Saturday, February 2, 2013

Video of protester stripped and beaten fires Egypt fury


CAIRO | Sat Feb 2, 2013 7:19pm EST
(Reuters) - After eight days of protests that killed nearly 60 people, a video of one demonstrator stripped naked, dragged across the ground and beaten with truncheons by helmeted riot police has fired Egyptians to a new level of outrage.
Hamada Saber, 48, lay in a police hospital on Saturday, the morning after he was shown on television naked, covered in soot and thrashed by half a dozen policemen who had pulled him to an armoured vehicle near the presidential palace.

The beating was caught on camera by The Associated Press and the video was broadcast live on Egyptian television late Friday as protests raged in the streets outside the presidential palace. The AP video showed police trying to bundle the naked man into a police van after beating him.
President Mohamed Mursi's office promised an investigation into the incident, which followed the deadliest wave of bloodshed of his seven-month rule. His opponents say it proves he has chosen to order a brutal crackdown like that carried out by Hosni Mubarak against the uprising that toppled him in 2011."Mursi has been stripped bare and has lost his legitimacy. Done," tweeted Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 youth movement that helped launch the anti-Mubarak protests.
Another protester was shot dead on Friday and more than 100 were injured, many seriously, in battles between police and demonstrators who attacked the palace with petrol bombs.
That unrest followed eight days of violence that saw dozens of protesters shot dead in the Suez Canal city of Port Said and Mursi respond by declaring a curfew and state of emergency there and in two other cities.
But none of the bloodshed - which the authorities have blamed on the need for police to control violent crowds - has quite resonated like the images of officers abusing a man at their feet - clearly helpless, prone and no possible threat.
"Stripping naked and dragging an Egyptian is a crime that shows the excessive violence of the security forces and the continuation of its repressive practices - a crime for which the president and his interior minister are responsible," liberal politician Amr Hamzawy said on Twitter.

The incident was an unmistakable reminder of the beating of a woman by riot police on Tahrir Square in December 2011. Images of her being dragged and stomped on - her black abaya cloak torn open to reveal her naked torso and blue bra - became a rallying symbol for the revolution and undermined the interim military rulers who held power between Mubarak's fall and Mursi's rise.
The anger was compounded with disbelief on Saturday when the prosecutor's office released a statement saying Saber had exonerated the police and denied they had assaulted him. His clothes had inadvertently come off while police were shielding him from protesters, it quoted him as saying.
"This shows that state institutions are collapsing, as is the rule of law. We are living in chaos," said lawyer Achraf Shazly, 35. "Next thing you know, the martyr killed yesterday will rise from the dead and say he wasn't shot."
The rise of Mursi - the first freely elected leader in Egypt's 5,000-year history - is probably the single most important change achieved by two years of revolts across the Arab world. But seven months since taking office, he has failed to unite Egyptians. Street unrest and political instability threaten to render the most populous Arab state ungovernable.
The latest round of violence was triggered by the second anniversary of the uprising against Mubarak and death sentences handed down last week in Port Said over a soccer stadium riot.
Mursi has had little opportunity to reform the police and security forces he inherited from Mubarak and the military men.
But the police action against protests this time has been far deadlier than it was even a few months ago, when bigger crowds demonstrated against a new constitution. That suggests to opponents that Mursi has ordered a tougher response.
"The instructions of the interior minister to use excessive violence in confronting protesters does not seem like surprising behavior given the clear incitement by prominent figures in the presidency," said opposition coalition spokesman Khaled Daoud.
The liberal, leftist and secularist opposition accuses Mursi of betraying the revolution that toppled Mubarak by concentrating too much power in his own hands and those of his Muslim Brotherhood, a formerly underground Islamist movement.
Mursi and the Brotherhood accuse the opposition of stoking street unrest to further their demands for a national unity government as a way to retake power they lost at the ballot box.
In announcing an investigation into the beating of Saber, Mursi's office made clear he was still pointing the blame at the political opponents who have encouraged protests.
"What has transpired over the past day is not political expression, but rather acts of criminality. The presidency will not tolerate vandalism or attacks on individuals and property. The police have responded to these actions in a restrained manner," Mursi's office said.
"Doubtless, in the heat of the violence, there can be violations of civil liberties, and the presidency equally will not tolerate such abuses. In one incident, an individual was seen to be dragged and beaten by police. The Minister of Interior has, appropriately, announced an investigation."
(Edited by Jason Webb)

Why extreme Islamists are intent on destroying cultural artifacts

Saeed Khan / AFP - Getty Images, file
A member of the Taliban stands near the remnants of a Buddha statue in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in March 2001. The militia blew up two ancient Buddhas after a decree from their supreme commander to destroy all of the country's statues.

LONDON -- They have destroyed the iconic Buddhas of Bamiyan, smashed down the fabled “end of the world” gate in the ancient city of Timbuktu and even called for the destruction of Egypt’s ancient pyramids and the Sphinx.
Extreme Islamist movements across the world have developed a reputation for the destruction of historic artifacts, monuments and buildings.
This week, officials confirmed that up to 2,000 manuscripts at Mali's Ahmed Baba Institute had been destroyed or looted during a 10-month occupation of Timbuktu by Islamist fighters. Some experts have compared the texts to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

To many in the West, such actions are simply wanton vandalism. However, experts say the thinking behind it is actually part of a wider tradition of rooting out idol-worship and superstition found in Christianity and Judaism as well as Islam.

