Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Volgograd mourns victims of bus bombing, police look for organizers

Volgograd law enforcement agents work inside a passenger bus blown up Monday afternoon by a female suicide bomber in Krasnoarmeysky District, Volgograd (RIA Novosti/
Irina Il'icheva)
Volgograd law enforcement agents work inside a passenger bus blown up Monday afternoon by a female suicide bomber in Krasnoarmeysky District, Volgograd (RIA Novosti/ Irina Il'icheva)
 
 
Russian security forces are looking for the organizers of a deadly suicide bombing on a bus in Volgograd that killed six people and injured 37 on Monday.
The bomb, measured at about 500-600 grams of TNT equivalent, was detonated by 30-year-old suicide bomber Naida Asiyalova, a native of Russia’s southern republic of Dagestan, Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said.
Asiyalova, reportedly the wife of Dmitry Sokolov, a militant from the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, detonated the bomb, filled with metal objects and dowel pins, after getting off a Moscow-bound bus on the outskirts of Volgograd and returning to the city center, Markin said.
“Having bought a ticket to Moscow, Asiyalova was going on a bus from Makhachkala and stopped in Volgograd. Her left hand was in plaster, and she was holding it with her right hand. Almost on the outskirts of the city, Asiyalova left the bus and returned to the Volgograd city center,” Markin said.

Dmitry Sokolov (L) and Naida Asiyalova (Photo from vk.com)
Dmitry Sokolov (L) and Naida Asiyalova (Photo from vk.com)
He also added that investigators didn’t know if it was “planned, or Asiyalova changed her plan on her way, looking for the most crowded places.”
The bomb could be have been triggered by a remote electronic detonator, a source told Itar-Tass.
Asiyalova reportedly converted her husband to radical Islam and convinced him to join a terrorist group in Dagestan, officials say. Sokolov, 21, is part of the Abdul-Jabar armed gang based in Makhachkala, the Interior Ministry said, and is wanted for organizing the Volgograd blast and other terrorist attacks.
Three days of official mourning have been declared in the Volgograd region. All mass cultural events have been canceled, and authorities have asked local TV channels not to broadcast entertainment programs.
Flags will be flown at half-mast during the mourning period.
From early morning Tuesday, residents started bringing flowers to the scene where the blast took place.

RIA Novosti/Kirill Braga
RIA Novosti/Kirill Braga
“Those who died were ordinary people, they were innocent. It’s a terrible tragedy. Anyone of us could be in their place. No one thought that anything of this kind could ever happen in our city,” Ivan Skorobogatov, a city resident, told Itar-Tass.
Residents have begun donating blood for those wounded in the blast.
MPs in Russia’s State Duma also held a minute of silence to honor the dead.
Bomb technicians and criminal investigators are working at the scene to determine more details about the blast. Traffic has been partly halted in the area where the blast took place, and the scene of the attack remains cordoned off.
Most of the bomb’s 30 injured victims are in a moderately serious state. Four people in critical condition have been flown to Moscow by helicopter.
 

Terrorist attack averted as powerful bomb defused in Dagestan, southern Russia

Photo by National Antiterrorist Committee
Photo by National Antiterrorist Committee
 
A bomb equivalent to 12 kilograms of TNT has been deactivated in the Russian North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, the National Anti-Terrorist Committee says.
The successful anti-terror mission in Dagestan was accomplished the day after a female suicide bomber in Volgograd blew up a bus, killing six people with a device consisting of 500-600 grams of TNT.
The bomb was found near a shopping mall in the city of Khasavyurt, after local residents reported to police they had seen a suspicious object there.
Law enforcement agencies identified the object as a homemade bomb.
The bomb was found at 8 am and 2 1/2 hours later it was deactivated with a water cannon.
The National Anti-Terrorist Committee has announced it is conducting an investigation into the incident.
Bomb disposal experts from Russia’s Federal Security Service were sent to the scene. 
“The homemade explosive device was filled with a mixture of saltpeter and aluminum powder, without shrapnel. The device had a detonating fuse and was ready for use,” the National Anti-Terrorist Committee said in a statement.

