TERROR SUSPECT IN VIOLENT STANDOFF
-UNDER SIEGE… French police have surrounded a Frenchman of North African descent who they believe is responsible for the killings of three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in the south west of the country. The suspect, Mohammed Merah, 24, has told police he will surrender this afternoon, following a pre-dawn raid and gun battle in Toulouse. France's Interior Minister said the suspect had declared himself to be a "mujahedeen" and a member of Al Qaeda, fighting to avenge Palestinian children killed in the conflict with Israel. French television reports the man told police negotiators he was planning other attacks targeting French military personnel.
-WHO HE IS…From Muhammad LILA in Islamabad: Merah travelled to both Pakistan and Afghanistan for militant training in the lawless tribal regions. The head of Kandahar Prison confirms that Merah was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to three years in prison - then, along with a number of other militants, Merah escaped in a Taliban-orchestrated jailbreak in 2008. Profile of Murah from the BBC linked here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17456541
-VICTIMS BURIED IN ISRAEL…Meanwhile, very emotional scenes in Israel, where victims of the Toulouse school shooting and their families have been arriving. The mother of seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego had to be carried out. Meanwhile, the pregnant wife of slain Rabbi Jonathan Sandler - who lost two small sons and her husband Monday - said she will not return to France.
MEXICO: DODGING A BIG (7.4) SEISMIC BULLET
At this writing, still no reports of deaths - and just 11 injuries confirmed - following Tuesday's magnitude-7.4 quake centered near the border between the southern states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Those low numbers have held even after 10 aftershocks, some reaching 5.1 on the scale. Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire says nine people were injured in Oaxaca and two in Mexico City. Seismologists and civil protection officials said where and how the earthquake hit appear to have limited the damage, along with improved construction in the capital following the 1985 quake that took more than 10,000 lives.
SGT. BALES AND HIS AFGHAN VICTIMS
The Associated Press has spoken to residents near the base who are convinced the slayings were retaliation for a roadside bomb attack on U.S. forces in the same area. Residents allege that U.S. troops lined up men against a wall after the bombing and told them they would pay a price for the attack.
-TANKS SHELL DAMASCUS SUBURBS…As Alex MARQUARDT notes, two large suburbs of Damascus came under heavy tank bombardment Wednesday following renewed Free Syrian Army attacks on forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, opposition activists said. Artillery and anti-aircraft gun barrages hit the suburbs of Harasta and Irbin, retaken from rebels by Assad's forces two months ago, and army helicopters were heard flying over the area, on the eastern edge of the capital.
-STUDY DETAILS TORTURE AND EXECUTIONS BY REBELS…Syrian rebels have kidnapped, tortured and on occasion executed those they suspect of supporting the Assad regime, according to a Human Rights Watch report. HRW says it's the fullest study yet of abuses by the opposition.
AL-QAEDA CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR IRAQ ATTACKS
Al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq has claimed responsibility for the latest wave of bloody attacks that killed 46 people in eight cities Tuesday. A statement posted to a militant website today says the Islamic State of Iraq wanted to prove how weak the Iraqi government's security plans are ahead of next week's Arab League meeting in Baghdad.
EXPLOSION OUTSIDE INDONESIAN EMBASSY IN PARIS
A package bomb exploded at the Indonesian Embassy, causing minor damage. An employee at the embassy apparently discovered a suspicious package and stepped back moments before the package exploded. No injuries and only light damage reported.
HOW AL-QAEDA TRIED TO CONTROL THE MEDIA
The Washington Post reports: The modern face of Osama bin Laden's jihad comes through clearly in a 21-page letter from his media adviser, an American-born jihadist named Adam Gadahn. The letter is undated, but it appears to have been written after November 2010, in the last six months of bin Laden's life. Gadahn wrote much as if he were a media planner corresponding with a client. He included suggestions about the timing of video appearances after the 2010 U.S. midterm elections and use of high-definition video, and made snarky evaluations of major American networks. In the letter, Gadahn writes, ABC "is all right; actually, it could be one of the best channels," because of its chief investigator and terrorism expert, Brian Ross. But all the networks, he complains, will bring in analysts who will "conduct a smearing" of al-Qaeda figures.
SAUDI ARABIA MAY INCLUDE WOMEN ON ITS OLYMPIC TEAM
Saudi Arabia, a monarchy whose legal system places severe restrictions on women in daily life, including an effective ban on sports, now may be opening a door. Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz has approved the participation of female athletes in London as long as their sports "meet the standards of women's decency and don't contradict Islamic laws."
