Mexican police charged in attack on CIA officers

Fourteen officers in Mexico’s federal police force have been formally charged with the attempted murder of a pair of American CIA operatives who were attacked in their armored SUV in August.

MEXICO CITY — Fourteen officers in Mexico’s federal police force have been formally charged with the attempted murder of a pair of American CIA operatives who were attacked in their armored SUV in August on a road south of the capital, federal prosecutors said Friday.

In a statement, prosecutors said the officers’ actions were deliberate, alleging that they “intended to take the lives of two functionaries from the United States Embassy in Mexico,” as well as a member of the Mexican navy who was traveling with them through dangerous country on their way to a Mexican military training facility.

But in a phone interview, a spokesman for the prosecutors’ office left open the possibility that the attack could have been the result of a mixup, and not something more sinister.

“At this moment there are various lines of investigation,” said Jose Luis Manjarrez, including the officers’ “alleged relationship with organized crime,” but also the possibility that their attack was the result of "confusion."

Manjarrez added that the question of motive was “part of the investigation,” and would eventually be presented in court.

The attack has raised troubling questions here about the competence and trustworthiness of a federal police force that outgoing President Felipe Calderon has been trying to clean up and strengthen as his nation struggles in its fight against the powerful drug cartels.

Prosecutors allege the officers, all of them based out of a station in Mexico City, acted deceptively when confronted by investigators. They were in plain clothes and driving civilian vehicles when they approached the Toyota Land Cruiser, which had diplomatic license plates, and riddled it with 152 bullets.

But when the officers initially appeared before prosecutors, they showed up in their squad cars and had changed into their uniforms — “thereby encouraging the concealment of the cars that they had, and simulating a circumstance that turned out to be false,” the statement said.

Mexican officials said the investigation was carried out with the “close collaboration” of the federal police and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.


An industry fortified by Mexico's drug war

Mexico drug war displaces families in Sinaloa highlands

Mexican officials capture key lieutenant of Sinaloa drug cartel

-- Richard Fausset and Cecilia Sanchez

Photo: Forensic personnel check a U.S. diplomatic vehicle attacked with gunfire in the Tres Marias–Huitzilac highway in Morelos, Mexico, in August. Credit: Nuvia Reyes / AFP/Getty Images

Scotland Yard may move its famous headquarters

Britain Scotland Yard
This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

LONDON -– Scotland Yard wants to pull up stakes.

One of the world’s most famous police forces unveiled plans Tuesday to sell off its iconic office tower with the revolving “New Scotland Yard” sign out front, a well-known landmark seen in countless cutaway movie shots and tourist photo albums. London’s crime-fighters are hoping to move into new digs in a smaller building around the corner, closer to government offices.

The reason for the proposed relocation is elementary: to save money.

Times are tough in Britain, which is undergoing its most brutal spending cuts in at least a generation, and the capital’s famous black-hatted bobbies have not been spared. The Yard -- also known as the Met, short for Metropolitan Police Service -- is trying to slash $800 million from its budget over the next 2 1/2  years.

That has meant looking at selling the family silver, or in this case, some of the force’s large property holdings -- stations, operation centers and the like. The current headquarters, which the Yard has occupied since 1967, costs nearly $18 million a year to maintain and is in need of an $80-million upgrade, making it an “expensive luxury,” Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey told city officials Tuesday.

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Amnesty International to Egypt: Stop 'bloody' legacy of repression

CAIRO -- Amnesty International sent a letter Tuesday to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi urging him to stem the “bloody” legacy of state repression highlighted in two reports that detail killings, torture and sexual assaults that have shaken the nation since last year's uprising.

Egypt's new leader must pave the way for reforms in order to ensure accountability and transparency from the army and police, the group said, blaming security forces for atrocities against demonstrators over the past 20 months.

The first report, "Brutality Unpunished and Unchecked: Egypt’s Military Kills and Tortures Protesters with Impunity," described the killings of protesters by a military acting "above the law" during the army's hold on the government that ended when Morsi forced the resignations of top commanders in August.

The human rights group's research on military abuse examined the deaths of 27 mainly Coptic Christian protesters killed outside Maspero, the state’s television headquarters, in October 2011.  It also focused on the deaths of 17 protesters outside Egypt's Cabinet in December 2011, as well as the May 2012 Abbaseya sit-in near the Defense Ministry in Cairo where 12 people were killed.

