Pentagon decided not to send troops to Benghazi during attack

WASHINGTON -- U.S. military commanders decided against sending a rescue mission to Benghazi during the attack against the American diplomatic mission last month because they didn’t have enough clear intelligence to justify the risk to the troops, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Thursday.

Panetta, in his fullest comments yet on the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, said Pentagon officials were aware of the assault by armed militants soon after it began Sept. 11. But he said they never had more than fragmentary information during the course of the attack.

The “basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s taking place,” Panetta told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. “This happened within a few hours, and it was really over before we had the opportunity to really know what was happening.”

He said he, Army Gen. Carter Ham, head of U.S. Africa Command, and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all believed“very strongly that we could not put troops at risk in that situation.”

Panetta’s comments came after House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) released a letter he had sent to President Obama demanding more details of the administration’s handling of the incident, including the military response.

Panetta said there was “a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on.”

The Defense secretary and other senior Pentagon officials were at the White House that afternoon for a previously scheduled meeting. Later that evening, they decided to order two warships to the coast of Libya and send a special operations team from Central Europe to Sicily to be closer to Benghazi.

But because of the lack of precise information, they didn't make that decision until after the attack was over, officials said. A small team of soldiers flew to Benghazi from Tripoli, 400 miles away, and ultimately helped evacuate about two dozen diplomats and other embassy employees.

Republicans have sought to portray the attack as a symbol of a failed administration policy. U.S. officials have said they had no credible intelligence indicating that an attack was being planned in Benghazi.

The incident is under investigation by House and Senate committees, the FBI and a special State Department review panel.


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-- Paul Richter

Photo: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey answer questions at a Pentagon news conference on Oct. 25, 2012, about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images

Suspect in Libya consulate attack killed in Cairo, reports say

CAIRO -- A gunman reportedly linked to the militant attack last month on the U.S. mission in Libya was killed in a shootout with police in Cairo on Wednesday, according Egyptian state TV and independent news media.  

The Egypt Independent newspaper reported that the man, whom security officials identified only as Hazem, was described as a terrorist. The newspaper and the state TV website said the heavily armed suspect was killed after a long gun battle with police in the Nasr City section of Cairo.

The reports could not be independently confirmed, and there were conflicting reports over the incident.

“Security authorities said they had acquired information implicating the man of involvement in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi,” the newspaper reported. The attack on the consulate in September killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

State TV and the Egypt Independent reported that the suspect died in an apartment during the gunfight and a fire. Police reportedly seized bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition from the scene.


Sudan accuses Israel of bombing arms factory

Italy's Berlusconi says he won't seek rerun as prime minister

Rogue French trader loses appeal, faces prison, colossal damages 

-- Jeffrey Fleishman and Reem Abdellatif 

Sudan accuses Israel of bombing arms factory

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Sudan on Wednesday accused Israel of launching an airstrike that caused a large explosion at a munitions factory, killing two people, in a residential area of the capital, Khartoum.

Sudan Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman said four planes bombed the Yarmouk complex housing a military arms factory in the south of the capital and that an analysis of rocket debris from the explosion confirmed Israel was behind the attack.

"We think Israel did the bombing," Belal said. "We reserve the right to react at a place and time we choose."

The government of Israel, which has been accused in the past of airstrikes in Sudan, didn’t comment on Sudan’s accusations Wednesday.

Belal said the planes used sophisticated technology to evade anti-aircraft systems. The Sudanese government would take the matter to the U.N. Security Council, he said.

Local residents reported seeing fighter jets launch the attack that caused the blast, journalists said.

“One resident I spoke to said he saw two planes. The first plane had large lights and it was basically guiding the plane behind it. When its light became bright, they heard a rocket that followed and there was a large explosion," said journalist Ishmail Kushkush. "I spoke to another resident who said he saw three planes."

Kushkush said witnesses reported two people had been killed.

“All said there was a very large explosion. Shrapnel went in all directions. Houses were damaged. One person told me his entire back room collapsed,” Kushkush said.

Sudan has accused Israel of other attacks in recent years, including the bombing of a truck convoy allegedly carrying arms in eastern Sudan in 2009. Last year, Sudan accused Israel of an attack on a vehicle in the same area, which killed two people. A similar attack occurred in May, killing one.

“The main purpose is to frustrate our military capabilities and stop any development there and ultimately weaken our national sovereignty," Belal said.

