TWO HOT ZONES GET HOTTER
In our first note of the new year we outlined five global hot spots to watch in 2012. Two of those – Syria and Iran – are front and center in the news today…both in ways that should worry the U.S.
SUICIDE ATTACK ROCKS DAMASCUS
One month ago President Bashar al-Assad told ABC News that terrorists were responsible for the uprising in his country. It wasn’t a credible argument. Today – terror in the form of a suicide bombing hit the Syrian capital. Alex MARQUARDT and Nasser ATTA report an explosion targeting a Syrian Police bus at a stoplight rocked the Maidan district of Damascus, killing at least 10, perhaps as many as 25 people. The explosion tore through a densely populated neighborhood. Government media said the attack was “a powerful explosion,” carried out by a suicide bomber at a busy intersection, and television broadcast images of a wrecked police bus, asphalt smeared with blood and glass and the shattered windshields of other vehicles. Who did it? State media blamed “terrorists,” and a spokesman for an insurgent group suggested the government carried out the attack to sully the opposition’s image. The Guardian’s Ian Black is in Damascus and reports: “It appears a suicide bomber blew himself up close to two or three mini buses and one larger one that were carrying police men and other members of the security forces.” Asked to comment claims that the regime staged the bombing, Ian said: “It is impossible to say. It is pretty dreadful scene. There is the remains of a body of a man who appears to have blown himself up. There’s a bit of his head left, and feet, and not much else. That would be consistent with a suicide bombing. I don’t know how that could be faked…” Meanwhile — three of the much-maligned Arab League observers in Syria managed to slip away from their minders to a Damascus suburb – and a camera was there to record the earful and accusations they got from ordinary Syrians. First time we’ve seen anything like it – and comes as the capital rocked by a suicide attack.
IRAN: WAR GAMES…AND ROAD TO WAR?
Just when we thought Iran might be done with its recent round of saber-rattling, today came the announcement from Tehran: a new round of military exercises will be held in the Strait of Hormuz in February. That from the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ naval branch. For good measure, Minister of Defense Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi said the exercises would be “the greatest naval wargames” Iran has conducted. A lot of Iran-watchers are worried that the combination of fresh, punishing sanctions, Iran’s bellicose stand, and the ever-present tensions surrounding the nuclear program (I.e., will Israel attack) are raising the risks of war. The Washington Post reports from Tehran that Iranians are bracing for war: At a time when U.S. officials are increasingly confident that economic and political pressure alone may succeed in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the mood here has turned bleak and belligerent as Iranians prepare grimly for a period of prolonged hardship and, they fear, war. This stark contrast has been evident in the Iranian capital this week as a top military commander declared a “critical point” in the country’s long feud with the West and ordinary Iranians stocked up on essential supplies. Merchants watched helplessly as the Iranian currency, the rial, shed more than a third of its value, triggering huge increases in the prices of imported goods. ”I will tell you what this is leading to: war,” said a merchant in Tehran’s popular Paytakht bazaar. “My family, friends and I – we are all desperate.”
AFGHAN WAR: KILLED IN ACTION
From Aleem AGHA in Kabul: A tough start for 2012, for international troops in Afghanistan. Five more ISAF troops killed in Afghanistan today in an IED attack in the south. This follows three yesterday. No word on nationalities as yet.
FRESH BAGHDAD EXPLOSIONS
Aadel RASHID reports from Baghdad: There have been at least six explosions in Baghdad this morning. No word on casualties yet. Meanwhile, the New York Times notes that the political role given to militants is only worsening the existing sectarian fault lines in Iraq, while the Washington Post has a helpful map of major bombings since 2006.
BODY ON QUEEN’S ESTATE: STILL. NO I.D.
As Nick WATT reports, the Norfolk Police announced that they have yet to identify the body of a woman found on Queen Elizabeth’s Sandringham Estate. However, the police say that the body was found in an area used regularly for pheasant and partridge shoots, often attended by members of the royal household. The most recent shoot took place on December 28th. Despite speculation that the body could be 17 year old Alisa Dmitrijeva, DNA results have proved inconclusive thus far. A specialist entomologist from the Natural History Museum is due to visit the site today.
