SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – A major oil spill has occurred in the strait of water separating Staten Island, NYC and the state of New Jersey. The spill, of more than 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel, reportedly occurred in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
The Coast Guard said the incident occurred in the Arthur Kill tidal strait as fuel leaked from the Motiva oil tank facility, according to a report by NBC New York. Some 200 people have been working to contain the spill.
By Wednesday evening all the spilled oil was believed to be contained by booms put in the water, the Coast Guard said, according to AP.
Environmental officials in New Jersey say 336,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled after a storage tank was lifted and ruptured by a water surge caused by Superstorm Sandy on Monday night.
Oil has already started to wash up on a nearby shore, authorities said.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection commented that the company operating the oil tank facility reported the spill and hired contractors to clean it up.
President Barack Obama earlier toured Sandy-devastated areas of New Jersey and reasserted the government’s support for any victims, saying “we are here for you, and we will not forget.”
He also put aside politics to praise New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican and vocal supporter Mitt Romney, for his relief efforts. “I want to let you know that your governor is working overtime,” Obama said. Christie returned the kind words, later tweeting the he accepts Obama’s help and “appreciate his good will”.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Seeking forgiveness from Allah, thousands of Muslim pilgrims have poured into the holy city of Makkah to perform the life-time journey of hajj.
"It's my first time in Makkah for pilgrimage,” 32-year-old Koara Abdulrahman, a businessman from Burkina Faso, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Sunday, October 21.
“I can't wait to pray in `Arafat.”
Chanting “Allahu Akbar”, hundreds of thousands of Muslims have gathered in Makkah to perform hajj, due to start on Wednesday, October 24.
Walking in groups, the faithful, mostly led by guides with their countries’ flags printed on their garments, moved to perform `Umrah (minor pilgrimage) ahead of the major hajj rituals.
Other pilgrims circumambulate the cube-shaped Ka`aba – in which direction Muslims worldwide pray.
Others push their way through the crowds to kiss the Black Stone, which was built by Prophet Ibrahim, while many pray or recite verses of the Noble Qur’an.
"Right now, I've got all the good feelings you can think of," said an Iranian pilgrim, her voice quivering and tears welling up in her eyes.
Saudi authorities said more than 1.6 million foreign pilgrims have already arrived and the numbers are set to grow by Wednesday.
Around 750,000 domestic pilgrims are also expected to take part in the rituals.
Despite several checkpoints on the roads leading to Makkah to prevent illegal pilgrims, huge numbers of unauthorized devotees also join the hajj every year.
One of the five pillars of Islam, hajj consists of several ceremonies meant to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.
Hajj starts on the eighth day of the lunar month of Dhul Hijjah, which falls this year on October 24.
Saudi officials say that this year’s hajj will not be affected by the turmoil in the Middle East.
"I don't expect pilgrims or the pilgrimage to be affected by what is taking place elsewhere, whether Syria or any other place," Saudi interior minister Prince Ahmad bin Abdul Aziz told reporters.
When asked if pro-regime Syrians could infiltrate the pilgrims coming into the kingdom, which has repeatedly voiced support for the Syrian opposition, and cause trouble, he said that "those coming to hajj are Muslims and Muslims would not hurt one another, especially not during hajj."
However, such an act "would have very bad effects," he warned.
"Whoever tries to use hajj for political aims will be sent back home."
The minister also said that Saudi Arabia is not worried that Iranian pilgrims would cause any trouble during hajj.
"We don't expect any" unrest to be caused by Iranians,” Prince Ahmad said.
Iranian pilgrims annually stage a "repudiation of polytheists" rally, a ritual promoted by the late Islamic republic's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to denounce the West and Israel.
In 1987, police attempts to stifle the anti-US and anti-Israeli demonstration sparked clashes in which 402 people died, including 275 Iranians.
Iranian pilgrims have since held their rallies in tents without provoking clashes with security forces in the Sunni-dominated kingdom.
"The Iranians have assured us that they are as concerned about the comfort of pilgrims as we are," Prince Ahmad said.— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: On Islam
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — The arrest of a Bangladeshi man in an FBI sting operation on charges of attempting to blow up the New York Federal Reserve has revived a controversy over FBI tactics of entrapping Muslims into terror acts.
“The big question is, would these people have been able to do these plots without the help of the FBI? Some have even been calling it entrapment," commented FRANCE 24.
This could even be seen as "creating terrorism".
The FBI on Wednesday arrested a young Bangladeshi on charges of plotting to detonate the New York Federal Reserve Bank.
Federal authorities say Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, plotted to blow up the building with a 1,000-pound (450-kg) bomb.