Israel has never confirmed or denied involvement in the incidents in 2009, 2011 and in May. There has been speculation, however, that the attacks on vehicles were linked to arms smuggling through Sudan to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.


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$5 million prize for former African leader goes to ... no one

Uganda, Rwanda deny U.N. accusations of backing DRC rebels

-- Robyn Dixon

Photo: A fire following an explosion at Yarmouk military factory in Khartoum, Sudan. Credit: EPA

Uganda, Rwanda deny U.N. accusations of backing DRC rebels


Uganda and Rwanda angrily rejected accusations of backing rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after a United Nations report tying them to the insurgents was leaked to reporters this week.

The confidential U.N. report, leaked to Reuters on Tuesday, reportedly asserted that the Rwandan defense minister was commanding the rebellion and that Rwanda and Uganda have funneled weapons and troops to the rebels.

Rwandan foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo rejected the accusations and claimed the expert panel had been “hijacked” by the political biases of its coordinator, the Rwanda News Agency reported. Rwandan officials have accused the coordinator of being an apologist for the forces behind its genocide.

Uganda also denied the accusations.

"It's hogwash, it's a mere rumor that's being taken as a report,” Ugandan military spokesman Felix Kulaigye told Radio France Internationale.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been roiled by the rebellion, which includes soldiers who mutinied with a Congolese army general wanted by the International Criminal Court. The soldiers had been brought into the army as part of an earlier peace deal.

Suspicions that other countries are involved in the conflict have simmered since violence erupted this year. Human Rights Watch also has accused Rwanda of aiding the rebels, saying officials had armed and backed the mutiny. Western countries cut their aid to Rwanda this year over the allegations.

Despite the furor over the allegations, Rwanda won a temporary seat on the U.N. Security Council on Thursday. Temporary members of the group do not have the power to veto action, as do permanent members France, China, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia, but sitting on the powerful body is still a coveted position.


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Henry Okello Oryem, the Ugandan minister for foreign affairs, speaks to members of the media in Kampala on Wednesday. Credit: Phil Moore / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Rights group: Libya didn't investigate deaths of Kadafi loyalists


Despite promises to do so, Libya has failed to investigate the deaths of scores of people loyal to late strongman Moammar Kadafi, who appear to have been executed after his capture last year in “a bloody revenge,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday.

The report sheds new light on the downfall of Kadafi in October 2011 and its aftermath. Though exactly how the Libyan leader was killed remains murky, the rights group argues that videos and other evidence indicate vengeful militias from the city of Misurata captured, disarmed and executed at least 66 people from his convoy at a hotel in Surt that same day.

Many of the corpses had their hands tied behind their backs, it reported. Videos of Kadafi's son Mutassim suggest he was taken to Misurata and killed, Human Rights Watch said. Footage of Moammar Kadafi himself calls into question whether he was killed in crossfire, showing militia fighters stabbing his buttocks with a bayonet.

“We understood there needed to be a trial, but we couldn’t control everyone,” Eastern Coast militia brigade commander Khalid Ahmed Raid told the rights group. “Some acted beyond our control.”

Continue reading »

Swiss freeze $1 billion tied to leaders targeted in Arab Spring

Switzerland has frozen more than $1 billion connected to leaders who were toppled or are still being battled in Arab Spring uprisings, Swiss official Valentin Zellweger told reporters

Switzerland has frozen more than $1 billion connected to leaders who were toppled or are still being battled in Arab Spring uprisings, a top Swiss official told reporters Tuesday.

The bulk of the money -- more than $750 million -- was stashed away by former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his associates, Valentin Zellweger said at a briefing in Geneva. The rest is tied to Syrian President Bashar Assad, former Tunisian leader Zine el Abidine ben Ali and the late Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi, according to news reports.

Zellweger, who heads the international law department at the Swiss Foreign Ministry, told reporters that the money "is blocked in the framework of Arab Spring," the Associated Press reported. The government reportedly began freezing the funds in early 2011, as protests began to sweep the Middle East.

In times of political upheaval, the Swiss government can freeze the assets of political leaders and their entourages in order to stop money deposited in Switzerland from being shunted elsewhere, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The ultimate goal is to return any pilfered funds to their countries.

Switzerland has sought to shake off its image as the banker to scofflaws. "The Swiss government has made it very clear that funds of illegal origin are not welcome in Switzerland," Zellweger told Reuters television.

Turning the money over to Arab Spring countries could take years, as Swiss authorities pore over evidence that the money was illegally acquired before attempting to return it.

