QAEDA BOMB PLOT FOILED: THE THREAT REMAINS
-THE BOMB…At the FBI’s explosives lab in Virginia, experts are picking apart a sophisticated new al-Qaida bomb – trying to figure out whether it could have slipped past airport security and taken down a commercial airplane. As the AP writes, “The unexploded bomb represents an intelligence prize” – the result of a covert CIA operation in Yemen that thwarted a suicide mission around the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. The device did not contain metal, meaning it probably could have passed through an airport metal detector. But it was not clear whether new body scanners used in many airports would have detected it. Brian ROSS reports the device is believed to have been the handiwork of Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri – a bombmaker and key figure in the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). It’s an upgrade of the so-called “underwear bomb” – also designed by al-Asiri – that failed to detonate aboard a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas 2009 – this latest device was also designed to be used in a passenger’s underwear, but this time it carried a more refined detonation system. It’s not clear where the bomb was seized – or what happened to the would-be suicide bomber, based in Yemen, who officials said had not yet picked a target or purchased plane tickets when the CIA seized the bomb. Also not clear, as Dick CLARKE said this morning: If the CIA source has now been compromised, will we have as good intelligence when the next plot is born?
-THE THREAT REMAINS…Authorities are clear on this much: The threat is far from over. Counter-terrorism officials say they believe there are several other would-be bombers with similar non-metallic devices that could evade airport screenings. Secretary of State Clinton reinforced that belief in remarks today at a joint presser with Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna when she said that the plot itself indicates the terrorists will keep on trying. Counter-terror Chief John Brennan said much the same on Good Morning America.
-THE PROTESTS…From Kirit RADIA in Moscow: A group of several hundred anti-Putin protesters remained in a square in central Moscow overnight, a silent protest defying a police crackdown on the day of Putin’s inauguration. Because they didn’t have signs and weren’t chanting slogans, police largely left them alone, though around mid-morning riot police cleared the square and forced the crowd into the metro, arresting some people along the way.
-HEAVY HAND…Meanwhile, a fuller picture is emerging of the extraordinary attempts by police to squash protesters on inauguration day. While Putin was promising to strengthen Russia’s democracy, at least 300 activists were arrested -as riot police raided popular cafes and restaurants, even a McDonald’s, to arrest even would-be protesters. Good video here . Anyone wearing a white ribbon, the symbol of the opposition, was detained; some arrests seemed random as people were snatched from crowds. Popular pedestrian boulevards were blocked. Putin’s spokesman deflected questions about the tactics: “What I saw was a bunch of marginal people.”
-PUTIN PLAYS HOCKEY…And where was Vladimir Putin during all this? He played in a nationally televised ice hockey exhibition match after his swearing-in ceremony. He scored a goal and assisted on another. Even Russian news reports noted that oposing players seemed reluctant to challenge the newly sworn-in president… though he fell down once while skating with the puck. Old pal Silvio Berlusconi, who attended the inauguration, was there to cheer him on during the game as well.
WORLD MARKETS STILL VOLATILE
Two days removed from elections in France and Greece that threw the Eurozone’s economic recovery into doubt, world markets remain volatile today. European shares have fallen about a percent across the board, failing to sustain yesterday’s late recovery. Futures point to losses on Wall Street where the Dow Jones is down a half a percent before the market opens. As Nick SCHIFRIN writes, In Greece today, after the parties that won the most votes failed to form a coalition, there is talk of a snap election – that may determine the fate of the Eurozone. The likely poll would be held on June 17, just one day before the country runs out of cash. The prospect that Greece will leave the Euro is now a 50-75 percent probability, according to Citibank, perhaps having a domino effect on Portugal, Spain and Italy. “Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and even France are in the midst of a forest fire which is spreading alarmingly fast,” the former European Commissioner wrote in a letter leaked to the Guardian. “The belief that such a fire can be stopped at national borders is misjudged.”
ISRAEL: NEW UNITY GOVERNMENT
From Alex MARQUARDT and Bruno NOTA in Jerusalem: The Israeli Knesset is expected to approve within 48 hours a unity government brokered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima head Shaul Mofaz. It’s a surprise move – with many implications: one being that a unified government with a large majority in Parliament it may make it easier for Israel to attack Iran. However it’s also worth noting that Mofaz, who will be named vice premier, was born in Iran and has previously encouraged Israeli to stick to sanctions when it comes to dealing with that country and its nuclear program.
TOP PALESTINIAN OFFICIAL HAS HEART ATTACK
A senior medical official says a top Palestinian peace negotiator has been hospitalized after suffering a heart attack. Saeb Erekat had a “sharp” attack early on Tuesday and was taken to a Ramallah hospital for a heart catheterization. An official from the hospital says the 57-year-old Erekat will remain in hospital for three days for supervision. Erekat has been a leading negotiator with Israel in talks over Palestinian independence during the past two decades.
