Israel admits responsibility for 1988 assassination

Israel responsible for Khalil Ibrahim Wazir's 1988 assassination
This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

JERUSALEM -- More than 24 years after Palestinian military leader Khalil Ibrahim Wazir was assassinated in Tunisia, Israel acknowledged for the first time that its spy agency Mossad carried out the killing.

Wazir, one of the founders of the Fatah Party and a top aide to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was viewed by Israel as a terrorist and by Palestinians as a freedom fighter.

After refusing for years to publicly confirm Israel's role in the April 16, 1988, assassination, the nation's military censors on Thursday permitted the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot to publish an interview with the commander who led the secret mission. The article had reportedly been suppressed by censors for more than a decade.

Wazir, also known as Abu Jihad, was believed to have been behind numerous strikes against Israelis, including a 1978 bus-hijacking attack that killed 38 Israelis, and to have helped organize the 1987 Palestinian uprising known as the first Intifada from his base in Tunisia.

The killing was condemned by the United States and international community and was widely believed to have been carried out by Israel.

According to the report, 26 Israeli commandos participated in the attack on Wazir’s heavily guarded home, including two agents who approached the house posing as a vacationing couple but carrying guns with silencers.

[Updated, 11:19 a.m. Nov. 1: The mission’s commander was Nahum Lev, who died in a 2000 motorcycle accident shortly after giving an interview about the operation to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman.

He told Bergman that he and a male soldier dressed as a woman were the pair who posed as vacationers. The first team killed a bodyguard asleep in his car, while other squads entered the home, killing other guards as well as a gardener who got in the way.

“It was too bad about the gardener,” Lev told the journalist. “But in operations like this, you have to ensure that all potential resistance is neutralized.”

Lev said Wazir was found and shot in an upstairs room as his wife stood nearby. The team escaped without suffering any casualties.]


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-- Edmund Sanders

Photo: Khalil Ibrahim Wazir, also known as Abu Jihad, the Palestine Liberation Organization's military chief on Feb. 10, 1986, in Amman, Jordan. Credit: John Rice / Associated Press

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

Tunisia woman accused of indecency after alleged rape by police


Hundreds of protesters thronged to a Tunis courtroom Tuesday as a woman and her fiance who accused police officers of rape and extortion defended themselves against allegations of indecency.

The case has outraged Tunisian feminists and human rights groups, who said the charges are an attempt to humiliate and frighten the couple, discouraging others from reporting police abuse. It has focused new attention on police impunity and the rights of women in the North African country, the birthplace of the "Arab Spring" uprisings, as it tries to set its path after the ouster of autocratic President Zine el Abidine ben Ali.

Last month, the couple said that two police officers stopped them and raped the woman in the back of their car while a third officer took her fiance to an ATM and tried to extort money from him. After the police officers were arrested and charged with rape and extortion, the officers alleged that they found the couple in an “immoral position.” The couple could now face indecency charges punishable with up to six months in prison.

The two were questioned Tuesday at the courthouse to decide whether the woman would be prosecuted for immoral behavior, according to the Associated Press. No decision was immediately announced.

Immorality charges have been used over the last year and a half to quiet government critics, Amnesty International said, arguing  that  the case against the couple should be dropped. Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni said the Interior Ministry, by holding a news conference to announce the indecency allegations, “tried to manipulate the public opinion and to make them forget the real scandal:  the rape.”

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Two killed as Tunisia protest against film spirals into violence

TUNIS, Tunisia –- Two protesters were killed Friday after a massive protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Tunis descended into chaos when protesters scaled an embassy wall and set off a huge explosion with a Molotov cocktail.

Tunisian officials condemned the attack Friday night. President Moncef Marzouki called for Tunisians to behave responsibly and respect its diplomatic relations. Marzouki vowed to punish those who broke into the compound.

Protesters blamed Tunisian security forces and the West for the violence. "American and European leaders didn’t apologize for making fun of the prophet," said Rida, a clean-cut 22-year-old university student.  "I didn’t want this to become violent, but the fact it got violent was the fault of the police and the secular parties and the American officials. We were only protecting our faith and our religion. We will do anything to defend our faith."

PHOTOS: Protesters attack U.S. embassies, consulate

Thousands of protesters thronged outside the U.S. Embassy in the capital after Friday prayers, waving banners that read "There is no god but Allah" and "We will have revenge for our prophet," in an angry protest against an online video mocking Muhammad.

The Tunis protest, advertised on Facebook and through local Salafist groups, was largely peaceful as it first gathered Friday afternoon at the embassy. About 300 police officers lined the area to hold back the protesters, who came from two ultra-conservative mosques and a poor neighborhood.

About an hour into the protest, however, a few men scaled a wall into the embassy parking lot and set a car ablaze with a Molotov cocktail. The flames set off a big explosion that destroyed several cars, sending an ominous cloud over the embassy.

TIMELINE: 'Innocence of Muslims' unrest

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Death toll rises as protests rage over Muhammad-mocking video

This post has been updated. See the note below.

