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May 28, 2008 

15 die and 56 are hurt in Afghan train accident
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - A passenger truck ran off the road in a remote mountainous region of Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing 15 people and wounding 56, an official said. Four bomb attacks around the country killed one Afghan and one NATO soldier.

US senator opposes Pakistan militant talks
Wed May 28, 10:38 AM ET
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - A top US Senator on Wednesday said that Pakistan should not negotiate with Taliban or Al-Qaeda militants near the Afghan border and should limit peace talks to tribal elders.

Britain defense sec endorses talks with Taliban
By James Grubel Wed May 28, 4:09 AM ET
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Britain's Defense Minister Des Browne endorsed peace talks between Pakistan and Taliban militants on Wednesday despite concerns from Afghanistan that the talks will allow the Taliban to regroup and launch more attacks.

Pakistan: New peace deal with militants
AP - Wed May 28, 5:41 AM ET
KHAR, Pakistan - Pakistan has signed a peace deal with a small Taliban militant group in a region near the Afghan border, an official said Wednesday, the latest in a series of accords sought by the country's new government as it tries to end extremist violence.

Militants set on fire health center in E Afghanistan
Xinhua / May 28, 2008
Anti-government militants set ablaze a clinic in Afghanistan's eastern Khost province early Wednesday, a police officer said.

Two suicide blasts strike Afghanistan, one dead
May 28, 2008
KHOST, Afghanistan (AFP) - Two separate suicide bombs struck Afghanistan Wednesday, one of them against a US-led military base, leaving one person dead and several wounded, officials and a witness said.

Attacks on food convoys continue
KABUL, 28 May 2008 (IRIN) - Unidentified gunmen have hijacked a food convoy in the southern Wardak province, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP). The convoy of two commercial trucks was carrying 60MT

Afghan drugs minister expects opium decrease
Wed May 28, 1:55 AM ET
FAYZABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) - The Afghan counternarcotics minister said he expects a sharp fall this year in the amount of opium produced in Afghanistan, the world's leading supplier of the drug.

Census would provide barometer of safety
KATHERINE O'NEILL Globe and Mail (Canada) / May 28, 2008
HAJJI HABIBOLLAH, AFGHANISTAN — The international community will receive a mini-report card on how safe Afghanistan really is when the war-torn country decides soon whether to go ahead with a long-promised census this summer.

Stabbed Afghan woman journalist fears for future
By Jonathon Burch
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan television journalist Niloufar Habibi never wore the all-enveloping burqa until she was stabbed on her doorstep. Now it is her disguise.

Bin Laden in northern Pakistan: Afghan official
Tue May 27, 2:58 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A top Afghan intelligence official said Tuesday his agency received information several months ago that Al-Qaeda figurehead Osama bin Laden is hiding in northern Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.

In the footsteps of Osama ...
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / May 28, 2008
KUNAR VALLEY, Afghanistan - Nearly seven years after invading Afghanistan to go after Osama bin Laden, the United States has stepped up its campaign to catch the al-Qaeda leader and his senior associates, including Ayman al-Zawahiri

Pre-mature mine blast kills militant, 3 kids in S. Afghanistan
KABUL, May 27, 2008 (Xinhua) -- A bomb exploded unexpectedly Tuesday as a suspected militant was planting it at a bridge in Kandahar province of southern Afghanistan, killing the suspect himself and three children who were playing nearby

US senator opposes Pakistan militant talks
May 28, 2008
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - A top US Senator on Wednesday said that Pakistan should not negotiate with Taliban or Al-Qaeda militants near the Afghan border and should limit peace talks to tribal elders.

Meeting Pakistan's most feared militant
Tuesday, 27 May 2008 BBC News
Baitullah Mehsud, who heads the loose grouping of militants known as the Pakistan Taleban, has given a rare press conference to invited journalists. They included the BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan.

Al Qaeda Warrior Uses Internet to Rally Women
New York Times, United States By ELAINE SCIOLINO and SOUAD MEKHENNET May 28, 2008
BRUSSELS -On the street, Malika El Aroud is anonymous in an Islamic black veil covering all but her eyes.

Chinese firms to pay $808 mln for Afghanistan deal
Reporting by Polly Yam and Donny Kwok; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree
Reuters - HONG KONG, May 28 - Jiangxi Copper Co , China's top integrated copper producer, and China Metallurgical Group Corp will pay $808 million for the right to explore and exploit minerals in a copper mine field in Afghanistan.

DynCorp International Wins $13.1 Million Construction Project in Afghanistan
FOXBusiness
FALLS CHURCH, Va., May 27, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) ----The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Afghan Engineering District, has awarded DynCorp International (NYSE:DCP) a $13.1 million construction project for the Bermel border

Watchdog backs government on Afghan prison abuse
Tim Naumetz ,  Canwest News Service
OTTAWA - The federal ombudsman for access to government information said he supported the Defence Department's refusal to release documents that might have revealed Afghan detainees were being beaten after Canadian soldiers

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15 die and 56 are hurt in Afghan train accident
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - A passenger truck ran off the road in a remote mountainous region of Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing 15 people and wounding 56, an official said. Four bomb attacks around the country killed one Afghan and one NATO soldier.

The truck ran off the road in the northeastern province of Badakhshan. President Hamid Karzai ordered Afghan army helicopters to help evacuate the wounded to better hospitals in Kabul, the capital, but bad weather was hindering that effort, said Abdul Mamoon Jalali, the provincial health director.

Jalali said he hoped to transfer 20 of the most critically wounded. Women and children were among the 15 people killed, he said.

The victims were riding in the back of a trailer truck when it slipped off the road six miles outside Fayzabad, the capital of Badakhshan, which shares borders with Pakistan, China and Tajikistan.

A roadside bomb in the east killed a soldier Wednesday with NATO's International Security Assistance Force. Four others were wounded. ISAF did not release the nationalities of the casualties, though most troops in the east are American.

In the eastern province of Khost, meanwhile, two suicide bombers in a vehicle tried to attack a U.S. military outpost but were stopped by Afghan police at a checkpoint, said Gen. Mohammad Ayub, the provincial police chief. Police and U.S. coalition soldiers opened fire and killed both attackers. Ayub said no one else was killed.

Two coalition service members were wounded in the attack, said 1st Lt. Nathan Perry, a coalition spokesman.

In Helmand province, a suicide bomber on a motorbike targeted a police truck but missed, said Doulad Wazir, the governor's spokesman. One civilian was killed, he said.

Taliban militants have used an increasing number of suicide attacks in the last two years in their fight against Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces. More than 1,200 people have died in violence in Afghanistan this year, according to an Associated Press count.
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US senator opposes Pakistan militant talks
Wed May 28, 10:38 AM ET
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - A top US Senator on Wednesday said that Pakistan should not negotiate with Taliban or Al-Qaeda militants near the Afghan border and should limit peace talks to tribal elders.

Democratic senator Russ Feingold said during a visit to Pakistan that Islamabad's new government should not enter negotiations with "those who want to kill Americans".

The government launched talks with local Taliban militants soon after winning elections in February, amid concerns that US-backed Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's military approach was spawning more violence.

