RESCUED HOSTAGES – AND FEARS FOR ANOTHER AMERICAN
Kelly COBIELLA reports from the Sigonella air base that Jessica Buchanan has been joined there by family members, after her dramatic rescue from captors in Somalia earlier this week. Buchanan and her Danish colleague and fellow ex-hostage, Poul Thisted are expected to leave Sigonella after their “reintegration”, perhaps as soon as this weekend. Meanwhile, Kirit RADIA and Dana HUGHES report this unfortunate fallout of operation “Octave Fusion”: the fear that another American hostage in Somali may lose his life as a result. That American (we are refraining from using his name, at the request of family and friends) has been moved three times in the past twenty four hours and his captors have threatened to kill him. He is a journalist, a California native who was reporting in Somalia for a book. And as Martha RADDATZ reports, pirates warned the U.S. not to rescue him, saying, “If they try again, we will all die together.” Pirates rarely kill their hostages – usually they’re in this for the ransom – but (Raddatz again) the U.S. is taking these threats very seriously.
AMERICANS IN EGYPT – NOT HOSTAGES, BUT NOT FREE TO LEAVE EITHER
We continue to follow the story of those Americans – including the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood – who have been working on U.S.-funded pro-democracy projects in Egypt and are now barred from leaving the country. Sam LaHood, director of the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Cairo office, said he was turned away at the airport as he sought to fly out of the country. And now he tells Alex MARQUARDT the local investigation could result in a trial. ”I don’t have any concrete reason to be optimistic at this point,” LaHood said. “I do think there’s something larger at work here, there’s a lot of speculation about what’s behind this.” A number of other employees of foreign NGOs have been barred from leaving, stemming from the December raids by Egypt’s ruling military on their offices, including those of the National Democratic Institute (NDI). Though both NDI and IRI are non-governmental organizations, most of their funding comes from the U.S. government. As the Christian Science Monitor writes, “if Egypt’s ruling generals were looking for a way to push the Obama administration in that direction, targeting the son of a cabinet secretary and others would be a very good way to go about it.”
SYRIA: “TERRIFYING MASSACRE”, U.N. MEETING
The U.N. Security Council will hold a closed-door meeting on Syria today at 3pm/ET. Meanwhile, a “terrifying massacre” in the restive Syrian city of Homs has killed more than 30 people, including small children, in a barrage of mortar fire and attacks by armed forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, activists said Friday.
BAGHDAD TRAGEDY: CAR BOMBER AT FUNERAL PROCESSION
A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed car near a funeral procession in southeastern Baghdad on Friday, killing at least 32 people — half of them policemen who were guarding the march — in the latest brazen attack since the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Police officials said the blast occurred at 11:00 a.m. in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Zafaraniyah, where mourners had gathered for the funeral of a person killed the day before. They said 65 people were wounded in the attack, including 16 policemen.
ROCKET ATTACK NEAR BIN LADEN’S COMPOUND
Habibullah KHAN reports from Islamabad: a pair of RPG rounds were fired at the military academy in Abbottabad – the town and military garrison that was home to Osama Bin Laden before his death. One of the rockets hit the back wall of the academy – no deaths were reported. Police and military have surrounded the area and found RPG launchers and rockets. Khan says this is a rare attack in what remains a relatively peaceful part of the country.
AFGHANISTAN: FRANCE’S PULLOUT THREAT
French President Nicolas Sarkozy hosts his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai today – and Karzai’s main aim is to convince France not to accelerate its troop withdrawal, which they threatened after the January 20 attack by an Afghan soldier killed four French troops and injured 15 others.
OIL PRICES HOVER NEAR $100 AMID IRAN TENSIONS
Since the EU oil embargo announced Monday and Iran’s counter-threat to cut off Europe’s supply, crude prices are hovering at the $100-a-barrel mark today. The crucial question of course is whether Europe and the rest of the world will be able to find extra oil elsewhere if Iran makes good on its threat to immediately halt exports to the region.
CRUISE COMPANY WILL PAY
The parent company of the ill-fated Costa Concordia has offered some cash to its passengers. Costa Crociere SpA announced today it has offered passengers $14,460 each – to compensate for their lost baggage and psychological trauma after its cruise ship ran aground and capsized off Tuscany. Costa, a unit of the world’s biggest cruise operator Carnival Corp., will also reimburse passengers the full costs of their cruise, travel expenses and any medical expenses incurred after the grounding. Remains to be seen, of course, how many passengers pursue legal claims for more money.
SWINE FLU CONCERN IN MEXICO
Mexico’s newspapers are warning of an alarming increase in swine flu for the first time since a pandemic shut down much of the country three years ago, while the government insists there’s no need for another international scare. Federal and state health officials agree there is an increase, but they say the number of cases is within the range of a normal flu season. The CDC says that while Mexico is seeing more cases of H1N1 virus, the U.S. is seeing more cases of a different strain, H3N2.
TWITTER TO CENSOR TWEETS BY COUNTRY
Akiko FUJITA notes the report that Twitter can now “withhold content from users in a specific country,” while keeping it available abroad. The social network has announced its technology can selectively block tweets on a country by country basis. In its blog post, Twitter explained that its international growth meant entering countries “that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression”, citing France or Germany which ban pro-Nazi content as examples. “Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country – while keeping it available in the rest of the world,” the company said in a blog post titled “Tweets Must Flow”.
RUSSIAN BRIBES: A GROWTH INDUSTRY
From Alexandra NADEZHDINA in Moscow: The size of the average bribe in Russia more than tripled in 2011, the Interior Ministry’s economic security department reported. “The size of the average bribe and commercial payoff in reported crimes increased more than 250 percent to 236,000 rubles ($7866),” it said in a statement. The department said there had been some success in the fight against corruption, notably a 50-percent increase in funds recovered in corruption cases involving government contracts. Russia also improved its position on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2011, although it still ranks near the bottom of the list.
LEGO MAN IN SPACE!
Even if he didn’t quite make it all the way to outer space, as some early reports claimed, a two-inch Lego man, with a fixed grin and a Canadian flag in his hand, did travel about 80,000 feet above the earth’s surface to the upper stratosphere this month, and he has the stunning video to prove it. As The Toronto Star reported, the Legonaut was launched into the heavens aboard a Styrofoam capsule attached to a weather balloon as part of a mission conceived and executed by two Canadian high school students, Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad. During an appearance on Canadian television, the 17-year-old mission-controllers explained that they were inspired to build their $400 craft after hearing about a similar low-fi launch carried out two years ago by students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
COME TO NORTH KOREA – FOR THE GOLF!
Akiko FUJITA again: North Korea is apparently hosting an Amateur Golf Tournament, and using golf to entice a new breed of tourists. The pitch from NK? “Come play in the world’s most exclusive golf course!” In addition to golf, Yonhap reports North Korea’s also launched a cruise liner to lure visitors. Worth noting: the ship is 40 years old, and home to “dubious sanitary conditions.” North Korean legend has it that, on his maiden round, the country’s No. 1 man blew away even the earthly brilliance of golf greats Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as he carded, wait for it, 11 holes-in-one.