U.S. CARRIERS ADD FEE FOR EUROPE CARBON CHARGE
United-Continental and US Airways have joined Delta in adding a $3 surcharge to one-way tickets to Europe, days after the European Union started requiring airlines to pay for carbon emissions. Spokesmen for all three airlines would not discuss the reasons for the surcharges. But industry analysts call the surcharge a clear sign that consumers could bear the brunt of a European law that the U.S. airline industry has estimated would cost it $3.1 billion from now through 2020. The new surcharge also happens as consumers are already paying surcharges for higher fuel costs on international flights. Under the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme to combat global climate change, various industries have had to pay for their carbon emissions for years. But on Jan. 1, airlines flying in and out of the European Union were included in the program for the first time.
POPE NAMES NEW CARDINALS
From Phoebe NATANSON in Rome: Pope Benedict XVI has named 22 new cardinals, including New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, and Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the former archbishop of Baltimore. They will be elevated in a formal ceremony February 18th. Among the new cardinals are a large group of Italians holding major Vatican positions. Of the 22, 18 are under the age of 80 — raising to 125 the number of cardinals eligible to vote in the next papal conclave. Cardinals over 80 are not allowed to vote on the next pope. Other new cardinals come from Hong Kong, Berlin, Prague, Toronto and Florence.
CLEARING THE AIR IN CHINA
Authorities in Beijing say information about the city’s air pollution will for the first time be made public. The official Xinhua News Agency said Friday that Beijing’s environmental protection bureau would begin posting readings for fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, later this month. Beijing already monitors PM2.5 but keeps the data secret from the public. Breathing such fine particles causes respiratory problems and can lead to death.
THATCHER FILM: ADD THE P.M. TO THOSE WHO SAY, “THUMBS DOWN”
Prime Minister David Cameron waded into the controversy over the Thatcher biopic “The Iron Lady,” launching an attack today on the timing of its release. Asked about the movie this morning, Cameron was full of praise for Meryl Streep’s performance, but joined a chorus of disapproval from some of Baroness Thatcher’s friends and former colleagues about the decision to use the dementia that has afflicted her in later years as a dramatic device for a film to be shown in her lifetime.
U.S. TEEN DEPORTED TO COLOMBIA COULD RETURN SOON
The grandmother of a 15-year-old Dallas girl who was deported to Colombia after giving immigration officials a fake name is questioning why U.S. officials didn’t do more to verify her identify. U.S. immigration officials said they’re investigating the circumstances of the case involving Jakadrien Lorece Turner. But they insist they followed proper procedures and found nothing to indicate that the girl wasn’t – as she claimed – a woman from Colombia illegally living in the U.S. The girl, who ran away from home more than a year ago, was recently found in Bogota, Colombia, by the Dallas Police Department with help from Colombian and U.S. officials. The Colombian government said late Thursday that the U.S. Embassy had submitted the necessary documents for Jakadrien to return to the U.S, though it was unclear exactly when she might be back.
MIRACLE ON THE WATER: SAVED BY ICE BOX
Two men and two boys have been rescued from the sea off the eastern coast of Australia after using an ice box as a floatation device. The group had to cling to the box until help arrived after their boat sank.
U.K. POLICE WARNED: BEWARE OF “FLIRTING” JOURNALISTS
In the wake of the phone hacking scandal, the BBC reports that the U.K.’s Met Police have been warned of “flirting” journalists amid suggestions that reporters may bat an eyelash or two to get information.
SOCIAL MEDIA BAN FOR 2012 OLYMPIC VOLUNTEERS
Olympic organizers have set out social media rules for the 70,000 Olympic Games volunteers, including a ban on pictures or posts to Twitter, Facebook or other outlets featuring VIPs backstage.
VAN DER SLOOT IN COURT
Joe GOLDMAN reports — seven years after becoming the prime suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba, Justin van der Sloot goes on trial in Lima today for the murder of a young Peruvian woman — and there are hints he may plead guilty.
WORLD’S TALLEST BRIDGE
The 1,322-foot tall Baluarte Bridge spans a deep ravine in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains in northern Mexico. The cable-stayed bridge is so tall that the Eiffel Tower would easily fit under its central span.
TOP 1% OF MOBILE USERS USE HALF WORLD’S BANDWIDTH
As Molly HUNTER writes, “Occupy bandwidth?” The New York Times reports that the gap between the haves and the have-nots has gone digital. The world’s congested mobile airwaves are being divided in a lopsided manner, with 1 percent of consumers generating half of all traffic. The top 10 percent of users, meanwhile, are consuming 90 percent of wireless bandwidth.