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Luis Miguel Goitizolo

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4/16/2013 10:57:54 PM

Palestinians open Israeli jail replica to honor prisoners

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinians opened a replica of a former Israeli prison in Gaza on Tuesday to help illuminate the plight of 4,800 kin jailed in Israel after weeks of protests that have triggered clashes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Murals of famous leaders of Palestinian militant groups who were once held in the Saraya prison decorated walls at the site, along with a leather banner listing the names of 12 detainees who died in what locals dubbed "the slaughterhouse".

"Prisoner Day," an annual Palestinian national rite that commemorates the detainees, is set for Wednesday and more street violence with Israeli troops is anticipated.

Palestinians view compatriots held in Israel as heroes of their struggle for statehood, whereas the Jewish state says that many are guilty of killing or hurting innocents and the detentions guarantee its security.

A hunger strike by a handful of prisoners and the deaths of two inmates in custody this year have touched off deadly clashes with Israeli security forces that some analysts say could snowball into a third Palestinian uprising.

Saraya was refurbished and opened to visitors by Waed, a prisoners' association loyal to Hamas.

The ex-prison spans the fraught history of Palestine. It was built by British colonial authorities in 1936 only to be used in turn by Israel during its post-1967 occupation, the Palestinian Authority under a self-rule deal from 1994 and finally Hamas for a brief period after it seized control of Gaza in 2007.

Many of Saraya's original concrete cellblocks and interrogation rooms were destroyed over the years by Israeli air strikes during conflict with Palestinian militants. In their place, Waed built rows of tents it says resemble detention camps still in use in Israel's nearby Negev desert.


Waed spokesman Abdallah Qandil said he hoped anger over the prisoners' plight would lead to another "armed struggle".

"When I came in I was overcome by the memories and the feelings of suffering prisoners are undergoing," said Zeyad Jouda, a former detainee at Saraya who was guiding visitors.

"By being here I am conveying my story to people who are visiting to increase their solidarity with prisoners. We are trying to explain to them what detention and what the cells were like," Jouda said, as he showed around some 40 local women.

Local authorities say 800,000 Palestinians have been detained under Israeli military orders since the 1967 war when Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

Palestinians want an independent state in those territories but negotiations with Israel have been frozen since 2010.

Allegations of torture have been directed against all of Saraya's former gatekeepers. Most recently, the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas movements accused each other of abusing fellow Palestinians there during their bloody rivalry.

Hamas says its militant attacks were key to making Israel withdraw from Gaza in 2005 and gaining the release of over a thousand Palestinian prisoners in 2011 in exchange for an Israeli soldier it held hostage.

Visitors to the site echoed this sense of triumphalism.

Salwa al-Mashharawi froze briefly at one of the prison room windows where she used to visit her two sons when they served time there during Israel's occupation. "I recalled the cries, the tears and the pain - but no regret," she said as women around her chanted "God is Great!"

(Editing by Noah Browning and Mark Heinrich)

"Choose a job you love and you will not have to work a day in your life" (Confucius)

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Luis Miguel Goitizolo

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4/16/2013 10:58:59 PM

Two linked to "cannibal cop" case charged in NYC with kidnap plot

Reuters/Reuters - Elizabeth Valle (R), mother of New York City police officer Gilberto Valle dubbed by local media as the "cannibal cop", exits the Manhattan Federal Court following his conviction in New York March 12, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former New York City high school librarian and a Massachusetts hospital police official were charged on Monday with conspiring to kidnap, torture and kill women and children, in a case that grew out of the investigation of so-called New York ‘cannibal cop' Gilberto Valle, authorities said.

The case against Robert Christopher Asch, 60, of Manhattan and Richard Meltz, 65, of Nashua, New Hampshire, was outlined in a 23-page criminal complaint that accused them of conspiring over the past two years to carry out the plots against potential victims, including infants.

Manhattan Attorney Preet Bharara called the accusations against the pair a "bone-chilling … chronicle of sadism and depravity that includes … very real steps to carry out … plans to kidnap, torture, rape, and kill the women and children they targeted," in a statement issued on Monday.

The case began after authorities learned last fall that a 22-year old New Jersey mechanic, Michael Van Hise, was allegedly sending messages online soliciting the kidnapping, rape and murder of his wife and step-daughter, as well as his sister-in-law and her children.

