Taliban condemns ‘barbarity’ of Islamic State execution video

The Taliban condemned a video released this week showing what appeared to be a group of fighters belonging to the radical Islamic State movement killing a group of Afghan prisoners by blowing them up with explosives.

The video, apparently shot in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar in June, gave a glimpse into the struggle the Taliban is waging against Islamic State – both considered ultra-hardline groups – for supremacy of the Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan.

“A horrific video was released yesterday showing kidnappers who associate themselves with Daesh (Islamic State) brutally martyring several white-bearded tribal elders and villagers with explosives,” said a statement posted on the Taliban's website.

The Taliban, which itself if frequently accused of brutality against Afghan government soldiers that it captures, said prisoners should never be treated in such a manner.

“This offence and other such brutal actions by a few irresponsible ignorant individuals under the guise of Islam and Muslims are intolerable,” it said.

Groups associated with Islamic State have made growing inroads in Afghanistan in recent years, attracting fighters and support away from the Taliban by preaching a more extreme form of Islamist militancy.

The video contained a message in Arabic and a Pashto language commentary which said that a group of what it called “apostates” had been captured following a battle between ISIS fighters, Taliban and Afghan government forces.

The bound captives appear to have been local men who had fought with or helped the Taliban.

After showing the explosion which killed the men, the video ends with a message in Arabic urging local people to heed the lesson. “Do you have a taste for digging your own graves? Do you want to be beheaded?” a man's voice asks.

Former U.S. war prisoner Bergdahl faces desertion charges

Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a former Taliban prisoner in Afghanistan who was released last summer in a controversial prisoner exchange, was charged on Wednesday with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, his attorney said.

Eugene Fidell, a lecturer at Yale Law School, said the Army had scheduled an Article 32 hearing, similar to a preliminary hearing in civilian law, for April 22 in San Antonio, Texas, where Bergdahl is based. The hearing will determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with a general court martial.

The confirmation of charges against Bergdahl came shortly after U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg in North Carolina announced that it would provide an update on the Bergdahl case, which has been undergoing a review after questions were raised about the circumstances of his capture by the Taliban.

The update is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. EDT on Wednesday.

The case has been under review by General Mark Milley, head of U.S. Army Forces Command, who was asked to look at the circumstance surrounding Bergdahl's capture in eastern Afghanistan in 2009.

Bergdahl disappeared from his unit early one morning after doing guard duty. It quickly became apparent he was missing when he failed to show up for roll call, but his gun, ammunition and body armor had been left behind.

Officials said Milley could decide anything from recommending no action, to non-judicial punishment to recommending criminal charges and a court martial.

Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan last summer after the Obama administration agreed to send five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo military prison to Qatar, where they were required to remain for a year.

An initial wave of euphoria over Bergdahl's release was followed by a backlash among U.S. lawmakers angry because they were not given 30 days notice before the transfer of the Guantanamo prisoners, as required by law. Some of Bergdahl's former Army comrades said they believe he deserted his post.

Anger and grief as Pakistan buries students massacred at school

A shocked Pakistan on Wednesday began burying 132 students killed in a grisly attack on their school by Taliban militants that has heaped pressure on the government to do more to tackle the insurgency.

People across the country lit candles and staged vigils as parents bade final farewells to their children during mass funerals in and around Peshawar, the volatile city on the edge of Pakistan's lawless tribal belt where the school was located.

Grief mixed with anger as people looked to the authorities – long accused of not being tough enough on extremists – to stem spiraling violence in a nation which has become a safe haven for al Qaeda-linked groups.

At a vigil in the capital Islamabad, Fatimah Khan, 38, said she was devastated by the atrocity.

“I don't have words for my pain and anger,” she said. “They slaughtered those children like animals.”

Sixteen-year-old Naba Mehdi, who attends the Army School in the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi, had a message of defiance for the Taliban.

“We're not scared of you,” she said. “We will still study and fight for our freedom. This is our war.”

When asked what the government should do, her mother interrupted: “Hang them. Hang them all without mercy.”

In apparent response to public opinion after what may have been the deadliest militant attack in Pakistani history, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced he had lifted a moratorium on the death penalty.

The focus was also on Army Chief Raheel Sharif as he visited Afghanistan, where two sides whose relationship is strained after decades of mistrust were to discuss how to crack down on militants hiding on their common border.

Pakistanis may be used to almost daily attacks on security forces but an outright assault on children stunned the country, prompting commentators to call for a tough military response.

In all, 148 people were killed in the attack on the military-run Army Public School, according to the army.

The school's sprawling grounds were all but deserted on Wednesday, with a few snipers manning the roofs of its pink brick-and-stone buildings. Army vehicles and soldiers wearing face masks and carrying rifles were deployed by the entrance.


A Reuters tour of the school revealed a place shattered by hours of fighting, its floor slick with blood and walls pockmarked with bullet holes. Classrooms were filled with abandoned school bags, mobile phones and broken chairs.

One wall was smashed where a suicide bomber blew himself up, blood splattered across it. His body parts were piled nearby on a white cloth. The air was thick with the smell of explosives and flesh.

A day after the attack, Peshawar appeared subdued as people digested the tragedy. More details of the well-organized attack emerged as witnesses came forward with accounts.

“The attackers came around 10:30 a.m. on a pick-up van,” said Issam Uddin, a 25-year-old school bus driver.

“They drove it around the back of the school and set it on fire to block the way. Then they went to Gate 1 and killed a soldier, a gatekeeper and a gardener. Firing began and the first suicide attack took place.”

Sharif has announced three days of mourning, but people's anxiety focused on what the authorities can do to protect them.

Sharif came to power last year promising to negotiate peace with the Taliban, but those efforts failed, weakening his position and prompting the army to launch an air-and-ground operation against insurgents along the Afghan border.

The military staged more air strikes there late on Tuesday in response to the school attack, security sources said, but it was unclear what the target was.


Despite the well-publicised crackdown, the military has been accused of being too lenient towards militants who critics say are used to carry out the army's bidding in places like the disputed Kashmir region and Afghanistan.

The military denies the accusations.

“People will have to stop equivocating and come together in the face of national tragedy,” said Sherry Rehman, a former ambassador to the United States and an opposition politician.

The Pakistani Taliban, who are fighting to impose strict Islamic rule in Pakistan, are holed up in mountains straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

They are allied with the Afghan Taliban as well as al Qaeda and other foreign fighters, andPakistan has long accused Afghanistan of not doing enough to crack down on their bases.

Afghanistan, for its part, blames Pakistan for allowing militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network to operate freely on its territory.

Pakistan's Dawn newspaper quoted a source saying the militants were acting on direct orders from their handlers in Afghanistan and that prominent Taliban commander Umar Naray was the ultimate mastermind of the attack.

Rage, tears and broken childhoods as Pakistan reels from massacre

Mehran Khan, a mild-mannered 14-year-old survivor of this week's massacre at a Pakistani school, says he will not rest until the meaningless deaths of his classmates have been avenged.

Shot with three bullets – in the hand, leg and back – Khan said from his bed at Peshawar's Lady Reading Hospital that cricket used to be his main passion before the attack. His life has changed forever.

“I am angry,” he said, his voice weak from pain. “I'm a physics student but now I don't want to be an engineer. I want to get out and take revenge for all the deaths. The ones who killed, my friends. I will not rest until I finish them.”

[12-year-old survivor: 'I witnessed the Peshawar massacre']

The dark day of Dec. 16, when Taliban militants slaughtered more than 130 pupils, methodically gunning down children, ended the childhood innocence of the traumatized survivors.