"Attempting to destroy a landmark building and kill or maim untold numbers of innocent bystanders is about as serious as the imagination can conjure," said Mary Galligan, FBI acting assistant director-in-charge.
"The defendant faces appropriately severe consequences."
According to the criminal complaint, Nafis traveled to the United States in January 2012, Reuters reported.
Once in New York, he claimed to be in contact with al-Qaeda members overseas, although federal agents found no evidence that he was working for al-Qaeda or that he was directed by the organization, according to a US official who declined to be named.
Nafis considered several targets for his attack, including the New York Stock Exchange and a high-ranking government official, whom the US official identified as Obama.
In the end, the criminal complaint said, Nafis decided to focus on the Federal Reserve Bank in lower Manhattan, which stands like a limestone and sandstone fortress atop what is believed to be one of the world's largest stockpiles of gold.
To create a cell to help him carry out the bombing, Nafis began to seek out recruits, eventually bringing on board an undercover agent working for the FBI.
The two met on Wednesday morning and traveled by van to a New York warehouse, where Nafis assembled what he thought was a 1,000 pound bomb, before driving to the Federal Reserve Bank, among the most secure and guarded buildings in Manhattan.
After parking near the bank, Nafis walked to a nearby hotel and recorded a video statement in which he said, "We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom," according to the FBI.
Nafis was arrested in the hotel as he repeatedly attempted to detonate the inert bomb, the FBI said.
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, whose department was part of the operation, objected to suggestions that Nafis' plans were crude and bumbling.
"I don't see how you characterize (him as) unsophisticated, I mean he was arrested, but he clearly had the intent to create mayhem here," Kelly told reporters.
The fake FBI operations have stirred uproar inside the United States over entrapping young people, who posed no real threat to the US security.
Other FBI sting operations this year have netted at least one foreign suspect, as well as some from the United States.
In February, a 29-year-old Moroccan man was arrested near the US Capitol wearing a vest he believed was full of al-Qaeda-supplied explosives, and charged in an attempted suicide bombing of Congress.
Five self-described anarchists in the Cleveland area were arrested in May and accused of plotting to blow up a four-lane highway bridge.
An undercover FBI agent had sold the men inoperable detonators and plastic explosives.
The fake FBI operations have triggered criticism from American Muslims, estimated at between six to eight million.
In 2009, Muslim groups threatened to severe ties with law enforcement authorities over the FBI’s sending informants into mosques to trap Muslim worshippers.— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: On Islam
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed deep concern that the Syrian crisis could spill over into Lebanon.
“I am deeply concerned by the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon. Largely as a result of the deteriorating situation in Syria, Lebanon has witnessed cross-border clashes and shelling,” Ban said on Thursday in a report, which will be submitted to the UN Security Council on October 31.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011. Damascus says outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorists are the driving factor behind the unrest and deadly violence, while the opposition accuses the security forces of being behind the killings.
Western states have been calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. However, Russia and China are strongly opposed to the Western drive to oust Assad.
The Syrian government says that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the armed insurgents are foreign nationals.— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Iran denied its hackers attacked American banks, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Sunday, following a Reuters report that three of the largest American lenders were repeatedly targeted over the past year.
The hacking of websites and corporate networks at Bank of America Corp, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup Inc began in late 2011 and escalated this year, people familiar with the situation told Reuters.
"We officially announce that we haven't had any attacks," Head of Iran's civil defense agency Gholam Reza Jalali told Fars, when asked about the report.
Reuters reported the hackers targeted the three banks in retaliation for their enforcement of Western economic sanctions against Iran's disputed nuclear program.
Iran says the program is aimed at generating electricity and not, as the United States, Israel and others allege, at making nuclear weapons. A senior Iranian lawmaker accused the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog on Sunday of passing confidential information about Iran's nuclear activities to Israel.
The Islamic state has beefed up its cyber capabilities after the nuclear program came under attack in 2010 by the Stuxnet computer worm which caused centrifuges to fail at its main enrichment facility.
Tehran accused the United States and Israel of deploying Stuxnet.
Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi said in June that Iran had detected a planned "massive cyber attack" against its nuclear facilities, blaming the United States, Israel and Britain.
Jalali said Stuxnet was used against Iran to delay the country's nuclear activities.
"But we see that our activities are successfully continuing ... Our nuclear systems are now immune to such things," Jalali said, according to Fars.
Security experts say Iran's cyber capabilities are not as sophisticated as those of China, Russia, the United States or many of its Western allies.—www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Adding to outrage against the anti-Islam film, a German satirical magazine has entered the row by planning a controversial anti-Islam cover this month, in a move likely to further inflame passions incited earlier this month in the Muslim world.