French and Malian troops have retaken control of Timbuktu from Islamist rebels. In the ancient city, much damage has been done, thousands of priceless manuscripts have been destroyed. Tim Ewart reports.
Usama Hasan -- an Islamist for about 20 years, who now works to counter extremism at the U.K.’s Quilliam Foundation -- said most Muslims had “a kind of tolerant attitude" and a "live-and-let-live" approach toward such things.

"Mainstream Muslim thinking tends to tolerate these historic artifacts," he said. "Even if they don’t agree with the superstitions, they don’t want to provoke the community and don’t see it as a big deal."

But Hasan said he understood the mindset of those condemned as cultural vandals “very well” as he “used to subscribe to it.”

He said that during his Islamist days he would say things like: “Yes, let’s destroy the pyramids when we take over Egypt.”

"It’s very sad. You lose all that cultural heritage, music, history, art, ancient books. If they (Islamists) don’t agree with what’s in them … they seem to think it’s OK to burn these books," he said. "If you’re not Muslim or don’t subscribe to the same narrow interpretation the militants do, they will oppose everything you do and do so violently if they need to."

Hasan said there were a number of stories explaining how the Sphinx lost its nose, but one account suggests that a religious figure in the 14th century, Saim El-Dahr, tried to get rid of it.

“There was a common belief that the Sphinx had some power over the level of the River Nile … he wanted to smash the locals’ superstitious belief in the power of the Sphinx and tried to destroy it,” he said.

Nov. 8: Until the fundamentalist Taliban government and its al-Qaida allies destroyed them in 2001, two immensely important Buddha statues were nestled in the Bamyan valley of Afghanistan. As NBC's Richard Engel reports, the region is slowly coming back to life as the restoration of the figures begins.
Similar reasoning was likely behind some actions of Islamists in Mali. Breaking down the gate in Timbuktu was probably designed to show any local people who still believed in the fable that it was not actually true, Hasan said.

But while the Taliban justified the 2001 demolition of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by saying they were idols, Hasan said there was more to it.

“The Taliban’s destruction of the statues was a political gesture. The United Nations had sent money to restore these statues at the same time there were sanctions [against Afghanistan],” he said. “The Taliban said children were dying because of this … and the U.N. was more concerned about statues than people.”

Noah Charney, professor of art history at the American University of Rome, said that the destruction of idols dated back to biblical times, when warring factions would destroy monuments of rivals that were thought to have religious power.

NBC's Richard Engel travels to the legendary city of Timbuktu, which is cradled within one of West Africa's poorest nations.
The Ten Commandments include a proscription against making “any graven image” of anything in heaven or on Earth, but Charney said this had been “quickly forgotten” or interpreted to mean only images of “false idols” by many Christians.

The reason many Ancient Greek and Roman statues of gods are missing their heads and arms is not faulty construction, Charney said. Instead, it is often the legacy of the 6th-century Pope Gregory the Great.

“He found the classical statuary to be very beautiful, but there was a danger people would revert back to their pagan ways” and start worshiping them, Charney said. By removing the head and arms, which often held items identifying the deity, the statue “lost all its power because you don’t know which god it is.”

In seventh century Byzantium, clashes between Christians over the alleged worship of icons gave rise to the term “iconoclasm,” meaning the destruction of religious images.

The Reformation in the 16th century also saw many statues in churches literally defaced by Protestants in Europe.

Benoit Tessier / Reuters
A museum guard displays a burned ancient manuscript at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu, Mali, on Thursday.

The city of Timbuktu has borne the brunt of recent Islamist iconoclasts, with rebel forces in Mali setting fire to its historic library as they retreated in the face of French and Malian government troops this month.

After the militants took the city last year, they destroyed mausoleums and a gate that local superstition said would only open at the end of the world.

In November, an ultraconservative religious figure in Egypt, Murgan Salem al-Gohary, told local television that the Sphinx and pyramids at Giza should be leveled, an idea that sparked headlines but is shared by only a tiny minority of Egyptians.

“All Muslims are charged with applying the teachings of Islam to remove such idols, as we did in Afghanistan when we destroyed the Buddha statues,” he said.

While he celebrated the destruction of the two 6th-century statues -- one 180 feet, the other 125 feet high -- in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley in March 2001, world cultural body UNESCO described it as a “tragic” act that “shook the world.”

Beyond the ugliness of the fighting between the U.S. and the Taliban sits Bamiyan Province, a national treasure in a nation divided by war. NBC's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel tours the region and speaks with its people about their hopes and dreams.
The wrecking ball has also been swung to significant effect in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

According to an estimate in 2005 by Sami Angawi, an expert on Islamic architecture, at least 300 historic buildings were demolished over the previous 50 years.

The reason, espoused by the Wahhabi movement within Islam, was that people might start idolatrously worshipping structures associated with Muhammad, rather than God.

David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam at the U.K.’s Birmingham University, said iconoclasm was “a strain in all religions unfortunately,” but added that was “present at the moment in Islam more than anywhere else.”

President Francois Hollande went on a sort of victory tour through Timbuktu, in Mali, recently held by extremists connected with al-Qaida. NBC's Rohit Kachroo reports from Mali.
In contrast, he said that there were “teachings in the Quran that are actually very open and tolerant. There are teachings that accept other ways than the way given to Muhammad.”