CAIRO -- The death toll ticked higher Friday as protests swept the world over a video insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad, with reports emerging of casualties in Tunisia, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen as outraged protesters clashed with police near United States missions abroad.

Tunisian state media reported at least two protesters had been killed and 29 others were injured, including both protesters and police. A Tunisian employee of the American Embassy suffered a leg  injury and was taken out on a stretcher, the Associated Press reported.

Lebanese state media earlier reported one person killed in Tripoli, where security forces had sought to scatter a crowd of angry protesters attempting to storm a government building. And in Sudan, where protesters broke past riot police to raise a black Islamic flag at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, witnesses told Agence France-Presse that two people had lost their lives.

PHOTOS: Protesters attack U.S. embassies, consulate

Clashes a day earlier around the U.S. Embassy in Sana claimed the lives of four protesters and wounded 38 other people, the Yemeni Interior Ministry said Friday. Ten soldiers were reportedly among the injured after the Thursday assault and pillaging of the embassy, which led to the arrests of eight people in connection with the attack, Yemeni officials said.

Witnesses in Yemen said a fifth person was killed Friday as protests continued. Though religious scholars condemned the violence along with the Internet video in their Friday sermons, clashes flared on main roads and side streets as protesters tried unsuccessfully to reach the embassy.

“We will not stop till the U.S. ambassador leaves Yemen,” declared a young demonstrator dressed in white tribal robes with a dagger at his side. He carried a sign that read, “Defending the Prophet.”

TIMELINE: 'Innocence of Muslims' unrest

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1 killed in Lebanon in anti-U.S. protest; smoke near Tunis embassy


BEIRUT -- One person was killed in Tripoli and many others injured, including Lebanese security force members, during protests Friday in the northern Lebanon city against a movie insulting the prophet Muhammad, according to the official Lebanese National News Agency.

Security forces clashed with a crowd of angry protesters and opened fire to disperse them, killing one, after the protesters threw stones at the Tripoli Serail, a government building, and attempted to storm it, the news agency reported.

A KFC restaurant in the northern city was set on fire by young protesters. Elsewhere in the city, worshipers gathered after Friday prayers and called for Lebanon to expel its U.S. ambassador. As the unrest continued, the army is deploying troops on city streets.

PHOTOS: Protesters attack U.S. embassies, consulate

The death was the only one reported so far Friday as protests over a trailer of the flim mocking Muhammad uploaded on YouTube erupted from Bangladesh to Sudan, but there were continued reports of new clashes between police and protesters elsewhere.

In Tunisia, black smoke was seen rising around the U.S. Embassy in the capital city of Tunis. Reuters reported at least five protesters had been wounded when police opened fire to stop the assault on the embassy compound.

Protests first broke out Tuesday in Egypt after an online trailer for the movie "Innocence of Muslims" was dubbed into Arabic and aired on a religious channel. The same day, Libyan militants attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.


TIMELINE: 'Innocence of Muslims' unrest

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Photo: Lebanese security forces fire shots to disperse men ransacking U.S. fast food chains Hardee's and KFC as they protest the controversial film "Innocence of Muslims" in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Friday. Credit: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Calls to protest movie mocking Muhammad spread to Algeria, Iran


The day after outraged Egyptians scaled the walls of the American Embassy in Cairo and Libyan militants attacked and burned the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, protests and denunciations against an amateur movie mocking the Islamic prophet spread across the region, spurring warnings for Americans abroad.

Dozens of people turned out to protest in Gaza, chanting anti-American slogans and calling for the death of the  filmmaker behind it. In Tunisia, scores of protesters reportedly burned American flags outside the U.S. Embassy in Tunis; Reuters reported that police scattered the protesters using tear gas and firing rubber bullets into the air.

In Algeria, the U.S. Embassy cautioned Americans to avoid its building and other official government buildings Wednesday afternoon, sending an emergency message to U.S. citizens after calls for protests went out on social media.

Iranians angered by the film planned to protest Thursday in front of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. diplomatic interests in the country. As calls to protest went out Wednesday, an Iranian official faulted the U.S. for not stopping insults to Islam.

“The U.S. government’s systematic and continued silence on such repulsive acts is the fundamental reason that they keep happening,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by state media. Mehmanparast made no mention of the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in his remarks.

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Must Reads: Hugo Chavez, Hillary Clinton and a tilting Tunisia


From the hopes for Mogadishu to the barbs of the Venezuelan election, here are the five stories you shouldn't miss from the last week in global news:

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is greeted Thursday at Rarotonga International Airport in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Credit: Jim Watson / Associated Press

Wife of former Tunisian dictator apologizes, denies wrongdoing

PARIS -- Leila ben Ali, wife of deposed Tunisian dictator Zine el Abidine ben Ali, gave a measured apology for any “mistakes” she may have committed and admitted Tunisians were denied political freedoms under her husband’s 23-year rule in her first interview since being driven out of Tunisia 18 months ago.

However, the so-called “Queen of Carthage,” whose unpopularity helped lead to the Tunisian revolution, insisted she was innocent before God, and claimed her family’s downfall was the result of an “orchestrated coup d’etat” rather than a popular protest that in turn fueled a series of "Arab Spring" revolutions across the Middle East.

