March 2007


The infiltration of gangs into the U.S. military is not only a growing concern in El Paso but is also considered a potential threat to national security and law enforcement.

Weapon thefts, homicides and even the appearance of U.S. street-gang graffiti on military equipment in Iraq are among crimes featured in a National Gang Intelligence Center report on gangs in the military.

The report mentions Fort Bliss.

The issue of gang members in the military was raised Friday by El Paso County Attorney José Rodríguez at a gang investigators seminar at Burges High School.

"We still have a gang problem here in El Paso (even if) it is not as serious as L.A. or San Antonio," said Rodríguez, whose office was behind the city’s civil injunction that targeted the Barrio Azteca gang.

Since 2004, the FBI and El Paso Police Department have identified more than 40 suspected military-affiliated members of the Folk Nation gang alliance stationed at Fort Bliss, stated the Jan. 12 report by the National Gang Intelligence Center.

"As far as gangs in the military, they do have gangs in the military. As far as Fort Bliss is concerned, we are trying to identify gang members in Fort Bliss," said Sgt. Reginald Moton of the El Paso Police Gang Unit.

A Fort Bliss spokeswoman referred questions to the Army Criminal Investigations Division in Washington, D.C., which could not be reached for comment late Friday.

According to police figures, 492 active street gangs, party crews and other groups in El Paso have 4,657 members.

The national intelligence center report, titled "Gang-Related Activity in the U.S. Armed Forces Increasing," lists a homicide that El Paso police gang investigators said on Friday could have links to the Chicago-based Folk Nation.

In December 2004, Jamal Ra shad Davis allegedly shot and killed 19-year-old Jurell Battles during a fight in Northeast El Paso.

Davis, now 23, was a Fort Bliss Army private with the 286th Signal Company of the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.

Investigators suspect Davis may also had ties to the Folk Nation. Davis’ trial is pending.

The Folk Nation is described as an alliance of gangs, though the group, according to member blogs, describes itself as a family dedicated to the improvement of its members.

The intelligence center report, which is labeled "unclassified/law-enforcement sensitive," mentions that members of rival gangs often put aside differences while in the military.

"Rival gang members stationed at Fort Bliss, for instance, have joined forces to commit assaults on civilian gang members," the document stated.

The report also states that some gang members join the military to escape the gang lifestyle but others keep gang connections intact.

"The extent of gang presence in the armed services is often difficult to determine, since many enlisted gang members conceal their gang affiliation. … The military enlistment of gang members could ultimately lead to a worldwide expansion of U.S.-based gangs," the document warned.

The report also cautioned that military-dependent children may be targeted by gangs for membership because "the transient nature of their families often makes them feel isolated, vulnerable and in need of companionship."

The influx of 20,000 new soldiers and their families to Fort Bliss in the coming years has local law enforcement watching for potential problems.

Some of the new soldiers are transfers from Fort Hood, Texas. El Paso police sent investigators to Killeen because it had seen problems with military-affiliated gangs from Fort Hood.

In 2005, the Temple Daily Telegram reported of a trial of an Army sergeant stationed at Fort Hood who was the reputed leader of the Gangsters Disciples Killeen chapter that was involved in armed robberies, drug dealings and identity theft. The Gangsters Disciples are part of the Folk Nation.

The huge number of new arrivals has El Paso authorities keeping watch for any potential problems.

"Obviously with all the troops coming in, the FBI has been collecting intelligence with what kind of gang activity may be coming in with those troops. We want to be prepared," said El Paso FBI office spokeswoman Special Agent Andrea Simmons.

"With the numbers of people coming to El Paso affiliated with Fort Bliss — not just soldiers but dependents and new businesses — with any group you will have a few folks who will be of the criminal mind-set," Simmons said.

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A Romanian soldier of the 812th Infantry Battalion of the International Security Assistance Force adjust his helmet as he speaks to his colleague before leaving for on patrol in Qalat, in the southern province of Zabul, Afghanistan

HIGHWAY 1, Afghanistan (AP) — The Romanian soldier quietly makes the sign of the cross, then thrusts his rifle through the narrow slit of an armored vehicle as it rolls toward one of the most vital – and dangerous – highways in Afghanistan.

As night falls, machine gunners constantly rotate their turrets and searchlights on the four patrol vehicles and rake the passing countryside for possible ambush sites amid rocky outcrops, mud-brick farm houses and orchards of blossoming almond trees.