Photo by National Antiterrorist Committee
Photo by National Antiterrorist Committee
Dagestan, together with the neighboring republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia, has continuously faced potential terrorist threats. This year alone has seen several deadly bombings in Dagestan.
A suicide car exploded near a police station in the republic’s Tabasaransky district a month ago, leaving three people dead and 16 injured.
In May, two suicide bombings took place in the capital, Makhachkala. One bomb, which only injured other people, took place near a federal Interior Ministry building. Another, which killed four people, happened outside the court bailiff’s office.
The same month, two teenagers died in an explosion after they tried to defuse a bomb they found near a Makhachkala shopping mall.
In February, an explosion just outside the city of Khasavyurt, which went off during a routine traffic checkpoint inspection, killed four police officers.
The suicide bomber responsible for Monday’s bomb in Volgograd was reportedly a native of Dagestan and was married to a militant.



 

American airstrikes in Yemen kill more civilians than terrorists – HRW report

People gather at the site of a drone strike on the road between Yafe and Radfan districts of the southern Yemeni province of Lahj August 11, 2013. (Reuters)
People gather at the site of a drone strike on the road between Yafe and Radfan districts of the southern Yemeni province of Lahj August 11, 2013. (Reuters)
 
 
A new report by Human Rights Watch once again confirms that Hellfire rockets lack selectivity and exterminate women and children more often than they hit Al-Qaeda associates. Last month the UN urged the US to reveal data on civilian drone casualties.
The prominent human rights organization has released a detailed 102-page report on the US drone attacks and airstrikes in Yemen against militants of the Al-Qaeda wing in the country simultaneously with another human rights organization Amnesty International issuing a report on US drone strikes in Pakistan.
Basically, the HRW report has maintained an already widely-known fact that civilians die too often in reported ‘surgical’ strikes which is unacceptable even by the ‘law of war’.
“The US has launched about 80 targeted killing operations in Yemen since 2009,” claims Humans Rights Watch Senior Researcher Letta Tayler.
Still, the HRW report considers only six of them, one of which took place in 2009, and other five occurring in 2012-2013. These six attacks claimed the lives of 82 people, 57 of whom - or practically 70 percent - were civilians.
According to one of the two the UN reports on drones issued in September, “the first remotely piloted aircraft strike reported in Yemen occurred on November 3, 2002, in an operation aimed at killing a suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole in February 2000.”
After that there were no drone strikes in Yemen till May 2011, when a failed attempt to kill cleric Anwar Awlaki, a dual Yemeni and American citizen, took place. 
Several months later, in September 2011, a drone killed Awlaki anyway, opening the way to dozens of ‘target killings’ done by both military and special services, such as the CIA, drones. The total fatalities in Yemen drone warfare estimated by the UN are “between 268 and 393.”
The deadliest of those airstrikes that came into the HRW’s spotlight was probably not the work of drones at all. It occurred in a village of Al-Majalah on December 17, 2009, where alleged US Navy cruise missiles (too big to be fired from a UAV) dropped cluster bombs on a Bedouin village, killing 14 alleged militants along with 41 civilians, including nine women and 21 children. Only five people survived.
“I have a question for America: Despite having drones and spy planes and all of this technology, can’t America differentiate between a terrorist and an innocent civilian?” told the HRW Moqbil Muhammad Ali, who lost 28 relatives in the attack on Al-Majalah village.
So far American strikes to eliminate militants have practically always been accompanied by civilian casualties, despite President Barack Obama promising to avoid them.
“And before any strike is taken, there must be near certainty that no civilians would be killed or injured, the highest standard we can set,” the HRW quoted President Barack Obama as saying.
“President Obama says the US is doing its utmost to protect civilians from harm in these strikes. Yet in the six cases we examined, at least two were a clear violation of the laws of war,” commented Tayler.
The HRW report also points out that civilian casualties actually work against the US efforts to decrease the terror threat in Yemen.
“Should the United States continue targeted killings in Yemen without addressing the consequences of killing civilians and taking responsibility for unlawful deaths, it risks further angering many Yemenis and handing another recruiting card to AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula]. In response to these killings, AQAP has issued statements accusing the United States of fighting a war not just against Al-Qaeda, but against all Muslims. Residents have set up roadblocks and held demonstrations in which they chant anti-US slogans,” the report reads.
Among cases mentioned in the HRW report is an attack that happened on September 2, 2012, when a US strike on a vehicle in a central Yemeni city of Radaa killed 12 civilians, including three children and a pregnant woman, while the intended target, a tribal leader named Abd Raouf Dahab, was nowhere near the vehicle.
Another airstrike took place on January 23, 2013, killing two alleged militants in a Yemeni village of Al-Masnaah, but again with two confirmed civilian victims.
According to the HRW report, civilians who have absolutely no contacts with terrorists sometimes die trying to earn some money and giving a lift to strangers who turn out to be militants. In that case when an airstrike is launched against such vehicles, missiles destroy the cars with everyone inside.