"The US will have no problems if your government deals with peaceful tribal leaders," Feingold told a news conference in Islamabad when asked how he viewed the current peace talks.

"The US opposes talks with militants and those linked to Al-Qaeda and Taliban," he said, adding: "We are not ready to negotiate with those who want to kill Americans or cause harm to America."

"This is a critical time for Pakistan, its people and our relationship," he said.

Pakistani authorities signed a peace deal with militants in the northwestern Swat Valley earlier this month and are in talks with pro-Taliban rebels in the semi-autonomous tribal districts bordering Afghanistan.

Top Pakistani Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud said at the weekend that despite the talks his fighters would continue "holy war" in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of US and NATO troops are fighting the militants.

Mehsud has been accused by the previous government and the US Central Intelligence Agency of masterminding the slaying of former premier Benazir Bhutto.

Feingold meanwhile called for the immediate restoration of top judges deposed by Musharraf under a state of emergency in November, when it appeared that the Supreme Court was about to overturn his re-election as president.

"The judges should be immediately restored as it is an important issue for Pakistan," Feingold said.

Pakistan's new ruling coalition has been split over how to restore the judges, who could pose a fresh threat to Musharraf's rule if they get their jobs back.

"I had meetings with a number of people including (former chief justice) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on the issue of illegal removal of judges but not even a single person told me that they did anything wrong," he added.

Asked how he viewed President Musharraf's future, he said it was a matter for the people of Pakistan and elected representatives to take a decision about his future.

"But I think the US made a mistake in relying too much on a person who came to power through undemocratic means," he said without naming President Musharraf.
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Britain defense sec endorses talks with Taliban
By James Grubel Wed May 28, 4:09 AM ET
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Britain's Defense Minister Des Browne endorsed peace talks between Pakistan and Taliban militants on Wednesday despite concerns from Afghanistan that the talks will allow the Taliban to regroup and launch more attacks.

Browne said Britain supported any moves that would encourage militants to put down their weapons and stop violence, and said Pakistan and Afghanistan needed to work together on problems with their border, much of which is controlled by Taliban insurgents.

He said reconciliation should be a part of any strategy, although it was clear some militants had no intention of putting down their weapons.

"But you can't kill your way out of these sorts of campaigns," Browne told journalists at Australia's National Press Club on Wednesday.

Faced with a wave of suicide attacks, Pakistan has begun talks with Taliban militants who control much of the country's 2,700 km (1,670 miles) mountain border with Afghanistan.

The Taliban, however, said it would fight in Afghanistan until all foreign troops were driven out of the country, and Afghanistan has expressed concerns about any peace deals.

Browne, in Australia for talks with Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, said sovereign countries had the right to welcome insurgents back into society if they agreed to obey the rule of law and recognize democratic governments.

"If people are prepared to give up violence, put down their weapons, accept and recognize legitimate and democratic government ... then the sovereign governments from both countries are entitled to say we will welcome you to become part of our society," he said.

"That's their privilege and right. And we in the United Kingdom will support them in doing that."

Afghan forces, backed by more than 60,000 foreign troops, are engaged in daily battles with Taliban militants, mainly in Afghanistan's south and east, the areas closest to the border with Pakistan.

Afghan officials have accused Pakistan of allowing the Taliban to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven and an area to regroup and plan further attacks.

Britain has about 7,800 troops in Afghanistan, based mainly in the Helmand province, as part of a NATO force of about 50,000 troops across the country.

Since 2001, when the United States led international forces to topple the Taliban regime, 97 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.

Australia has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, working alongside Dutch forces, including about 300 special forces engaged in missions to track down militants.

In his address to the National Press Club in Canberra, Browne described the military campaign in Afghanistan as a "genuine noble cause," and said progress was being made in training Afghanistan's army and police force.

But he said it would be "manifestly daft" to put a timeline on when foreign troops could leave Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan is a challenge to the international community for a generation," he said. "If we walk away, it will haunt us."
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Pakistan: New peace deal with militants
AP - Wed May 28, 5:41 AM ET
KHAR, Pakistan - Pakistan has signed a peace deal with a small Taliban militant group in a region near the Afghan border, an official said Wednesday, the latest in a series of accords sought by the country's new government as it tries to end extremist violence.

The deal includes a pledge from the militants led by Umar Khalid not to target security and government officials, said Syed Ahmad, a deputy administrator in the Mohmand tribal region.

Both sides also swapped prisoners, he said. He declined to give details about the number of prisoners exchanged, but said the militants had been holding some government officials.

"We started efforts for the peace agreement months ago, but we managed to sign it on Monday," said Ahmad, who also noted the militants promised not to display weapons in the region.

A local tribal elder, Fazal Manan Kodakhel, said the deal enjoyed the backing of Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the umbrella Taliban movement in Pakistan.

Pakistan's tribal regions are considered havens for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

U.S. officials have warned that peace deals with militants could be poorly enforced and allow Taliban and al-Qaida militants time to regroup and execute more attacks in Afghanistan and plot terror strikes in the West.

The government is seeking a peace deal with Mehsud, who is based mainly in the South Waziristan tribal area. But in a recent, rare press conference, Mehsud said he would continue to send fighters to battle U.S. forces in Afghanistan even as he seeks peace with Pakistan.

Pakistan's new government is headed by the party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and authorities have blamed Mehsud for her Dec. 27 assassination. Mehsud has denied the allegation.

Also Wednesday, a hand grenade apparently exploded inside a vehicle carrying militants in the nearby Bajur tribal region, killing four and wounding some others, said Idalat Khan, a government official. He said the wounded were being transported to a hospital.
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Militants set on fire health center in E Afghanistan
Xinhua / May 28, 2008
Anti-government militants set ablaze a clinic in Afghanistan's eastern Khost province early Wednesday, a police officer said.

Armed militants set on fire a health clinic in the outskirts of Khost city, the capital of Khost province, at 3 a.m. local time and destroyed it, a senior police officer in the province, Azizullah Paktiawal, told Xinhua.

The police have arrested six suspected persons in this regard, he added. The clinic was providing health service to some 40,000 locals.

No group or individual has claimed responsibility, but officials often blame such attacks on Taliban militants who usually target government institutions, including schools and security personnel.

Taliban militants whose regime was ousted from power by a U.S.-led military invasion in late 2001 have vowed to oust the Afghan government and evict foreign forces from the post-Taliban nation.
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Two suicide blasts strike Afghanistan, one dead
May 28, 2008
KHOST, Afghanistan (AFP) - Two separate suicide bombs struck Afghanistan Wednesday, one of them against a US-led military base, leaving one person dead and several wounded, officials and a witness said.

The extremist Taliban movement said it was behind an attack in a district of Khost province on the eastern border with Pakistan but there was no immediate claim of responsibility for one in Helmand province in the south.

Two attackers wearing military uniforms had tried to enter the international military base in Khost's Gurbuz district, said provincial government spokesman Khaiber Pashtun.

"One of them walked out of the car and opened fire on police and the other exploded the car," Pashtun said. Police returned fire and killed the man on foot, he said.

Two people were hurt but it was not immediately clear who they were, he said.