The Romanian presence, analyst say, is an example of what must be done to win the war in Afghanistan: convince NATO countries unwilling to put their soldiers in fighting situations that engaging in combat will pave the way for progress.

One of only six NATO nations willing to take on combat operations in the country, the Romanians are tasked with securing a stretch of Highway 1, the strategic and economic lifeline between the capital, Kabul, and the key southern city of Kandahar.

The Taliban were preparing to cut off the highway, isolate and then recapture their one-time stronghold of Kandahar before major NATO pushes blunted their advances late last year. Whether they can regain their momentum this spring is still uncertain.

"Cutting off Highway 1 would be a major information campaign victory for the Taliban. But it is almost impossible," says Maj. Ovidiu Liviu Uifaleanu, commander of the 500-member Romanian unit. "If they attack us, they have a problem."

Taliban insurgents, he says, now largely confine themselves to quick, shoot-and-retreat attacks against the 20 checkpoints manned by Afghan military and police in Zabul province. The Romanians bolster the Afghans with their mobility and firepower, rushing to threatened outposts and otherwise trying to reassure the local population that they can provide security.

"I feel that I am trying to swat a fly with a 40-pound hammer, and only with luck will the fly stay put," Uifaleanu says in fluent English.

"Our last unit in Zabul fell into two or three ambushes. But the Taliban learned. The machine guns we carry can demolish a mud building and anyone standing behind it," says the major, who commands the 812th Infantry Battalion. The unit, known as the "Carpathian Hawks," has seen service in Angola, Iraq and on an earlier Afghanistan tour.

The greater problem now faced by the Romanians appears to be Zabul’s inadequate and poorly equipped Afghan National Police.

Normally paid just $70 a month, they haven’t seen a paycheck for the past four months due to restructuring of the force. So some of the checkpoints along Zabul’s 93-mile stretch of the highway are abandoned, others manned by a handful of policemen, some of whom sleep on the job.

"It’s possible," says provincial police chief Gen. Abdull Ghafar, when asked if some of his men accept bribes. "If they don’t get a good salary they try to get money from other sources."

Maj. Christopher Clay, who commands the U.S. Army unit in Zabul, says the Taliban and drug traffickers pay off police to pass through checkpoints. "Some attacks are staged by traffickers against police units which refuse to accept the bribes. That’s how we can sometimes identify an honest ANP unit – it’s the one which gets hit," says the commander of B Company, 4th Infantry Regiment.

Clay, who serves under Uifaleanu within Task Force Zabul, gives the Romanians high marks and some of his officers say they’re a more finely honed fighting force than some American units. The Hawks trained with U.S. troops in Romania and Germany before being ordered to Afghanistan three months ago.

Romania, which joined NATO in 2004, joined the United States, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia and the Netherlands as one of the member nations willing to engage in combat. The notable "stand asides" among the 37-nation coalition are Italy, Germany, Spain, Turkey and France.

Analysts, offering recommendations on how the war in Afghanistan can be won, say that "national caveats" that prevent the "stand asides" from engaging in combat must be removed so that all NATO members can march to the same tune.

"NATO needs integrated operations with common rules of engagement," Anthony Cordesman, a terrorism expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the U.S. Congress last month. And the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank said in a recent report that "hard questions need to be asked of those who sometimes appear to put force protection, not mission needs, at the fore."

Uifaleanu declines to speak about decisions made in other NATO capitals, but says, "We are keeping our promises as a NATO nation and we are here based on a political decision and taking orders from our higher echelon."

From a coalition base on the edge of Zabul’s capital, Qalat, Uifaleanu launches more than 50 missions a week, most centered on Highway 1. It’s transformation from a potholed track to an asphalt highway, cutting travel time between Kandahar and Kabul from a full day to about five hours, is hailed as a key achievement in Afghanistan’s reconstruction.

The Romanian night patrol covers nearly 60 miles, the last stop a concrete blockhouse manned by a dozen Afghan soldiers along a desolate, lonely stretch of the highway.

A half moon casts an eerie glow over an arid plain and a jagged range of hills from which the insurgents emerge to attack the outpost almost weekly.

Sgt. First Class Gabi Sasalman, a 12-year-veteran of all Romania’s overseas missions, points to the distant peaks.

"It’s the same danger here as we faced in Iraq," he says.

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DUBAI (AFP) – Iraqi former deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz wants to live in Rome after his release from jail, believing he will be welcomed in the Italian capital.

