Jordanian lawmaker in hot water after pulling gun in live TV debate


BEIRUT -- A Jordanian lawmaker has landed in hot water after he drew a gun, Wild West-style (though without firing) and tossed a shoe at a critic during a live television debate about the crisis in neighboring Syria.

According to local Jordanian media reports, ex-lawmaker Mansour Murad is planning to file charges of attempted murder against Mohammed Shawabka, a member of the Jordan's parliament, over the incident.

The TV debate (see video below) between the parliamentarian and the politician, reported to have aired Friday on the private satellite channel JoSat, began with harsh words and trading of insults in high-pitched voices. The escalation starts around 1.30 minutes into the tape.

The moderator, seen in the middle, seeks to constantly separate his two firebrand guests but appears to lose control over the situation when Shawabka accuses Murad of being a spy for the Syrian government. Murad replies by saying that Shawabka is an Israeli spy and "a mafia thief" who "bought people's votes." And then he curses Shawabka's father.

That's when Shawabka completely loses his temper and spirals out of control. He reaches down to hurl a shoe at his opponent -- the classic Arabic insult. Murad manages to dodge it by turning over his desk. Shawabka then whips a small silver-colored pistol from his waistline, waving it in the direction of his critic.

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Syrian pilot lands warplane in Jordan, defects

BEIRUT -- A Syrian air force warplane that "lost contact" with its Syrian controllers landed in neighboring Jordan on Thursday and the pilot was seeking political asylum, according to official accounts.

The case is the first publicly confirmed instance of a Syrian pilot escaping the strife-torn country with a warplane and then defecting.

Syrian state media reported that authorities had "lost contact" with a MiG-21 fighter that was on a training flight near the Jordanian border. State media identified the pilot as Col. Hassan Mirei Hamadeh.

A source indicated that Hamadeh is a father of five and a native of restive Idlib province, and that his family is said to be under rebel protection.

Jordan's official Petra news agency quoted a "high-ranking official" from the Jordanian military confirming that the MiG-21 had landed at a Jordanian military base and that the pilot had asked for political asylum

The pilot was being "debriefed" in Jordan, Reuters reported.

The incident would seem to be another blow for the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is battling a 15-month rebellion and resisting calls for his resignation from numerous world capitals, including Washington.

The uprising has seen Syria suffer many defections from its mostly conscript army, but the military leadership and the elite officer corps are believed to have remained mostly intact.

The air force has been regarded as especially loyal to Assad, whose late father, Hafez Assad, was an air force pilot and commander before seizing power in 1970. His ascension marked the beginning of more than four decades of Assad family rule, now facing its gravest threat.

Jordan's leadership is generally sympathetic to the rebellion against the Syrian president and is hosting tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled the bloody conflict.

Last November, Jordanian King Abdullah made headlines when he suggested in a BBC interview that Assad should step down, but Jordan has generally not been as publicly critical of Assad's crackdown on the rebels as have other Arab Gulf nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

However, the presence of a high-profile defector and his Syrian military jet seemed sure to complicate relations between the two Arab nations.

There were no reports of other crew members on the supersonic aircraft, a Russian-made jet fighter in the arsenal of many nations.


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3 U.S. troops among dead in two Afghanistan bombings

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi honored at Oxford

-- Patrick J. McDonnell and Rima Marrouch

Muslim cleric suspected of terrorism loses bail appeal in London

Abu Qatada, a A Muslim cleric imprisoned on suspicion of terrorism in Britain and convicted in absentia in Jordan on similar charges, will remain in a British jail while awaiting a hearing on his appeal of an extradition order, a judge said
LONDON -- A Muslim cleric imprisoned on suspicion of terrorism in Britain and convicted in absentia in Jordan on similar charges will remain in a British jail while awaiting a hearing on his appeal of an extradition order, a judge said Monday during a bail hearing.

Judge John Mittings of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission said at the hearing that Abu Qatada's case against deportation to Jordan, his homeland, would be heard in mid-October, with a final verdict a month later. In the meantime, the cleric will remain in a high-security jail, the judge ordered.  

Qatada's defense lawyers said they would need until late September to assemble further evidence, delaying the British Home Office's efforts to deport the 51-year-old cleric any sooner.

The bail hearing was conducted behind closed doors as the court heard reports from intelligence officers. The judge eventually ruled that he could not risk releasing the cleric during the next few months while London is hosting the Summer Olympics.

A Home Office statement said: "Qatada is a dangerous man and we are pleased the court agreed with us that he should remain behind bars before he is deported."

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Muslims in Middle East, Asia think poorly of Al Qaeda, poll finds


A new poll covering thousands of Muslims in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey and Lebanon found that most thought poorly of Al Qaeda nearly a year after Osama bin Laden's death.

The results came just after U.S. intelligence officials announced that the terrorist group has been greatly diminished since the death of Bin Laden, suggesting that Al Qaeda has been losing Muslim hearts and minds along with organizational muscle.

