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Saudi forces hunt for gunmen

Swedish national Magnus Johansson, 50, was married to an Australian woman, named by Swedish media as Sherree, and had lived in Australia for several years.

Most recently, he was working as an executive chef in Saudi Arabian hotels.

“It comes as a shock,” said friend and former colleague Volker Koepke, describing Mr Johansson as a calm, collected and remarkable chef.

In Saudi Arabia, forces set up checkpoints across the whole country after three gunmen, using hostages as temporary cover, escaped Saudi commandos who stormed a building in the eastern oil city of Khobar to end a long siege.

The leader of the militants, Nimr al-Baqmi, was wounded and captured during the rescue of the hostages on Sunday. All hostages were believed freed or dead.

The Khobar assault was the second in less than a month on the Saudi oil industry, a lifeline of the world economy.

An internet statement purporting to come from al-Qaeda said Osama bin Laden’s network carried out the operation.

It vowed to rid the birthplace of Islam of “infidels”. An audio tape apparently from top Saudi al-Qaeda leader Abdulaziz al-Muqrin vowed that this year would be “bloody and miserable” for Saudi Arabia.

Two days ago Muqrin issued plans for urban guerrilla warfare designed to topple the royal family.

The siege began on Saturday when gunmen opened fire on the Al-Khobar Petroleum Centre building, housing offices of major Western oil firms, before storming into compounds containing oil services offices and employees’ homes.

The body of a Briton was dragged through the streets behind a car, witnesses said, in an echo of the attack on a petrochemical site in the Red Sea town of Yanbu earlier this month in which an American suffered the same fate.

The gunmen then fled to the upmarket Oasis housing compound, taking some 50 foreigners hostage, and a 25-hour siege began.

On Sunday, commandos dropped from helicopters to storm the building. The Saudi Interior Ministry said 41 foreigners, many traumatised and injured, were rescued and 201 other residents who had been trapped in the compound were evacuated.

A Saudi diplomat said nine hostages were killed before the forces entered the building.

The Interior Ministry, giving the figure of 22 dead, did not make clear how many were killed during the siege and rescue and how many in Saturday’s shooting attacks on various Khobar buildings.

The ministry listed the dead as an American, a Briton, an Italian, a South African, a Swede, eight Indians, two Sri Lankans, three Filipinos, an Egyptian boy and three Saudis. It said 25 people were injured.

UN chief regrets Rwanda genocide

The 1994 genocide occurred while he was the head of UN peacekeeping.

“The international community failed Rwanda and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret and abiding sorrow,” he told a memorial conference ahead of the 10th anniversary of the slaughter next month.

“If the international community had acted promptly and with determination, it could have stopped most of the killing. But the political will was not there, and nor were the troops,” Mr Annan said.

The massacre of 800,000 people, along with the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Hercegovina, had a lasting impact on his decision-making as secretary general of the world body, he said.

“I believed at the time I was doing my best. But I realised after the genocide that there was more that I could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support,” he said.

The mass killing, which has remained one of the darkest moments in UN history, began in the tiny African nation after then president Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down while preparing to land.

His death unleashed the rage of ethnic Hutu extremists, who killed both Hutu moderates and their Tutsi rivals. Between 800,000 and one million people were killed between April and July 1994.

A 1999 report laid blame on Mr Annan as well as the United States and other Security Council nations for failing to take the steps needed to stop the killing.

The council declined to send extra troops for General Romeo Dallaire of Canada, who was head of the small UN peacekeeping force on the ground when the massacre took place.

And Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham told the memorial conference that one decade later, the United Nations had still not reached a consensus on how to stop such slaughters from occurring again.

Five Guantanamo Bay Brits released

The alleged al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters were flown to RAF Northolt air base, northwest of London, in the early hours of Wednesday morning (AEDST).

It is thought they were taken to a high security police station in west London for questioning.

The UK repatriations came as the US Marine lawyer for Australian terrorist suspect David Hicks held meetings in Canberra to prepare his client’s defence case.

Hicks, 28, formerly of Adelaide, is scheduled to face one of the first military tribunals following the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Major Michael Mori has previously denounced the Australian Government for allowing the 28-year-old to be tried by the US instead of Australia.

However, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the US did “a good thing” in holding the five Britons as “enemy combatants”, although their release now was appropriate.