The elite, military-run Army Public School, known for its British-style green uniforms, mainly serves the offspring of Pakistan's powerful military class.

After the attack, the hardline Islamist Taliban declared that all of those children deserved to die because they were part of the military establishment.

Reuters interviews with young survivors revealed the lives of children deeply scarred by their near-death experience.

Ahmed Tahir, 14, is head prefect at his school. Speaking after the funeral of one of his friends, he said he and his mates managed to hide and slip outdoors into a nearby cemetery as soon as the shooting began.

“I finally glanced back and behind me there was a line of dead bodies,” he said.

“Only when we stopped at the graveyard to catch our breath did we realize that we were covered in blood. Not our own blood but the blood of our friends left behind.”

Wearing a perfectly ironed shalwar khameez – a long cotton tunic worn over a pair of baggy trousers, Tahir said his best friend had rushed back to try to rescue his trapped brother. Once inside, the friend was shot dead by the Taliban.

“I went to the CHM (hospital) yesterday and saw my principal's dead body,” Tahir went on. “She was shot dead but the terrorists also slit her throat. They wanted to send a message to working women, I guess.”

Before the massacre, Tahir and his friends gathered every morning before classes to play basketball. Afternoons were reserved for cricket and soccer. Now, returning to the school will be an ordeal.

“School is where we go everyday. It's like home, where we feel safe. Now it is littered with the memories of all those who died. They were all my brothers. It will be hard to go back.”

He started sobbing when asked about his friend Azaan Khan.

“What hurts is that he had escaped too but he went back. How could I let him? You know, that day he died he was going to give us all a treat at the canteen during break because he won the local badminton championship,” Tahir said.

“We had planned to go to Islamabad to watch (the film) Fast and the Furious 7 at the cinema. But now he's not here.”


Peshawar is a chaotic, teeming city – one of Pakistan's biggest. It lies not far from the Afghan border and a lawless mountainous area from where al Qaeda-linked militants plot their attacks.

But for many at Army Public School, a neat pink brick-and-stone campus that is a local landmark, life had long been insulated from the world of Islamist-inspired violence.

Daniyal Khan, a bookish, bespectacled 11-year-old, was lucky to escape the massacre unscathed. He crawled to safety through the playground outside the building.

“I left behind my blue lunchbox and my school bag,” Khan said. “I don't think I will get them back.”

He brightened when asked about his hobbies: computer games and equations. Khan also likes to read – his favorite book is Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

“I want to be an eye doctor,” he said with a smile. “I will fix my brother’s eyes and mine. Jibran wants to be a pilot and, you see, you need perfect eyesight to be a pilot. So I have to fix his eyes.”

Khan's smile disappeared when he is asked if he would go back to the school.

“Not that school,” he said quickly. “Everyday when we go to school the army guards check our bags and use body scanners to check us. If a boy has keys in his pockets, the machine beeps and they ask him to empty his pockets. Everyday this happens. So how did the terrorists come in with guns and grenades?”

Many in Pakistan, where army-related buildings tend to be heavily fortified, asked the same question. Witnesses said the militants, some wearing army uniforms to trick the guards, broke in using a less guarded back entrance.

Aamir Ameen, 18, was at a chemistry exam when the attack started. He fainted after taking a bullet in his hip but avoided being shot again. The assailants left him for dead.

“When I woke up, everyone around me was bleeding and dead. I stayed silent and lay there quietly for hours. When I saw army officers run past I started screaming and they rescued me.”

Ameen, whose father owns a fish shop in London, is an aspiring fashion designer. Unlike some boys who yearn for revenge, he said he wanted to focus on helping others.

“I want to get better and get out and help people. All the people who helped save my life, I want to do something for them,” Ameen said. “But I don't know what I will do without the friends who have died. I will miss them.”

Taliban go on killing spree at Pakistan school, 132 students dead

At least 132 students and nine staff members were killed on Tuesday when Taliban gunmen broke into a school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar and opened fire, witnesses said, in the bloodiest massacre the country has seen for years.

More than eight hours after militants slipped into the heavily guarded compound through a back entrance, the army declared the operation to flush them out over, and said that all nine insurgents had been killed.

The attack on a military-run high school attended by more than 1,100 people, many of them children of army personnel, struck at the heart of Pakistan's military establishment, an assault certain to enrage the country's powerful army.

Wounded children taken to nearby hospitals told Reuters most victims died when gunmen, suicide vests strapped to their bodies, entered the compound and opened fire indiscriminately on boys, girls and their teachers.

“One of my teachers was crying, she was shot in the hand and she was crying in pain,” said Shahrukh Khan, 15, who was shot in both legs but survived by hiding under a bench.

“One terrorist then walked up to her and started shooting her until she stopped making any sound. All around me my friends were lying injured and dead.”

The Taliban, waging war against Pakistan in order to topple the government and set up an Islamic state, immediately claimed responsibility.

“We selected the army's school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females,” said Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani. “We want them to feel the pain.”


As night fell on Peshawar, a teeming, volatile city near the Afghan border, security forces wrapped up an operation that lasted more than eight hours and involved intense gun battles. The military said about 960 pupils and staff were evacuated.

The Taliban said the gunmen had been equipped with suicide vests and at least three explosions were heard inside the high school at the height of the massacre.

Outside, as helicopters rumbled overhead, police struggled to hold back distraught parents who were trying to break past a security cordon and get into the school.

Officials said 121 pupils and three staff members were wounded. A local hospital said the dead and injured were aged from 10 to 20 years old.

A Reuters correspondent visiting the city's major Combined Military Hospital said its corridors were lined with dead students, their green-and-yellow school uniform ties peeping out of the white body bags.

The gunmen, who several students said communicated with each other in a foreign language, possibly Arabic, managed to slip past the school's tight security because at least some of them were wearing Pakistani military uniforms, some witnesses said.

Pakistanis, used to almost daily militant attacks, were shocked by the scale of the massacre and the loss of so many young lives. It recalled the 2004 siege of a school in Russia's Beslan by Chechen militants which ended in the death of more than 330 people, half of them children.

The United States, Pakistan's ally in its fight against Islamist militants operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan, swiftly condemned the attack.

“This act of terror angers and shakes all people of conscience … the perpetrators must be brought to justice,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.


The Pakistani Taliban have vowed to step up attacks in response to a major army operation against the insurgents in the tribal areas.

But despite the crackdown this year, the military has long been accused of being too lenient toward Islamist militants who critics say are used to carry out the army's bidding in places like Kashmir and Afghanistan.

The military denies the accusations.

So far the Taliban have targeted mainly security forces, military bases and airports, but attacks on civilian targets with no logistical significance are relatively rare.

In September, 2013, however, dozens of people, including many children, were killed in an attack on a church, also in Peshawar in Pakistan's northwest.

The assault on a school where officers' children studied could push the armed forces into a more drastic response.

Army chief Raheel Sharif's first public remarks after the attack reflected rising anger.

“These terrorists have struck the heart of the nation. But our resolve to tackle this menace has gotten a new lease of life. We will pursue these monsters and their facilitators until they are eliminated for good,” he said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif used similarly strong words.

“We will take revenge for each and every drop of our children's blood that was spilt today,” he said.

In India, Pakistan's long-time rival, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his shock. The Afghan Taliban, which are separate to the Pakistani Taliban, put out a statement condemning the attack as “against the basics of Islam.”

Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, joint winner of this year's Nobel peace prize for education campaign work and survivor of a Taliban attack in 2012, said she was devastated.

“I am heartbroken by this senseless and cold-blooded act of terror in Peshawar that is unfolding before us,” Malala, who now lives in central England, said in a statement.

Wife of Alan Gross invokes Taliban-POW trade following prison visit

The wife of Alan Gross visited her husband in a Cuban prison, then likened his plight to an American prisoner of war traded for five Taliban members.

“If we can trade five members of the Taliban to bring home one American soldier, surely we can figure out a path forward to bring home one American citizen from a Cuban prison,” Judy Gross said Wednesday in Havana, where she visited her husband in their first meeting since Alan Gross’ mother died last week.

She was referring to the late May swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl that has generated controversy.

The Gross family has suggested that the Obama administration could trade Gross for the three of the remaining “Cuban Five” spies who are in prison, a deal that the Cuban government has hinted it would accept. Obama administration officials have said such a trade is unlikely. Two of the five Cubans were released before their sentences were completed and allowed to return to Cuba.

Gross, 65, of Maryland, who has been imprisoned since December 2009, is serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for “crimes against the state.” Working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Gross was on a mission to connect Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet when he was arrested.

A statement released by the family spokeswoman, Lisa Black, noted that the Cuban government would not allow Gross humanitarian leave to attend his mother’s funeral on Friday.

U.S. authorities had allowed one of the Cuban Five to attend a family funeral in Cuba while he was on parole in Florida.

Israel backs measure to limit early release for jailed Palestinians

Israel's parliament gave initial approval on Wednesday to a law that would prevent the release of any Palestinian prisoners jailed for murder in connection with an attack in which children were killed.

The measure, backed by the government and introduced by far-right lawmakers who objected to the freeing of dozens of Palestinian prisoners during peace talks this year, passed by 36 votes to 20, but must still be approved in four more parliamentary votes before becoming law.

It would entitle judges to determine in sentencing that a Palestinian defendant jailed for life for murder committed during an attack should not be eligible for pardon or any other easing of his sentence.

Current Israeli policy allows for prisoners to win early release by receiving a pardon at the state president's discretion. The new measure would limit the president's powers to grant such pardons.

Ofir Akunis, a deputy minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, endorsed the measure in a speech, drawing attention to “massive objection” in the United States to its swap this month of five Taliban detainees to free Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

“Freeing terrorists doesn't bring peace but distances it and only brings more terrorism,” Akunis said.

Israel freed dozens of Palestinian prisoners under a deal achieved by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last year to renew peace talks with the Palestinians, which collapsed in April in mutual recrimination.

The Palestinians accused Israel of failing to release about two dozen men it had promised to free by the end of March, while Israel protested at a Palestinian unity deal forged in April with the Islamist Hamas, which Israel shuns as a terrorist group.

Israel has freed hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in past swaps for captured soldiers. In 2011 more than 1,000 went free in exchange for Gilad Shalit, held in Gaza for more than five years.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; editing by Andrew Rochew

Pakistani teenager, shot by Taliban, wins EU human rights prize

Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for education for girls, won the European Union's annual human rights award on Thursday, beating fugitive U.S. intelligence analyst Edward Snowden.

The 16-year-old was attacked last year while on a school bus in northwestern Pakistan, but recovered after medical treatment in Britain. She is also a favorite among experts and betting agencies to be named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

“She is an icon of courage for all teenagers who dare to pursue their aspirations and, like a candle, she lights a path out of darkness,” said Joseph Daul, chairman of the centre-right European People's Party in the European Parliament.

Yousafzai started her campaigning by writing blogs in 2009 in which she described how the militant Islamist Taliban prevented girls like her from going to school.

She quickly rose to international fame when more and more foreign media outlets conducted interviews with her. Her growing profile attracted the Taliban's attention and led to frequent death threats.

“I was not worried about myself that much. I was worried about my father. We could not believe they would be so cruel as to kill a child, as I was 14 at the time,” Yousafzai said in a U.S. television interview with “The Daily Show” on Tuesday.

Her book “I Am Malala” is currently the second-best selling book on Amazon.com.

The Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought has been awarded by the European Parliament each year since 1988 to commemorate Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. Its past winners include Nelson Mandela and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Yousafzai was chosen by a vote among the heads of all the political groups in the 750-member parliament.

Snowden had been nominated by the Green group in the parliament for what it said was his enormous service to human rights and European citizens when he disclosed secret U.S. telephone and Internet surveillance programs.

Reporting by Justyna Pawlak and Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Luke Baker and Mark Trevelyan.

Daniel Pearl Fellows: Reshaping hate

On the evening of Aug. 22, I had a public conversation with three Muslim journalists, two from Pakistan and one from Bangladesh, at the Los Angeles Press Club. All three were in the United States as Daniel Pearl Journalism Fellows, a program to introduce Muslim journalists to American practices, sponsored by the Daniel Pearl Foundation and Alfred Friendly Press Partners. Here are the three most chilling things they said:

1. The majority of Pakistanis hate America.

2. The vast majority of Pakistanis believe the United States and Israel, not al-Qaeda, were behind the 9/11 attacks. Their “proof”: 3,000 Jews who work in the World Trade Center didn’t show up for work that day.

3. Most Pakistanis agree that the chaos in Syria and Egypt is the result of manipulation by Jews, Israel and/or the United States.

And keep in mind, Pakistan is officially our ally.

Not only have our two countries cooperated to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the United States has given Pakistan more than $21 billion in foreign aid since 2002.

Still, they seem to hate us.  

“We have a saying in our country,” said Khalid Khattak, a staff reporter for the News International in Lahore. “India is the bastard child of Israel, and Israel is the bastard child of the United States.”

Why the hate? A few reasons.

The aid we give is, in fact, part of the problem. 

“There is a lot of corruption,” Khattak said. “It is meant to be spent to help people, but, unfortunately, a lot of it goes into the pockets of those who take it from the United States.” 

“The billions of dollars of aid are being wasted,” said Emran Hossain, a staff reporter at Bangladesh’s first online newspaper, bdnews24.com, in Dhaka. “It is being spent on the military and police, or on education that makes people more religious.”

A good part of the blame for the failure of U.S. aid lies with corrupt and inefficient Pakistani bureaucracy charged with spending it — but we are the ones who write the checks. And that just makes many Pakistanis angrier.

Another reason for the anger: drones.

Since 2006, America has launched a carte blanche drone war against targets in parts of Pakistan. While terrorists have been decimated, many innocents have also been killed in collateral damage, and America answers to no one.

“You start the drone strikes now, but the reaction will continue in the years to come,” Khattak said. “There is a saying in the Pashtun language that if a Pashtun takes revenge after 100 years, it’s not too late.”

Vaqaz Banoori, an editor at the Independent Press Network in Islamabad, put it even more bluntly. “If you continue the drone strikes,” Banoori told us, “you are losing the moderates and the liberals. You are giving Pakistanis the message, ‘You are no one.’ ”

The final reason for the antipathy: ignorance. Pakistan has a de facto illiteracy rate of 30 percent, and only 19 percent of its population has access to the Internet. Journalists are freer than in years past to report on corrupt politicians, but intelligence and defense matters remain off limits, as are affronts to the country’s many religious extremist groups. 

“They blame mainly America, and mainly Jews,” Banoori said of his fellow Pakistanis. There are, of course, no Jews in Pakistan. But whether the issue is Kashmir or Palestine, 9/11 or drones, Jews, America and Israel are the go-to scapegoats — just as they are in Syria and Egypt.