The Pew Research Center poll, carried out nearly one year after Bin Laden was killed by American forces on May 2, showed that in the countries surveyed, Al Qaeda was most popular in Egypt, where more than 1 out of 5 Muslims said they had a favorable opinion.

Yet even in Egypt, 71% of those surveyed said they disliked the group. In Jordan, only 15% of Muslims surveyed said they had a favorable opinion of the group; in Pakistan, 13%; in Turkey, 6%; and in Lebanon, 2%.

Pew based its findings on face-to-face interviews with more than 900 Muslim adults in each country, except Lebanon, where 566 people were interviewed. The results were part of a larger survey of more than 1,000 people in each of the selected countries between March 19 and April 13.

In past surveys, Pew found that confidence in Bin Laden to do the right thing had plummeted before his death. In Jordan, those numbers fell from 61% to 24% between 2005 and 2006, likely reduced by Al Qaeda suicide attacks in Amman, the Jordanian capital. By last year, only 13% of Jordanian Muslims were confident in Bin Laden.

His support level also fell markedly in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories from 2003 to 2011. But even with his popularity dropping, his backing remained significant in some areas: More than a third of Muslims polled in the Palestinian territories in 2011 said they had confidence in Bin Laden.


Jailed dissidents in Bahrain granted new trials

2 car bombs in northern Syria kill at least 8 people

Myanmar opposition ends boycott; U.N. calls for eased sanctions

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Pakistanis in February watch demolition of the compound where Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was slain last year in the town of Abbottabad. Credit: Aamir Qureshi / AFP/Getty Images

Jordanian blogger stabbed after post that criticized royal family

REPORTING FROM BEIRUT-- As blogger Enass Musallam of Jordan was leaving a cafe in the nation's  capital last week, a man wearing a mask and gloves grabbed her from behind.

"In the name of his royal majesty and the prince," the assailant said as he stabbed Musallam in the stomach, according to a statement by the press freedom group Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ. "Next time, you will be slaughtered," he continued and put the knife to her throat before throwing her down a flight of stairs and fleeing.

A friend helped Musallam to a hospital, where she was treated for five days.

The Feb. 20 attack in Amman appears to be linked to Musallam's critical writings about members of the Jordanian royal family. The day before she was stabbed, she reportedly wrote an article on her blog (link in Arabic) that criticized Prince Hassan bin Talal's recent commentary about dispersing demonstrators in an Amman square. The blogger said his comments were offensive.

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Radical Islamic preacher is released on bail in England

Abu Qatada in 2005

REPORTING FROM LONDON -- A radical Islamic preacher who has been under detention for most of the last six and a half years but never formally charged with an offense was released from jail Monday amid public criticism over why he is being allowed to remain in Britain.

Abu Qatada, 51, was let out of a high-security prison in central England on Monday night, a week after a judge issued an order for him to be bailed despite vigorous objections from the government. British officials consider Abu Qatada extremely dangerous, a cleric who encourages suicide attacks and terrorism, and prefer to see him stay behind bars or deported back to his native Jordan.

His release does not make Abu Qatada much of a free man, however. The conditions of his bail are so stringent as to be almost tantamount to house arrest, including confinement to his home 22 hours a day, restriction from traveling outside a heavily circumscribed area, the wearing of an electronic tag, and a ban on Internet, computer and cellphone use.

In addition, Abu Qatada is barred from having virtually any adult visitors from outside his immediate family, unless they are first vetted by authorities. The bail agreement specifically names more than two dozen people with whom he is to have no association.

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British court rules radical preacher should be freed on bail

REPORTING FROM LONDON -- A British appeals court on Monday ordered the government to release on bail a radical Muslim cleric who had been detained as a threat to national security for much of the past decade.

Abu Qatada, also real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, could walk free within a week following the ruling by Judge John Mittings of the Special Immigration Appeals Court.

Qatada’s defense lawyer Ed Fitzgerald told the court that his client’s detention “has gone on for too long to be reasonable or lawful and there is no prospect of the detention ending in any reasonable period.”

Qatada will face strict bail conditions in accordance with the demands of the government’s Home Office, including a curfew that will require him to remain at home for 16 hours a day. He had disobeyed similar bail conditions in 2008, which led to his return to Long Lartin high security prison.

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Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal pays first visit to Jordan since 1999

Meshaal jordan

REPORTING FROM RAMALLAH, WEST BANK –- Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal arrived in Jordan on Sunday for an official visit, his first since 1999, ushering in a new era in the Islamist movement’s relationship with a pro-West Arab country.

Analysts said the changes in the Arab world and the rise of Islamist movements in major Arab countries including Egypt has facilitated Meshaal’s visit to Jordan years after a break in relations.

Speaking to reporters after meeting King Abdullah, Meshaal emphasized his movement’s concern for Jordan’s security, stability and interests.

He expressed hoped that his visit would be the beginning of a long relationship that served the interests of Jordan -- where Palestinians are a majority -- and Palestinians everywhere.