He said: “Our government made a considered judgement that it was appropriate to transfer these individuals to the government of the United Kingdom.

“The people who have analysed these individuals, and interrogated them and looked at them and processed them and considered this have come to the conclusion that this was the appropriate thing to do on the part of the United States.”

Asked why it took two years to reach that conclusion, Mr Rumsfeld said, “the goal was to keep these people off a battlefield and to keep them away from killing other people.”

“That’s a good thing, that’s not a bad thing,” he said.

He said another goal was to find out what they knew about the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

“So they were interrogated for a couple of years,” he said.

“Then at some point you say, we think we’ve gotten what we need out of this crowd of five people, and let’s move them along. We don’t want to keep everybody out at Guantanamo.”

The five Britons were flown to London after the British Government agreed to ensure that they not pose a security threat to the United States or its allies.

Britain announced on February 19 that, after months of negotiations with Washington, four British nationals would remain in Guantanamo Bay and five would be repatriated.

It left open the option of arresting them immediately upon their arrival, probably under the Terrorism Act 2000 which would let police grill them for up to 14 days without charges.

The four Britons still held in Cuba are suspected of links with the al-Qaeda network led by Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in 2001.

Of the four UK Home Secretary David Blunkett said evidence collected on them was “best used in the United States, not in Britain”.

9/11 ‘could have been prevented’

“My feeling is a whole number of circumstances, had they been different, might have prevented 9/11,” Thomas Kean, chairman of The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, told CBS television.

In a preliminary report, the commission said insufficient attention was paid to early warning signs about the danger al-Qaeda posed to the United States and faulted both the Clinton and Bush administrations for failing to take aggressive action against bin Laden.

Mr Kean’s comments came shortly before US Secretary of State Colin Powell and his predecessor, Madeline Albright, gave their first public testimony at the inquiry.

Both defended the action taken by their administrations against bin Laden, but admitted measures had fallen short in the lead-up to 11 September 2001.

Mr Powell said that President George W Bush ordered moves to “destroy” al-Qaeda as soon as it took office because the previous administration under Bill Clinton had failed to eliminate the threat from Osama bin Laden’s group.

But Dr Albright insisted there was not enough evidence to support a case for war against al-Qaeda while Clinton held office.

“We did everything we could, everything we could think of, based on the knowledge we had, to protect our people and disrupt and defeat al-Qaeda,” Dr Albright told the commission.

President Bush is already facing criticism from a former White House anti-terrorism adviser.

He said on Tuesday that he would’ve acted quicker against al-Qaeda if he had information before September the 11th, 2001, that a terror attack against New York City was imminent.

He has agreed to speak to the commission members in private.

UK footballers jailed in rape probe

Keith Gillespie, Paul Dickov and Frank Sinclair of the Leicester City football team each face a charge of “sexual aggression with penetration, which would mean rape”, according to a British official.

They were remanded in custody yesterday by an investigating judge, Cartagena court officials said.

The three also face charges of forced entry.

A group of men are accused of barging into a room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the upmarket La Manga sports resort and attacking the women, leaving them with multiple injuries.

A number of other Leicester City players who were also arrested over the allegations arrived back in the UK last night after being released by the Spanish court.

Among them were club captain Matt Elliott, Frenchman Lilian Nalis and James Scowcroft.

All three have been released, with Scowcroft ordered to pay 20,000 euros ($A32,586) bail and attend a Spanish consulate twice a month.

A further two players, Nikos Dabizas and Danny Coyne, were “provisionally released” following a hearing on Thursday, and a ninth player, Steffen Freund, was released earlier without charge.

Leicester City manager Micky Adams refused to speak to waiting reporters at Luton Airport last night as his players were ushered by police into a waiting minibus.

The struggling Premiership club had flown its players to Spain for a warm weather break as they prepared to battle against possible relegation from the Barclaycard Premiership.

The incident has thrown the club into crisis with the prospect of having to play crucial matches without some key players and has further mired the reputation of English football in sleaze and scandal.

It is believed the players were remanded after they took part in an identification process involving the alleged victims.

Gillespie, Dickov and Sinclair could be jailed for up to 12 years if convicted of the alleged offences.

