Guards and army" were among those being held.
"After some time in which pilgrims from Iran were not being dispatched to Syria... we took steps to send retired forces from various organizations," he was quoted as saying by Iran's state news agency and other state-run media. "Some retired individuals from the Guards and army were dispatched to Syria to make a pilgrimage."Salehi continued to reject claims that the hostages were playing an active military role. Continue »
(CBS News) LONDON - As the 192 member nations come together at U.N. headquarters Friday to put in writing a majority opinion that President Bashar Assad's regime deserves the lion's share of the blame for the violence tearing his country apart - the rebels fighting his powerful military will pay little attention, if any at all.
"The rebels have no concern whatsoever for what's going on at the U.N., they feel the U.N. has been ineffectual," says CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata, who has been reporting this week from just outside Aleppo, on the front lines of the battle.
The fraught international diplomacy, ostensibly vying for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, is "a sidebar" to the rebel forces, who have been ramping up their fight against Assad's army and militias across the country for 17 months, says D'Agata.
Thursday's resignation announcement from U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan - prompted by the U.N. Security Council's deadlock with Russia and China refusing to endorse a call for regime change or tough sanctions against Assad, as the violence escalates - "may have seemed urgent to the rest of world, but to the rebels it was an irrelevance."
The rebels' disillusionment with the politics and diplomacy on the world stage is deeper than disinterest. While the local groups fighting Assad vary hugely in their makeup - and while foreign jihadists are joining their ranks - they all consider themselves revolutionaries against an unjust regime, and they are angry at the lack of support they have received from the West - which, they note, was happy to help their counterparts in Libya topple Muammar Qaddafi.Continue »
(CBS News) LONDON - The U.S. government says President Bashar Assad's grip on power in Syria is coming loose, with rhetoric from the highest levels in Washington suggesting the dictator will soon fall thanks to his own poor decision-making and intransigence.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Sunday that Assad's continued use of heavy weapons and aggressive military tactics against opposition fighters - which often results in civilian deaths - "makes clear that his regime is coming to an end." But he did not give a timeframe.
On Friday, multiple sources at the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury told CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan that Assad's regime was literally running out of money to keep up the fight.
According to these officials, the regime has spent about half of one large fund used by the Syrian government as a virtual piggy bank, and is rapidly running out of domestic currency. But again, the officials did not say how long it was believed Syria's cash reserves might be able to sustain Assad's government - and with it his brutal fight against the rebels.
Now, a well-informed Syrian source tells CBS News the government likely has enough money left - in foreign currency and gold - to fund the fight for another six months.
(CBS News) LONDON - Concern has mounted for months that Islamic extremists are joining the fight against Syrian President Bahsar Assad's dictatorship, and now a New York Times report says there's increasing evidence that al Qaeda militants are trying to commandeer the fight for their own cause.
The focus has been on claims that al Qaeda fighters from Iraq's Sunni heartland are coming across the border to fight their long-running sectarian battle against Shiite Muslims on new territory - with the apparent goal, once Assad is ousted, of being able to carve out a Sunni homeland under strict Islamic law.
Syria's prominent opposition groups flatly reject the notion that Islamic extremists are a significant force within the anti-Assad fight. They know it would not help their cause as they seek further support from the U.S. and other sympathetic nations.
But senior Iraqi officials have warned that militants - including al Qaeda in Iraq fighters - are crossing the border.Continue »
(CBS News) The civil war raging across Syria has seen accusations of atrocities from both sides.
In the latest, and some of the most damning accusations to date, The Atlantic published a report on Wednesday detailing incidents of extreme sexual abuse, including rape, allegedly at the hands of regime forces.
Stories and data were collected and analyzed by a team led by the Women's Media Center over the past three months for the project. It includes second- and third-party reports on horrific torture with graphic detail, allegedly by Syrian soldiers and the feared "shabiha" militiamen. While the reports of rape have not been independently verified, interviews were conducted with Syrian women both inside and outside of the country.
Writer Lauren Wolfe described some of the stories as being, "At the extreme edge of nightmares." Wolfe is also the director of the WMC's Women Under Siege project, which continues to document these reports from Syria on a crowd-sourced map.Continue »
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