I asked Banoori why literate Pakistanis couldn’t just read Wikipedia to get their facts more or less correct. 

“They would say Wikipedia is just run by Jews,” he said.

This would all be deeply depressing were it not for this additional fact: As much as the Pakistanis despise America, they deeply want to come to America.

“There are so many Pakistanis trying to get visas to the United States every day,” Banoori said. “These people want to have a good life, educational opportunities, economic opportunities.”

The negative ideas about America — from our wasted aid, our drone strikes, extremist claptrap — compete with the images everyone sees in popular movies and on TV shows. “Friends” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” are their favorites. They don’t get “Seinfeld.”

In fact, Pakistanis will pay $10,000 for a $160 visa, just to come to the Great Satan.

As I spoke to the journalists, I noticed a tall, thin gray-haired man in the front row of the audience, looking positively unhappy; turned out it was Cameron Munter, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. 

What the journalists said was painful to hear, but largely true, Munter confirmed. Since leaving the foreign service, he has gone on record calling for replacing official U.S. foreign aid to Pakistan with people-to-people initiatives, from academic and business exchanges to the kind of initiatives that brought the journalists to us last week.

I think he is onto something. 

It stands to reason that we should be doing less of what’s not working and more of what is. Pakistan is ours to lose, but only if we really want to. And the biggest mistake we can make is to outsource the job of winning Pakistani hearts and minds to the government of the United States of America, which has completely bollixed it up.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Pakistan’s Malala, shot by Taliban, takes education plea to U.N. [VIDEO]

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban last year for demanding education for girls, marked her 16th birthday with a passionate speech at the United Nations on Friday in which she said education could change the world.

“Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution,” said Yousafzai, speaking out for the first time since she was attacked.

Wearing a pink head scarf, Yousafzai told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and nearly 1,000 students attending an international Youth Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York that education was the only way to improve lives.

Yousafzai was shot at close range by gunmen in October as she left school in Pakistan's Swat Valley, northwest of the country's capital Islamabad. She was targeted for her campaign against the Islamist Taliban efforts to deny women education.

“They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed and out of that silence came thousands of voices,” she said to cheers from the students gathered at U.N. hall.

“The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born,” a confident Yousafzai said.

She wore a white shawl draped around her shoulders that had belonged to former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated during a 2007 election rally weeks after she returned to Pakistan from years in self-imposed exile.

“I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I'm here to speak up for the right of education for every child,” she said.

“I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists,” she said. “I do not even hate the talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him.”

Yousafzai presented Ban with a petition signed by some 4 million people in support of 57 million children around the world who are not able to go to school. It demanded that world leaders fund new teachers, schools and books and end child labor, marriage and trafficking.

Ban said that the United Nations was committed to a target of getting all children in school by the end of 2015.

“No child should have to die for going to school. Nowhere should teachers fear to teach or children fear to learn. Together, we can change this picture,” he said. “Together, let us follow the lead of this brave young girl, Malala.”


U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, said Friday's event was not just a celebration of Malala's birthday and of her recovery, but of her vision.

He invoked “her dream that nothing, no political indifference, no government inaction, no intimidation, no threats, no assassin's bullets should ever deny the right of every single child … to be able to go to school.”

Brown described Yousafzai's recovery from the attack as a miracle. The teenager was treated in Pakistan before the United Arab Emirates provided an air ambulance to fly her to Britain, where doctors mended parts of her skull with a titanium plate.

Unable to safely return to Pakistan, Yousafzai enrolled in a school in Birmingham, England in March. Her mother wiped away tears on Friday as she watched her daughter thank all those who helped save her life.

Pakistan has 5 million children out of school, a number only surpassed by Nigeria, which has more than 10 million children out of school, according to the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt on Yousafzai, calling her efforts pro-Western. Two of her classmates were also wounded.

The Pakistan Taliban, formally called the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), formed in 2007, is an umbrella group uniting various militant factions operating in the volatile northwestern tribal areas along the porous border with Afghanistan.

Under Taliban rule in neighboring Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women were forced to cover up and were banned from voting, most work and leaving their homes unless accompanied by a husband or male relative.

“The extremists were and they are afraid of books and pens, the power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women,” Yousafzai said. “When we were in Swat … we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.”

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Vicki Allen and David Storey

Malala Yousafzai: ‘Our books and our pens are the most powerful weapons’

This is a transcription of the speech that Malala Yousafzai gave to the United Nations on 12 July 2013, the date of her 16th birthday and “Malala Day” at the UN.

In the name of God, the most beneficent, the most merciful.

Honorable UN Secretary General Mr Ban Ki-moon, respected president of the General Assembly Vuk Jeremic, honorable UN envoy for global education Mr Gordon Brown, respected elders and my dear brothers and sisters: Assalamu alaikum.

Today is it an honor for me to be speaking again after a long time. Being here with such honorable people is a great moment in my life and it is an honor for me that today I am wearing a shawl of the late Benazir Bhutto. I don't know where to begin my speech. I don't know what people would be expecting me to say, but first of all thank you to God for whom we all are equal and thank you to every person who has prayed for my fast recovery and new life. I cannot believe how much love people have shown me. I have received thousands of good wish cards and gifts from all over the world. Thank you to all of them. Thank you to the children whose innocent words encouraged me. Thank you to my elders whose prayers strengthened me. I would like to thank my nurses, doctors and the staff of the hospitals in Pakistan and the UK and the UAE government who have helped me to get better and recover my strength.

I fully support UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his Global Education First Initiative and the work of UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and the respectful president of the UN General Assembly Vuk Jeremic. I thank them for the leadership they continue to give. They continue to inspire all of us to action. Dear brothers and sisters, do remember one thing: Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.

[VIDEO: Malala speaks on education at U.N.]

There are hundreds of human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for their rights, but who are struggling to achieve their goal of peace, education and equality. Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured. I am just one of them. So here I stand. So here I stand, one girl, among many. I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.

Dear friends, on 9 October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends, too. They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.

I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. And my dreams are the same. Dear sisters and brothers, I am not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohammed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.

Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. The wise saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It is true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them. This is why they killed 14 innocent students in the recent attack in Quetta. And that is why they kill female teachers. That is why they are blasting schools every day because they were and they are afraid of change and equality that we will bring to our society. And I remember that there was a boy in our school who was asked by a journalist why are the Taliban against education? He answered very simply by pointing to his book, he said, “a Talib doesn't know what is written inside this book.”

They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would point guns at people's heads just for going to school. These terrorists are misusing the name of Islam for their own personal benefit. Pakistan is a peace loving, democratic country. Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons. Islam is a religion of peace, humanity and brotherhood. It is the duty and responsibility to get education for each child, that is what it says. Peace is a necessity for education. In many parts of the world, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan, terrorism, war and conflicts stop children from going to schools. We are really tired of these wars. Women and children are suffering in many ways in many parts of the world.

In India, innocent and poor children are victims of child labor. Many schools have been destroyed in Nigeria. People in Afghanistan have been affected by extremism. Young girls have to do domestic child labor and are forced to get married at an early age. Poverty, ignorance, injustice, racism and the deprivation of basic rights are the main problems, faced by both men and women.

Today I am focusing on women's rights and girls' education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But this time we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women's rights, but I am focusing on women to be independent and fight for themselves. So dear sisters and brothers, now it's time to speak up. So today, we call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favor of peace and prosperity. We call upon the world leaders that all of these deals must protect women and children's rights. A deal that goes against the rights of women is unacceptable.