Protesters loyal to the Shi'ite al-Houthi rebel group burn an effigy of a U.S. aircraft during a demonstration to protest against what they say is U.S. interference in Yemen, including drone strikes, after their weekly Friday prayers in the Old Sanaa city April 12, 2013. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah )
Protesters loyal to the Shi'ite al-Houthi rebel group burn an effigy of a U.S. aircraft during a demonstration to protest against what they say is U.S. interference in Yemen, including drone strikes, after their weekly Friday prayers in the Old Sanaa city April 12, 2013. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah )
Also witnesses questioned by the HRW very often mention the fact that victims of airstrikes were not simply mutilated, but also charred beyond recognition, which raises a question about possible thermobaric nature of the warheads used in the US missiles.
One modification of the Hellfire rockets in the US possession, AGM-114N, has a thermobaric warhead.
The Human Rights Watch group does not question America’s right to eliminate its enemies in ‘targeted killing’ strikes without a court ruling, but calls to minimize civilian casualties in the process.
“President Obama should acknowledge these strikes and the US should ensure that it is following the law and President Obama’s policies on targeted killings so that civilians are not unnecessarily killed in these strikes,” Tayler said.
Washington has always insisted that its lethal drone strikes abroad, in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, are fully legitimate, being conducted within the framework of the ‘War on Terror’ against terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and its associates.
In September, British barrister and UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson, the author of second of two latest UN reports on the use of drones, accused the CIA of creating the ‘almost invariably classified’ atmosphere around the special forces drone operations in Yemen.
Drone strikes are being made these days on an ‘accountability vacuum’ condition, Emmerson claimed, demanding a full public investigation into the civilian casualties issue be launched, even if it demands certain “redactions on grounds of national security.”
The CIA’s own estimates of civilian deaths in Yemen due to drone strikes, according to the UN report, confirming no more than 58 civilian casualties at the highest. 
Legal Director of the human rights charity Reprieve, representing civilian victims of drone strikes, Kat Craig, told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that the UN report by Ben Emmerson “highlights the US’ failure to reveal any information whatsoever about their shadowy, covert drone program. Hiding the reality of civilian deaths is not only morally abhorrent, but an affront to the sort of transparency that should be the hallmark of any democratic government. Some basic accountability is the very least people in Pakistan and Yemen should expect from the CIA as it rains down Hellfire missiles on their homes and villages.” 