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USB sticks provide look inside criminal gang, say Brazilian officials

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Authorities say they have uncovered extensive information about the inner workings of Sao Paulo state's largest criminal gang, which is suspected in the killings of 73 police officers so far this year.

Police recovered information contained on USB sticks that they believe were on their way to imprisoned leaders of Primeiro Comando da Capital, or PCC, and that revealed over 1,300 active members of the gang in 123 cities, a monthly average income of $3 million and vast holdings of weapons, vehicles and real estate.

In May 2006, the PCC was suspected of ordering a wave of attacks on police that spread panic throughout South America's largest city and caused the deaths of almost 100 people. But the gang had largely stayed out of headlines from that time until the beginning of this year, when reports of deadly clashes with police began to reappear.

Authorities believe that officers are being attacked for making inroads into the organization’s profitability, according to local media, which on Monday published the gang information released by authorities.

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Senior British police officer faces charges in phone-hacking scandal

Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn, a senior British counter-terrorism officer appeared in court to face charges tied to the police investigation into phone hacking by tabloid journalistsLONDON -- A senior British counter-terrorism officer appeared in court Monday to face charges tied to the police investigation into phone hacking by tabloid journalists.

In a brief pretrial hearing, Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn, the former head of Scotland Yard's National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit, was accused of breaching Britain's Official Secrets Act.

Authorities allege that in September 2010 Casburn took home secret police documents relating to an inquiry into phone hacking and contacted the News of the World tabloid, offering it information on the police probe, then known as Operation Varec. 

Police at the time had new information from the New York Times concerning illegal phone tapping by journalists from the News of the World, although authorities did not reopen the phone-hacking investigations until July 2011.  

Casburn, 53, is also charged with misconduct in public office following a police investigation into illegal payments to public officials by journalists in return for information. That probe, known as Operation Elveden, is one of three police inquiries into the suspected widespread use of phone and computer hacking by the media over the past decade.

Casburn, who is reported to be the first defendant facing charges related to the Elveden probe to appear in court, was released on bail and ordered to appear in the Central Criminal Court on Nov. 2. She has been suspended from duty.

Trials are just beginning after more than a year of investigations and civil inquiries into illegal communication interceptions by the news organizations, which have resulted in more than 70 arrests of high-profile figures in the media and public service.

Last week saw the pretrial appearance in court of a dozen high-profile editors and executives from Rupert Murdoch's now defunct News of the World and from News International, the paper’s publisher and the British branch of the huge News Corp. conglomerate.

The tabloid was closed down by the Murdoch family following public outrage over revelations that News of the World journalists in 2003 had hacked into the mobile phone messages of a missing teenager who was later found slain.


 Vatican court blocks evidence in trial of pope's ex-butler

 Unfortunately for Germany, it's "a wonderland for raccoons"

 Ex-tabloid editors Brooks, Coulson in court for British phone-hacking case

 -- Janet Stobart

Photo: pril Casburn arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in London on Monday. Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press



Indian drug kingpin mysteriously escapes police custody

NEW DELHI — Indian police are embarrassed after word leaked out this week that an alleged drug kingpin suspected of running a $40-million heroin and methamphetamine network walked away from the police unit guarding him and the escape was kept from the public for days.

Ranjit Singh, who uses the alias Raja Kandola, was reportedly being transported back to Delhi’s Tihar Jail by train Monday after a court hearing in northern Punjab state when he flew the coop about 11:30 p.m.

Police officials were not available for comment, and versions differ on exactly what happened. Some media reports say Singh was escorted by four officers aboard the Jammu Mail express train, others by six. Most agree that the train made a stop at Ludhiana, about 160 miles north of New Delhi.

Mukesh Gautam, a crime reporter with the Dainik Bhaskar daily newspaper, says sources told him that five of the officers were asleep when the train stopped and Singh asked the sixth to go buy him some tea. When the officer returned, Singh was gone. Another version has Singh offering spiked drinks to the policemen and slipping away, although it’s unclear why Singh would be entertaining the police.

Gautam says even these versions may be questionable. A few years ago in a similar case, he said, police initially reported that a prisoner escaped from a rail carriage only to eventually admit he had slipped away earlier from the hotel where they were all staying. “Maybe it’s the same situation,” he said.