And Thomas said some Islamists were in danger of committing the very sin they despise.

“The Taliban have an attitude that almost shades into idolatry itself. They are saying they know what the truth is, that they have a monopoly on the truth and that they can therefore almost take the place of God in judging who is right and who is wrong.”

Timbuktu: A journey to Africa's lost city of gold
Dynamited Afghan Buddha statue may be saved
Post-revolution, Egypt pyramids back in business

Son's last message inspires Newtown mother

"Nurturing. Healing. Love."
Scarlett Lewis noticed the chalk-written message on her kitchen chalkboard when returning home for the first time – days after her son Jesse was taken from her on Dec. 14. 
“It was in 6-year-old handwriting. Right about where he’d be standing,” says Lewis from her Sandy Hook, Conn., farmhouse. “It’s phonetically spelled. It's very clear what it says. I was stunned.”
Lewis described her son as an “energetic, happy boy” whose personality could dominate a room. This type of message, however, was out of the ordinary for him but feels it was left for when she and her oldest son, J.T., would need it most.
“He isn’t the type of boy who would write that. He was loving and sweet and kind but that was a prophetic statement. I felt like it came from his spirit.”
It was this same message that the single mom sent while eulogizing her son. “I said, 
‘I have something for you to do for us. That’s to consciously change an angry thought into a loving one,’ because it is a choice.”
That is now the mission of the newly formed Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation. Lewis hopes it grows from the chalkboard to the pulpit to – one day – your child’s classroom. She is meeting with professional educators to create a school curriculum that will be taught nationwide.
“This will be taught right along math, reading and writing. It will be a life management course.”
Lewis was the first family member to speak at Wednesday’s Legislative Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety hearing held in Newtown, Conn. She says she is not looking to get involved in the political debate that has followed the shootings. Rather, she will focus on a message that can be supported on all sides of the discussion.
“I feel like he wrote that message for a reason and handed me a torch. I’m gonna take it and hopefully – with everyone's help – change the world so this will never happen again.”

Three Pennsylvania classmates get perfect SAT scores / Deanna Durante
Three students from Upper Dublin High School in Montgomery County, Penn., all scored a perfect score of 2400 on their SATs.

Three students from Montgomery County, Pa., accomplished something extremely rare -- they all scored a perfect score of 2400 on their SAT.
And what's even more rare is that all three students are classmates at the same school.
The Upper Dublin High School juniors dedicated years, studying for this one test.
Julie Baldassano, 17, who is the youngest in her family, says her two big brothers left some intimidating shoes to fill, because they both scored 2380 when they took the SAT. She says she couldn't wait to tell them about her perfect score. "They said 'congrats,' yeah, it felt great to be able to tell them."
Benjamin She, 16, says the test is all about skill. "Taking a standardized test like the SAT is just like doing a skill like Poker, it's all about what you need to do to analyze the questions."
According to the College Board, more than one million students take the SAT each year. Last year, only 360 students got a perfect score.
These three students share another thing in common-- they were surprised when they saw the 2400.
"It's really exciting and I never expected it," said William Raynor, 16, who is the oldest in his family.
For other students who stress when it comes time to take the SAT, these perfect test takers say practice and dedication really do make all the difference.
"Don't get discouraged, I wasn't getting anywhere near 2400 when I started practicing, but the more you do the better it'll go and the easier it will get," said Baldassano, who added that besides academics, they all have other interests.
Baldassano likes to knit and volunteers at an animal shelter. She combines her two passions by selling knitted hats to her friends for $10 each, and donates that money to the shelter. So far, she's raised $4,000 for the cause she's passionate about and says she is considering veterinary medicine for her future.
Benjamin She is also considering a future in medicine, and has a passion for classical music. He plays violin in a youth orchestra in Philadelphia. On Sundays, he teaches English at a Chinese school for the elderly.
Raynor volunteers at a library and plays viola in the same youth orchestra as She. He also competes in the science olympiad, math team and science fair and is looking to study medicine as well.
"You can find time to study and do well academically while still having other passions," said Baldassano.

Why some in supposedly liberal France are up in arms about gay marriage

Claude Paris / AP
Opponents to government plans to legalize same-sex marriage, adoption and medically-assisted procreation for same-sex couples, shout slogans during a demonstration, in Marseille, southern France, on Feb. 2. Placard reads "Mom and Dad, it's natural."

"Une mère, un mari, un mariage" (One mother, one husband, one marriage): This is the call to arms for those opposed to the legalization of gay marriage and gay adoption in France.

Under this banner thousands turned out on Saturday for demonstrations organized in every one of France's 96 regions.

The French parliament adopted Saturday the main clause of a bill that would allow same-sex marriage and grant gay couples the right to adopt children.

Deputies voted 249-97 to back the clause.

About 1,000 people holding signs that read, "We are all born of a man and a woman" gathered in Paris not far from the parliament building, Reuters reported. Protesters also assembled outside the town hall in Lyon.

The umbrella group for the anti camp is called "manif pour tous" (a pun: manif, or demonstration, for everyone as opposed to marriage for everyone). Spokesman Tugdual Derville said it would be a symbolic day, illustrating that opponents "are present everywhere in France."

The group was behind a huge rally in Paris attended by between 340,000 and 800,000 people on Jan. 13. Saturday's event, according to Derville, is for those who want to demonstrate but perhaps do not have the means to travel to Paris.

So what exactly are they protesting against?