SYRIA: COUNTING THE VOTE
Vote counting is underway in Syria after yesterday’s parliamentary elections which the U.S. has said “border on ludicrous.” Despite questions about the election’s validity, the state-run SANA news agency reports judicial supervision of the vote counting will ensure “fairness, freedom and democracy.” The U.N.’s special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, is set to brief the Security Council today about the ongoing violence in Syria. Dana HUGHES reports: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon gave what the U.N. is calling his most forceful speech on Syria at last night’s Atlantic Council Gala, telling the crowd of policy makers that the world is in a “race against time” to keep Syria from breaking out in an all out war, He also made a veiled reference to China and Russia’s role in stopping the UN from acting, saying that the world needs U.S. and Western leadership more than ever.
U.S. TO SPEED SPECIAL OPS DEPLOYMENTS
The Wall Street Journal reports U.S. military leaders are working to speed the deployment of special operation forces to the world’s trouble spots. If the plan is adopted, commando teams will likely become a more frequent and routine response to emerging threats around the world. Such teams are favored for their small footprint, low cost and the fact that they can reach trouble spots more easily than conventional forces, but critics caution that commando teams are notoriously difficult to police.
SECRETARY OF STATE CLINTON PUSHES PAKISTAN ON TERROR
-”WE NEED STRONGER EFFORTS”…Secretary of State Clinton is on her way back to the U.S. at this hour. Before wrapping up her Asian tour, Clinton held a joint presser with Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna in which she called on Pakistan to do more to crack down on terror there. “Terrorists in Pakistan have killed more than 30,000 Pakistanis. We need stronger more concerted efforts against the scourge of terrorism,” she said.
-U.S. ENVOY OUT…Muhammad LILA reports from Islamabad: After less than two years on the job, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter has abruptly stepped down from his post. It comes at a critical time, as the US and Pakistan are looking to reset their relationship. Word in diplomatic circles was that Munter wasn’t willing/able to strike a hard-line tone with the Pakistanis, which the Obama administration was looking for.
CHEN GUANGCHENG: A RARE PROMISE FROM CHINA?
Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng tells the AP that the Chinese government has quietly promised him they will investigate abuses he and his family suffered. If true, it would amount to a rare instance of Beijing bowing to demands of an activist. Chen remains in the hospital at this hour and says he is hopeful he will be able to leave China to study abroad at New York University, but says he stills lacks a passport. Worth noting that Chen’s nephew was arrested just yesterday – he’s accused of attacking local police officers with a knife. He says it was in self-defense after they raided his home.
CHINA KICKS OUT AL JAZEERA REPORTER
China has expelled a journalist for Al Jazeera English. The channel closed its Beijing bureau after China refused to renew Melissa Chan’s press credentials and visa. Chan has reported on sensitive topics like the illegal seizures of farmland and the imprisonment of the elderly in unofficial “black jails.” It’s the first time since 1998 that Beijing has kicked out a foreign journalist.
NORWAY AND NIGER: BEST AND WORST PLACES IN THE WORLD TO BE A MOTHER
Bazi KANANI reports: The annual Save the Children study that ranks countries by the best and worst places to be a mother is out today. Niger replaces Afghanistan at the bottom of that list this year because of a regional food crisis there that leaves nearly one-third of Niger’s children malnourished. Afghanistan has moved up a spot thanks to more frontline health workers on the ground there. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Norway is the best place to be a mother. The U.S. comes in at 25th place, behind Belarus and Lithuania.
DUSTIN HOFFMAN SAVES A LIFE?
Well, maybe. Paramedics say it was Dustin Hoffman who called for them when a jogger collapsed in Hyde Park 10 days ago, and stayed at the jogger’s side. Sam Dempster, 27, is recuperating.
“BIONIC WOMAN FINISHES MARATHON
Nick SCHIFRIN reports from London: A paralyzed Leicestershire woman has become the first person to complete a marathon in a “bionic” suit. The £43,000 device allows Claire Lomas to walk by detecting shifts in her balance. Ms Lomas, from Eye Kettleby near Melton Mowbray, was paralyzed from the chest down when she broke her back and neck in a horse-riding accident in 2007. The 32-year-old crossed the finish line at 12:50 BST – 26 days after starting the race with 36,000 other people. She was met by cheering onlookers as she walked beneath an arch of red balloons. So far she has raised about £80,000 for Spinal Research, a charity which funds medical research around the world to develop treatments for paralysis caused by a broken back or neck. Ms. Lomas has walked around two miles a day, accompanied by her husband Dan, mother Joyce and 13-month-old daughter Maisie. Organizers had been criticized for insisting that Mrs Lomas would not appear in the official results or receive a medal when she finishes, as rules state competitors have to complete the course on the same day.
MEXICO: WE’RE SORRY ABOUT THAT DRESS
The racy dress worn by a production assistant who appeared on screen for just 24 seconds of Sunday’s televised presidential debate in Mexico has caused a stir. Now, the BBC reports the organizers of the debate have apologized. “We are sorry about the production error associated with the clothing of one of the assistants during the first presidential debate and want to apologize to the citizens and the candidates for the presidency,” a statement released by the Commission said.
MARILYN, MADONNA ON THE AUCTION BLOCK
On the auction block at Bonhams today – a collection of topless Marilyn Monroe prints from her final photo shoot which is estimated to fetch $24,000. A nude photo of Madonna taken in 1990 is expected to sell for $10,000.