Shown in Sunday’s French daily Le Parisien wearing a lace headscarf, sitting at a desk in front of a computer in what appears to be a comfortably large, elegant apartment in Saudi Arabia, she claimed: “I didn’t interfere with politics. I’m a girl of the people. My daily life was consecrated to charitable and social works.”

“God is witness, I never wanted to do harm to anyone at all,” she added. “If I’ve made myself guilty of wrongdoing against someone, I ask their forgiveness.”

Also asked in the interview over Skype was whether there should have been “more political liberties” in Tunisia under her watch, she said, “Yes, I agree.”

In June, her book, “My Truth,” which was published in France, claimed a plot by security officials ended her husband’s rule. “I don’t at all believe in the scenario of a spontaneous revolution born of a youthful protest movement,” she said.

She and her husband face charges in Tunisia including drug trafficking and embezzlement.

Leila ben Ali is particularly reviled in Tunisia for reputedly helping her Trabelsi clan gain land concessions and far-reaching control over parts of the country’s economy.

She told Le Parisien she helped “loved ones” only to “improve their quality of life,” citing the example of a relative she helped obtain a loan, which he paid back. “What they’ve forgotten is that I also helped people I didn’t know,” she said.

She said she and her husband “never intended to run away” on Jan. 14, 2011, and thought they could return easily to Tunisia, which they left without bags, money and passports.

Asked if her husband gave the order to shoot at civilian protesters, she said, “never,” adding, “I present my sincere condolences to those families. May God relieve their suffering and may those who gave those orders be judged.”

She read a prepared statement from her husband, who made a quick video cameo to refute rumors he was ill.

“I deplore the fact that people have forgotten that for 23 years, the state, under my direction, considerably improved the standard of living for everyone, and made Tunisia a modern country,” the statement said. “I admit, nevertheless, that there was still progress to be made, and freedoms to be put in place.”

“I aspire, at the twilight of my existence, simply to conserve my honor.”


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Tunisia TV exec fined, fears for life over airing 'Persepolis'

The director of the Tunisian private TV chanel Nessma television, Nebil Karoui,

When Nebil Karoui chose to air “Persepolis” on his Tunisian channel, he thought it was “a nonevent.” Now the television station owner is surrounding himself with bodyguards and battling the courts, terrified that the religious fervor unleashed after the so-called Arab Spring will cost him his livelihood or even his life.

“My house is like a fortress. My kids have bodyguards. It’s a nightmare. We don’t have a life now,” Karoui said in a phone interview with The Times. “Before the revolution we had a tyrant, but we had security. Islamists had no chance to do something like this.”

Last week, a Tunisian court slapped Karoui with a fine of 2,400 dinars, or more than $1,500, for disrupting public order and threatening morality by showing the film on his Nessma station in October. Shortly afterward, two imams issued a fatwa calling for his death, upset with what they viewed as a light sentence, according to Karoui.

"It's appalling, 2,400 dinars for somebody who made a mockery of God and offended Muslim feelings," one Tunisian man tearfully told the Agence France-Presse when the verdict was announced.

The celebrated animated film about a girl coming of age amid the Iranian Revolution is a lyrical tale that underscores the dark side of Islamists taking power -- a fear rumbling among Tunisian moderates just a few weeks before elections last fall. The movie, directed by Iranian-born French graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, also includes a depiction of God, forbidden in Islam.

But Karoui wasn't worried. The film had been screened in Tunisian cinemas when Karoui chose to air it. Few people watched it when it aired, he said. Which is why Karoui was stunned when dozens of people took to Facebook the same day, insisting that he should be killed, his station burned to the ground.

Police fended off enraged crowds toting gasoline outside his station, he said. But they did not save his house, burned to the ground. Many of the culprits are still free, Karoui said.

The North African nation ousted dictator Zine el Abidine ben Ali nearly a year and a half ago, the first of the Arab Spring uprisings that have swept through the Middle East. But in the months that followed, critics say new repression has emerged from the Islamist government that took power.

"In the last year we were free like we never were before," Karoui said. "It was a dream for us. But in the United States or the UK, you have laws, you have rules. Someone elected by the people cannot stop a journalist from criticizing him. We don't have these rules yet."

The "Persepolis" case was seen as a test of media freedom under its new leaders, a test it was widely seen as having failed. Human rights groups and Western governments were especially galled that Tunisia punished Karoui on World Press Freedom Day, a spectacular case of poor timing that ramped up news coverage of the story. Hundreds of articles were written worldwide about the case.

"His conviction raises serious concerns about tolerance and freedom of expression in the new Tunisia," U.S. Ambassador Gordon Gray said in a statement after the verdict.

Karoui plans to appeal the fine. "I will stand and defend my position. It's not a crime to air a movie," he said. "If they don't like it, they just have to change the channel."


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: The director of the Tunisian private TV channel Nessma television, Nebil Karoui, at his office on May 3, 2012, in Tunis. Credit: Fethi Beladfethi Belaid / AFP/Getty Images


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