"I want to live in Rome. The Pope and Italian officials welcomed me," Aziz said in answer to a question about his future hopes delivered via his lawyer. [more]

Justice Minister Hashim al-Shebli, a Sunni Arab member of the secular Iraqi List, said he had presented his resignation to the Cabinet on Thursday but was still waiting for its approval of the decision.

"I have differences with the government on one side and with the my parliamentary bloc on another," al-Shebli told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

He did not elaborate on the differences, but al-Shebli has been involved in a dispute over the Cabinet’s recent endorsement of a decision to relocate and compensate thousands of Arabs who moved to the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk during "Arabisation" campaign in 1980s. The Iraqi List and several Sunni lawmakers have objected to the decision, saying it fails to address key issues, including property claims.

Al-Shebli said he was still acting as justice minister while awaiting the Cabinet’s response.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, could not immediately be reached for comment. Government adviser Sami al-Askari said he had no information about the resignation.

The Iraqi List, which is led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, holds 25 seats in the 275-seat parliament.

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Libyan Dick-tater says "Christianity meant only for sons of Israel, not faith for all peoples of the world".

Libyan leader Muammar Gathafi said on Friday that it was a mistake to believe that Christianity was a universal faith alongside Islam.

"There are serious mistakes — among them the one saying that Jesus came as a messenger for other people other than the sons of Israel," he told a mass prayer meeting in Niger.

"Christianity is not a faith for people in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Other people who are not sons of Israel have nothing to do with that religion," he said at the prayer meeting, held to mark the birth of the prophet Mohammed.

Gathafi, who is seeking to expand his influence in Africa, said his arguments came from the Koran. He led similar prayers last year in Mali.

"It is a mistake that another religion exists alongside Islam. There is only one religion which is Islam after Mohammed," he said in the sermon, which was broadcast live on Libyan state television.

"All those believers who do not follow Islam are losers," he added. "We are here to correct the mistakes in the light of the teachings of the Koran."

Gathafi also said it was a mistake to believe that Jesus had been crucified and killed. "It is not correct to say that. Another man resembling Jesus was crucified in his place."

Libya grants financial aid to Islamic communities in Africa and elsewhere to build mosques, Islamic schools and facilities.

Libyan state television often shows Gathafi meeting groups of African men or women telling him they converted to Islam.

The mass prayers, chaired by Gathafi, came a day after Arab leaders wrapped up a summit in Saudi Arabia. Libya was the only Arab state to shun the gathering.

"Libya has turned its back on the Arabs … Libya is an African nation. As for Arabs, may God keep them happy and far away," Gathafi has said to explain his boycott of the summit.

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BAGHDAD, March 30 — By early Friday night, families here were hunkered around their televisions, nervously awaiting the election results that would come hours later. In the northern Iraqi town of Irbil, thousands packed into a shopping mall courtyard and stood before a massive screen, shouting for the victory of their candidate: "Shada! Shada!"

The chestnut-maned object of their obsession was Shada Hassoun, Iraq’s contestant on the fourth season of the Lebanese talent show "Star Academy," the "American Idol" of the Arab world. She had made Friday’s finals, and a public vote, sent via cellphone, would decide her fate. And so Iraqis everywhere were in a Shada frenzy this week — causing many to observe that, win or lose, Hassoun, a 26-year-old who professes to love jet-skiing and Antonio Banderas, had managed to engender a sense of national cohesion that has eluded Iraq for years. [more]

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Israel on Friday and planned to visit Syria, a country the Bush administration has shunned, on her second fact-finding trip to the Middle East since taking the gavel in January.

Pelosi’s repeat trip to the Middle East indicates she has no intention of letting the White House have the sole province on foreign policy. She has already forced legislation through the House that would order all combat troops out of Iraq by September 2008, a measure that resembles a similar measure approved by the Democratic-run Senate.

The Bush administration has mostly refused to engage Syria diplomatically because of its ties to terrorist networks. U.S. officials held their first direct, high-level contact with Syrian representatives in years this month when they met with officials from several Middle East countries in Baghdad to discuss Iraq.

Others traveling with Pelosi were Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Henry Waxman and Tom Lantos of California, and Nick Rahall of West Virginia, and Ohio Republican David Hobson. Ellison is the first Muslim member of Congress. [more]

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Astronomers might not have to search a galaxy far, far away after all to find a world with double sunsets like Luke Skywalker’s home planet Tatooine. A new study suggests the universe is filled with them.

Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have found that twin-star systems are just as likely to be surrounded by dusty debris disks as ones with only a single star. Debris disks are made up of asteroid-sized rock chunks and other material that could be leftovers of planets that have formed in the system.

The majority of stars like our Sun have at least one stellar companion. Astronomers have theorized that planets could form with little trouble in two-star systems, called binaries, despite the more complex gravitational tugging. The new study provides strong observational evidence to support that idea.

“There appears to be no bias against having planetary system formation in binary systems,” said study leader David Trilling of the University of Arizona. “There could be countless planets out there with two or more suns.”

A planetary nursery

Trilling and his team looked for disks in 69 binary systems between 50 and 200 light-years away from Earth. All the stars are more massive and younger than our middle-aged Sun. The researchers found that about 40 percent of the binary systems they looked at had disks. This frequency is a bit higher than that for a comparable sample of single stars and suggests planets are at least as common around binary stars as they are around single stars.

Deepak Rhagavan, an astronomer at Georgia State University who was not involved in the study, says the new findings are exciting because they are the first evidence of a planetary nursery in a multiple star system. “Until now, we knew planets existed [in multiple star systems], but I think this is the first time that we’ve gotten a comprehensive study that looks at the debris disk where planets are born,” Rhagavan said.

Last year, Rhagavan’s team reported that many star systems known to harbor planets actually contained two, and in some cases, even three, stars.

Alan Boss, a planet formation theorist at Carnegie Institution of Washington, says the finding is encouraging news for planet hunters. “It’s pretty reassuring,” said Boss, who also was not involved in the study. “This really goes in the direction of making planets more frequent than they would be otherwise.”

Tight binaries

Surprisingly, most of the debris disks found in the new survey were around so-called tight binary systems, where the stars are separated by 500 AU or less. One AU is equal to the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

Scientists know of about 50 planets that have two Suns, but all of them belong to “wide” binary systems, where the stars are separated by about 1,000 AU.

“The fact that they’ve found some positive evidence of planet-forming disks being around close binaries is really a new step,” Boss said.

Some scientists had previously argued that planet formation would be stifled in tight binary systems because of the large gravitational interactions between the stars.

“The idea was that the extra star would stir up the stuff in the planet forming disk so much that you would never form a planet,” Trilling told SPACE.com.

Trilling said his team’s results might mean that planet formation favors tight binaries over single stars. However, it could also be that tight binaries are just dustier, and thus easier to spot. Further observations will be required to determine which of these explanations is correct.

A human gazing at a double sunset on a world with two Suns like Skywalker’s Tatooine might not find the scene so alien after all, Trilling said. “It would be kind of like what you see on Earth, but with an extra Sun following in the sky,” he said. “Maybe it’s a little hotter during the day.”

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Via the Marxist Common Dreams:

Illegal alien rights activists in Colorado have launched a week-long economic boycott, saying they want to show how big an impact illegal aliens have on the economy.”Illegal aliens have substantial buying power that is often taken for granted,” Julien Ross of the Denver-based Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) told OneWorld.

CIRC is calling on illegal aliens to refrain from buying anything but necessities this week. In addition, the group is urging supporters to pull most of their money out of bank accounts and take a week-long break before sending any money to relatives who live outside the United States.

“We need fair and just immigration reform now,” Ross said. “Families are being divided and children are being orphaned by illegal alien raids; women and children are dying in the desert crossing into this country. We have a labor crisis in Colorado where farms cannot find enough workers to tend their crops. By any measure, we have a crisis here.”

Last week lawmakers in Washington introduced the so-called STRIVE Act, which would allow illegal aliens to obtain legal residency in the United States after paying a fee and undergoing a background check. It would also create a program to allow nearly half a million people to enter the country each year to work low-skill jobs.

Some immigration reform proponents have already come out against the bill, which also includes a slew of measures to ratchet up security along the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to the American Friends Service Committee, “the STRIVE Act offers little to address the root causes of illegal alien and contains several troubling provisions,” including one that would require immigrants to leave the United States and re-enter before qualifying for legal immigration status.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization, which has supported efforts to organize immigrants living in Colorado, said the bill does not meet fundamental standards of human rights.

This week’s economic boycott in Colorado comes exactly one year after one the largest immigrant rights demonstrations in U.S. history.