"Now Mohammed is on everybody's lips and we are reacting," Titanic magazine editor Leo Fischer said in an interview with weekly Der Spiegel.
The magazine Titanic presented the front page of its October edition showing a photo montage of Bettina Wulff – wife of former German President Christian Wulff – being embraced by a Muslim fighter wearing a turban and brandishing a dagger.
The headline reads, "West Rises Up: Bettina Wulff Makes Film About Mohammed."
The magazine, which prints 100,000 copies a month, gained notoriety in July for printing a picture of the pope with yellow stains down his cassock.
The German magazine move follows the footsteps of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo which published cartoons displaying a man said to be the prophet as naked.
Entitled “Muhammad: a star is born”, one caricature depicts a bearded figure crouching over to display naked buttocks and genitals, a star covering his anus.
A second cartoon, in reference to the scandal over a French magazine's decision to publish topless photos of the wife of Britain's Prince William, showed a topless, bearded character with the caption: "Riots in Arab countries after photos of Mrs. Muhammad are published."
Titanic gave its backing to French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, but decided not to publish the caricatures.
The French drawings come amid turmoil in the Muslim world over an American-made movie defaming the Prophet.
Produced by an American-Israeli real estate developer, the film, entitled “Innocence of Muslims”, portrays the Prophet as a fool, philanderer and a religious fake.
The movie was promoted by US pastor Terry Jones, who angered Muslims in 2010 with plans to burn the Noble Qur’an.
The film triggered protests in several countries around the world, which left at least 14 people dead, including the US ambassador in Libya.
Denying accusation of using right-wing propaganda, the magazine editor claimed that “Bettina Wulff could provide further impetus for the current unrest in the Muslim world.”
“Cheap provocations such as the film "Innocence of Muslims" inflame people around the world -- one can imagine that in such a situation Bettina Wulff might also try to attract support with cheap criticism of Islam,” Fischer told Der Spiegel.
“We find that objectionable.”
The editor also rejected the description of Muslims as extremists.
“I consider the view that European Muslims are nothing more than sword-swinging crazies to be racist,” Fisher said.
“I am relying on their understanding -- and on their indifference.”
With thousands of protesters expected to take to the streets after weekly prayers to demonstrate against the anti-Islam film, the magazine row has added to Germany’s fears which called for particular vigilance.
"We have increased safety measures throughout the region as well as the number of security personnel," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters in Berlin, Deutsche Welle reported.
He added that the closure of embassies and other German instructions was worth considering.
While condemning the provocative film, Muslim leaders around the world have denounced attacks on foreign diplomatic missions, calling for a measured response to the movie.
Saudi Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Sheikh said Saturday that attacks on foreign embassies over the film run counter to the peaceful teachings of Islam.
"Such acts damage the Muslim religion, are not permitted by God and are incompatible with the teachings of the Prophet,” he said.—www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: On Islam
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, has ordered an investigation to determine the cause of the explosion at country's biggest refining facility that has left at least 39 people dead and more than 80 others wounded.
Chavez declared three days of national mourning. This "affects us all, the great Venezuelan family, civilian and military", he said in a telephone call with members of his cabinet on Saturday.
"It's very sad, very painful."
Vice President Elias Jaua, who traveled to the area in western Venezuela, said on state television late on Saturday that at least 39 people were killed by the explosion, up from the earlier death toll of 26.
He said that the dead included 18 National Guard troops and that six of the bodies had not yet been identified. Other officials said earlier that the dead included a 10-year-old boy.
Five of the injured remained in hospital and were being evaluated, while two were transferred to a burn unit in a neighbouring state and the remainder discharged with minor burns.
Balls of fire rose over the Amuay refinery, among the largest in the world, in video posted on the Internet by people who were nearby at the time.
The explosion shattered walls of nearby shops, ripped out windows from homes and left the surrounding streets covered with rubble and twisted scraps of metal.
In a neighborhood next to the refinery, shopkeeper Yolimar Romero said she was at her computer when a shock wave swept over the area shortly after 1am.
"At that instant, the whole house shook as if it were an earthquake," she said. "The windows went flying off with their frames and everything."
The Venezuelan president pledged to help the people who have been displaced from their homes at the refinery complex, which also houses workers and their families, and in impoverished neighborhoods nearby.
Rafael Ramirez, the energy minister, said the explosion was triggered by a gas leak, the cause of which remained to be determined.
"The gas cloud exploded, igniting at least two storage tanks and other facilities at the refinery," he told state-controlled VTV television.
Ramirez said the explosion was powerful and caused "significant damage" not only to the plant, but also to nearby shops and homes.
Firefighters were able to bring the fire under control, though smoke was still billowing from the facility.