The US and NATO military forces confirmed there had been an incident but said it was too early to say what had happened.

International military helicopters flew overhead soon after the attack and a plume of dust and smoke rose into the air, an AFP reporter said.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahed, said one of his group's "friends" had blown up a bomb-filled Russian Jeep outside the base.

In Helmand, a bomber who was on foot blew himself up near a police vehicle in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, killing a civilian passerby, police said.

"One civilian was killed, five civilians and two policemen were wounded," deputy provincial police chief Mohammad Kamal Hakim told AFP. A police vehicle was damaged, he added.

Taliban insurgents are particularly active in Helmand, where Afghanistan's opium and heroin production is its highest and is said to finance militant activity.

In another incident Wednesday, a Taliban-linked militant was killed and four others were captured, one of them wounded, after attacking a military patrol in Wardak, southwest of the capital Kabul, the defence ministry said.

"A five-member terrorist group who were intimidating people along the Kabul-Kandahar road were eliminated after ambushing an army patrol in Wardak province," the ministry said in a statement.

The group was behind a series of attacks on government vehicles in recent weeks, the statement added.

In a separate attack on police Tuesday, four Taliban were killed in a gunfight that erupted after they ambushed a convoy in the western province of Badghis, a police spokesman said.

Three policemen were wounded in the attack, said a police spokesman for western Afghanistan, Abdul Mutalib Rad.

The hardline Islamic militia, which was in government from 1996 to 2001, has stepped up attacks in recent weeks with around a dozen policemen and a dozen civilians killed in violence Tuesday -- one of the bloodiest days in weeks.

Afghan and international military forces have several operations under way against the militants.
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Attacks on food convoys continue
KABUL, 28 May 2008 (IRIN) - Unidentified gunmen have hijacked a food convoy in the southern Wardak province, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP). The convoy of two commercial trucks was carrying 60MT of wheat to the Miramoor district of Daikundi province in central-south Afghanistan.

"The commercial transporters reported that armed men stopped the trucks in Shash Gaw area [on 26 May] and forced the drivers to head up towards Jaghatu district of Wardak province," said Rick Corsino, WFP's representative in Afghanistan.

The hijacked wheat was part of 500MT food aid for 27,000 people in Miramoor who desperately needed the assistance, Corsino said, adding that 233MT had already been sent.

WFP has suspended its food delivery operation to Daikundi. "Soon after we get the green light from UN security, we will continue our assistance. As per our experience of such incidents, it won't take so long," Corsino said.

This was the sixth incident involving WFP food convoys so far this year. More than 30 attacks against commercial vehicles or convoys carrying WFP food were reported last year. About 870MT of food, valued at US$730,000, was lost. In at least four incidents, drivers and Afghan police escorts were either killed or wounded, WFP said.

Volunteers

Meanwhile, the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) in Kabul said that using its volunteers might be one of the ways to minimise the attacks on food convoys.

"We have 41,000 volunteers working for ARCS, who know the geography of their areas and have good contacts with the tribal elders within their respective provinces," said Walid Akbar Sarwari, a spokesman for ARCS in Kabul.

A good relationship with tribal leaders can be instrumental in ensuring safe passage and helps to build a sense of ownership among the beneficiary communities.

"If WFP asks us before sending food convoys to any provinces, we will ask our volunteers to cooperate with WFP," Sarwari added.

Food shortages

Abdul Ali Shahrestani, head of Miramoor district, told IRIN that an unusually cold winter, recent floods and now the drought had badly affected farmers.

"This year the farmers will not be able to get enough harvest from their lands while most of the inhabitants of Miramoor rely on agriculture," Shahrestani said.

Shahrestani added that some of the families did not have a single kilo of wheat flour in their homes. "Nothing has been left for them to eat. If we don't get food aid, a lot of families will be forced to leave their homes and go to other provinces," he said.

Early this year UN agencies and the Afghan government said that a dramatic increase in staple food prices had pushed 1.41 million Afghans in rural areas and 1.14 million in urban areas into high-risk food-insecurity.
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Afghan drugs minister expects opium decrease
Wed May 28, 1:55 AM ET
FAYZABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) - The Afghan counternarcotics minister said he expects a sharp fall this year in the amount of opium produced in Afghanistan, the world's leading supplier of the drug.

Around 20 of the country's 34 provinces were also likely this year to be declared "opium free" in a survey due to be completed in the coming months, General Khodaidad told reporters in the northern town of Fayzabad.

This would be up from 13 last year and six in 2006.

"I expect that there will be a sharp decrease this year... in the whole country," Khodaidad said, when asked about production which last year stood at 93 percent of the world total.

The decline was in part because the government was meeting with farmers and local officials to persuade them not to grow the drug with a promise they would be rewarded with development projects, he said.

A process of eradication -- which has cost the lives of about 65 police and soldiers this year -- was also continuing, he said.

There have been several attacks on counternarcotics teams, many claimed by the extremist Taliban rebel movement which profits from Afghanistan's opium and heroin trade, according to officials.

Most of the new opium-free provinces would be in the northern and central areas, Khodaidad said in Fayzabad, capital of Badakhshan which was among the top opium producers for years but is expected to be nearly free in 2008.

A UN and Afghan survey found that last year 69 percent of opium was from the conflict-torn south, most of it from Helmand province.

Khodaidad acknowledged it would take time to beat drugs production in the southern areas where militants are most active and earn money from the trade.

The tactic would remain to eradicate opium fields and "hit the enemy, hit their convoys, punish their officials, arrest the drug dealers and secure the borders," the minister said.

In poppy-free areas it would be to push development to keep farmers from returning to the lucrative opium crop, he said.
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Census would provide barometer of safety
KATHERINE O'NEILL Globe and Mail (Canada) / May 28, 2008
HAJJI HABIBOLLAH, AFGHANISTAN — The international community will receive a mini-report card on how safe Afghanistan really is when the war-torn country decides soon whether to go ahead with a long-promised census this summer.

The ruling, expected as early as next month, should be a major indicator as to how successful NATO has been in bringing security and order to Afghanistan, especially to its southern regions.

The government is already being lobbied by tribal leaders from that volatile area, by academics and even by the Afghan media to hold off on going door to door until that region is safer and free of Taliban insurgency violence.

The only other attempt to conduct a national census was in the late 1970s, but it was never completed because of the Russian invasion.

The latest push to count Afghanistan was requested by the 2001 Bonn Agreement, as part of the international reconstruction effort. About $60-million in foreign aid has already been set aside to complete the census, which is scheduled to start on Aug. 1. The government is being assisted by the United Nations Population Fund.

No one really knows how many people call Afghanistan home, and the lack of accurate data has made it difficult for the government, as well as international donors and organizations working in the country, to make informed policy decisions.

Even in tiny rural villages such as Hajji Habibollah, which is located about 30 kilometres southwest of Kandahar, residents don't even know for sure how many neighbours they have.

"There are 18 houses. I'm not sure how many people," said Gull Mohammad, 34, a grape farmer and father of nine.

However, he is also concerned that it is too early to conduct an accurate census, and added some of his relatives and friends have temporarily left the turbulent area to avoid getting caught in the crossfire. "There's still too much fighting."

