-TALIBAN HORROR: WOMAN EXECUTED FOR “ADULTERY”…As Muhammad LILA writes, the video is graphic – and raises all kinds of questions about where things stand in Afghanistan today. We have obtained video of the Taliban executing a young woman for allegedly having an affair (ironically, with a Taliban commander), while more than a hundred men cheer. It happened just an hour outside of Kabul, and the crowd cries “Long live the Mujahideen” as a Taliban commander shoots the woman point blank several times. Beyond the visceral horror, it’s a frightening reminder that the Taliban can now dictate law so close to the Afghan capital. In the three-minute video, a turban-clad man approaches a woman kneeling in the dirt and shoots her five times at close range with an automatic rifle. “Allah warns us not to get close to adultery because it’s the wrong way,” another man says as the shooter gets closer to the woman. “It is the order of Allah that she be executed”. Of course no mention is made of the fact that the man she is believed to have slept with was a Taliban fighter. Provincial Governor Basir Salangi said the video was made a week ago in the village of Qimchok in Shinwari district. Afghan police officials say they are trying to find the men who carried out the execution – the local governor says there is no Afghan police presence in that area. That in itself is a pretty shocking admission.
-AMERICANS KILLED…Six US soldiers were killed in an IED attack over the weekend in Eastern Afghanistan. It’s the same region where Muhammad LILA and Matt MCGARRY were embedded over the past week. Two other NATO troops (possibly also American) were killed in separate incidents over the weekend. The deaths come as the US, along with others in the international community, have pledged billions more in aid to Afghanistan over the next four years.
“We are on the way to an autopsy.” As Alex MARQUARDT reports from Jerusalem, that’s a quote from a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Saeb Erekat says Abbas has given permission for an exhumation of the remains of Yasser Arafat. The decision came days after a Swiss institute said it had found elevated traces of a radioactive agent on Arafat’s belongings, reviving speculation the legendary Palestinian leader was poisoned. The institute said it needs to test Arafat’s remains for conclusive findings, and Abbas and Arafat’s widow have now said they are willing to allow an autopsy. The element in question – Polonium, was used in the killing of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. Other investigations after Arafat’s death suggested he died following complications from a stroke – but these findings have riveted the Middle East in recent days, not clear when the exhumation will take place.
Richard DAVIES has the reasons for Monday angst on the financial markets: First, Europe’s problems are far from over. Spain’s borrowing costs on its 10-year bond punched past the 7% mark – while senior eurozone finance officials are moving ahead on a plan to create a single top bank supervisor for all 17 countries in the single currency bloc. And when you’re done worrying about China, as Richard writes, there’s China to worry about. Premier Wen Jiabao says China’s economy faces huge pressure, despite stimulus measures. Companies and investors are closely watching the world’s number-two economy for signs of a further slowdown which could have global repercussions by hurting Chinese demand for goods from the United States, Europe and other struggling economies. According to China’s state media, Wen promised to “fine-tune”economic policies, but mentioned no details or new initiatives. Chinese growth fell to a nearly three-year low of 8.1% in the first quarter. Sounds terrific by our standards, but for China it’s a bad number…
-ANNAN MEETS ASSAD…Kofi Annan is holding talks in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who said in an interview with Germany’s ARD that U.S. political support for “terrorists” was hindering the peace envoy’s plan to end 16 months of bloodshed. Assad also accused Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of supplying the rebels trying to overthrow him with arms and other logistical support. “We know that (Annan) is coming up against countless obstacles but his plan should not be allowed to fail, it is a very good plan,” Assad told ARD over the weekend.
-WAR GAMES…We have video of the massive live fire exercise in Syria which are in day two today.
-JORDANIAN MP DRAWS PISTOL ON LIVE TV…In case you missed this over the weekend, Alex MARQUARDT flags this great video of a fired up, gun-toting pro-Assad Jordanian MP pulling a pistol during a political talk show. The armed MP accused a former MP of being a Syrian spy. The latter then responded that the former is a Mossad spy. And the desk-flipping-shoe-throwing chaos spiraled out of control from there.
-SHOWDOWN IN CAIRO?…A new conflict is brewing in Cairo. Alex MARQUARDT writes that in what appears to be his first major challenge to the military council and the Mubarak-appointed judiciary, newly-elected President Mohammed Morsi has decreed that the dissolved, Brotherhood-dominated parliament reconvene. The military leadership and the courts are holding emergency meetings today to discuss its legality, and the Brotherhood has called for protest marches if the decree is pushed back.
-MORSI TO THE WHITE HOUSE?…Meanwhile, President Obama has invited Mohammed Morsi to visit the United States in September, an Egyptian official said Sunday, reflecting the new ties Washington is cultivating with the region’s Islamists.
LIBYA: ELECTIONS BREAK ISLAMIST WAVE
-”GRAND COALITION”?…The post-Arab Spring rise of Islamist leaders appeared to bypass Libya, where a coalition led by a Western-educated political scientist leads the early vote count. Libya’s wartime rebel prime minister and University of Pittsburgh PhD, Mahmoud Jibril, called for a grand coalition government last night. Final election results are expected later today.