Palestinian analyst Nashat Aqtash, an expert on Hamas, ruled out reports that Hamas was looking to relocate from troubled Syria to Jordan. He said that a rise in the power of the Islamic movement in Jordan created the atmosphere needed to mend relations between Jordan and Hamas.

“The doors that were closed in the face of Hamas and the Islamic movements in the Arab countries were opened by the 'Arab Spring,' " Aqtash said from Ramallah. “Even countries such as Jordan, which so far has not witnessed its spring, began to pay attention to the Islamic movements in their countries.”


Gingrich focuses on foreign policy in Florida

Arab League suspends mission in Syria amid violence

Palestinian leaders outraged over West Bank construction data

-- Maher Abukhater

Photo: Jordan's King Abdullah, right, talks with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal at the royal palace in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday. Credit: Yousef Allan / European Pressphoto Agency



Palestinian Authority’s Abbas says talks with Israel at impasse

Palestinians (2)
REPORTING FROM RAMALLAH, WEST BANK -– Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday that exploratory peace talks with Israel are at an impasse.

The latest round of the talks in the Jordanian capital, Amman, was held Wednesday. Palestinian and Jordanian officials said the talks will be on hold for a week for evaluation and to give Abbas time to consult with Palestinian and Arab officials on whether to continue with them or not.

But at two meetings with foreign officials visiting Ramallah to help salvage the talks, Abbas said the negotiations are at a dead end.

Abbas told one of his guests that "Israeli intransigence and refusal to submit clear proposals on the issues of borders and security as requested by the quartet [of Middle East peace mediators] have blocked the way to continue with the exploratory talks," according to the official WAFA news agency.

In the second meeting, Abbas briefed his guest on the latest developments in the peace process, "particularly the impasse in the exploratory meetings being held in Amman as a result of Israeli government rejection of the two-state solution and a stop to settlements," WAFA reported.

Abbas will spend the coming week in consultations on the talks, first on Sunday with his Fatah party Central Committee and on Monday with the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Next Saturday, he will consult with the Arab League committee following up on the peace talks, which he said will make the final decision on whether to proceed with them.


Gingrich's focus is on foreign policy issues in Florida

Arab League suspends mission in Syria amid violence

Palestinian leaders outraged over West Bank construction data

-- Maher Abukhater

Photo: A Palestinian girl walks next to Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Saturday. Credit: Bernat Armangue / Associated Press

U.N. returns to Somali capital Mogadishu after 17-year absence

This post has been corrected, as indicated below.

REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- Seventeen years ago, a humiliated U.N. peacekeeping mission left the Somali capital, Mogadishu, after a failed intervention to stem the country's spiral into chaos and civil war.

Dozens of efforts to set up a Somali government since then have also failed. But the special envoy for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, arrived in Mogadishu on Tuesday, establishing a U.N. presence there for first time since 1995.

His arrival signaled the U.N.'s biggest vote of confidence so far in the Somali Transitional Federal Government, which now controls Mogadishu with the support of African Union forces.

The U.N.-backed government is supposed to implement a road map to elections in August -- and perhaps end the long cycle of clan violence, chaos and war.

"It is historic to bring the U.N. back to Somalia," Mahiga said in a speech upon his arrival. "The secretary-general told me I should go and join you to make the road map a reality."

He bore a letter from U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon to hand to the Somali president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed. He later called on U.N. agencies and countries to set up offices in the capital.

Western diplomatic officials have been making unannounced low-key visits to Somalia for some time, particularly since the militant Islamist group the Shabab abandoned Mogadishu. But kidnappings remain a serious threat for Westerners. The most recent victim was an American engineer kidnapped Saturday in the central town of Galkayo.

Despite the envoy's call for countries to resume normal operations in Mogadishu, there remain many barriers to Somali peace, not least the Shabab, which controls the south and has expelled several humanitarian agencies. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which was the largest humanitarian agency distributing food in Shabab-controlled areas hit by famine, recently suspended operations in the south.

A quarter of a million lives remain at risk in the south.

Kenya and Ethiopia invaded Somalia late last year in a bid to defeat the Shabab after the group withdrew from Mogadishu in August.

The Shabab has since put its energy into guerrilla attacks, suicide bombings and ambushes, including attacks on students hoping to win scholarships to study abroad. The latest attack came Tuesday when a Shabab suicide bomber drove a minivan loaded with explosives to an Ethiopian base in the central Somali town of Beledweyne.

There was no confirmation of casualties Tuesday, although the Shabab claimed to have killed 33 Ethiopian soldiers and wounded dozens more.

[For the record, 2:36 p.m. Jan. 24. An earlier version of this post said the suicide bombing attack in Beledweyne occurred Monday. It happened Tuesday.]


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Rights group: Islamic rebels in Nigeria have killed 935 since 2009

--Robyn Dixon

Photo: U.N. special envoy Augustine Mahiga arrives at the U.N. mission's headquarters in Mogadishu on Tuesday. Credit: Stuart Price / AFP/Getty Images


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