We call upon all governments to ensure free, compulsory education all over the world for every child. We call upon all the governments to fight against terrorism and violence. To protect children from brutality and harm. We call upon the developed nations to support the expansion of education opportunities for girls in the developing world. We call upon all communities to be tolerant, to reject prejudice based on caste, creed, sect, color, religion or agenda to ensure freedom and equality for women so they can flourish. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.

Dear brothers and sisters, we want schools and education for every child's bright future. We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education. No one can stop us. We will speak up for our rights and we will bring change to our voice. We believe in the power and the strength of our words. Our words can change the whole world because we ware all together, united for the cause of education. And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must not forget that millions of people are suffering from poverty and injustice and ignorance. We must not forget that millions of children are out of their schools. We must not forget that our sisters and brothers are waiting for a bright, peaceful future.

So let us wage, so let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first. Thank you.

Pakistani girl shot by Taliban starts at English school

Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani girl who drew global attention after being shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls' education, returned to school on Tuesday in Britain where she has been treated for her injuries.

Yousufzai, 15, has become an international figure as a symbol of resistance to Taliban efforts to deny women's rights and is even among nominees for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

She described her return to school as the most important day of her life.

“I am excited that today I have achieved my dream of going back to school. I want all girls in the world to have this basic opportunity,” she said in a statement.

Accompanied by her father and carrying a pink rucksack, Yousufzai joined other pupils at Edgbaston High School for Girls in Birmingham, central England, close to the hospital where she underwent surgery to reconstruct her skull last month.

“I miss my classmates from Pakistan very much but I am looking forward to meeting my teachers and making new friends here in Birmingham,” she said.

Yousufzai was brought to Britain for specialist treatment after she was shot in the head at point-blank range by Taliban gunmen last October.

She left hospital in February after she made a good recovery from surgery during which doctors mended parts of her skull with a titanium plate and inserted a cochlear implant to help restore hearing on her left side.

Yousufzai will study a full curriculum at the school, where annual fees are 10,000 pounds ($15,100), before selecting subjects for GCSE exams, which are generally taken at age 16.

“She wants to be a normal teenage girl and to have the support of other girls around,” said Edgbaston headteacher Ruth Weeks. “Talking to her, I know that's something she missed during her time in hospital.”

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Mark Heinrich

U.S. judge rejects request to exclude Jews from jury

A federal court judge rejected a Jewish attorney's request to exclude Jews from a jury involving a client facing charges of lying about joining the Taliban.

Judge Eric Vitaliano of U.S. District Court in Brooklyn ruled Monday that it would be unconstitutional to bar a prospective juror because of religion, the New York Post reported.

“If any juror — regardless of race, creed, national origin, sex — can’t accept the instruction of the court … that juror doesn’t belong on the jury,” Vitaliano said, according to the newspaper.

Attorney Frederick Cohn is representing Abdel Hameed Shehadeh, who is facing federal charges for lying to the FBI about his involvement with the Taliban. Shehadeh was indicted in 2010.

Cohn said Jews on the jury would be biased automatically against his client, the New York Post reported.

“Given that there’s going to be inflammatory testimony about Jews and Zionism, I think it would be hard for Jews to cast aside any innate antipathy,” Cohn said. “The American Jewish community is heavily aligned with Israel and Zionism. Here is a guy who is a Muslim, who is opposed to those things.”

The subject of Jews on Shehadeh trial’s jury first arose in February, when Cohn told Vitaliano that he wasn’t “wild about having Jews on the jury in this case” while acknowledging his request was a “long shot.”

Pakistani girl shot by Taliban leaves British hospital

A Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls' education has been discharged from a British hospital after doctors said she was well enough to spend time recovering with her family.

Fifteen-year-old Malala Yousufzai, who was shot by the Taliban in October and brought to Britain for treatment, was discharged on Thursday but is due to be re-admitted in late January or early February for reconstructive surgery to her skull, doctors said.

The shooting of Yousufzai, in the head at point blank range as she left school in the Swat valley, drew widespread international condemnation.

She has become a an internationally recognized symbol of resistance to the Taliban's efforts to deny women education and other rights, and more than 250,000 people have signed online petitions calling for her to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism.

Doctors at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where Yousufzai was treated said that although the bullet hit her left brow, it did not penetrate her skull but instead travelled underneath the skin along the side of her head and into her neck.

She was treated by doctors specializing in neurosurgery, trauma and other disciplines in a department of the hospital which has treated hundreds of soldiers wounded in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Malala is a strong young woman and has worked hard with the people caring for her to make excellent progress in her recovery,” said Dave Rosser, the hospital's medical director.

“Following discussions with Malala and her medical team, we decided that she would benefit from being at home.”

Yousufzai has already been leaving the hospital on a regular basis on “home leave” in recent weeks to spend time with her parents and younger brothers, who have a temporary home in central England, Rosser said.

“During those visits assessments have been carried out by her medical team to ensure she can continue to make good progress outside the hospital,” Rosser said.

Yousufzai's father said in October he was sure she would “rise again” to pursue her dreams after medical treatment.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy

ADL honors Pakistani teen shot for advocating education for females

The Pakistani teenage girl who was shot in the head for speaking out against the Taliban was honored at an Anti-Defamation League concert.

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman dedicated Monday night’s 18th annual Concert Against Hate at the Kennedy Center in Washington to Malala Yousafzai, who spoke out for education for females.

Foxman led an audience of 2,300 in silent prayer for the teen’s recovery. Yousafzai was flown to Birmingham, England, for more medical care.

“Malala Yousafzai was courageous in her determination to stand up to the forces of evil and extremism, and to speak clearly for her conviction that women deserve better from a society and a system that has failed them in Pakistan,” Foxman said.

The concert featured music by the National Symphony Orchestra and testimonials about extraordinary acts of courage.

Also honored were Irene Fogel Weiss, a Holocaust victim and Auschwitz survivor; Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, a Freedom Rider and civil rights icon; the late Officer Moira Ann Smith, who saved hundreds of people at the World Trade Center; and Amardeep Singh Kaleka, the son of a victim of the Wisconsin Sikh Temple shooting in August.

Pakistani schoolgirl shot by Taliban moved to army HQ hospital

A Pakistani schoolgirl fighting for her life after being shot by Taliban gunmen was transferred on Thursday from a hospital in a province that is a militant haven to a specialist hospital in the army garrison town of Rawalpindi.

Malala Yousufzai, 14, was unconscious in critical condition after being shot in the head and neck as she left school on Tuesday, but doctors said she had moved her arms and legs slightly the night before.

Pakistani surgeons removed a bullet on Wednesday from Yousufzai who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out against the militants and promoting education for girls.

Her courage made her a national hero. The shooting has drawn condemnation from world leaders and many Pakistanis.

Yousufzai began standing up to the Pakistani Taliban when she was just 11, when the government had effectively ceded control of the Swat Valley where she lives to the militants.

Her father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, who runs a girls' school, said his daughter had defied threats for years, believing the good work she was doing for her community was her best protection.

A Reuters correspondent watched as she was moved from an army hospital in the regional capital of Peshawar to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi to help her treatment.

“Pray for her,” her distraught uncle, Faiz Mohammad, said before the ambulance left the hospital.

A husband-and-wife team of two British doctors who were attending a seminar in Pakistan at the time of the attack on Thursday joined local surgeons in treating Yousufzai.

She was shot with two other girls on Tuesday as she left school in Swat, northwest of Islamabad. One of the girls is out of danger and the other remains in critical condition.