Earlier this month, at a shura, or tribal council meeting, organized by the Kandahar provincial council, the census was at the top of the agenda. Most expressed grave concerns, saying it is still too dangerous to conduct a census in the south.

Haji Shah Wali, from Helmand province, said it would be impossible to get accurate information. "Rule of government in some districts ... is limited only to checkpoints," he told the shura.

Abdul Rahman Ghafoori, the head of Afghanistan's Central Statistics Office, said his department has dispatched staff around the country to assess the security situation.

The plan is to forward a recommendation to the Afghan government early next month.

"The census can't be done, if it is to be reliable and believed, with the help of the military or police," he said during an interview. "It has to be independent. We need co-operation from the people. We don't want to be questioned later that we forced people to answer the way we wanted them to answer."

Mr. Ghafoori said if the count goes ahead, the plan is to ask Afghans approximately 22 questions, including information about their employment, birth place and even what type of fuel they use in their homes. They will also try to determine the percentage of women and men, as well as schooling and literacy rates and ethnic and religious affiliations.

"It's very difficult for Afghanistan to move ahead without reliable accurate census information," he explained.
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Stabbed Afghan woman journalist fears for future
By Jonathon Burch
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan television journalist Niloufar Habibi never wore the all-enveloping burqa until she was stabbed on her doorstep. Now it is her disguise.

More than six years after the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative country where many still oppose women working in public, visible roles.

"If I go outside people will see where I'm going and see what I'm doing," said Habibi, 20.

"I wear it (the burqa) to feel safe. I feel they are still after me."

Just over 10 days ago Habibi opened her front door to a woman dressed in a burqa asking for a glass of water.

As she turned to go to the kitchen the woman tore off the burqa, wrapped it around Habibi's head, and stabbed her in the abdomen.

"The next time I opened my eyes, I was in hospital," Habibi told Reuters in the western city of Herat.

Two women journalists were killed in Afghanistan last year and rights groups are concerned about the increase in violence.

"We are very worried about the growing number of attacks and threats against women journalists," said Reporters Without Borders, referring to Habibi's case.

"Action must be taken to put a stop to this violence."

For about a year Habibi worked as a journalist for Herat TV, a state-owned television station in her home town.

Reading the news, hosting cultural shows and interviewing high-profile Afghan figures made hers a recognisable face.

Days before Habibi was stabbed, she started receiving phone calls and text messages, asking her if she thought she was important now she was on TV.

The callers threatened to kill her if she did not stop working.

"At first I thought it was my friends joking around," she said. "But then I started receiving five to six messages and two to three phone calls a day, sometimes 12 o'clock at night.

"That's when I knew it was serious."

RAZOR BLADE
The police told Habibi to write down the callers' numbers and said they would visit her at work to investigate.

The next day, on her way to work, Habibi was stopped by two men on a motorbike and a woman and a man in a car. The group were carrying a gun, a knife and a razor blade.

"This one will finish you if you don't stop working," one of them said, showing her a bullet.

The woman in the group then slashed Habibi's right forearm with the razor blade several times as one of the men held her arm. They later dropped her off at her workplace with a warning.

"If you don't resign, we will kill you," the woman said.

The next day Habibi was stabbed.

"I don't know who they are," said Habibi. "But I think these are a group of people that don't want women to develop and go out and work, instead they want them to stay at home."

Under the Taliban, women were not allowed to work and television was banned. Habibi is educated and ambitious, and represents a new face of Afghan women in a troubled country.

But for conservatives, change is happening too fast.

"My only wish was to become a good journalist and be at the service of my people, but if the people don't understand that then what can I do?" she says.

Since being stabbed Habibi has not been going to work.

"What's more important: TV or my life?" she said.

Asked if she has hope for her country and the future, Habibi sounded defeated.

"What future, what country, what people?"
(Editing by Robert Woodward)
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Bin Laden in northern Pakistan: Afghan official
Tue May 27, 2:58 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A top Afghan intelligence official said Tuesday his agency received information several months ago that Al-Qaeda figurehead Osama bin Laden is hiding in northern Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that bin Laden was said to be in a mountainous region in Chitral, a Pakistani region facing Afghanistan's eastern province of Kunar.

Pakistani officials have in the past said that the world's most wanted man was hiding in Kunar, a claim strongly rejected by Kabul.

"We've received new information that he is hiding in Chitral. We got the information about his presence in that area about four, five months ago," the Afghan intelligence official said.

US authorities have previously also said that the fugitive Al-Qaeda chief had taken refuge in Chitral and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is also in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Thousands of US and NATO soldiers are based in Afghanistan hunting for the pair and fighting back an Al-Qaeda-backed insurgency the Taliban launched after they were ousted from government in 2001.

Al-Arabiya television reported last week that Pakistani sources had said US and Afghan officials had discussed launching military operations in Pakistan's northern areas in light of information that bin Laden was there.
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In the footsteps of Osama ...
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / May 28, 2008
KUNAR VALLEY, Afghanistan - Nearly seven years after invading Afghanistan to go after Osama bin Laden, the United States has stepped up its campaign to catch the al-Qaeda leader and his senior associates, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, who are believed to be in the rugged terrain spanning Bajaur Agency in Pakistan and the neighboring Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nooristan.

The US has increased surveillance operations through newly built bases in the region and additional daily flights of Predator drones scour the area for any suspicious characters who might lead the US to the world's most wanted man.

The recent killing of leading al-Qaeda figures Sheikh Abu Soliman and Sheikh Osman in Damadolah, Bajaur Agency, by US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drones was the result of the spy network's stepped-up surveillance in this vital corridor. (See Ducking and diving under B-52s Asia Times Online, May 22, 2008, in which the news of the death of the two men was first reported.)

According to some reports, in the past few days, US security and military officials held a top-level summit at a military base in the Qatari capital of Doha to plan an operation to hunt for the al-Qaeda leader. General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, and the US ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Petersen, were reported to have attended the summit.

Last week, Petraeus testified before a US Congressional committee about security in Iraq and warned that members of al-Qaeda based in Pakistan's tribal areas were planning a new September 11-style attack.

Revelations on the road to Pakistan

I have witnessed how the Taliban rule the Pakistani Mohmand and Bajaur tribal agencies and the Kunar Valley without any formal government. The Taliban are undoubtedly the real regional force "which can only be heard but cannot be seen". The Taliban are more a feeling than a physical presence in these tribal areas, yet they are a force that can transform society.

Seven months ago I visited Bajaur and Mohmand agencies. As my taxi driver headed from Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, he was played some Pashtu music on the car's CD. Quickly, though, he changed it for jihadi songs.

"The militants have not only brought guns to the tribal areas, they have also brought a culture which has transformed tribal society," commented a passenger traveling with me.

This set me thinking. Where are people like Nashanas - a legendary singer? His songs are only heard in urban centers such as Kabul, Peshawar, Herat, Quetta and Kandahar. In his place are poetry and songs that talk not of love and lovers but of a mujahid and his gun - his long hair and beard, his wounds of war, his passion for resistance and his preference for the battlefield rather than intimacy with his lover.