Scientists see star’s birth

The infrared telescope, which launched in August 2003, has captured more than 300 newly formed stars, about 13,700 light-years from Earth.

Initial analysis shows the stars are surrounded by dusty discs, an early phase in a star’s life, said Ed Churchwell, of University of Wisconsin.

The stars are in a zone called RCW 49 in the Centaurus constellation – Mr Churchwell is also the lead investigator on the RCW 49 research project.

A star and its disc are located inside a dense envelope of gas and dust. Planets are born in a star’s disc.

“By seeing what’s behind the dust, Spitzer has shown us star and planet formation is a very active process in our galaxy,” Mr Churchwell said.

Michael Werner, a Spitzer project scientist in Pasadena, California, said scientists were only able to study a small sample of discs, but Spitzer will allow them to analyse thousands of them.

In another study, Spitzer was able to find ice particles within discs circling five young stars in the Taurus constellation, 420 light-years from Earth.

The particles, covered with water, methanol and carbon dioxide, could explain the origins of comets, which many scientists consider the source of water and life on Earth.

One of the young stars shown by Spitzer, called CoKu Tau 4, could have in its orbit the youngest planet ever observed.

The star is about one-million-years-old and the planet could be younger. By contrast, Earth is believed to be 4.5-billion-years-old.

“These early results show Spitzer will dramatically expand our understanding of how stars and planets form, which ultimately helps us understand our origins,” Mr Werner said.

In addition to Spitzer, NASA has three telescopes orbiting Earth: the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope.

A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 9.5 trillion kilometres.

Peace process in ‘tatters’

They have warned that Israel may have abandoned the peace process, as Palestinians call for revenge attacks.

Governments are urging both sides to show restraint, fearful of a new wave of heavy violence in the already deeply troubled region.

Hamas said Israel’s actions have opened the “gates of hell.”

The European Union, which contributes the most international aid to the Palestinian Authority, has urged for calm, along with Arab and Asian leaders.

French President Jacques Chirac said the EU condemns “all acts of violence, especially when they are acts contrary to international law.”

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorism, but “it is not entitled for this kind of unlawful killing, and we therefore condemn it.”

Envoys of the EU, Russia, the UN and US, which make up a diplomatic quartet for Middle East peace, are to begin talks in Cairo in an attempt to hose down tensions.

The US has denied having any prior knowledge the attack was to take place, and said it is deeply troubled by the killing.

“We do think that this event increases tension and it doesn’t help efforts to resume progress towards peace,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Despite back-slapping over the killing in Israel, with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon congratulating troops who took part, there has been some dissent within his government.

The head of Israel’s Shin Beth domestic security service, Avi Dichter, has opposed the assassination, according to reports on army radio.

The counter-terrorism chief reportedly argued that killing the wheelchair-bound and partially blind leader would be “more harmful than useful for Israel.”

In Geneva, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner criticised the killing, saying states cannot act as judge, jury and executioner.

“Using targeted killings raises serious questions of legality and proportionality, and it is likely to make more difficult efforts to move towards peace, as well as risking further undermining respect for human rights of Palestinians and Israelis,” said Bertrand Ramcharan.

The Arab governments of Egypt and Jordan, which both have peace treaties with Israel, have joined more radical states in condemning the attack.

Nine Iraqis die in latest attacks

The deaths came as NATO announced it would send troops if an Iraqi Government, due to take over on July 1, requests its support.

Three Iraqis were killed and at least five wounded in a rocket attack by unknown insurgents in southwest Baghdad late on Thursday, according to police and witnesses.

Police said violence also dogged the northern city of Mosul, where three policemen and two civilians were killed in a rocket and automatic rifle attack.

Another Iraqi police officer was killed and two others seriously wounded in the northern city of Kirkuk when gunmen attacked their patrol, police said.

A US soldier was also wounded near Baquba, in central Iraq, when a homemade bomb exploded near his convoy.

In another development Polish troops said they had arrested seven al-Qaeda suspects since mid-January, including two in the past week, in the countdown to the week’s bomb attack on Karbala.

The spokesman conceded the US-led coalition had anticipated Tuesday’s spectacular bombings, but stuck to a security plan putting Iraqi forces in charge of the city for the major holiday.

Polish Warrant Officer Zbigniew Dabkiewicz said two of the suspects were connected with Jordanian Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the US-led coalition’s prime suspect the Karbala and Baghdad attacks.