Van Hise came to the attention of authorities when they discovered email exchanges between him and former New York City police officer Gilberto Valle, convicted in March of a plot to kidnap and cannibalize local women.

Both men said at the time through their attorneys that they were engaged in online violent sexual fantasy role play and that they never intended to commit real crimes.

When Valle was arrested last fall, Van Hise agreed to cooperate with federal investigators probing violent sexual role play websites, his attorney Alice Fontier said earlier this year.

Among those Van Hise allegedly corresponded with online were Asch and Meltz, according to the complaint unsealed Monday.

Van Hise then introduced Asch, and later Meltz, to undercover FBI agents, including one who posed as a fellow kidnap plotter, and another who posed as a female kidnap target.

Asch allegedly provided an undercover agent with a taser gun, a ski mask, hypodermic needles, documents describing a device called a ‘leg-spreader' and another called a ‘dental retractor' and the sleep agent doxepin hydrochloride, FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos said.

Asch and Meltz, a chief of police for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Bedford, Massachusetts, were due to appear in federal court in lower Manhattan late on Monday afternoon.

Meltz "maintains his innocence,'' attorney Peter Brill said, declining further comment. Lori Cohen, an attorney for Asch, declined to comment.

In court documents, prosecutors charged that an undercover agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation began email conversations with Asch last year, discussing plots to kidnap and torture of unnamed women and children.

The FBI agent then met with Asch at least five times to discuss the plots, which were recorded, according to the documents.

The criminal complaint includes excerpts of email exchanges involving Asch and Meltz in which they appeared to discuss carrying out the crimes.

Each man is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

(Reporting By Chris Francescani. Editing by Andre Grenon)

"Choose a job you love and you will not have to work a day in your life" (Confucius)

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Luis Miguel Goitizolo

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4/16/2013 11:00:58 PM

NKorea lashes out anew over protest in Seoul

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea lashed out anew Tuesday at South Korea over a small public protest in Seoul in which demonstrators burned effigies of the North's leaders, saying it would not hold talks with its southern neighbor unless it apologized for anti-North Korean actions "big and small" and warning that it could take retaliatory measures at any time.

The statement, which was issued by the Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army, came amid international fears that the North is preparing to conduct a medium-range missile test and also as North Korea marked the second day of festivities in honor of the April 15 birthday of its first leader, Kim Il Sung.

Later in the day, its state media quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying North Korea has no intention of holding talks with the U.S. unless it also abandons its hostility against the North.

The spokesman said the North will "intensify unspecified military countermeasures" unless the U.S. stops conducting military drills on the peninsula and pulls out all the military assets needed to threaten the North with a nuclear attack.

The renewed vitriol, which included the threat for unspecified retaliatory action, followed a Monday protest by about 250 people in downtown Seoul, where effigies of Kim Il Sung and his late son and successor, Kim Jong Il, were burned. Such protests are fairly common in South Korea, and though Monday's was held on the holiday that North Korea calls "The Day of the Sun," some analysts suggested North Korea was using it as a pretext to reject calls for a dialogue with the South, at least for the time being.

North Korea often denounces protests like the one held Monday, but rarely in the name of the Supreme Command, which is headed by Kim Il Sung's grandson and North Korea's overall leader,Kim Jong Un.

The North's statement said it would refuse any offers of talks with the South until it apologized for the "monstrous criminal act."

"If the puppet authorities truly want dialogue and negotiations, they should apologize for all anti-DPRK hostile acts, big and small, and show the compatriots their will to stop all these acts in practice," the statement said. North Korea's official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK.

This year's festivities were mostly low key, with Pyongyang residents gathering in performance halls and plazas and taking advantage of subsidized treats, like shaved ice and peanuts. Last year's anniversary — the centennial of Kim Il Sung's birth — was marked with days of immense festivities and a massive military parade.

Instead of such grandiose events, the front page of the Rodong Sinmun, the Workers' Party newspaper, on Tuesday featured photos of Kim Jong Un at an orchestral performance with his aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, and other top officials. North Korean media also reported that he watched volleyball and basketball games between Kim Il Sung University of Politics and Kim Il Sung Military University.