This has given rise to a new breed of people who inspire such poetry, such as Mr S, whom I met this month while returning from Kunar province to Pakistan after a stay with the Taliban.

"Mr Saleem, you are extremist. Please be moderate," he bluntly told me. The reasons for calling me an extremist were twofold: my wearing the traditional warm Pakhol cap in the hot weather, and that I had managed to travel to the Kunar Valley and back despite being out of condition.

S is 25 and initially seemed like any other foot soldier who had taken his inspiration from the lectures of a radical cleric. I was very wrong and the Punjabi with a soft face revealed much humility as I got to know him better on our hike through the mountains.

S is the son of a Pakistani military officer and left his home after completing school at the age of 17. Ever since, he has been an active jihadi, and in eight years he has only seen his family once.

He joined al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan before September 11, 2001 - even serving for bin Laden - but soon after that event he went to the South Waziristan tribal area in Pakistan with Arab-Afghans such as Sheikh Ahmad Saeed Khadr and Sheikh Essa.

S said his association with Arab-Afghan militants turned him from an ordinary jihadi into an astute trainer. "In my early 20s, I was training big names of this region, including young Arabs and Uzbeks who were many years older than me," said S.

S could have earned a monthly stipend to devote himself to being a jihad, but he chose to work as a trader in Pakistani cities to earn extra money. He then returned to the mountain vastness of Afghanistan to join the Taliban's fight against NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in Afghanistan.

A turning point in S's life came when, returning from Khost province in Afghanistan where he ran a training camp, he was arrested by Pakistani Frontier Corps.

"I was passed on from one security agency to another, and each time the interrogation methods changed. My pre-9/11 association with bin Laden and Zawahiri and occasional meetings with Zawahiri after 9/11 boosted me as an 'al-Qaeda associate' in the eyes of my Pakistani examiners. For one-and-half years I did not see a single ray of sunlight. After thorough interrogations, they concluded that I was just a fighter and a trainer against NATO troops who happened to be a 'renegade' son of an army officer," said S.

"They contacted my father and despite that he had abandoned me a long time ago, when he heard about my situation all his fatherly affection returned and he agreed to become my guarantor that I would not take part in any jihadi activities.

"So I was released in front of Peshawar railway station, blindfolded, and when my blinds were removed there was my old father in front of me. I was standing with my hands and feet chained, and when my guards removed these my father hugged me and wept profusely.

"That was the only brief interaction between me and my family as I once again went into my own world of jihad. It was me and my gun, and I never looked back to see if there was any family, a father or a mother, waiting for me ... though I miss them a lot," S related in a sad, soft voice.

S then went on to tell of his first showdown with American soldiers in Birmal (near Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area) in Afghanistan. Some Americans were killed, but most of S's colleagues were either killed or wounded. Shattered, S only just managed to make it back to his base.

S has earned a reputation in jihadi circles as a spiritual healer. Whether for headaches, stomach aches or wounds, his recitation of the Koran has a healing effect.

"What worldly gains do we get in these mountains?" S asks rhetorically. "None! We have left everything behind ... even this mass of flesh does not belong to us. Hence we are left with our soul ... which is now very much alive and awakened," said S.

Later, while walking in the forested mountains of Kunar, I shot a question at S: "Where is bin Laden?"

"First, you tell me what your guess is," said S with a smile. So I sat down under a tree, and in the light of the moon I drew a circle in the sand with the dried branch of tree.

"This is the region of Kunar-Nooristan-Bajaur and Chitral [the region that spans the Afghan-Pakistani border]. I suppose this is where Osama is supposed to be ... I have reason to believe he might be in Nooristan, in some deserted place near the Afghan province of Badakshan," I smiled back at S, giving him a challenging stare.

For a moment S did not speak, he just watched my face; he seemed surprised. "You have got a good vision of this region at least," S finally commented, then he stood up and we continued the journey.

"I also have the same region in mind ... though I do not know where exactly he is," S said, adding that the main concern is that the Americans are also attracted by this region and are now focussing their efforts on it in their search for bin Laden.

"If, God forbid, they catch or kill the sheikh [bin Laden] it would cause a huge loss to the mujahideen. Believe you me, it would be like almost winning the war. The morale of the mujahideen would be low and all the money pouring in from the Middle East would stop because it only comes in the sheikh's name," S said.

"This is a guess according to material knowledge. But I will share with you the spiritual experience. As you are aware, people in this region take me into their homes if they suspect someone is haunted by a jinni [supernatural spirit].

"Some time ago in this region I was invited to treat such a person [a man]. The effect of the jinni was removed as I overwhelmed the jinni. It was in my control [and it later, according to S, embraced Islam] so I asked him [the jinni] to tell him [the man] the whereabouts of bin Laden. He [the man] came back after a while and told me he could only travel up as far as the Kunar Valley before he was stopped by Muslim jinnis who had placed a heavy guard in the region," S said.

"So even judging by my spiritual experience, you seem to be correct that the sheikh is somewhere in Nooristan at the crossroads of Kunar and Badakshan," said S.

Switching topics, S said he is against the use of suicide attacks. "I do not know the exact status of such attacks in Islamic law, but certainly in my manuals of war it is prohibited. I have argued with all the top commanders that any target can be hit without the use of suicide attacks," S said.

On strategic matters, S is clear that attacks on Pakistani security forces in the tribal areas can only add up to problems. "I always argued with top ideologues like Sheikh Essa that the more success we get in Afghanistan, the more we will gain support from Pakistan. If NATO remains strong in Afghanistan, it will put pressure on Pakistan. If NATO remains weaker in Afghanistan, it will dare [encourage] Pakistan to support the Taliban, its only real allies in the region," S said.

Our chat was interrupted by our guide Zubair Mujahid, who directed us not to speak as a border crossing was near. "We will cross in half an hour and will reach Pakistani territory at about 3 o'clock in the morning," he said.

"So early ... do you not fear that a group of goons will try to kidnap us for ransom?" I teased Zubair.

"Goons! Who is a bigger goon than us ... we have left the entire world and the entire world has abandoned us. Yet we freely challenge the world powers without any fear ... you think those little robbers who snatch money from people can dare stand in front of us?" Zubair replied.

In an hour we reached a point in Pakistan from where I could take video footage of the whole region of Kunar and Bajaur and the mountain belt going towards Chitral, Nooristan and Tajikistan.

Zubair and S, along with two other fellows, were saying their morning prayers on a wide stone on the edge of a cliff. The sun was showing its first struggling signs of rising in the east. I had the strong feeling that the region is on the threshold of a new culture whose rays are about to spread beyond war games and war theaters.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Pre-mature mine blast kills militant, 3 kids in S. Afghanistan
KABUL, May 27, 2008 (Xinhua) -- A bomb exploded unexpectedly Tuesday as a suspected militant was planting it at a bridge in Kandahar province of southern Afghanistan, killing the suspect himself and three children who were playing nearby, an official said.

The blast occurred Tuesday afternoon in Daman district, near the provincial capital of Kandahar city, Kandahar's police chief Sayed Aqa Saqib told Xinhua, saying "the man was planting the bomb as the explosion occurred."