In the past, Switzerland has sent back money from the late leaders Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, among other cases.


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Valentin Zellweger, head of the Swiss Foreign Ministry's international law department, speaks at a news conference in Geneva on Tuesday. Credit: Salvatore Di Nolfi / Keystone / Associated Press

Mali extremists vow to attack French over calls to oust militants

Rebels with Ansar Dine in Mali

Religious extremists who hold the northern stretches of Mali in their grip promised revenge attacks against the French this weekend after the European country pushed for regional military action to eject them.

“They are the kind of people with whom nothing works except blood and destruction," one extremist wrote Saturday in an online forum used by Islamists, according to SITE Monitoring Service.

The online messages urged militants to attack French companies, factories and citizens in Africa, encouraging them to model themselves on Mohamed Merah, who French authorities say confessed to a string of deadly shootings of soldiers and schoolchildren in France last March before dying in a shootout with police. No authorization was needed to kill the French, one of the messages said, and rebels and their allies “should not hold back.”

The warnings were echoed Sunday by a top official from one of the Islamist groups controlling the north, who told Bloomberg they were disappointed with France and the international community.

“President [Francois] Hollande is risking the lives of all French nationals in Africa and the rest of the world,” Oumar Hamaha, operations chief of the group Ansar Dine, told the news agency by telephone.

Continue reading »

$5 million prize for former African leader goes to ... no one


Millions of dollars hung in the balance as a committee huddled in London, trying to decide which former African leader was worthy of their hefty cash prize. Monday, they announced which government head  won.


For the third time in its six years of existence, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation prize committee scanned Africa and decided nobody met the bar for its coveted award, which includes $5 million paid out over a decade and an additional $200,000 annually for life.

The plush prize is supposed to nudge African leaders to serve well -– and serve only so long. It cannot be granted to leaders who illegally cling to power. Only leaders who have left office in the last three years, serving no longer than their constitutionally mandated terms, can get the cash award.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation eyed “a number of eligible candidates,” it said Monday, “but none met the criteria needed to win this award.” Its chairman and namesake, a British billionaire born in Sudan, told the Associated Press the committee wouldn’t “go through the motions to just find anybody.”

The foundation, launched six years ago, aims to promote good governance in Africa, which has made strides toward stronger democracy but is still speckled with countries where power stems from military coups, corruption or brutality. Last year it honored former Cape Verde President Pedro Verona Pires for bolstering democracy; before that, it didn’t honor anyone for two years in a row.

Ibrahim argued the decision was not a disappointment, but a sign of exceedingly high standards. The foundation gave no details about why nobody was chosen. Despite what Ibrahim said, not handing the prize to anyone was widely seen as a dismal mark for the latest round of African leaders to leave power.

“Good governance is a rather hard sell in Africa,” the Daily Nation in Kenya editorialized ruefully, “because some leaders believe their survival is synonymous with that of their countries.”

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Libyan lawmakers choose ex-diplomat as prime minister

Libyan lawmakers selected Ali Zidan as prime minister
TRIPOLI, Libya -- Libyan lawmakers selected Ali Zidan as prime minister Sunday night, giving the former human rights lawyer and diplomat responsibility for forming the volatile nation’s first government since the revolution that toppled Moammar Kadafi.

The selection of Zidan came a week after the parliament fired the previous prime minister, Mustafa Abushagur, whose cabinet nominees were met with protests and illustrated Libya’s regional and tribal divisions.

Zidan is expected to move quickly to name a cabinet to deal with Libya’s many pressing challenges, including the investigation of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in the eastern city of Benghazi, which killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The attack highlighted the security troubles plaguing Libya, where former revolutionary militias are serving as the de facto army and police until national security forces can be rebuilt following Kadafi’s four-decade rule.

Continue reading »

Must Reads: A missing body, Taliban rehab and a Syrian bride


From the disappeared body of a Mexican gang leader to a Pakistani attempt at Taliban rehab, here are five stories you shouldn't miss from this past week in global news:

Peace Prize honors the sometimes discordant EU

In Syria, a female rebel goes to great lengths in uprising

Pakistan sends former Taliban fighters to militant rehab

Libya guards speak out on attack that killed U.S. ambassador

Leader of Mexico's Zetas drug gang proves elusive even in death

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: A Syrian rebel during fighting against Syrian government forces in Aleppo on Thursday. Credit: Zac Baillie / AFP/Getty Images


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