But word of the protest in the South outraged some North Koreans, though North Koreans, too, have similarly used the image of South Korean officials in protests against Seoul. The former South Korean president was depicted as a rat, shown attacked by dogs and tied up and quartered. The North Korean military used his image for military practice

"A child will not ignore it if his parents are insulted," said Pyongyang resident Ri Jong Chol. "I'd like to say that we have to find the South Korean puppet traitors who insulted our top leaders, wherever they are, and put them to death."

After Pyongyang's latest volley of rhetoric, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said South Korea was closely monitoring its moves and would "thoroughly and resolutely punish North Korea if it launches any provocation for whatever reason."

The calm over the past two days in Pyongyang has been a striking contrast to the steady flow of retaliatory threats North Korea has issued over ongoing military exercises between South Korea and the United States. Though the maneuvers, called Foal Eagle, are held regularly, North Korea was particularly angry over their inclusion this year of nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers and F-22 fighters.

"The ultimatum is just North Korea's way of saying that it's not willing or ready to talk with the South," said Chang Yong-seok at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University. "North Korea apparently wants to keep the cross-border relations tense for some time to come."

The Tuesday ultimatum comes just after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up a tour to coordinate Washington's response with Beijing, North Korea's most important ally, as well as with Seoul and Tokyo. Kerry said a missile test would be provocation that would further isolate the country and its impoverished people. He said Sunday that the U.S. was "prepared to reach out," but that Pyongyang must first bring down tensions and honor previous agreements.

Pyongyang is open to talks but not with the United States, the North's foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the KCNA state news agency, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

"The DPRK (North Korea) is not opposed to dialogue but has no idea of sitting at the humiliating negotiating table with the party brandishing a nuclear stick," the statement said.

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told a parliamentary committee Monday that North Korea still appeared poised to launch a missile from its east coast. North Korea, which conducted a nuclear test in February, has already been slapped with strengthened U.N. sanctions for violating Security Council resolutions barring the regime from nuclear and missile activity.

To further coordinate their response, South Korea's new president, Park Geun-hye, will meet with President Barack Obama on May 7 at the White House.

"While we take these provocations from North Korea seriously, the Park Geun-hye government remains calm yet resolute vis-a-vis North Korea," Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters in Seoul on Monday. "Based on the overwhelming combined deterrent capability of the Korea-US alliance and solidarity of the international community, our frontline is secure, and our society remains calm and stable."

The U.S.-South Korean military drills are scheduled to end April 30. On Tuesday, a Marine CH-53E helicopter made a "hard landing" during the exercises, according to a statement from United States Forces Korea. Twenty-one personnel were on board the helicopter, including five crew members, the statement said. All were taken to the hospital, but 15 were quickly released. The remaining six were in stable condition.


Associated Press writers Sam Kim and Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.

"Choose a job you love and you will not have to work a day in your life" (Confucius)

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Luis Miguel Goitizolo

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4/16/2013 11:02:15 PM

Syria's Assad reduces sentences for some rebels

Associated Press/Narciso Contreras, File - FILE - Night falls on a Syrian rebel-controlled area of Aleppo, Nov. 29, 2012, as destroyed buildings, including Dar Al-Shifa hospital, are seen on Sa'ar street after airstrikes targeted the area a week before. This image was one in a series of 20 by AP photographers that won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Photography. (AP Photo/Narciso Contreras, File)

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria's president on Tuesday slashed prison terms by three quarters for an unspecified number of rebelsconvicted as "terrorists," as fierce battles raged around the airport of Aleppo, the country's largest city.

Bashar Assad also used a presidential decree to reduce the sentences of an unknown number of convicted criminals ahead of the country's independence day, state media reported. The Syrian leader has made similar gestures since the country's 2-year-old crisis began, including pardons for those convicted of acts against the state.

The opposition has dismissed such decrees as political theater, saying that many dissidents remain in Syrian jails. The government denies there is an uprising in the country and refers to rebels as terrorists carrying out a foreign conspiracy.

Syria does not disclose statistics on prisoners, although its jails are believed to hold tens of thousands, including thousands of political prisoners. State TV quoted Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi as saying that the pardon will lead to the release of about 7,000 people who committed different types of crimes.