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Greek anti-austerity protesters clash with police in Athens

ATHENS — Hurling sticks, stones and gasoline bombs, scores of militant youths clashed with police in central Athens on Wednesday, marring an anti-austerity protest and strike that saw hundreds of thousands of workers walk off the job and about 20,000 demonstrators throng the streets of the Greek capital.

The clashes between police and black-clad, self-styled anarchists capped a peaceful protest and 24-hour nationwide strike against looming budget cuts. The violence came a day after a large protest in Spain, which is also facing difficult decisions — and social unrest — over spending cuts brought on by the euro debt crisis.

The turmoil helped send European stocks swooning, with the euro dropping in value against the dollar.

Called by the country’s two biggest labor unions, Greece’s strike action on Wednesday marked the third nationwide protest to cripple the crisis-racked country since the start of the year. It was the first major grass-roots challenge to the strength and unity of the fledgling Greek government, a shaky coalition stitched together from disparate political forces after two divisive elections in May and June.

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Accused Mexican drug ring posing as media on trial in Nicaragua


MEXICO CITY — The 18 Mexicans said they were journalists from their country’s main television broadcaster, Televisa. They wore the company T-shirt, and the six vans they drove into Nicaragua bore the orange Televisa logo.

The vans contained equipment including computers and cameras. Oh, and also $9.2 million in cash hidden in secret compartments and traces of cocaine.

The mysterious caravan apparently plied the length of Central America, from Mexico to Costa Rica, in the last couple of years, never raising more than passing suspicion until Nicaraguan authorities stopped it in August at Las Manos, a Nicaraguan post on the border with Honduras.

Authorities suspect the group was part of a drug-trafficking network that moved cocaine and money throughout the region. Nicaraguan Judge Julio Cesar Arias this week ordered the group of 18 — 17 men and one woman — to stand trial in December on charges of money-laundering, drug-smuggling and organized crime.

The exposure of the 18 has proved one of the most vivid illustrations to date of the well-known but often unseen spread of Mexican drug operations deep into Central America, long a conduit and increasingly a base of storage, production and marketing for Mexican cartels.

It has also proved dicey for Televisa, the world’s largest Spanish-language TV network, which quickly disavowed any knowledge of the group. In a statement, the broadcaster said the people were not its employees and the vans did not belong to the company. Televisa says it will ask for an investigation and hoped to take legal action against the 18 for falsifying its logo.

Televisa got backing from Mexico’s top legal official, Atty. Gen. Marisela Morales, who said in a television interview (with Televisa, of course), that the suspects falsely used Televisa’s name as a cover for their criminal doings, part of a “machination.”

But journalists in Mexico (real ones) turned up paperwork that they say shows that the vans, or at least their license plates, were in fact registered to Televisa.

Already in progress in Managua was a separate trial of Nicaraguan businessman Henry Fariña or Fariñas, who is accused of aiding Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel move cash and coke to and from Colombia through neighboring Costa Rica. His alleged operations came to light when he survived an assassination attempt in Guatemala last year that instead killed a chance companion, renowned Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral.

It is not known if there is a connection between that case and the 18 Mexicans, who have since their arrest been reported to have made numerous trips through Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Meanwhile, at a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, the Mexican suspects sat rather forlornly and heard Judge Arias read the charges and set a date for the trial, Dec. 3.

The lone woman in the group, who has been identified as Raquel Alatorre, 30, of Merida, has been called the leader. She often tries to shield herself from cameras, lowering her head or hanging back in the crowd of suspects.

Nicaraguan prosecutor Rodrigo Zambrana said the suspects gave conflicting and rather improbable accounts of what they were up to when they drove into Nicaragua. At one point they said they were doing a special report on Nicaragua; another time it was a story on a Mexican accused of money-laundering in Managua, according to Zambrana. Neither scenario explains the need for an 18-member TV team, nor why they needed more than $9 million.

They were nabbed when an anonymous caller notified police that he heard the group in Honduras talking suspiciously about their mission in Nicaragua, officials have said.

And speaking of the money, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is apparently already spending it. He says it will go toward buying new patrol cars for police and building and remodeling prisons.

Ortega pretty much publicly condemned the suspects, praising in a speech earlier this month the national police for capturing a crew that, as he put it, took large amounts of drugs north and money south.