Government officials pledged to restart the refinery within two days and said the country has plenty of fuel supplies on hand to meet domestic needs as well as its export commitments.
The energy minister said he expected production of the the 645,000-barrels-per-day facility, which makes up two-thirds of the world's second largest refinery complex, to resume within two days.
As far as fuel shipments, he said, "we won't have major effects."
Ramirez said nine storage tanks were damaged and that oil workers inspecting the damage along with troops would determine the cause of the gas leak.
Images in state media showed the flames casting an orange glow against the night sky. One photograph showed an injured man being wheeled away on a stretcher.
Vice President Jaua said earlier on his Twitter account that the military was deployed to the area and that air ambulances were dispatched to ferry the wounded.
Amuay is part of the Paraguana Refinery Complex, which also includes the adjacent Cardon refinery.
Together, the two refineries process about 900,000 barrels of crude a day and 200,000 barrels of gasoline. Venezuela is a major supplier of oil to the US and a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
OPEC certified in 2011 that Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world at 296.5 billion barrels, surpassing Saudi Arabia, the country with the largest refining capacity.—www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — General Motors (GM) has long been on the international motor scene, and they do look primed to be around for a long time more as well, with their latest development being research and development of a vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications technology. Entering the critical test phase of this development at the moment, GM will provide eight specially equipped vehicles for a year to get up and about in real-world testing. The V2V-equipped Buick and Cadillac cars will eventually be the blueprint for a future, and far larger, fleet of passenger cars, commercial trucks and transit vehicles which will participate in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Model Deployment Program.
Expect the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute to conduct this program, which was specially designed to determine the effectiveness of V2V and V2I safety technologies when it comes to reducing the rate of accidents. All collected data from these test vehicles will then be computed in order to come up with an overall measure of system benefits, and if correctly done with beneficial results, a wide-scale deployment of V2V technology might commence before we arrive at the end of the decade. Self-driving cars and safer roads would certainly make long commutes a whole lot more pleasant, no? —www.shafaqna.com/english
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — The United Nations human rights envoy to Myanmar has called for an urgent independent investigation into recent bloody sectarian violence in the country's Rakhine state, which he said was one of many human rights challenges facing the country.
Tomas Ojea Quintana on Saturday called on Myanmar's government to find out the truth about violence in June between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and stateless Muslim Rohingyas and address reports of extrajudicial killings and torture by its police and soldiers.
"I am concerned... at the allegations I have received of serious human rights violations committed as part of measures to
restore law and order," Quintana said in a statement at the end of a six-day visit to Myanmar, his sixth to the country.
"While I am in no position to be able to verify these allegations at this point in time, they are of grave concern. It is therefore of fundamental importance to clearly establish what has happened in Rakhine state and to ensure accountability."
Quintana ended a weeklong visit to Myanmar saying that the country's much-touted democratic reforms will not take hold unless the government places human rights at the center of its agenda for change.
During a two-day tour of Rakhine state, Quintana said he witnessed "widespread suffering" from the June violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that left at least 78 dead and tens of thousands homeless.
He said he recorded allegations of "serious human rights violations" by police and security forces, including killings, torture, arbitrary arrest and excessive use of force.
"The human rights situation in Rakhine state is serious," he told reporters.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused government forces of opening fire on crowds of ethnic Rohingya and committing other "atrocities" during attempts to restore order.
'Matter of urgency'
Quintana said it was a "matter of urgency" to set up an independent and credible investigation into the allegations of rights abuses.
"Reconciliation will not be possible without this. Exaggerations and distortion will fill the vacuum to further fuel distrust and tensions between communities," he told reporters.
Much remains unknown about what transpired in Rakhine state during nearly two weeks of sectarian fighting, rioting and arson attacks between the two groups because the area was virtually sealed off to the outside world.
Tensions between the Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya are longstanding, in part because many in Myanmar consider the Rohingya to be illegal settlers from neighbouring Bangladesh.
The United Nations says there are about 800,000 Rohingya in Myanmar and considers them to be among the most persecuted people in the world.
The conflict has exposed deep-rooted communal animosity and put the spotlight on promises by the government in office since 2011 to protect human rights after decades of brutal army rule.
Quintana also expressed "serious concern" about the treatment of six UN workers who were detained in Rakhine state. They were accused by Myanmar authorities of taking part in the violence and setting fire to villages - accusations Quintana said he believes are unfounded.
Quintana's visit to Myanmar also focused on making an overall assessment of the human rights situation as the country moves down a reformist path under President Thein Sein after decades of repressive military rule. He met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, government officials, lawmakers and others.
He is to present his findings to the upcoming UN General Assembly.—www.shafaqna.com/english