They insist their movement is not homophobic, that it is the legalization of gay adoption that they are against as this amounts to the breakdown of the traditional family.

They say children have a fundamental right to have a father and a mother.
"We must think of future generations. Not only of the desires of adults today," Derville told NBC News.

But those in favor have vocal support, too.

"Marriage should be a simple contract between two individuals. Let's make it available to all couples eager to make this contract to each other," Christophe Barbier, editor of the influential L'Express weekly news magazine and a supporter of the law, told NBC News.

The opponents, Barbier believes, are "afraid that after civil contracts (between homosexual couples), and now marriage, the next step will be IVF (for lesbian couples) and surrogate pregnancies (for gay men)."

President's pledgeOther countries in Western Europe -- such as Belgium and the Netherlands -- have already legalized gay marriage. But nowhere has the opposition been as vocal as in France -- not even in Spain and Portugal, which are predominantly Catholic like France.

This opposition may seem at odds with France's 'liberal' reputation. But Barbier insisted to NBC News: "France is not liberal, neither economically nor socially. France is conservative -- and occasionally revolutionary."

President Francois Hollande was confident the legislation would pass thanks to his Socialist Party's majority. Legalizing gay marriage was a manifesto pledge during his 2012 election campaign.

According to Barbier, for political reasons the president had to fulfill this pledge: "Francois Hollande needs to deliver on the promises made during his campaign: In the economic field, this is difficult, with social issues, it's easier."

Luckily for him, he also appears to have the backing of the majority of French voters.

A recent poll for carried out by Ifop found that 63 percent of people in France support the legalization of same-sex marriage. Forty-nine percent supported gay adoption.

This does not diminish the fervor of those opposed. According to a poll cited by "Manif pour Tous" only 6 percent of people see this issue as a priority.

"The priority is the economy, housing and jobs, so politically the president should have the wisdom to renounce this project," said Derville, the group's spokesman.

A poll by Yougov for Le Huffpost (the Huffington Post's French-language edition) backs this up, finding 72 percent feel the debate has already gone on for too long.

Unfortunately for them, the real debate in France's National Assembly just started on Tuesday and is due to run for two whole weeks -- including weekends.
Tens of thousands march in support of gay marriage in Paris
Protest against gay marriage: Huge crowds expected in Paris
French Muslims join opposition to same-sex marriage

Sarai Sierra Dead: Missing NYC Woman Found Dead In Istanbul

02/02/13 03:18 PM ET EST

Could her death in any way be connected with the bombing of the us consulate. It cannot be coincidental that she is American and had been missing 12 days. The bombing occurs and the group that concedes that they did it, also hates America with statements like "Murderer America! You will not run away from people's rage," and "Our action is for the independence of our country, which has become a new slave of America,"  It is a hypothesis. If they found her Saturday and they could identify her, she was not there for a long time, which means no decomp.  She was not murdered where she was found, she was alive for some of 12 days in captivity. why even suggest this , because her cell phone was switched on twice, was that done to confuse authorities,  if she was dead, why use the phone, makes no sense. Either way, with GPS in phones, her position could have been pinned. Very risky....

ISTANBUL -- A New York City woman who went missing while vacationing alone in Istanbul was found dead on Saturday and police detained nine people for questioning in connection with her case, Turkey's state-run news agency said.
Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old mother of two, was last heard from on Jan. 21, the day she was due to board her flight back home. Her disappearance attracted a lot of interest in Turkey, where such disappearance of foreign tourists are rare and Istanbul police had set up a special unit to find her.
The Anadolu Agency said the body of a woman was discovered Saturday evening near the remnants of ancient city walls and that police later identified it as Sierra's.
The agency did not say what caused her death. The private NTV television reported that she was stabbed to death, while a private news agency, Dogan, said she had a wound to the head, suggesting she may have been hit by an object.
Police reached by The Associated Press refused to comment on the case.
Sierra, whose children are 9 and 11, had left for Istanbul on Jan. 7 to explore her photography hobby and made a side trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Munich, Germany. She had originally planned to make the trip with a friend, but ended up travelling alone when her friend canceled.
She was in regular contact with friend and family and was last in touch with her family on Jan. 21, the day she was due back in New York. She told them she would visit Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn waterway, to take photos.



Police search for Sarai Sierra near the remnants of some ancient city walls in the district of Sarayburnu in Istanbul, Turkey. 

The location where the body was found, is a few kilometers away the bridge. It is near a major road that runs alongside the sea of Marmara and offers an iconic view to visitors of dozens of tankers and other vessels waiting to access the Bosporus strait. Police stopped traffic on the road as forensic police inspected the area.
Anadolu suggested Sierra may have been killed at another location and that her body may have been brought to the site to be hidden amid the city walls.