Using the Televisa vans, Ortega added, gave the 18 “impunity.” “Because,” he said, “it is not easy to detain supposed journalists to investigate them."


Panetta lifts ban on New Zealand naval ships

In Spain, an amusingly botched fresco is now a moneymaker

French missions abroad on alert after cartoons mock Muslims

— Tracy Wilkinson, with a contribution from a special correspondent in Managua, Nicaragua

Photo: Some of the Mexican suspects are escorted to a court hearing in Managua on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012. Credit: Esteban Felix / Associated Press

Two PRI politicians killed within days in Mexico


MEXICO CITY -- Two politicians from the soon-to-be-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, have been slain within two days of each other, sending a chilling reminder of the violent Mexico that awaits the new administration.

One of the killings, on Friday in the border state of Sonora, bore the hallmarks of an organized-crime hit: Eduardo Castro Luque, a congressman-elect in the state legislature, was shot to death by masked assassins who sped away on a motorcycle, authorities said.

The second slaying was more unusual: Jaime Serrano Cedillo, a congressman in the state of Mexico legislature, was stabbed to death Sunday as he walked down a street in Nezahualcoyotl, a sprawling district on the outskirts of Mexico City, authorities and local news reports said.

Both belonged to the PRI, which is returning to presidential power on Dec. 1 after the contentious election of Enrique Peña Nieto.

Also over the weekend, authorities discovered 17 naked, mutilated bodies dumped alongside a rural road in Jalisco state, where rival cartels are disputing territory. All were men and were bound with ropes and chains. There was speculation they might have been from Central America, a region whose migrants increasingly fall prey to gangs as they attempt to cross Mexico.

That discovery follows those of 16 bodies dumped in Guerrero last week, and seven on Friday in Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Texas. Nuevo Laredo is in Tamaulipas state, where the capture last week of a major drug capo has residents and officials bracing for possibly violent fallout.

On Monday, meanwhile, the Public Security Ministry released an annual report that detailed the progress being made in overhauling the corruption-ridden federal police force (link in Spanish). A pillar of outgoing President Felipe Calderon's crime-fighting strategy has been to build and improve a national police agency that can take on the drug cartels, currently being pursued by the military.

The ministry said 2,045 cops failed the vetting program for an assortment of reasons (from committing crimes to using drugs) and have been or will be fired. In Washington, Mexican Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire said as many as 65,000 state and local police officials will eventually be purged, news agencies reported (link in Spanish). The federal police force alone numbers nearly 36,000.

In a separate statement, the security ministry said 51 police officers have been summoned and have given testimony in the Aug. 24 shooting of two American CIA operatives by Mexican federal police on a road south of Mexico City. Mexican authorities now say the police were in hot pursuit of kidnappers who had earlier seized and released an official from Mexico's anthropological institute. Of the 51, 12 are under a form of house arrest, the ministry said.


Latest Mexico drug arrest may cripple Gulf cartel

In Venezuela, killings of Caracas police are on rise

Sifting for answers in a mass grave in Tapachula, Mexico

-- Tracy Wilkinson

Photo: Mexican authorities patrol the site where 17 bodies were found dumped alongside a road in Jalisco state over the weekend. Credit: AFP /Getty Images


Rebekah Brooks appears in court on phone-hacking charges

Rebekah Brooks appears in court on phone-hacking charges
LONDON -- Rebekah Brooks, former News International executive and editor of the now defunct Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World, appeared in court Monday to hear three charges against her relating to illegal phone hacking.

Brooks, 44, was charged earlier this year along with a private investigator and seven other executives, editors and journalists of the paper. The group was charged with conspiring to hack into the phones of 600 potential victims.

In Brooks’ case she faces two more specific charges of hacking into the phones of murdered teenager Milly Dowler who died in March 2003, and of Andy Gilchrist, a former militant leader of the Fire Brigades Union who lead a controversial firefighters’ strike in 2002. She has denied the charges.

Brooks, wearing a short-skirted dark suit, made no comment as she walked to and from Westminster Magistrates court in central London. Throughout the brief hearing she listened in silence as presiding judge Howard Riddle Brooks read out the three charges.  

Her seven former colleagues who appeared in court last month, included Andy Coulson, former chief press officer to Prime Minister David Cameron, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator.

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