On Monday, a Syria-based human rights group said in a report that the military unit in charge of protecting Damascus is holding hundreds of suspected regime opponents in secret prisons. The claims could not be independently confirmed, but several rights groups say thousands of opposition members, protesters and their families have been detained since the revolt against Assad's rule began in March 2011.

Tuesday's presidential decree is also to include those convicted of criminal acts before April 16, state TV and the official news agency said. Convicts on death row would have their sentences reduced to life imprisonment with hard labor, while those with incurable diseases or advanced age would be pardoned. It also renewed a call for rebels to turn over their weapons, saying those who do so will be pardoned.

The move came as the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels launched an attack on the Wadi Deif and Hamidiya military bases in the northwestern province of Idlib. The bases had previously been under a months-long rebel siege.

On Saturday, government forces punched through the blockade and re-opened a supply line to the area after they killed more than 20 rebels in an ambush. During the siege, the military had been forced to drop supplies in by helicopter because rebels controlled the surrounding area.

The Observatory also reported heavy fighting around the international airport in Aleppo, Syria's former commercial capital. It said there were casualties on both sides, but did not have any immediate figures.

Rebels have been trying for months to capture the facility, which has been closed to flights because of the fighting.

Aleppo itself has been carved into rebel- and regime-held zones since anti-Assad fighters launched an offensive on the city last summer. Shelling, bombings and fierce daily clashes have left much of the city — once considered one of Syria's most beautiful — a mass of shattered buildings and rubble since then.

On Tuesday, the Syrian Red Crescent recovered 31 bodies between the Aleppo neighborhoods of Sakhour and Midan, according to the Aleppo Media Center activist group. The Observatory also reported the discovery of 31 bodies in the same location.

Both groups said the dead had been killed by snipers in recent months, but because of the location of the bodies they couldn't be retrieved for burial until now.

An amateur video posted online by the Aleppo Media Center showed what appeared to be 31 body bags placed on the ground. A small group of people, some of them wearing masks over their nose and mouth, examine some of the bodies.

The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the events depicted.

Meanwhile the Syrian National Coalition, Syria's main opposition group, said in a statement that Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group, a strong ally of Assad, has been targeting villages near the Lebanese border for the past four weeks.

"We call upon the Lebanese government to take action against Hezbollah's aggressions and do everything within their means to ensure the safety of the innocent civilians on the Syrian Lebanese border," the SNC statement said.

Hezbollah denies its members are fighting in Syria, saying that Lebanese Shiites are defending Syrian border villages that have been inhabited by Lebanese for decades.

Over the weekend, two people were killed by rocket fire that hit the Lebanese side from Syria. Hezbollah accused rebels of firing the rockets.

And late on Monday, Syria's state-run news agency said rebels ambushed the correspondent of Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam TV channel who was covering events in the Damascus' suburb of Darayya. It said Mazen Salmo is in stable condition after having sustained wounds to the head.


Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer Ryan Lucas contributed from Beirut.

"Choose a job you love and you will not have to work a day in your life" (Confucius)

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Luis Miguel Goitizolo

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4/17/2013 12:18:21 AM
FBI seeks help in Boston blasts. Plea to public: 'Someone knows who did this'

Boston Marathon update: Investigation in ‘infancy’; Obama visiting Thursday

Raw: Boston Explosion Caught on Video
Video from the Boston Globe shows the 1st explosion that rocked the finish line at the Boston Globe Monday. (April 15)

BOSTON—Law enforcement officials said Tuesday evening that they have no concrete information on who planted the two bombs that left more than 170 people injured and three dead near the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday.

Seventeen of the injured are in critical condition in area hospitals, officials said, with several of them recovering from amputations.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced that President Barack Obama will attend an interfaith ceremony at Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross in honor of the victims on Thursday.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard DesLauriers pleaded with the public to provide information to help authorities track down the culprit, particularly those who might know someone who was researching how to make bombs, or who saw a suspicious person carrying a heavy black nylon bag near the finish line.

"Someone knows who did this," DesLauriers said. The agent said the investigation in its "infancy," and that authorities do not know who is responsible for planting the bombs. He described the case as "wide open."

DesLauriers said it appeared at least one of the bombs was made of a pressure cooker loaded with nails and metal BBs, though the debris from the scene will have to be examined before they can make that determination. Doctors said metal bearings had embedded into the skin of their patients.