Report: Body of missing New York City mom found in Turkey

Family photo via AP
Sarai Sierra in an undated family photo

The body of a missing 33-year-old New York woman was found Saturday morning in Istanbul, according to the Turkish state-run news agency.
The Anadolu Agency reported that residents discovered a woman’s body near the city walls of the Fatih district, a historic and working-class area in Istanbul. Police identified the body as that of Sarai Sierra, a mother of two from Staten Island.
The private news broadcaster NTV reported that she had been stabbed to death, and that police had identified her by her driver’s license, according to The Associated Press.
Sierra had not been in contact with her family since Jan. 21, the day before she was supposed to fly home after a two-week vacation. She left for Turkey on Jan. 7 – alone, because a friend had dropped out of the trip.
At least 10 people were detained at the crime scene, police sources told Hurriyet Daily News in Turkey.
Sierra’s family remained hopeful that she was alive because her telephone was twice activated after she disappeared, according to Hurriyet.
Police briefly detained a man last week who exchanged messages with Sierra online. The man had contacted her and made plans to meet with her on a bridge she wanted to photograph, according to Hurriyet. He has since been released.
Sierra’s husband, Steven Sierra, said she stayed in close touch with him and their children, ages 9 and 11, by phone and by Skype. After she didn’t arrive at the airport as planned, Steven Sierra and his brother-in-law David Jimenez booked one-way tickets to Turkey to look for her.

White House offers proof Obama wasn't just shooting from the lip

Does this President have to prove everything to the right-wing assholes who have never asked any other democratic President to prove.
President Barack Obama shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David, Maryland, in this White House handout photo taken August 4, 2012. REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout
WASHINGTON | Sat Feb 2, 2013 1:45pm EST
(Reuters) - Seeking to put to rest questions on whether Barack Obama was a straight shooter when he claimed he went skeet shooting "all the time," the White House on Saturday offered proof: a photo of the president blasting away at clay targets.
Obama drew skepticism when he made the assertion in a recent interview with the New Republic magazine, an attempt to show sympathy for hunters even as he pushes for tighter gun controls after the Newtown school shooting massacre in December.
Obama's aides were in the awkward position of standing by his comments while resisting reporters' demands for proof that he was indeed a regular on the shooting range at the presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains.
The White House finally weighed in on Saturday with a photo of Obama skeet shooting at Camp David last August 4.
"For all the ‘skeeters'," Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said in a Twitter message linked to the photo, which showed the president - wearing sunglasses, jeans and noise mufflers on his ears - firing a rifle with smoke spraying from the barrel.
It was unclear, however, whether a single photo would satisfy skeptics about his claim that he and his guests frequently shoot clay pigeons at Camp David.
Obama, in the New Republic interview, was asked if he had ever fired a gun.
"Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time," Obama said.
"The whole family?" he was asked.
"Not the girls, but oftentimes guests of mine go up there. And I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations. And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake."
Conservative critics immediately questioned the Democratic president's assertion, and talk show comedians had a field day with the idea that he had taken up shooting as a hobby.
U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, even challenged Obama to a skeet-shooting contest.
Obama's comment was widely seen as an attempt to reach out to gun owners to ease their concerns about his legislative proposals, the biggest gun control push in decades. He will travel to Minnesota on Monday to speak on gun control.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Vicki Allen)

Turkey says tests confirm leftist bombed U.S. embassy




Ankara residents despair over U.S. Embassy attack

Feb. 2 - Security is tight after a guard is killed in a U.S. Embassy suicide bombing as Ankara residents deplore the attack. Jessica Gray reports.

Fri, Feb 1 2013

A security officer runs after an explosion at the entrance of the U.S. embassy in Ankara February 1, 2013. A suicide bomber killed a Turkish security guard (not in picture) at the U.S. embassy in Ankara on Friday, blowing the door off a side entrance and sending smoke and debris flying into the street. REUTERS-Yavuz Ozden-Milliyet Daily Newspaper

A wounded person is carried on a stretcher to an ambulance by firefighters and medics, after an explosion at the entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara February 1, 2013. A suicide bomber killed a Turkish security guard at the U.S. embassy in Ankara on Friday, blowing the door off a side entrance and sending smoke and debris flying into the street. Ankara Governor Alaaddin Yuksel said the attacker was inside U.S. property when the explosives were detonated. The blast sent masonry spewing out of the wall of the side entrance, but there did not appear to be any more significant structural damage. REUTERS-Stringer
  ISTANBUL | Sat Feb 2, 2013 1:24pm EST

(Reuters) - A member of a Turkish leftist group that accuses Washington of using Turkey as its "slave" carried out a suicide bomb attack on the U.S. embassy, the Ankara governor's office cited DNA tests as showing on Saturday.

Ecevit Sanli, a member of the leftist Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C), blew himself up in a perimeter gatehouse on Friday as he tried to enter the embassy, also killing a Turkish security guard.

The DHKP-C, virulently anti-American and listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and Turkey, claimed responsibility in a statement on the internet in which it said Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was a U.S. "puppet".

Murderer America! You will not run away from people's rage,"
"the statement on "The People's Cry" website said, next to a picture of Sanli wearing a black beret and military-style clothes and with an explosives belt around his waist.

It warned Erdogan that he too was a target.

Turkey is an important U.S. ally in the Middle East with common interests ranging from energy security to counter-terrorism. Leftist groups including the DHKP-C strongly oppose what they see as imperialist U.S. influence over their nation.

DNA tests confirmed that Sanli was the bomber, the Ankara governor's office said. It said he had fled Turkey a decade ago and was wanted by the authorities.

Born in 1973 in the Black Sea port city of Ordu, Sanli was jailed in 1997 for attacks on a police station and a military staff college in Istanbul, but his sentence was deferred after he fell sick during a hunger strike. He was never re-jailed.

Condemned to life in prison in 2002, he fled the country a year later, officials said. Interior Minister Muammer Guler said he had re-entered Turkey using false documents.