Pro-business party to talk cooperation with Khodorkovsky – report

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of the Yukos oil company (RIA Novosti/Nikolay Fyodorov)
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of the Yukos oil company (RIA Novosti/Nikolay Fyodorov)
 
 
Several members of the rightist party Civil Platform have supported the suggestion of inviting former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky to join their team when he finishes his prison sentence next year.
Civil Platform’s leader, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, told the press after the closed congress that he had suggested introducing a rotating leadership of the party, including the chairman’s post. He claimed such a move make the party less predictable for its rivals and gradually help to improve its results at the forthcoming municipal elections in several regions.
But even before the planned rotation commenced, some Civil Platform members managed to give the situation an unpredicted turn. According to the mass circulation daily Izvestia, Konstantin Doroshok, who represents the party in the legislature of Russia’s westernmost region of Kaliningrad, suggested that other party members should invite Mikhail Khodorkovsky to cooperate. The newspaper writes that other participants of the congress were ready to support this move.
If everything goes on as normal, Khodorkovsky will walk free in August next year and will be able to take part in the party’s activities,” said Solomon Ginzburg, the head of Civil Platform’s Kaliningrad branch and a member of its Federal Political Committee. Ginzburg added that in his view Prokhorov had enough strength and courage to invite Khodorkovsky to join his team.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, head of the oil firm Yukos – at the time the largest oil company in the world - was arrested in 2003 and subsequently found guilty of embezzlement and tax evasion.
Civil Platform is already cooperating with people and structures that had been once linked to Khodorkovsky. The deputy head of the party’s Moscow Branch, Aleksandr Osovtsov, said that many of his party comrades would like to see Khodorkovsky among their ranks and Mikhail Prokhorov had repeatedly expressed his support and sympathy for the jailed ex-tycoon.
Osovtsov himself had close ties with Khodorkovsky as he oversaw the Yukos-sponsored Open Russia public organization and also chaired the board of sponsors in the Russian State University for the Humanities at the time that Khodorkovsky donated money to that institution.
However, despite disclosing the fact that some people in Civil Platform supported cooperation with Khodorkovsky, Osovtsov also noted in press comments that the former head of Yukos had repeatedly stated that he had no political ambitions.
The same cannot be said about Mikhail Prokhorov. As the billionaire spoke to journalists after the closed party congress, he stressed that all reports of his possible stepping down were not true and that he definitely intended to stay at the helm. 

Joint decision: Uruguay prepares to legalize sale of marijuana

AFP Photo/Pablo Porciuncula
AFP Photo/Pablo Porciuncula
 
 
Uruguay is set to become the first country in the world to legalize the sale of marijuana at a market price of US$1 a gram. The bill is expected to pass through the senate in November, bringing the $40 million industry under state control.
The legislation was passed through the lower house earlier this year in August and backed by President Jose Mujica’s government. The measure is part of an initiative to combat the illegal drugs trade in Latin America and curtail cartel violence, which has decimated parts of the region.

Lawmakers have agreed at an initial price of $1 per gram of the drug, a price that aims to compete with the illegal market value, which currently stands at around $1.40 for a gram.

National Drug Board chief Jose Calzada told Uruguayan newspaper El Pais that bringing the industry under state control “will provide a safe place to buy, a good quality product and moreover will sell at a standard price.”

He assured that one gram is enough for “one large joint and three slimmer ones,” stating the first legal marijuana crop should hit the market in the middle of 2014.

The legislation stipulates a number of conditions that will govern the sale of the drug. Uruguayan citizens will be required to register in a private database to be able to purchase marijuana and will be restricted to 40 grams each per month.

Moreover, citizens will legally be allowed to cultivate six marijuana plants per head or band together and organize a club of up to 45 members with the possibility of growing 99 plants.

The Uruguayan state will also offer advice to marijuana users on the drug’s consumption.

“As well as smoking marijuana in a cigarette, you can also vaporize it - which is much less harmful - or consume it in food like brownies,” said Calzada.  

There are still a number of details to finalize in the Uruguayan bill to legalize marijuana. At present no money has been allocated to finance the new director for the Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis.

The initiative has also hit upon opposition politicians who released a poll over the summer that claimed that 60 per cent of the country’s population was against the idea.