-THOUSANDS STILL MISSING FROM GADHAFI ERA…USA Today reports that almost nine months after Libya’s civil war, the fates of thousands who disappeared under Moammar Gadhafi’s 42 years of power and during last year’s uprising remain unknown. Some were arrested and secretly killed in prisons, others were disposed of last year for joining the opposition and the Ministry of Martyrs and Missing People estimates upwards of 10,000 people are still missing.
KARZAI ON AFGHAN AID PLEDGE
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he is encouraged by yesterday’s promise of $16 billion in international aid, but warns corruption in his country cannot be rooted out unless donors themselves take more action. Speaking today, he said he is grateful for the pledges made at a conference to help his country’s transition after most foreign troops pull out by the end of 2014.
U.K. TERROR THREATS: BEHIND THE ARRESTS
Police may be arresting marginal terror suspects to clear decks for the Olympics – so says the Daily Telegraph. David Anderson, the independent reviewer of terror legislation, said this summer’s Games are a “major target” and police may be intervening in cases earlier than they would normally. His comments follow a series of arrests by counter-terrorism officers in recent weeks. Last month two Muslim converts were arrested on suspicion of plotting an attack against the Olympic canoeing venue. They were later released without charge. And last week 14 people were arrested in two separate counter-terrorism operations against suspected Islamist plots. Whitehall and security sources have previously suggested the threshold for assessing the potential risk of suspects is likely to be lower in the run up to the Olympics.
DEADLY RUSSIAN FLOODS
From Kirit RADIA in Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Monday a national day of mourning in the wake of devastating, raging floodwaters that tore through streets in the southern part of the country and killed more than 170 people, according to Russian media. That number is sure to rise and the number of people affected is now estimated to be 18,000. The government has already begun allocating emergency aid to victims and pledges more for reconstruction. The matter has turned political, however, and opposition figures are already there to dispense their own aid and try and drum up anti-government sentiments. Controversy still swirls around whether a nearby dam released water that contributed to the flooding. Officials insist they did nothing wrong but an investigation has been launched. Many people insist they were never warned about the flood danger as water levels rose. The biggest worry now, however, is infection as there remains a lot of standing water in many areas. The US embassy in Moscow says they have offered to help with recovery efforts.
A FUNERAL, NEARLY 50 YEARS LATER
It was Christmas Eve 1965 when the Air Force plane nicknamed “Spooky” took off from Vietnam for a combat mission. The crew sent out a “mayday” signal while flying over Laos, and after that, all contact was lost. Now, nearly 50 years after the AC-47D went down, the remains from the six men will be buried with full military honors in a single casket at Arlington National Cemetery. The burial comes after the recovery of remains in 2010 and 2011 by joint U.S.-Laotian search teams. (AP)
PAKISTANI ARMY CAMP ATTACKED
From Muhammad LILA: Gunmen killed eight people in an attack Monday on a Pakistani army camp in a city where thousands of hardline Islamists spent the night on their way to the capital to protest the government’s recent decision to reopen the NATO supply line to Afghanistan, police said.
DALAI LAMA ON IMMOLATIONS
The Dalai Lama says it is best for him to remain neutral about the wave of immolations by Tibetans in China protesting Beijing’s repressive policies. The Tibetan spiritual leader spoke of the dilemma he faces in an interview published Monday in The Hindu newspaper.
IN AFRICA, NEWEST NATION TURNS ONE
Today South Sudan celebrates its first year – after seceding from Sudan. Wilfred WAMBURA reports that the streets of Juba were filled with people dancing, cars hooting and crowds singing. The celebrations comes as the country faces border problems with Sudan and more than half a million people are stranded in border camps. While major steps forward have been made, South Sudan remains one of the world’s poorest countries, where even the most basic infrastructure, such as roads, electricity and water distribution networks, is lacking. United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon and African Union commission chairman Jean Ping are expected to attend a military parade and official speeches today.
-BET WINS OXFAM $150K…The BBC reports that Roger Federer wasn’t the only one hauling in prize money yesterday. Oxfam International took home $157,597 thanks to a bet placed by a now deceased donor. In 2003, Nick Newlife bet that Federer would win seven Wimbledon titles by 2019, and when he died he left the betting slip to Oxfam in his will.
-RECORD AUDIENCE…According to our friends at the BBC, nearly 17 million people tuned into yesterday’s championship match. That is the highest figure for any championship at the tournament in over two decades.
CHINA: DRAMATIC HIGH WIRE FALL
Chinese tightrope walker, Aisikaier is lucky to be alive today after falling from a 650-foot high tightrope during a performance in Hunan Province. With no safety harness in sight, Aisikaier was blindfolded as he walked backwards across a 2,300 foot ravine.
BRINGING UP BABY
The Guaipo Siberian Tiger Park welcomed six new, very cute residents this morning. China’s state television reported that mama lion, Rose, set a new national record for the most cubs in one litter. The previous record stood at four.
UNAUTHORIZED DISNEY CHARACTERS
Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh took the stage in North Korea during a concert for new leader Kim Jong Un, in an unusual – and unauthorized – performance featuring Disney characters. The AP reports from Pyongyang that performers dressed as Minnie Mouse, Tigger and others danced and pranced as footage from “Snow White,” “Dumbo,” “Beauty and the Beast” and other Disney movies played on a massive backdrop.