A Taliban spokesman said she was targeted for trying to spread Western culture and that they would try to kill her again if she survived.


Authorities had identified her attackers, said regional governor Masood Kausar. The local government has posted a 10 million rupee reward for their capture.

“The security agencies are closely working with each other and they have a lot of information about the perpetrators. We hope our security agencies will soon capture them and bring to justice,” he said.

The attack outraged many in Pakistan, with small, impromptu rallies held in her support in many cities. Schools had also closed across Swat in protest over the shooting and a small demonstration was held in her hometown of Mingora.

Pakistan's president, prime minister, and heads of various opposition parties joined human rights group Amnesty International and the United Nations in condemning the attack.

On Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States had offered any assistance necessary.

“The president found the news reprehensible and disgusting and tragic,” Carney told reporters.

“Directing violence at children is barbaric, it's cowardly, and our hearts go out to her and the others who were wounded as well as their families.”

Yousufzai had spent the last three years campaigning for girls' education after the Taliban shut down girls' schools. She received Pakistan's highest civilian award but also a number of death threats.

In 2009, the army pushed the Taliban out of her hometown of Mingora, but the attack showed the militia's ability to strike even inside heavily patrolled towns.

Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Jeremy Laurence

Pakistani girl shot by Taliban defied threats for years

A 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl campaigner shot by the Taliban had defied threats for years, believing the good work she was doing for her community was her best protection, her father said on Wednesday.

Malala Yousufzai was shot and seriously wounded on Tuesday as she was leaving her school in her hometown in the Swat valley, northwest of the capital, Islamabad.

The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying her promotion of education for girls was pro-Western and she had opposed them.

The shooting has outraged people in a country seemingly inured to extreme violence since a surge in Islamist militancy began after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

[Commentary from Pakistan: Pakistan’s Anne Frank?]

“She is candle of peace that they have tried to blow out,” said one Pakistani man, Abdul Majid Mehsud, 45, from the violence plagued South Waziristan region.

In the Swat valley, a one-time tourist spot infiltrated by militants from Afghan border bases more than five years ago, her family and community are praying for her survival.

Her father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, who ran a girls' school, said his daughter had wanted to go into politics.

He said that of all the things he loved about her, it was her fairness – her democratic ideals – that he loved the most.

Malala, then a dimpled 11-year-old with dark eyes, shot to fame when she wrote a blog under a pen name for the BBC about living under the rule of the Pakistani Taliban.

The militants, led by a firebrand young preacher, took over her valley through a mixture of violence, intimidation and the failure of the authorities to stand up to them.

Even after the military finally went into action with an offensive in 2009 that swept most of the militants from the valley, it remained a dangerous place.

Malala didn't keep quiet. She campaigned for education for girls and later received Pakistan's highest civilian prize.

Her prominence came at a cost.

“We were being threatened. A couple of times, letters were thrown in our house, that Malala should stop doing what she is doing or the outcome will be very bad,” her father, sounding drained and despondent, said by telephone.

But despite the threats, he said he had turned down offers of protection from the security forces.

“We stayed away from that because she is a young female. The tradition here does not allow a female to have men close by,” he said.


Malala had spent many sleepless nights kept awake by gunfire, had been forced to flee her home with her two younger brothers and walked past the headless bodies of those who defied the Taliban.

Her parents also wanted her to have some chance of a normal childhood, her father said.

“We did not want her to be carrying her school books surrounded by bodyguards. She would not have been able to receive education freely,” he said.

Her parents thought she would be safe among their neighbors in the town of Mingora, nestled among the snow-capped mountains that earned Swat the nickname of the Switzerland of Pakistan.

“I never imagined that this could happen because Malala is a young innocent girl,” her father said. “Whenever there were threats, relatives and friends would tell Malala to take care but Malala was never fearful.”

“She would frequently say 'I am satisfied. I am doing good work for my people so nobody can do anything to me'.”

Recently, Malala had started to organize a fund to make sure poor girls could go to school, said Ahmed Shah, a family friend and chairman of the Swat Private Schools Association.

“She had planned on making the Malala Education Foundation in Swat,” Shah said, adding that the Taliban used to print threats against her in the newspaper.

Classmate Brekhna Rahim said Malala “wished to have enough money and build schools in every village for girls in Swat”.

The entire Swat Valley was in shock over the shooting, she said, glued to their televisions and crying as they watched the endlessly repeated scenes of her being stretchered to hospital.

“Women and girls are sad as if they had lost a very close member of the family,” Rahim said.

“She was the life of the class,” said fellow student, Dure Nayab.


On Tuesday, a gunman arrived at her school, asking for her by name. He opened fire on her and two classmates on a bus.

Now her father is waiting for her to regain consciousness as she lies swathed in white bandages in a military hospital.

“Doctors are hopeful,” he said. “I appeal to the country to pray for her survival.”

Ziauddin Yousufzai said the shooting would stop neither him nor his daughter from their work.

He echoed the view of many people who said that the shooting was against Islamic law and against the culture of the ethnic Pashtun region, which forbids the targeting of women.

“We will focus even more on our work with more strength,” he said. “If all of us die fighting, we will still not leave this work.”

Her classmate Rahim put it another way.

“If the Taliban kill one Malala, they are thousands and thousands more brave girls like Malala in Swat.”

Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Katharine Houreld in Islamabad; Editing by Robert Birsel and Louise Ireland

Iran, Taliban and al-Qaida owe $6 billion to 9/11 victims’ families, U.S. court says

A U.S. district court recommended that Iran, the Taliban and al-Qaida pay $6 billion in compensation to the families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The symbolic decision came Monday in New York as a recommendation in response to a lawsuit brought by relatives of 47 victims that was decided in the relatives’ favor last year, according to The Associated Press.

“It’s hard being happy, but I am happy about it,” plaintiff Ellen Saracini, wife of one of the captains of a plane that hit the World Trade Center, told the AP. “But it opens up old wounds. We were never in it for a lawsuit. I wanted to know what happened to my husband.”

Iran repeatedly has denied any connection to the attacks but gave several of the terrorists passage through the country, according to AP.

American hostage Warren Weinstein pleads for life in new video

Al-Qaida released a new videotape of kidnapped American hostage Warren Weinstein in which he begs President Obama to save his life.

“My life is in your hands, Mr. President,” Weinstein, 70, a former Peace Corps and USAID official, said on the video posted Sunday on Islamist websites. “If you accept the demands, I live. If you don’t accept the demands, then I die. It’s important that you accept the demands and act quickly and don’t delay.”

The demands include a halt to U.S. airstrikes and the freeing of all al-Qaida and Taliban suspects, according to reports.

Weinstein, of Rockville, Md., was kidnapped in August outside Pakistan while he was working for J.E. Austin Associates, a private company that advises Pakistani businesses.

In the video, Weinstein tells Obama that he wants to “live and hopefully rejoin my family and also enjoy my children, my two daughters, like you enjoy your two daughters.” Sitting before a platter of food, he also says he is in good health.

“I’m fine. I’m well,” Weinstein said. “I’m getting all my medications and I’m being taken care of.”

It is not known when the video was recorded.

Twin bombing attacks kill 80 outside Pakistan paramilitary training center

Pakistani Taliban militants claimed responsibility on Friday for a suicide bomb attack on paramilitary academy in a northwestern town that killed at least 80 people.

“It’s the first revenge for the martyrdom of … bin Laden. There will be more,” Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

U.S. forces killed bin Laden in his hideout in a Pakistani town on May 2.