Anti-government militants usually used roadside bomb blasts to target the Afghan government and Afghanistan-based foreign troops.

Also in Kandahar province, Taliban militants attacked a police post in Shor Abak district early Tuesday, killing nine policemen. Roadside bombs were also used in the pre-dawn attack.

Elsewhere, a roadside bombing hit a police vehicle, leaving three policemen and one civilian passer-by dead Tuesday morning in Logar province of eastern Afghanistan.

On the same day, eight civilian passengers were killed as a roadside bomb struck a mini-bus in Afghanistan's western Farah province.

The past days have seen a sharp rise of bombing attacks by militants across Afghanistan where insurgency-related conflicts and violence left as many as 8,000 people dead in 2007, a record high since 2001.
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US senator opposes Pakistan militant talks
May 28, 2008
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - A top US Senator on Wednesday said that Pakistan should not negotiate with Taliban or Al-Qaeda militants near the Afghan border and should limit peace talks to tribal elders.

Democratic senator Russ Feingold said during a visit to Pakistan that Islamabad's new government should not enter negotiations with "those who want to kill Americans".

The government launched talks with local Taliban militants soon after winning elections in February, amid concerns that US-backed Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's military approach was spawning more violence.

"The US will have no problems if your government deals with peaceful tribal leaders," Feingold told a news conference in Islamabad when asked how he viewed the current peace talks.

"The US opposes talks with militants and those linked to Al-Qaeda and Taliban," he said, adding: "We are not ready to negotiate with those who want to kill Americans or cause harm to America."

"This is a critical time for Pakistan, its people and our relationship," he said.

Pakistani authorities signed a peace deal with militants in the northwestern Swat Valley earlier this month and are in talks with pro-Taliban rebels in the semi-autonomous tribal districts bordering Afghanistan.

Top Pakistani Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud said at the weekend that despite the talks his fighters would continue "holy war" in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of US and NATO troops are fighting the militants.

Mehsud has been accused by the previous government and the US Central Intelligence Agency of masterminding the slaying of former premier Benazir Bhutto.

Feingold meanwhile called for the immediate restoration of top judges deposed by Musharraf under a state of emergency in November, when it appeared that the Supreme Court was about to overturn his re-election as president.

"The judges should be immediately restored as it is an important issue for Pakistan," Feingold said.

Pakistan's new ruling coalition has been split over how to restore the judges, who could pose a fresh threat to Musharraf's rule if they get their jobs back.

"I had meetings with a number of people including (former chief justice) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on the issue of illegal removal of judges but not even a single person told me that they did anything wrong," he added.

Asked how he viewed President Musharraf's future, he said it was a matter for the people of Pakistan and elected representatives to take a decision about his future.

"But I think the US made a mistake in relying too much on a person who came to power through undemocratic means," he said without naming President Musharraf.
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Meeting Pakistan's most feared militant
Tuesday, 27 May 2008 BBC News
Baitullah Mehsud, who heads the loose grouping of militants known as the Pakistan Taleban, has given a rare press conference to invited journalists. They included the BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan.

"I hope your trip has been enjoyable so far," our host asks us.

Ordinary garden tea party talk except for two things - the venue and the host.

We are in Pakistan's tribal region of South Waziristan. Our host is the region's top Islamic militant, Baitullah Mehsud.

Commander Mehsud has recently been named in Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. Newsweek has labelled him "more dangerous than Osama bin Laden".

President Pervez Musharraf accused him last year of being responsible for dozens of suicide attacks which led Pakistan into emergency rule.

The CIA says he was the brains behind the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minster Benazir Bhutto.

With such a reputation, it is not surprising that there is a sense of awe as this short, plump, bearded man greets us.

Breakneck speed

We are part of a group of journalists invited by Mr Mehsud to his stronghold to see for ourselves "the atrocities committed by the Pakistan army in its recent campaign in the area".

Pakistan's army and pro-Taleban militants led by Baitullah Mehsud have recently agreed to a ceasefire after being locked in battle for most of 2007.

The ceasefire is part of attempts to secure a lasting peace in the area.

Earlier this month the army brought in journalists to show their successes against the militants in January.

Now it's the militants' turn to have their say.

Our journey with the Taleban had begun with a long wait for them at a petrol station in the town of Mir Ali, just inside North Waziristan.

A caravan with over half a dozen vehicles took off, travelling at breakneck speed through beautiful valleys and towering mountains.

Our escorts were on their guard, the speed is as much for security as for safety.

We saw very little of the heavy presence of troops in the area that the government talks about.

We did see plenty of abandoned check posts and bunkers destroyed by the Taleban.

In the town of Makeen in South Waziristan we switched to four-wheel drives.

Our destination was the district of Sararogha, very much the heart of Taleban territory.

Havoc

It was dark when we finally arrived at a madrassa (religious school) high up on the mountains where we stayed in a nearby house for the night.

The next morning we headed down to the valley below to be shown the damage caused by bombing raids carried out by military aircraft.

The villages were a scene of havoc, with almost all the houses having suffered some damage.

Some have been completely destroyed, leaving their owners homeless.

"I have no money left now," says Ali Khan, a local of Golrama village in the Kotkai area.

Mr Khan's house was bombed by jets after he had fled the fighting with his family.

"I worked in the UAE since 1980 to build this... all my life's savings."

"There are no Taleban in my house, why did the government do this?"

Many families who fled during the intense fighting have been coming home to similar scenes.

Our last stop was Spinkai market which is now a mile long stretch of rubble.

Angry shopkeepers and irate locals line up to express their anger.

"The place they said was used to train suicide bombers is, in fact, a flour mill," says Haji Khan, whose shop was also destroyed.

"We were all traders here and now our means of earning a living is gone."

As he complains, a line of vehicles passes us on its way back to the nearby hamlets and villages.

The ceasefire, it seems, is already starting to take effect.

No choice

But will it last, or go the way other deals have gone before?

In our garden meeting, "Amir Sahib" (honoured leader) - as Baitullah Mehsud is affectionately called by his men - smiles and shakes his head when this query is raised.

Around us, dozens of militants armed to the teeth listen intently to their leader.

"The Taleban are committed to their word," he says.

"The onus is now on the government - whether they hold to their word, or remain in the alliance with the US."

If that persists, Commander Mehsud says, the militants will have no choice but return to their path of resistance.

"We do not want to fight Pakistan or the army. But if they continue to be slaves to US demands, then we our hands will be forced.

"There can be no deal with the US."
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Al Qaeda Warrior Uses Internet to Rally Women
New York Times, United States By ELAINE SCIOLINO and SOUAD MEKHENNET May 28, 2008
BRUSSELS -On the street, Malika El Aroud is anonymous in an Islamic black veil covering all but her eyes.

In her living room, Ms. El Aroud, a 48-year-old Belgian, wears the ordinary look of middle age: a plain black T-shirt and pants and curly brown hair. The only adornment is a pair of powder-blue slippers monogrammed in gold with the letters SEXY.

