Sunday, December 21, 2014
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An area of Syria is so heavily populated with British-born Jihadi fighters that it has been nicknamed ‘Little London’, according to a former hostage and aid worker.
U.S. President Barack Obama moved to prevent U.S. anger at North Korea from spiraling out of control on Sunday by saying the massive hacking of Sony Pictures was not an act of war but instead was cyber-vandalism.
Washington's long-standing dispute with North Korea, which for years has centered on its nuclear weapons program, has entered new territory with the accusation that Pyongyang carried out an assault on a major Hollywood entertainment company.
Obama and his advisers are weighing a range of options on how to punish North Korea for the attack after the FBI concluded on Friday that Pyongyang was responsible. North Korea has denied it was to blame.
The hack attack and subsequent threats of violence against theaters showing the film prompted Sony to withdraw a comedy, "The Interview," prepared for release to movie theaters during the holiday season. The movie depicts the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Obama and free speech advocates criticized the studio's decision, but Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton defended it.
Obama put the hack in the context of a crime.
"No, I don't think it was an act of war," he told CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" show, which was taped on Friday and aired on Sunday. "I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately."
Obama said one option was to return North Korea to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, from which Pyongyang was removed six years ago.
At a time when so much information is digitized, "both state and non-state actors are going to have the capacity to disrupt our lives in all sorts of ways," he said.
"We have to do a much better job of guarding against that. We have to treat it like we would treat, you know, the incidence of crime, you know, in our countries."
Republican Senator John McCain disagreed with Obama, telling CNN the attack was the manifestation of a new kind of warfare.
Republican Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, criticized Obama for embarking on a two-week vacation in Hawaii on Friday without responding to the attack.
"You've just limited your ability to do something," Rogers told Fox News Sunday. "I would argue you're going to have to ramp up sanctions. It needs to be very serious. Remember - a nation-state was threatening violence."
North Korea has been subject to U.S. sanctions for more than 50 years, but they have had little effect on its human rights policies or its development of nuclear weapons. Experts say the nation has become expert in hiding its often criminal money-raising activities, largely avoiding traditional banks.
NORTH KOREA DENIES ATTACK
North Korea said on Saturday that U.S. accusations that it was involved in the Sony attack were "groundless slander" and that it wanted a joint investigation into the incident with the United States. It said it could prove it had nothing to do with the attack.
The White House said on Saturday it remained confident North Korea was responsible.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said Pyongyang's actions fell "outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior."
Obama says North Korea appeared to have acted alone. Washington began consultations with Japan, China, South Korea, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, seeking their assistance in reining in North Korea.
Japan and South Korea said they would cooperate. China, North Korea's only major ally, has yet to respond, but a Beijing-run newspaper said "The Interview" was not a movie for Hollywood or U.S. society to be proud of.
It was the first time the United States had directly accused another country of a cyberattack of such magnitude on American soil and set up the possibility of a new confrontation between longtime foes Washington and Pyongyang.
U.S. experts say Obama's options in punishing North Korea could include cyber-retaliation, financial sanctions, criminal indictments against individuals implicated in the attack or even a boost in U.S. military support to South Korea, which is still technically at war with the North.
But the effect of any response would be limited, given North Korea's isolation and the heavy sanctioned already in place for its nuclear program.
Turkish police have moved in to forcibly break up a demonstration in the capital, Ankara. The authorities said the protest, organized by a teachers' union, was illegal.
Police used pepper spray, tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators who had assembled in the Kizilay district of Ankara on Saturday. Some reports said as many as 100 people had been arrested by police, including the head of the Egitim-Is teachers' union, Veli Demir.
A video posted on the website of Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper showed protesters, some of whom were holding large banners, being driven back by the flow of water coming from water cannons mounted on police trucks. Later, what appear to be dozens of protesters are led away by police officers wearing riot gear.
The union organized the rally to demonstrate in favor of secularism in Turkey's education system, as required by the country's constitution.
Some fear that this could be threatened by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who founded the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party. He has recently made statements on education, which some have interpreted as a signal that he is planning to bring more religion into the classrooms.