A suicide bomber reportedly detonated at least one of the blasts at the main gate of the facility for the Frontier Constabulary, a poorly equipped but front-line force in Pakistan’s battle against al-Qaida and allied Islamist groups close to the Afghan border. Like other branches of Pakistan security forces, it has received U.S. funding.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

The Osama postmortem

Evaluating the responses to the US action against Osama bin Laden is an important element in understanding who the West’s true enemies really are.

There have been four significant voices speaking out against the killing of bin Laden.

The most obvious voice is that of the Taliban. The most vociferous belongs to Hamas, followed by a very significant group of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and finally, as one would expect, Iran.

All four groups are united in their claim that the United States overstepped its role and violated international law. They describe the action as a premeditated cold blooded murder. They call the attack on bin Laden an attack on all believing Muslims.

The skepticism that the Taliban are displaying over whether or not bin Laden is in fact and truly even dead is sincere. The Taliban want more evidence and on Wednesday they issued a statement saying that there is no real evidence of his death. But honestly, even had the entire event been broadcast live these ‘believers’ would not acknowledge what was being shown. The Taliban are true believers. They believe that Osama bin Laden was their great leader and they believe that the West, especially the United States, is the devil.

For Hamas and Islamists in East Jerusalem, the logic of their outcry makes sense. Bin Laden was their hero. Bin Laden challenged the US and the West. Bin Laden fought for the Muslim cause. For Hamas the demise of Bin Laden is a vehicle to garner supporters. For Hamas, the death of bin Laden is an opportunity. The murder of their hero at the hands of infidels is an opportunity to teach and to draw passive supporters and donors and fighters from al Qaeda into their stable. Now the leaders of Hamas can thrust themselves into the limelight as the center of Muslim activism challenging the established Western norm.

But why has Iran been critical of the demise of bin Laden?

Iran was a target of bin Laden. Iran and Osama bin Laden were sworn enemies. For bin Laden Iran represented religious heresy. Iranians were worse than non-believers, they believed in and follow the tenets of a misreading of the Prophet Mohamed.

So why is Iran upset by the demise of Osama bin Laden?

They are upset for the same reason that the Taliban, Hamas and segments of Palestinian East Jerusalem are upset. It is the reason that unites Muslim radicals around the world who wish to usurp the role of the United States as the preeminent cultural and economic and military power in the world.

The Machiavelli dictum is correct, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

These terrorists and terrorist supporters and terrorist wannabes have one thing in common. They despise US dominance and US values. They particularly resent the Western value of equality which includes equal rights for women and religious pluralism. They cannot comprehend the principle that suggests that you can agree to disagree and then leave it at that—and not take the further step and kill the person you disagree with.

Like Osama bin Laden, Iran, Hamas and other Islamists are united in their hatred of the West. What unites them is stronger than what separates them. We must be stronger than them all.

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson).

Iran is bombastic but Pakistan has the bomb

If you think Iran is scary, just consider what would happen if Islamic extremists took over Pakistan.

It’s a very real possibility in that increasingly worrisome country thathelped spawn the Taliban and which Foreign Policy magazine has called “the country most likely to transfer nuclear technology to terrorists.”

That is the conclusion of 69 of 100 national security experts surveyed for the publication’s “Terrorism Index 2008.”

More than half responded that Pakistan is “most likely to serve as al-Qaeda’s next home base.”

“We’re all really worried that a radical theocracy like Iran will get ‘the bomb,’ but what if the bomb gets a radical theocracy?” asked a Washington defense analyst speaking on background.

Iran may be getting all the attention from Israel and the United States, but shaky Pakistan is the only Islamic nuclear power.

Iran may boast of great strides in its pursuit of nuclear, missile and satellite technology, but analysts say its progress is no match for its overblown rhetoric.

But Pakistan doesn’t need to boast. It already has a stockpile estimated at 60 or more nuclear warheads and North Korean ballistic missiles and U.S.-made F-16s to deliver them; target one is India, but in the hands of an extremist Islamist regime that could easily shift to Israel.

Washington has reportedly spent more than $100 million to help secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal although it does not even know its size or location.

Pakistan is a failed nation state. It has an unstable government on the verge of collapse, a tenuous flirtation with democracy, a coup-inclined military with ties to the Taliban, and an upcoming presidential election in which the front-runner’s lawyers contend he suffers from dementia and depression. It also has sold nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Growing Islamization of state institutions and policies, notably the schools, is legitimizing religious extremism. Many Taliban trace their roots to Pakistani madrassas.

Most important, Pakistan’s porous border with Afghanistan is a sanctuary and training ground for the Taliban resurgence and al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden is believed to be holed up in those areas that are more hospitable to the Islamic extremists than the Pakistani government and army, which has been unable or unwilling to do much about it.

In fact, Western experts believe elements of Pakistan’s military and its powerful intelligence service, ISI, are working with the Taliban. The new army leader, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, recently stepped down as head of the agency.

Pakistan, said the defense analyst, is “the scariest place on earth.” It could splinter if powerful ethnic groups like the Pashtun and the Baluch seek to break away and form their own states. Or there could be yet another military coup, this time led by the ISI, elements close to the Taliban.

Hamid Karzai, the pro-U.S. president of Afghanistan, has accused Pakistan of giving the Taliban sanctuary and bases to attack his country, and ISI has been accused of being behind attempts on his life.

A recent Council on Foreign Relations report said ISI is believed to have links to terrorist groups in several countries, including England, India, Afghanistan and Iraq.

ISI-Taliban cooperation goes back nearly 30 years, and many of its agents “have ethnic and cultural ties to Afghan insurgents and naturally sympathize with them,” according to Frederic Grare of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Author Steve Coll, an expert on the Taliban, has called it “an asset of the ISI” and “a proxy force, a client of the Pakistan army.”

The Pentagon sees the deteriorating situation in Pakistan as increasingly dangerous. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, flew out to the Indian Ocean last week to convene a highly unusual secret meeting of senior American and Pakistani commanders aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

His message: You’ve got to do more to combat the militants who have found sanctuary in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan and are responsible for the rising number of U.S. and NATO casualties.

He wants Pakistan to allow U.S. Special Operations forces operate more freely in those areas.

There are serious questions as to which side the Pakistani military and ISI are really on. President Bush has reportedly complained that some ISI elements are leaking U.S. intelligence information to the Taliban and aiding militants’ attacks U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

A coup led by pro-Taliban elements would put that country’s nuclear arsenal in the hands of some of the world’s most dangerous Islamic extremists.

Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid writes that “Islamic extremism is gaining strength” in his country and warns that the army may insist that a pro-Taliban Islamic party, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, be part of any future government.

Pakistan might be the greatest challenge awaiting the next president of the United States, but so far it has been getting scant attention in either campaign.

Douglas M. Bloomfield is a nationally syndicated columnist. This column is printed with permission from the Washington Jewish Week.

Jews recall Musharraf ties and wonder what comes next

With control of the world’s only nuclear-armed Muslim state up in the air, many Jewish and Israeli observers are watching the political turmoil in Pakistan with unease.

Pervez Musharraf, who resigned as Pakistan’s president on Monday, might not have been a great friend of the Jewish people, but he was seen as an ally of the West and a relatively moderate leader of a nuclear state with powerful Islamist elements.

He also had some ties to Jewish groups.