In Warsaw, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he would send soldiers to Iraq if Baghdad requested them and that the United Nations should mandate a stabilisation force for the country under sovereign self-rule.

“After the 1st of July, it is up to the sovereign Iraqi government to decide” whether to ask NATO to send troops, he said.

The United States is to formally end the occupation of Iraq and hand over power to a sovereign government on June 30, although it will retain a military presence in the country.

US bids to have UK cleric extradited

The cleric is known for his fiery sermons to London Muslims, and was detained at 0300 BST (local time) by officers from the Extradition and International Assistance Unit, according to Scotland Yard.

The 47-year-old is facing 11 terrorism charges including hostage taking and helping Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terror network.

One of the charges is understood to carry the death penalty, but the British authorities will not extradite anyone facing such a sentence.

The US Justice Department has indicated it is ready to discuss the possibility of rejecting the possible death sentence to secure the extradition.

“The statutory maximum of the offence is penalty of death or life imprisonment,” said Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra.

“I can’t comment on whether we are going to drop anything, but obviously if the British seek assurances from us regarding the death penalty, that it will not be sought, we will address that with the British.”

The kidnapping charges relate to the seizure of 16 Western tourists in Yemen in December 1998, two of whom were Americans.

Four captives – an Australian and three Britons – were killed when Yemeni armed forces attempted a rescue.

US law enforcement officials were jubilant at the controversial cleric’s detention.

Abu Hamza “is the real deal,” said New York police commissioner Ray Kelly.

“Think of him as a freelance consultant to terrorist groups worldwide,” he said.

Mr Hamza, whose real name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, appeared at London’s top-security Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in the first-phase of the extradition process.

Looking tired and slightly dishevelled, and standing behind a glass security screen, Mr Hamza spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth, and then respond to the question of whether he consented to the extradition.

Mr Hamza paused and smiled slightly before replying: “I don’t really think I want to, no.”

The cleric’s lawyers asked for him to be released on bail, but district judge Timothy Workman refused, remanding him in custody until June 3. The main extradition hearing was scheduled for July 23.

Britain’s tabloid press has long demanded that Mr Hamza be stripped of his citizenship and thrown out due to his support for bin Laden.

Born in Alexandria to an Egyptian army officer, Mr Hamza became a UK citizen through marriage in 1981, two years after he came to the country to become a civil engineer.

In the late 1980s Hamza went to Afghanistan where he sustained injuries to an eye and both hands – one of which he replaced with a metal hook – while, according to him, clearing Soviet landmines.

He has become a hugely controversial figure for his sermons at north London’s Finsbury Park mosque calling for jihad against Western interests and denouncing the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

He shot to national notoriety following comments in support of bin Laden and Al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Bush ‘failed to act’ on terrorism

Richard Clarke, who has worked as the National Security Advisor for every US government since the Reagan era, said the leader virtually ignored the threat of al-Qaeda before the September 11 attacks.

Mr Clarke made the charges in his book Against All Enemies, which goes on sale later today in the US, and repeated the claims during an interview on US television.

“I found it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism,” he said.

“He ignored it, he ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.”

Mr Clarke was Mr Bush’s top counter-terrorism expert before he resigned in February 2003.

“I think the way he has responded to al-Qaeda, both before 9/11 by doing nothing, and what he’s done after 9/11, has made us less safe,” said Mr Clarke.

He recalled the days after the attacks that brought down the World Trade Centre towers, when Mr Bush ordered him to investigate whether Saddam Hussein was linked in any way.

Despite insisting that it was most likely the work of al-Qaeda, he looked into whether any links existed, and found none.

Mr Clarke also revealed that US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wanted to bomb Iraq just one day after September 11, insisting the country had a better array of targets than Afghanistan, home to al-Qaeda’s training camps at the time.

The White House has released a point-by-point rebuttal to his accusations.

“The president sought to determine who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks,” said the document.

“Given Iraq’s past support of terror, including an attempt by Iraqi intelligence to kill a former president, it would have been irresponsible not to ask if Iraq had any involvement in the attack.”

Mr Clarke is set to testify this week before the independent commission investigating the 2001 hijacked airplane attacks in New York and Washington that killed around 3,000 people.