Last year, Turkey's parliament lifted a long-standing ban on Islamic headscarves in the civil service and this past September, it removed a ban on female students wearing them in high schools.
At odds with the EU
Erdogan has also faced growing international criticism in recent months. Leading up to local elections in March, while he was still prime minister, Erdogan manged to temporarily ban the social media websites Twitter and YouTube, after they were used to disseminate tapped compromising phone calls that cast corruption suspicions on members of his inner circle. The bans were subsequently overturned by Turkey's constitutional court.
More recently, he has been at loggerheads with the European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, over the arrests of more than 20 people, including the editor of Turkey's biggest-selling newspaper.Those arrested have links to US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is Erdogan's former political ally but is now his arch foe.
The EU's foreign policy coordinator, Federica Mogherini, and Englargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn, condemned the raids ass "incompatible with the freedom of the media."
Taliban gunmen killed 141 people - most of them children - at a school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar earlier this week. There are many emotions among the bereaved and the survivors.
You didn't need to see the pools of blood in every corner of the school auditorium to know that a massacre had taken place there.
A thick smell hit you as you went in; the eerie silence of the shocked adults looking at the remnants of the children's belongings strewn around itself told a devastating story.
Almost every row of seats in this school hall bore a similar picture of horror - the blood-splattered textbooks, the school shoes left behind in a desperate attempt to escape, scattered bits of paper on which you could see the children's handwriting.
This is where the Taliban gunmen stormed in and shot more than 100 pupils at close range.
The students were in the hall learning about first aid when the attack happened. One corner of the room bears scorch marks: that's where the militants set fire to one of the teachers.
When I arrived at the Lady Reading Hospital, where many of the victims were taken, I could see a group of parents and family members gathering in front of a wall, pushing to get to the front.
A list of names had been stuck up on the wall. Names of the dead and injured.
As the day went on the list grew longer and the crowd around it grew bigger - all of them desperate to find out what had happened to their loved ones.
In the hospital's intensive care unit, I found 13-year-old Saeed lying on a bed, his family next to him.
He was still too shocked to talk about what had happened.
His mother Naheda is a teacher at the school.
She tells me Saeed hid under a chair and called her as the attack began.
"I heard everything," she tells me.
"My son was on the phone. He said 'I'm shot, please come and get me.' And I didn't know how to reach him. As a mother - I can't describe to you what I felt," she tells me through her tears, adding: "But Alhamdulillah, thank God, he's now here with me."
But many other parents are now having to live with the fact that their loved ones are not coming back. Like the Awan family, whose 14-year-old son Abdullah was shot in the face during the attack.
At the family courtyard the female relatives gathered around the boy's body which was lying in an open coffin. His slim body was covered in flowers and I could clearly see the bullet marks on his face.
His mother sits on the floor weeping, wiping his forehead, holding his hand, still calling out his name.
This is a family gripped by grief, wailing relatives, small children looking on in disbelief.
At the local graveyard the male relatives recite verses from the Koran and pray for Abdullah before laying him to rest.
"He was a top student," his uncle tells me.
"He loved birds, he had a couple of them at home and one of them laid eggs. He was counting the days for them to hatch but now he's gone."
After the funeral I talk to the boy's father about his loss.
"He's now with Allah," the man said, "and I have to be patient. I don't feel anything now. All these people are around me, they are supporting me. But it will hit me tonight. When I'm in bed all alone."
In the days after the attack the crowds gathering at the school gate grew larger and larger.
The gates began to resemble a shrine with roses, marigolds, candles and placards.
There were messages of grief and solidarity. The smallest coffins are the heaviest, one sign says. My boy was my dream and my dream was shot dead, says another.
A group of teenagers from the Army Public School was gathering there.
They came dressed in their uniforms.
Aakif Azeem, one of the senior students, still had some spots of blood on his jacket. He had survived the attack but he tells me he saw many fellow students die in front of him.
"I've been going from one funeral to another," he says.
"I haven't slept for two days," he adds.
So, could he face going back to school after what had happened, I wondered.
"That's why I came here today dressed in my uniform," he told me.
It's a message to those who carried out the attack. You can take my friends. You can take my teachers. But I am still here. In my uniform. And I will go back to school.