But it is on the Internet where Ms. El Aroud has distinguished herself. Writing in French under the name “Oum Obeyda,” she has transformed herself into one of the most prominent Internet jihadists in Europe.
She calls herself a female holy warrior for Al Qaeda. She insists that she does not disseminate instructions on bomb-making and has no intention of taking up arms herself. Rather, she bullies Muslim men to go and fight and rallies women to join the cause.

“It’s not my role to set off bombs — that’s ridiculous,” she said in a rare interview. “I have a weapon. It’s to write. It’s to speak out. That’s my jihad. You can do many things with words. Writing is also a bomb.”

Ms. El Aroud has not only made a name for herself among devotees of radical forums where she broadcasts her message of hatred toward the West. She also is well known to intelligence officials throughout Europe as simply “Malika” — an Islamist who is at the forefront of the movement by women to take a larger role in the male-dominated global jihad.

The authorities have noted an increase in suicide bombings carried out by women — the American military reports that 18 women have conducted suicide missions in Iraq so far this year, compared with 8 all of last year — but they say there is also a less violent yet potentially more insidious army of women organizers, proselytizers, teachers, translators and fund-raisers, who either join their husbands in the fight or step into the breach as men are jailed or killed.

“Women are coming of age in jihad and are entering a world once reserved for men,” said Claude Moniquet, president of the Brussels-based European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center. “Malika is a role model, an icon who is bold enough to identify herself. She plays a very important strategic role as a source of inspiration. She’s very clever — and extremely dangerous.”

Ms. El Aroud began her rise to prominence because of a man in her life. Two days before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, her husband carried out a bombing in Afghanistan that killed the anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud at the behest of Osama bin Laden. Her husband was killed, and she took to the Internet as the widow of a martyr.

She remarried, and in 2007 she and her new husband were convicted in Switzerland for operating pro-Qaeda Web sites. Now, according to the Belgium authorities, she is a suspect in what the authorities say they believe is a plot to carry out attacks in Belgium.

“Vietnam is nothing compared to what awaits you on our lands,” she wrote to a supposed Western audience in March about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Ask your mothers, your wives to order your coffins.” To her followers she added: “Victory is appearing on the horizon, my brothers and sisters. Let’s intensify our prayers.”

Her prolific writing and presence in chat rooms, coupled with her background, makes her a magnet for praise and sympathy. “Sister Oum Obeyda is virtuous among the virtuous; her life is dedicated to the good on this earth,” a man named Juba wrote late last year.

Changing Role of Women
The rise of women comes against a backdrop of discrimination that has permeated radical Islam. Mohamed Atta, the Sept. 11 hijacker, wrote in his will that “women must not be present at my funeral or go to my grave at any later date.”

Last month, Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s second in command, said in an online question-and-answer session that women could not join Al Qaeda. In response, a woman wrote on a password-protected radical Web site that “the answer that we heard was not what we had hoped,” according to the SITE monitoring group, adding, “I swear to God I will never leave the path and will not give up this course.”

The changing role of women in the movement is particularly apparent in Western countries, where Muslim women have been educated to demand their rights and Muslim men are more accustomed to treating them as equals.

Ms. El Aroud reflects that trend. “Normally in Islam the men are stronger than the women, but I prove that it is important to fear God — and no one else,” she said. “It is important that I am a woman. There are men who don’t want to speak out because they are afraid of getting into trouble. Even when I get into trouble, I speak out.”

After all, she said, she knows the rules. “I write in a legal way,” she said. “I know what I’m doing. I’m Belgian. I know the system.”

That system often has been lenient toward her. She was detained last December with 13 others in what the authorities suspected was a plot to free a convicted terrorist from prison and to launch an attack in Brussels. But Belgian law required that they be released within 24 hours, because no charges were brought and searches failed to turn up weapons, explosives or incriminating documents.

Now, even as Ms. El Aroud remains under constant surveillance, she is back home rallying militants on her main Internet forum and collecting more than $1,100 a month in government unemployment benefits.
“Her jihad is not to lead an operation but to inspire other people to wage jihad,” said Glenn Audenaert, the director of Belgium’s federal police force, in an interview. “She enjoys the protection that Belgium offers. At the same time, she is a potential threat.”

Embracing a Strict Islam
Born in Morocco, reared from a young age in Belgium, Ms. El Aroud did not seem destined for the jihad.

Growing up, she rebelled against her Muslim upbringing, she wrote in a memoir. Her first marriage, at 18, was unhappy and brief; she later bore a daughter out of wedlock.

Unable to read Arabic, it was her discovery of the Koran in French that led her to embrace a strict version of Islam and eventually to marry Abdessater Dahmane, a Tunisian loyal to Mr. bin Laden.

Eager to be a battlefield warrior, she said she hoped to fight alongside her husband in Chechnya. But the Chechens “wanted experienced men, super-well trained,” she said. “They wanted women even less.”

In 2001, she followed her husband to Afghanistan. As he trained at a Qaeda camp, she was installed in a camp for foreign women in Jalalabad.

For her, the Taliban was a model Islamic government and reports of its mistreatment of women were untrue. “Women didn’t have problems under the Taliban,” she insisted. “They had security.”

Her only rebellion was against the burqa, the restrictive garment the Taliban forced on women, which she called “a plastic bag.” As a foreigner, she was allowed to wear a long black veil instead.

After her husband’s mission, Ms. El Aroud was briefly detained by Mr. Massoud’s followers. Frightened, she was put in contact with Belgian authorities, who arranged for her safe passage home.

“We got her out and thought she’d cooperate with us,” said one senior Belgian intelligence official. “We were deceived.”

Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, who was France’s senior counterterrorism magistrate at the time, said he had interviewed Ms. El Aroud because investigators suspected that she had shipped electronic equipment to her husband that was used in the killing. “She is very radical, very sly and very dangerous,” he said.

Ms. El Aroud was tried with 22 others in Belgium for complicity in the Massoud killing. As a grieving widow in a black veil, she persuaded the court that she had been doing humanitarian work and knew nothing of her husband’s plans. She was acquitted for lack of evidence.

Her husband’s death, though, propelled her into a new life. “The widow of a martyr is very important for Muslims,” she said.

She used her enhanced status to meet her new “brothers and sisters” on the Web. One of them was Moez Garsalloui, a Tunisian several years her junior who had political refugee status in Switzerland. They married and moved to a small Swiss village. There, they ran several pro-Qaeda Web sites and Internet forums that were monitored by Swiss authorities as part of the country’ first Internet-related criminal case.

After the police raided their home and arrested them at dawn in April 2005, Ms. El Aroud extensively described what she called their abuse.

“See what this country that calls us neutral made us suffer,” she wrote, claiming that the Swiss police beat and blindfolded her husband and manhandled her while she was sleeping unveiled.

Convicted last June of promoting violence and supporting a criminal organization, she received a six-month suspended sentence; Mr. Garsalloui, who was convicted of more serious charges, was released after 23 days. Despite Ms. El Aroud’s prominence, it is once again her husband whom the authorities view as a bigger threat. They suspect he was recruiting to carry out attacks last December and that he has connections to terrorist groups operating in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The authorities say that they lost track of him after he was released from jail last year in Switzerland. “He is on a trip,” Ms. El Aroud said cryptically when asked about her husband’s whereabouts. “On a trip.”
A ‘Holy Warrior’

Meanwhile, her stature has risen higher with her claims of victimization by the Swiss. The Voice of the Oppressed Web site described her as “our female holy warrior of the 21st century.”