In 2005, Musharraf addressed a Jewish gathering in New York, where he said Pakistan would establish ties with Israel after the Palestinians have a state. During that same visit, Musharraf shook hands with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the U.N. General Assembly. Musharraf also is rumored to have exchanged letters of friendship with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

With Musharraf out, it’s not clear whether or not the open door Jewish organizational leaders have had in Islamabad is in danger of slamming shut.

“It’s a big plus for the Jewish people to have an opening to the world’s only nuclear-armed Muslim country,” David Twersky, senior adviser for international affairs at the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), said of the relationship between American Jewish groups and Musharraf. “I hope the idea of being open to American Jews doesn’t get thrown out with Musharraf.”

AJCongress chairman Jack Rosen, who has shuttled between New York and Islamabad multiple times to meet with Musharraf on issues of Jewish interest, said he’s confident that the new government in Pakistan won’t sever the country’s dialogue with the Jews.

“I know everybody wants to talk about Musharraf the individual, who was at the center of the stage for the past few years, and everyone wonders what happens next,” said Rosen, who is also chairman of the Council for World Jewry, which is affiliated with the AJCongress. “Our reason for having initiated the contact, and his reason, doesn’t change with the new administration.

“For moderate Muslim leaders around the world, which includes Pakistan, they want to engage America, they want to engage the West, they want to have a dialogue with members of other faiths,” he said. “That doesn’t falter with Musharraf leaving.”

Musharraf’s tenure saw the first high-level diplomatic contacts between Israel and Pakistan. The countries’ foreign ministers met in Istanbul 2005, and after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in September of that year, Musharraf said it was time for Pakistan to engage with Israel.

Even as Musharraf’s 2005 speech to a Jewish audience in New York was criticized by Jews for being pro-Palestinian, it was criticized in Pakistan for being too accommodating of Israel.

Musharraf’s resignation this week comes after months of political instability in Pakistan. Last fall, the president moved to suspend the country’s constitution and scuttle planned parliamentary elections. Massive protests prompted Musharraf to back off and eventually resign his position as commander of the armed forces.

The assassination of opposition figure Benazir Bhutto last December further fueled calls for Musharraf to resign as president. Some charged him with being complicit in the Bhutto slaying by not providing her with adequate security.

When he announced his resignation Monday, Musharraf said he was doing so to spare the country his impeachment.

The president of Pakistan’s Senate, Muhammad Mian Soomro, becomes the acting president. According to Pakistani law, the next president must be chosen by the National Assembly and four provincial assemblies within 30 days.

The country’s 4-month-old coalition government is led by Asif Ali Zardari, who heads the Pakistan Peoples Party, and Nawaz Sharif, the chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League and a former prime minister. Sharif’s term was ended in 1999 by Musharraf’s bloodless coup.

Whoever emerges as the next president, analysts say the new leader is unlikely to wield the same broad-ranging powers as Musharraf.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, expressed fears that Pakistan could choose someone with an Islamist orientation.

“I’m very worried about it,” he said.

Nevertheless, Hoenlein and other Jewish organizational officials interviewed for this story stressed the ongoing contacts Jews have had with Pakistani governments over the years — long before Musharraf — and expressed confidence that they would persist in the future.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations once even hosted a kosher lunch for some Jews at his residence, said Hoenlein, who attended the event.

Even if a pro-Western regime endures in Islamabad, however, it isn’t clear whether the next leader will be able to keep Pakistan’s hard-line Islamists at bay.

Within hours of Musharraf’s resignation on Monday, a suicide bomber in Pakistan’s Northwest province — a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban — killed 23 people in a hospital emergency room, according to reports.

When Jews Wax Anti-Semitic


The expectation that a commentator’s views must be in lockstep with his or her ethnic, religious or sexual identity is always distasteful — particularly when blacks, women, gays or Jews are labeled “self-hating” when they refuse to toe the perceived party line.

Then again, maybe the “self-hating” label is justified on occasion. That’s what I found myself thinking when I read a stunning recent commentary by author and pundit Eric Alterman on the British Muslim Council’s decision to boycott the ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The reason given for the boycott was that the commemoration of Nazi death camp victims did not include the Palestinian victims of Israeli “genocide.”

On his blog at msnbc.com, Alterman sneered at critics of the boycott.

“I’m a Jew, but I don’t expect Arabs to pay tribute to my people’s suffering while Jews, in the form of Israel and its supporters — and in this I include myself — are causing much of theirs,” he wrote, suggesting that one might as well expect gays to honor “the suffering of gay-bashing bigots.”

Alterman noted that “the Palestinians have also suffered because of the Holocaust. They lost their homeland as the world — in the form of the United Nations — reacted to European crimes by awarding half of Palestine to the Zionists…. To ask Arabs to participate in a ceremony that does not recognize their own suffering but implicitly endorses the view that caused their catastrophe is morally idiotic.”

One hardly knows where to begin. There is, for instance, the way Alterman not-so-deftly conflates Muslims with Arabs and Arabs with dispossessed Palestinians, and then declares Jews responsible for “much” of the suffering of Muslims everywhere. Not the brutal theocracies such as the Taliban, which have tried to impose a medieval form of Islam through terror; not the equally brutal secular dictators of the Arab world, such as Iraq’s now-deposed Saddam Hussein or the corrupt monarchies. No, it’s the Jews — all lumped together, including long-dead Holocaust victims.

By Alterman’s logic, every Muslim is justified in viewing every Jew as the enemy. Alterman frets that his words will be “twisted beyond recognition,” but it’s hard to see how they can be twisted into something more indecent than they already are. (While he counts himself among Israel’s supporters, he seems to regard the creation of Israel itself — not just the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza — as an Arab “catastrophe.”)

Call it self-hatred or something less psychoanalytic; the bottom line is that this is the kind of rhetoric that, coming from a non-Jew, would be clearly seen as anti-Semitic. This is not exclusively a phenomenon of the pro-Palestinian left. Ironically, in the same blog item, Alterman castigates a conservative Jewish commentator for giving aid and comfort to anti-Semitism — and, ironically, he’s right.

The commentator is Rabbi Daniel Lapin, head of a group called Toward Tradition, who has been in the forefront of the alliance between conservative Jews and the Christian right. Lapin recently unleashed a bizarre tirade in The Jewish Press against “the role that people with Jewish names play in the coarsening of our culture.”

His target is the movie, “Meet the Fockers,” in which Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand play a sex-obsessed Jewish couple, as well as radio sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, “shock jock” Howard Stern and trashy daytime talk show host Jerry Springer.

Rather shockingly, Lapin quotes Adolf Hitler, who accused Jews of spreading “literary filth, artistic trash and theatrical idiocy” in pre-World War II Germany. His ostensible point is that the Jewish community should confront and criticize Jewish perpetrators of cultural degeneracy to avoid giving ammunition to Jew-haters. But he provides such ammunition himself, when he misleadingly singles out Jewish entertainers for blame — as if Jewish contributions to art and culture were limited to the “coarsening” kind.

Such tactics are not new for Lapin. During the controversy over Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” he wrote that it was hypocritical for Jewish groups to protest what many saw as the film’s anti-Semitic themes, given that Jewish Hollywood executives had been involved with allegedly anti-Christian fare such as the 1988 film, “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Never mind that “The Last Temptation” was directed and scripted by non-Jews.

We live in a time when anti-Semitic rhetoric is creeping into the respectable mainstream: on the left, in the form of Israel-bashing; on the right, in assertions that Christians own this country and should “take it back.” I’m not sure whether such rhetoric is any more reprehensible when it comes from Jews. But it is certainly no better.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a Boston Globe columnist.