Erdogan, who said hours after the attack that the DHKP-C were responsible, met his interior and foreign ministers as well as the head of the army and state security service in Istanbul on Saturday to discuss the bombing.

Three people were detained in Istanbul and Ankara in connection with the attack, state broadcaster TRT said.

The White House condemned the bombing as an "act of terror", while the U.N. Security Council described it as a heinous act. U.S. officials said on Friday the DHKP-C were the main suspects but did not exclude other possibilities.

Islamist radicals, extreme left-wing groups, ultra-nationalists and Kurdish militants have all carried out attacks in Turkey in the past.

The DHKP-C statement called on Washington to remove Patriot missiles, due to go operational on Monday as part of a NATO defense system, from Turkish soil.

The missiles are being deployed alongside systems from Germany and the Netherlands to guard Turkey, a NATO member, against a spillover of the war in neighboring Syria.

"Our action is for the independence of our country, which has become a new slave of America," the statement said.

Turkey has been one of the leading advocates of foreign intervention to end the civil war in Syria and has become one of President Bashar al-Assad's harshest critics, a stance groups such as the DHKP-C view as submission to an imperialist agenda.

"Organizations of the sectarian sort like the DHKP-C have been gaining ground as a result of circumstances surrounding the Syrian civil war," security analyst Nihat Ali Ozcan wrote in a column in Turkey's Daily News.

The Ankara attack was the second on a U.S. mission in four months. On September 11, 2012, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three American personnel were killed in an Islamist militant attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The DHKP-C was responsible for the assassination of two U.S. military contractors in the early 1990s in protest against the first Gulf War, and it fired rockets at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul in 1992, according to the U.S. State Department.

It has been blamed for previous suicide attacks, including one in 2001 that killed two police officers and a tourist in Istanbul's central Taksim Square. It has carried out a series of deadly attacks on police stations in the last six months.

Friday's attack may have come in retaliation for an operation against the DHKP-C last month in which Turkish police detained 85 people. A court subsequently remanded 38 of them in custody over links to the group.
(Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

How the US military can become a 'band of brothers and sisters'

Arielle Werner, 21, originally of Minnetonka, Minn., is a combat soldier with Israel's co-ed Caracal Battalion. "Women in combat can only bring good things," she said. "Two halves of a whole together can only be good."
By F. Brinley Bruton, Staff Writer, NBC News

Even before she moved to Israel, Minnesota-born Cpl. Arrielle Werner was certain she possessed what it took to fight on the front lines.

"I realized that I couldn't be the passive Minnesotan," said the 21-year-old member of Israel's majority female Caracal Battalion, a combat unit which patrols the volatile border with Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. "I knew this was the place for me. My friends back in the States are shocked … now I’m the wild combat soldier."

The self-described "peace keeper of the family" said she is prepared to "give everything" on the battlefield.

That's the sort of gung-ho attitude that military brass appreciate in any soldier -- but it isn't an attitude many expect from a woman.

There have long been barriers to women at war, never mind those assigned to fight at the tip of the spear. But the U.S. government's announcement on Jan. 24 that it was dropping its ban on women in combat units changed everything. (While not officially in combat units, American women have long served side-by-side with male service-members -- in fact, 152 women died while being deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Despite living in a country "where some still think women should stay in the kitchen," Werner feels accepted by male colleagues.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's decision to lift the 20-year ban on women serving in combat will open some 237,000 combat-related positions to women. Initially, women will be assigned to combat communications, logistics and drivers. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

"There is a little bit of a glass ceiling (but) ... you see women every day getting higher and higher," said Werner, who is originally from Minnetonka, Minn. "As long as you want to succeed and want to get stronger … you’re able to handle everything."

While many worry whether society has the stomach to accept women being killed, and being killers, Werner is in no doubt about her place on the battlefield. And she doesn't mince words about her fellow females in the co-ed Caracal Battalion.

"These girls are tough," she said.

Werner, who has been on stationed on the border since October, admitted that she has noticed differences between the sexes.

"Guys are able to really to put a tough face on things (while) girls really take time to put emotion into something," she added. "Women in combat can only bring good things. Two halves of a whole together can only be good."

Not practical or not relevant?
As the U.S. military implements its new and controversial policy ahead of a January 2016 deadline, it will be seeking lessons from Israel and the handful of other countries that currently do not bar women from front-line combat. They include all of Scandinavia, Australia, Eritrea, France, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Korea, Poland and Romania.

Despite examples set by these countries, one of the biggest worries remains that integration will undermine the essential cohesion of the so-called band of brothers that has long defined the camaraderie among fighting men.

"(In the British military) the argument always comes down to the pure practicalities of the effectiveness of the unit rather than if a woman can't do it," said Amyas Godfrey, a former infantry officer and associate fellow at British security think tank the Royal United Services Institution (RUSI).

Atef Safadi / EPA, file
Israeli female soldiers take positions during clashes with Palestinian protesters from the West Bank village of Nabi Salah on Dec. 28.

The United Kingdom is almost alone among Western European countries in not allowing women into front-line combat roles.

"It comes down to 18-to-22-year-old boys not being able to ignore the fact that there is a woman in their midst," he said. Integrating combat units and concentrating on making space for women also "doesn't fit with the practicality of closing with and killing the enemy," he said.

Norwegian Brigadier Odin Johannessen, who served in Bosnia and Afghanistan and commanded military units for 12 years, disagreed with the idea that men and women could not be trained to serve together.