Last March 25, more than half a million people took to the streets of Los Angeles to protest a Congressional measure known as HR 4437, which would have made it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant in the United States or to help those who remain in the United States without legal documentation. It also would have required churches and non-profit organizations to require proof of legal status before providing charity and it would have mandated construction of a giant fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Five weeks later, on May 1, millions of people took to the streets across the country, and Congress ultimately shelved the bill. Hundreds of thousands turned out in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami, and 75,000 protested in Denver.

But the scrapping of HR 4437 resulted in gridlock rather than a solution in Washington and the year since has not been kind to illegal aliens in Colorado.

Last November, Colorado voters approved two immigration measures. Referendum H, which denies a state tax credit to employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, passed with 50.8 percent of the vote. Referendum K, which directs the state attorney general to sue the federal government to demand enforcement of immigration laws, got 56 percent of the vote.

The voter-approved initiatives came after then-Governor Bill Owens signed a law directing local police to ask about the immigration status of drivers they stop. The bill, SB90, also instructs police to pass that information on to federal authorities.

That, activists say, has created a climate of fear in illegal alien communities. The law took effect in January. Sylvia Martinez of the group Latinos Unidos in Greeley, Colorado told OneWorld that reports of police harassment and racial profiling have already been coming in.

“Police officers are not only asking people for their documentation to be in this country but also adding to that their own personal comments,” she said.

Martinez, who is a U.S. citizen, said, “unfortunately many people’s perception of what an illegal alien looks like is like me: Hispanic. How do I know that I’m not going to be either targeted or looked at differently as a citizen based only on my skin color?” she asked.

Farming interests in Colorado estimate that about 40 percent of illegal aliens have left the state in response to the new laws.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about how these new laws that took effect in January 2007 will have an impact on the agriculture situation,” Martinez added. “We’re just getting into Spring and the planting season is only about to begin at the beginning of April. Even last year, there were several farmers that were not able to pick up produce from their fields: and we’re talking about hundreds of acres.”

Colorado officials are considering using prison labor to work in the fields if too few migrant workers can be recruited.

Julien Ross of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition believes problems in Colorado and other Western states are intractable without “comprehensive immigration reform” from Washington.

“The new Governor of Colorado doesn’t want to touch immigration,” he said. “So the best way to address mistakes made last year is for the federal government to fix our broken immigration system. Comprehensive immigration reform will make SB90 and other laws obsolete.”

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Sudan has agreed to allow U.N. troops to join an African Union force in its troubled Darfur region, Saudi Arabia said on Thursday, but the United States voiced doubts as it readied tough new sanctions.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir had long resisted the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to the vast western province of Darfur, where Washington says a so called genocide has taken place through government support for nomadic militia groups.

"Sudan has now agreed for the U.N. to provide logistical support to help African forces," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told a news conference at a summit of Arab nations.

"This is a breakthrough that never happened before and we hope it leads immediately to a solution to the humanitarian tragedy in Darfur as soon as possible."

A senior Bush administration official said Washington would wait to see whether Khartoum had indeed reversed course.

"We are very skeptical that Bashir has agreed to any such thing. We must see the fine print," the official said.

Before the Saudi announcement, U.S. officials from the State, Defense, Treasury and other departments had said that Washington would "tighten the screws" on Sudan with fresh measures, likely within days.

That would include a further limit on dollar transactions, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Beyond slapping travel and banking restrictions on at least three more individuals, including a rebel leader, Washington wants to put more pressure on fragmented rebel groups.

"You have to squeeze them all," said a defense official.

The United States also aims to pressure Bashir militarily by helping rebuild the forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army which was at war with the north until a 2005 peace deal.

The defense official said military options like a no-fly zone over Darfur — which Britain wants — or a forced intervention had been ruled out for now but the Pentagon had done "back of the envelope" estimates on what might be needed.

Experts say at least 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in Darfur since 2003, when rival groups took up arms against the government, accusing it of neglect.

Khartoum says 9,000 people have died and denies the allegations of genocide.

The Saudi announcement came after Bashir met U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Saudi King Abdullah and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, who heads an East African body, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development.

Bashir had told Arab leaders at the summit’s opening on Wednesday that the United Nations could have a role in providing logistical support for African troops.

A U.N. plan foresaw a small force of U.N. military and civilian forces moving into Darfur, followed in the second phase by about 2,500 more U.N. troops and then a further 10,000 soldiers to form a hybrid force.

Sudan, which has been accused of hindering aid to Darfur, signed an agreement with the United Nations this week to boost humanitarian work in the region.

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