Her latest tangle with the law hints at a deeper involvement of women in terrorist activities. When she was detained last December in connection with the suspected plot to free Nizar Trabelsi, a convicted terrorist and a onetime professional soccer player, and to attack a target in Brussels, Ms. El Aroud was one of three women taken in for questioning.

Although the identities of those detained were not released, the Belgian authorities and others familiar with the case said that among those detained were Mr. Trabelsi’s wife and Fatima Aberkan, 47, a friend of Ms. El Aroud and a mother of seven.

“Malika is a source of inspiration for women because she is telling women to stop sleeping and open their eyes,” Ms. Aberkan said.

Ms. El Aroud operates from her three-room apartment that sits above a clothing shop in a working-class Brussels neighborhood where she spends her time communicating with supporters, mainly on her own forum, Minbar-SOS.

Although Ms. El Aroud insists that she is not breaking the law, she knows that the police are watching. And if the authorities find way to put her in prison, she said: “That would be great. They would make me a living martyr.
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Chinese firms to pay $808 mln for Afghanistan deal
Reporting by Polly Yam and Donny Kwok; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree
Reuters - HONG KONG, May 28 - Jiangxi Copper Co , China's top integrated copper producer, and China Metallurgical Group Corp will pay $808 million for the right to explore and exploit minerals in a copper mine field in Afghanistan.

The amount was part of an expected initial investment of $2.9 billion to develop Aynak copper deposit, Pan Qifang, board secretary of Jiangxi Copper told Reuters.

Jiangxi Copper and state-owned mining and investment firm China Metallurgical won the contract through a tender last year to develop the vast Aynak Copper Mine, as the Chinese companies accelerate a search for minerals abroad to feed the world's fastest-growing major economy.

The project has been in the spotlight since then as it is expected to contribute huge revenues to mineral-rich Afghanistan, where violence has escalated in the past two years, the bloodiest period since the the Taliban's removal from power in 2001.

Kabul-based independent group Integrity Watch said in December local communities needed to benefit from the mine and be properly compensated, otherwise it could lead to further unrest, which could raise risks as well as the cost of the project.

The site for the mine at Aynak, 60 km southeast of Kabul contains the world's second-largest unexploited copper deposit.

Pan said China Metallurgical was working on a detailed feasibility study, which would include the scale of production and shares of the two companies on the Aynak project.

The shares would determine Jiangxi Copper's actual investment in the project.

Pan said the study would be completed in the second half of this year.

Jiangxi Copper expected the project to start providing copper concentrates to its Guixi smelter in Jiangxi province five years from now, he said.

The contract with the Afghan government grants mining rights in the Central and Western mineralised zones for 30 years, Jiangxi Copper said in the statement, in a move set to boost copper concentrate supplies to the copper producer.

The mining area has total resources reserves of 705 million tonnes of ores and an average copper content of 1.56 percent, comprising 11 million tonnes of copper metal deposits.

China's largest integrated copper producer said it would buy at least 50 percent of the copper concentrate products generated upon operation of the mine.

For details please see http://www.hkexnews.hk/listedco/listconews/sehk/20080527/LTN20080527252.pdf

In March, Jiangxi Copper's chairman Li Yihuang said the Aynak project would expand to 200,000-300,000 tonnes a year, from a previously planned 200,000 tonnes.

The project would increase supply of copper concentrate to Jiangxi Copper, which was expanding capacity to 900,000 tonnes of refined copper a year in 2010 from 700,000 tonnes, Li said. Shares of Jiangxi Copper were down more than 1 percent at HK$17.30 on Wednesday afternoon, lagging a slight rise in the index of Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong .

(Reporting by Polly Yam and Donny Kwok; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree)
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DynCorp International Wins $13.1 Million Construction Project in Afghanistan
FOXBusiness
FALLS CHURCH, Va., May 27, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) ----The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Afghan Engineering District, has awarded DynCorp International (NYSE:DCP) a $13.1 million construction project for the Bermel border police facility in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. The work, which is new construction on an undeveloped site, will be completed in 300 days. The project includes design and construction of barracks and dining hall, administration building, vehicle maintenance facility, and water, power and wastewater systems.

This firm, fixed-price task order is the first under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract for general construction in Afghanistan. DynCorp International currently has approximately $120 million in general construction and engineering projects overall in Afghanistan.

About DynCorp International

DynCorp International is a provider of specialized mission-critical services to civilian and military government agencies worldwide, and operates major programs in law enforcement training and support, security services, base operations, aviation services, contingency operations, and logistics support. DynCorp International is headquartered in Falls Church, Va. For more information, visit www.dyn-intl.com.
SOURCE: DynCorp International
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Watchdog backs government on Afghan prison abuse
Tim Naumetz ,  Canwest News Service
OTTAWA - The federal ombudsman for access to government information said he supported the Defence Department's refusal to release documents that might have revealed Afghan detainees were being beaten after Canadian soldiers handed them over to Afghan forces.

Access to Information Commissioner Robert Marleau cites the controversial incident in his annual report to Parliament as an example of more than 100 complaints his office received over a lid of secrecy the Defence Department and Foreign Affairs clamped on the Afghanistan mission.

Marleau said in the report he sided not only with the Defence Department, but also with the Foreign Affairs Department as it refused to release information about the treatment of detainees on the grounds that releasing the files could have harmed relations with other countries.

Despite the commissioner's support of Defence's tight-lipped action, documents surfaced last year in Federal Court confirming Canadian monitors saw signs that Afghan prisoners transferred by Canadians were beaten and likely tortured.

Another controversial case erupted last July, with revelations that Gen. Rick Hillier, Canada's chief of Defence staff, had been reviewing all requests under the Access to Information Act since March for information about allegations of prisoner mistreatment.

In January, Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association forced the government to file evidence in court that showed Canadians were likely aware as early as June 2007 their prisoners could be tortured if handed over to Afghan authorities.

Complaints against the Defence Department centred on its refusal to disclose information about lists of prisoners, photographs, medical conditions and "other personal information," the report notes.

Canada's Access to Information Act gives citizens the right to request documents, such as memos, briefing notes and e-mails, related to the work of government agencies and organizations. It is commonly used by journalists, businesses and politicians. The commissioner's office investigates complaints from those who say they have been denied their rights under the act.

"(The department) agreed to release as much information as possible while continuing to protect personal information. We supported its position to continue to withhold other information that would put the defence of Canada or Canada's allies at risk if disclosed," Marleau says.

NDP MP Pat Martin said Marleau took the wrong side in the access dispute.

"This was not about national security," he said. "It was about national embarrassment for the government. I'm really disappointed that Marleau didn't take a more activist approach on that complaint particularly."

The military secretly suspended the prisoner transfers in November.

The report discloses the number of complaints mushroomed last year after Crown corporations and other agencies became subject to access under the Public Accountability Act.

The CBC recorded the most complaints, 536. The Defence Department was second, with 256 complaints.
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