"In mixed units, what is most important is to become a soldier," said the 51-year-old who formerly ran the Norwegian Army Academy in Oslo. "That you are a good soldier tends to be the most prized factor of all, if you are a male or female doesn’t matter."

"It's called a band of brothers. I would rather rephrase it to a band of brothers and sisters," he added.

Johannessen's exposure to military women colored the rest of his career.

"My first day in the military I met Sgt. Bente Karlsen and she has been present in my mind for my entire service for the professional way she led us," he said.

Karlsen had the essential ability to convey instructions and orders, but also clearly cared about the young men under her command, Johannessen said.

"She was a brilliant sergeant and showed me that it matters not if you are male of female," he said.

Norway has no official restrictions on women joining any of its operational units, although no women are members of its special forces. Nine percent of combat roles in Norway are made up of women, and the armed forces' aim to increase that the proportion of females in military positions to 15 percent.

'Masculine warrior culture'
With its "no-exclusion policy," Canada is also recognized internationally as one of the few militaries to have officially removed all barriers to women. Canadian women have served and died on the front line in Afghanistan, and make up four percent of the roles in Canada's so-called combat arms divisions, and 14.8 percent of military roles overall.

Getty Images, file
Canadian Master Corporal Tera Avey of Edmonton, Alberta, a mother of two and one of three female combat soldiers, wakes up on March, 2002 in the rocky Shahi Kot mountains in Afghanistan. Hundreds of American and Canadian troops were lifted into the mountainous region at high altitude to search and destroy Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

Karen Davis, a gender integration expert for Canada's armed forces, acknowledges that women have to adapt to the "masculine warrior culture" of combat units.

But when Canadian men and women were sent to fight on the front lines in Afghanistan, fears that women's presence would hurt all-important unity did not bear out, she said.

"What we learned when we went into Afghanistan is that Canadian soldiers are trained to do a job, no matter if they were men or women," Davis said, adding that proper and rigorous training before deployment helped make this happen.

Whether women can or should be treated and tested differently from their male counterparts is at the heart of any discussion on how to integrate military operations, especially front-line combat troops.

In Israel, where women have formed part of the military since before the founding of the state and face conscription, the training process "accepts differences between men and women and just deals with them," according to Capt. Eytan Buchman, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces.

"Everybody comes in with their own baggage and physiological differences," he added.

Johannessen, for his part, advises trainers and commanders to not give women under their command special treatment.

"Say there are two females in the unit. If you want to do it wrong, pay special attention to them," he said.

To this end, gender-neutral physical standards are also essential, he said.

According to Davis, Canada's success at integrating women also came about as a result of a rigorously enforced non-fraternization policy. And the onus for making sure relationships don't happen lies not just on the women, but also the men throughout the chain of command, she says.

But beyond policies and rules, Norway's Johannessen says that more women make militaries better and smarter.

Slideshow: All-female U.S. Marine team in Afghanistan

Paula Bronstein / Getty Images
View images of the women deployed as the second Female Engagement team in Afghanistan

"Men and women are looking at a problem from different positions," he said. "Having the possibility for a different view is many times better."

While integrating women into combat can be down to well-thought-out polices, effective leadership and rigorous training -- natural attributes for any well-run military organization -- an important lesson is that change will most likely not come quickly or implemented uniformly.

Gender integration expert Davis admits that even her own thinking changed radically from the time she joined an all-female land-bound unit in the Canadian Navy in 1978. At the time, she agreed that women did not belong in many roles in the military. But in 1985 that changed: Davis was asked to be one of two women to go to sea for 12 days on a formerly all-male ship.

"I came back questioning everything," Davis said. "I had joined and completely accepted everything I had been told, but in fact none of it was rational, it could all be dismantled."


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Report: Turkish far-left group claims responsibility for US Embassy attack

SITE Intelligence Group via AFP - Getty Images
This image released by the SITE Intelligence Group on Feb. 2, shows a man identified as Ecevit Sanli on the website of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, a Turkey-based radical Marxist-Leninist group, that claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara on Feb. 1.

The Turkish far-left group DHKP-C claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, according to a statement on a website linked to the group, Reuters reported.

The statement posted Saturday on "The People's Cry" website said a man Turkish media identified as Ecevit Sanli carried out "an act of self-sacrifice on Feb. 1, 2013, by entering the Ankara embassy of the United States, murderer of the peoples of the world," according to Reuters.

A picture the website claimed was of the bomber was posted with the statement.

The Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, or DHKPC, is a far-left group designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Also on Saturday, Turkish state media said officials detained three people in Istanbul and Ankara in connection with the attack, Reuters reported.

A suicide bomber blew himself up at an entrance to the U.S. Embassy compound in Ankara, Turkey, on Friday. The bomber and a Turkish guard were killed in the attack, which the U.S. described as "an act of terror."

The bomber, who was wearing a suicide vest, made it to the first X-ray machine in a screening area leading to the visa section, police sources said, and then detonated the device.

The Turkish security guard standing nearby was killed, but two guards on the other side of the checkpoint, behind bulletproof glass, survived. A Turkish journalist on her way to visit the ambassador was critically wounded.
The U.S. flag flies at half-staff a day after a suicide bomber struck the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.

Early spring?(video)The groundhog says...

Feb. 2 - Thousands of spectators gather at Gobblers Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, as Phil the Groundhog predicts an early spring. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).