Officials also asked the public to turn in any photographic or digital evidence they have from the scene. They directed people with information to call 1-800-494-TIPS.

The injuries from the explosions include dismemberment and local hospitals say they are treating shrapnel wounds, open fractures and limb injuries. At Massachusetts General Hospital, doctors performed four amputations, and two more patients are at risk for needing amputations. An 8-year-old boy from Dorchester is one of the three known dead, and several of the injured are also children.

So far, two of three victims have been identified: 8-year-old Martin Richard of nearby Dorchester and 29-year-old Krystle Campbell of Medford.

Boston University announced late Tuesday that a third victim is a Boston University graduate student, who was watching the race with two friends. The Chinese consulate in New York told The Associated Press the victim is a Chinese national.

The university said it would not releasing the victim's name until it has permission to do so from the family.

According to Rep. Stephen Lynch, who has known the Richard family for 25 years, Richard was at the race with several members of his family, including his father, Bill, who had run the race in the past but had skipped the marathon this year because of an injury.

The family had gone to get ice cream and had returned to watch runners along Boylston Street when they witnessed the first blast, according to Lynch. He said the family immediately tried to move off the sidewalk into the street, in an attempt to get away from buildings out of fear of another blast. That’s when the second bomb struck, killing Richard and severely injuring his mother, Denise, and his six-year-old sister, Jane.

Campbell's father, William Campbell, said Krystle was a "wonderful, wonderful girl" who had gone to the finish line to watch her friend's boyfriend run the race Monday.

"This was a cowardly and heinous act," Obama said Tuesday morning in a brief address. He said the bombs are being investigated as an act of terrorism, but emphasized that authorities do not know who is responsible for it. "We will find whoever harmed our citizens and we will bring them to justice," he said.

The president ordered that all flags at public buildings be flown at half staff.

On Tuesday morning, Boylston Street remained closed, but Boston officials reopened some of the perimeter around the site of the explosions. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis called the area "the most complex crime scene we've dealt with in the history of our department." A 12-block area remains closed to the public.

There were still signs of the chaos that blanketed the Copley Square area after the explosions went off at 2:50 p.m. Along Huntington Avenue, a stretch packed with hotels where many Boston Marathon runners stayed Monday night, dozens of SWAT vehicles were positioned in spaces where tourists usually board the city’s famous Duck Boat tours. And the side streets leading to Boylston were cordoned off with police tape, as investigators waved off bystanders trying to take photos of the scene.

The shopping mall at the Prudential Center, one of the city’s busiest tourist spots, was reopened but was eerily empty—without the usual stream of workers who use the mall to commute to their offices at the Prudential Tower, one of the city’s tallest buildings.

Along side streets, runners still dressed in their blue and yellow Boston Marathon jackets wandered the streets—some with their suitcases, as they tried to figure out a way to get to the airport, others trying to get in a daily run.

“You’re supposed to keep moving after running a marathon,” said Kathi Russo, a runner from Salisbury, N.C., who had crossed the finish line about 20 minutes before the first blast went off.

Russo, who was running her sixth Boston Marathon, spent hours Monday night trying to get back to her hotel, which was about two blocks from the second bombing site. She described a scene of “chaos” as hundreds of runners were pushed away from the blast site, not quite aware of what had happened.

Russo’s friend, Dianne Allen, was running in a later wave about half a mile away from the site when officials began to stop runners. Allen said people had no idea what happened until word of the bombings began trickling through the crowd, thanks to the few runners who had been carrying their cell phones.

It took Allen several hours to get back to their hotel, where she and Russo were reunited. They said several members of the group they were traveling with had been standing near the finish line and were injured—including a 16-year-old girl, who had a broken fibula, and a husband and wife, who suffered broken legs and burns.

“We don’t know a whole lot more about that,” Allen said. “It’s been hard to get information.”

The race draws many runners from overseas—potentially part of its appeal as a target. Some foreignconsulates in Boston urged visitors from abroad to reach out to their families to let them know whether they were safe. Some also updated their social media—notably their Twitter feeds—with the latest from the investigation and useful telephone numbers or other resources.

--Liz Goodwin is reporting from New York.

The FBI is asking for help in tracking down photo evidence and suspects in the
Boston Marathon attack.

"Choose a job you love and you will not have to work a day in your life" (Confucius)

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