The National Drug Board estimates that there are around 120,000 marijuana users in Uruguay from a population of 3.3 million. Consumer groups estimate that the figure as higher, putting the number of users at around 200,000.

The board has also calculated that about 20 hectares will be needed in order to satisfy demand. As part of the initiative, the Uruguayan government will give licenses to private businesses, which will be allowed to cultivate on state-controlled land. 

US may be guilty of war crimes over drone use – Amnesty Intl

US officials responsible for carrying out drone strikes may have to stand trial for war crimes, according to a report by Amnesty International, which lists civilian casualties in the attacks in Pakistan.
The report is based on the investigation of the nine out of 45 drone strikes reported between January 2012 and August 2013 in North Waziristan, the area where the US drone campaign is most intensive. The research is centered on one particular case – that of 68-year-old Mamana Bibi, who was killed by a US drone last October while she was picking vegetables with her grandchildren.

The report is entitled ‘Will I be next?’ citing the woman’s eight-year-old granddaughter Nabeela, who was near when the attack occurred, but miraculously survived.

"First it whistled then I heard a "dhummm". The first hit us and the second my cousin,” Nabeela recalls.

The report also recounts an incident from July 2012, when 18 laborers, including a 14-year-old, were killed in the village of Zowi Sidgi. The men gathered after work in a tent to have a rest when the first missile hit. The second struck those who tried to help the injured.

Amnesty International is seriously concerned that these and other strikes have resulted in unlawful killings that may constitute extrajudicial executions or war crimes,” the report reads.

Amnesty’s main point is the need for transparency and accountability, something the US has so far been reluctant to offer.

The US must explain why these people have been killed - people who are clearly civilians. It must provide justice to these people, compensation and it must investigate those responsible for those killings,” Mustafa Qadri, the Amnesty researcher who wrote the report, says.

The report comes at a time when the US is facing growing international pressure over its drone program.

Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, is currently in Washington, where he is expected to talk drones with Barack Obama. And on Friday the UN General Assembly will be debating the use of remotely-piloted aircraft.

In a separate report, a UN investigation revealed some 33 drone strikes around the world - not just in Pakistan - that violated international humanitarian law and resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties. That report is also calling for more transparency and accountability from the United States.

Space cannon ready: Japan to shoot asteroid for samples in 2014 mission

In 2013 the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency are sending the space probe, Hayabusa 2, on a long journey to an asteroid named 1999 JU3 (Image by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)
In 2013 the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency are sending the space probe, Hayabusa 2, on a long journey to an asteroid named 1999 JU3 (Image by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)
 
 
A unique space cannon developed for Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft has successfully test-fired on Earth in preparation for a 2014 mission. During its upcoming journey into space, the cannon will blast an asteroid and mine samples of its soil.
The test took place in the Japanese prefecture of Gifu, paving the way for the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft to extract soil samples from the asteroid, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced on Monday.

During the mission of Hayabusa 2, scheduled to begin in December 2014, the space probe will extract soil from inside the asteroid. In order to do this, it will be equipped with a collision device designed to shoot at the surface of the asteroid from a distance of 100 meters with metal shell ammunition moving at a speed of two kilometers per second.

JAXA hopes to create a small (a few meters in diameter), artificial crater from which Japanese scientists can extract valuable samples capable of revealing the history of the formation of cosmic bodies of this type.

“A new function, [a] ‘collision device,’ is considered to be [on board] to create a crater artificially,” JAXA explained on its website, adding that collecting samples from the surface that is exposed by a collision will ensure acquiring “fresh samples that are less weathered by the space environment or heat.”

In order to calibrate the precision of the cannon, JAXA engineers had to overcome a number of challenges. However, the agency assures that all problems have already been solved.



Image by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
Image by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
“We were able to solve several problems associated with the development of the device. During the tests, the projectile hit right on target, and with the expected speed,” JAXA engineer Takanao Saiki said.