Let the spring fever commence!

Punxsutawney Phil crawled out early Saturday morning and did not see his shadow, signaling it will be an early spring.
"Spring, bring it on," said TODAY's Erica Hill.
"The groundhog has proved me wrong once again," said TODAY's Dylan Dreyer, who guessed the Phil would see his shadow. "He messes me up."

Anthony Quintano / NBC News
This year is the 127th Groundhog Day celebration, which is held at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Coming into this year, Phil had seen his shadow 100 times and had not seen it only 16 times since 1886, according to Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle. There are no records for the missing 10 years. The 15 members of the inner circle, clad in tophats and tuxedos, decide in advance whether to announce Phil has seen his shadow or not, even though the groundhog does the symbolic duty.
In Punxsutawney, which is about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, the groundhog annual makes his prediction on a hill known as Gobbler's Knob. The event annually attracts more than 15,000 people and brought as many as 30,000 in the wake of the 1993 release of the Bill Murray classic movie "Groundhog Day,'' according to the Inner Circle. There also are updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Alex Wong / Getty Images
According to local reports, about 35,000 people gathered to watch Phil's annual forecast.

The celebration dates to the early Christians in Europe, particularly the Germans, who were some of the earliest settlers of Pennsylvania and believed the groundhog's intelligence was such that if the sun came out on Feb. 2 it would be smart enough to go back underground for another six weeks of winter. The first written observance of the tradition came in 1886 after it had earlier been conducted privately in wooded areas outside town.

David Maxwell / EPA
See the whole event, from pre-dawn celebrations to Phil's interviews with the media after his forecast.

Read more:
Punxsutawney Phil stuffs the competition 
The origins of 13 enduring superstitions Punxsutawney Phil and 7 other animals who predict the future

Groundhog Day History

European Roots
(Adapted from "Groundhog Day: 1886 to 1992" by Bill Anderson)

Groundhog Day, February 2nd, is a popular tradition in the United States. It is also a legend that traverses centuries, its origins clouded in the mists of time with ethnic cultures and animals awakening on specific dates. Myths such as this tie our present to the distant past when nature did, indeed, influence our lives.  
  • It is the day that the Groundhog comes out of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow.
  • If he sees it, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole.
  • If the day is cloudy and, hence, shadowless, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground.
The groundhog tradition stems from similar beliefs associated with Candlemas Day and the days of early Christians in Europe, and for centuries the custom was to have the clergy bless candles and distribute them to the people. Even then, it marked a milestone in the winter and the weather that day was important.

According to an old English song:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

According to an old Scotch couplet:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There'll be twa (two) winters in the year.

Another variation of the Scottish rhyme:

If Candlemas day be dry and fair,
The half o' winter to come and mair,
If Candlemas day be wet and foul,
The half of winter's gone at Yule.
The Roman legions, during the conquest of the northern country, supposedly brought this tradition to the Teutons, or Germans, who picked it up and concluded that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal, the hedgehog, would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of bad weather, which they interpolated as the length of the "Second Winter."
Pennsylvania's earliest settlers were Germans and they found groundhogs to in profusion in many parts of the state. They determined that the groundhog, resembling the European hedgehog, was a most intelligent and sensible animal and therefore decided that if the sun did appear on February 2nd, so wise an animal as the groundhog would see its shadow and hurry back into its underground home for another six weeks of winter.

The Germans recited:

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until the May.
This passage may be the one most closely represented by the first Punxsutawney Groundhog Day observances because there were references to the length of shadows in early Groundhog Day predictions.

Another February 2nd belief, used by American 19th century farmers, was:

Groundhog Day - Half your hay.
New England farmers knew that we were not close to the end of winter, no matter how cloudy February 2nd was. Indeed, February 2nd is often the heart of winter. If the farmer didn't have half his hay remaining, there may have been lean times for the cows before spring and fresh grass arrived.
The ancient Candlemas legend and similar belief continue to be recognized annually on February 2nd due to the efforts of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

Growing Fame

From offering support of political events, to rooting for area sports teams, to becoming the star of a Hollywood movie, Punxsutawney Phil has increasingly been in the public eye.
Early observances of Phil's predictions were conducted privately in the wooded areas that neighbor the town. Today's celebration sees tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world as revelers await Phil's appearance as most fans wait to see their favorite rock stars.
The Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper is credited with printing the news of the first observance in 1886 (one year before the first legendary trek to Gobbler's Knob):
"Today is groundhog day, and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen his shadow."
Over the course of Phil's appearances, Phil has had numerous noteworthy highlights:
  • During Prohibition Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter on the community if he wasn't allowed a drink.
  • In 1958 Phil announced that it was a "United States Chucknik," rather than a Soviet Sputnik or Muttnik that became the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth.
  • In 1981 Phil wore a yellow ribbon in honor of the American hostages in Iran.
  • Phil traveled to Washington DC in 1986 to meet with President Reagan. He was joined by Groundhog Club President Jim Means, Al Anthony and Bill Null.
  • Phil met Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburg in 1987.
  • In 1993, Columbia Pictures released the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray.
  • Phil appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1995.
  • In the years following the release of the movie, record crowds numbering as high as 30,000 have visited Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney!
  • In 2001, Phil's prediction was shown live on the JumboTron at Times Square in New York City. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell attended the ceremonies, making him the first sitting governor ever to do so.