U.K. HOSTAGE FREED IN KENYA
Bazi KANANI reports from Nairobi: Briton Judith Tebbutt was freed this morning after a ransom was paid to secure her release. She and her husband were taken six months ago from a Kenyan beach resort and brought to Somalia - where her husband was shot and killed. The BBC has exclusive video of Tebbutt arriving in Adado, Somalia - she is to be flown to the British consulate in Nairobi.
U.S. PUSH TO CATCH UP TO CHINA…IN AFRICA
Bazi KANANI again: U.S. Congressman sponsoring House Resolution 4221 - "The Increasing American Jobs through Greater Exports to Africa Act" - say more must be done to help the U.S. compete with China in Africa. China surpassed the U.S. as the continent's largest trading partner a few years ago. The bill aims to triple the number of U.S. exports to Africa within 10 years. In a one-page summary, its sponsors say: "The United States has underestimated China's posture while failing to develop a coherent strategy to compete, hurting both American business interests and political influence." Bill summary here.
MYANMAR INVITES US ELECTION MONITORS
Myanmar has invited the United States to send observers to monitor its April elections - that's a major step for the long-isolated country that is seeking to convince the West to lift economic sanctions. U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Adrienne Nutzman told The Associated Press that Washington had received an invitation to send observers along with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
POPE'S MEXICO TRIP CLOUDED BY LEGION VICTIM'S BOOK
Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Mexico this week to a very public reminder of one of the Catholic Church's most egregious sex abuse scandals: A new book says internal Vatican documents show the Holy See knew decades ago of allegations that the Mexican founder of the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order was a drug addict and pedophile. The authors - aiming for a larger international audience - say they will post key documents on the Internet as part of the book release Saturday.
DUTCH CHURCH ACCUSED OF CASTRATING YOUNG MEN
As Joe SIMONETTI noted yesterday, a young man in the care of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands was surgically castrated decades ago after complaining about sexual abuse, according to new evidence. The case, which dates from the 1950s, has increased pressure for a government-led inquiry into sexual abuse in the Dutch church, amid suspicions that as many as 10 young men may have suffered the same fate.
MANDELA GRANDCHILDREN MAKE A DOCUMENTARY
A Nelson Mandela documentary shot by his grandchildren is to have its first airing at this year's Brighton Festival. Grandson Kweku Mandela spoke to the Argus paper ahead of the May 6 event, about the film and what it's like to have the world's most famous granddad. Kweku said: "It's something that my family has wanted to do for a long time…I struggled with how I would put it together but I remembered a Christmas before when the whole family was sitting round the table and he was answering all our questions. So I thought that that was the best way to do it." He added: "Away from the cameras, he's a very warm person and always tries to be a good example to others. He likes to read newspapers and will get through five or six every day. He's never been a big fan of TV though." Kweku hopes to be able to show it to his granddad before his 94th birthday in July.
PRINCE WILLIAM BACK FROM FALKLANDS
Royal officials confirm Prince William has returned to the U.K. following his 6-week deployment to the Falkland Islands. deployment.
AMERICANS ROUND THE WORLD - IN A LONDON TAXI
Fun story in this morning's WSJournal - as their headline reads, " Three College Buddies Girdle the Globe in Old Taxi, Smashing Record, Windshield." Caught recently in traffic in New York's Times Square, Paul Archer watched the taxi meter climb to more than $100,000. The tangle of cars and cabs and pushcarts was undaunting. "We've seen worse," says the 25-year-old from Gloucester, U.K. Over the past 13 months, Mr. Archer and two college buddies, Leigh Purnell, 24, and Johno Ellison, 28, have traveled more than 32,000 miles around the globe from London to New York, and points beyond, in a 1992 LTI 2.7 liter diesel FX4TK, better known as a London Black Cab-which they've christened Hannah.
WORLD'S LONGEST WEDDING DRESS
Thanks, Andreena NARAYAN, for this contribution: Pretty good pictures of a Romanian model wearing what Guinness has certified to be the world's longest wedding dress in Bucharest. The 1.85-mile-long train took 100 days to stitch and was put on display as the model was lifted up in a hot air balloon. Now they just have to find a church that's long enough…
I FLEW TO THE HAGUE - AND BOY ARE MY ARMS TIRED
From Joe SIMONETTI: Flying daredevils video seem to be popping up one a week - this time Dutch engineer Jarno Smeets runs through a park in the Hague, flapping enormous kite-like wings and suddenly lifts off flying 300 feet in the air.