Japanese scientists actively began exploring asteroids with the Hayabusa mission, which returned to earth in June 2010 after exploring a 500-meter-long rock-rich S-type Itokawa asteroid.

Hayabusa 2 is a successor of the first spacecraft and is scheduled to be launched in 2014 to conduct research of a C-type asteroid temporally called ‘1999 JU3.’ It is believed to contain a higher concentration of organic matters and water.

“Minerals and seawater which form the Earth as well as materials for life are believed to be strongly connected in the primitive solar nebula in the early solar system, thus we expect to clarify the origin of life by analyzing samples acquired from a primordial celestial body such as a C-type asteroid to study organic matter and water in the solar system and how they coexist while affecting each other,” JAXA posted on its website.

So far, research into ‘1999 JU3’ revealed that it is a sphere approximately 920 meters in diameter with an albedo on the surface of about 0.06. The rotation period of the celestial object is approximately 7.6 hours.

Hayabusa 2 is expected to reach its target in the middle of 2018 before departing back to Earth in 2019. 

UN torture investigator condemns California prison conditions

California Department of Corrections officer looks on as inmates at Chino State Prison exercise in the yard (AFP Photo)
California Department of Corrections officer looks on as inmates at Chino State Prison exercise in the yard (AFP Photo)
 
The foremost torture investigator at the United Nations has expressed concern over worsening conditions in prisons throughout the US and hopes to visit California facilities, where a judge has granted state lawmakers more time to reduce overcrowding.
Juan Mendez, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, met with The Los Angeles Times editorial board, where he called for greater oversight into the California prison system. The California Department of Corrections has long been the target of human rights groups for its policy of housing inmates in solitary confinement indefinitely.
We should have more justification” for putting inmates in isolation, Mendez said. While correctional officers are supposed to use solitary confinement as a last resort for delinquent prisoners, it has been commonly adopted as the preferred method of punishment.
We should put the burden on the state that this is the proper way to do things, and we should all be more skeptical,” Mendez said Friday.
Mendez previously expressed interest in touring California prisons in May 2013. The request needs authorization from the US Department of Justice and California Governor Jerry Brown, yet Mendez said his requests have gone unacknowledged. A US State Department spokeswoman told The Times that officials are “open to continuing to discuss” a visit from Mendez.
The conditions for visits to detention facilities in the United States are all determined on a case-by-case basis,” spokeswoman Laura Seal said.
Mendez said he would need the power to meet with any inmate he so chooses and would not accept an agreement granting him only partial access to a facility. He condemned any policy that keeps inmates in their cell for 22 hours a day and maintained that no mentally ill inmate should be locked up alone, an oft-voiced complaint from human rights groups.
Sometimes you negotiate all the way to the cell door,” he said.
The conditions in California were marked earlier this year by a 60-day hunger strike that reverberated throughout the state. Thousands of inmates refused their daily meals to protest the state’s policy of isolating gang members for years - and sometimes decades.
As many as 10,000 inmates are thought to be held in solitary confinement, also known as the Secure Housing Unit (SHU), raising the possibility that thousands of convicts will be released into the public with serious socialization issues or a mental illness not present when they were first put behind bars.
Unfortunately, life within a prison’s general population may only be a marginal improvement because of vast overcrowding.
California prison facilities operated at 200 percent capacity for over a decade but authorities have slowly reduced that number after a federal judge deemed the conditions constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.” The California Department of Corrections was operating at 143.8 percent of capacity as of September 2013.  
Authorities have been slow in finding a way to reduce overcrowding, to the extent that a three-judge panel said in 2011 that the state would need to begin releasing thousands of inmates early. Over 1,000 prisoners were released early over the past year in preparation for the December 31, 2013 deadline. Yet that date has since been moved back twice - first to January 27, 2014, then again to February 24, 2014.
Much of the problem lies with inadequate medical treatment, according to defense attorneys.  
Prisoners are getting injured and dying because of poor care,” Don Specter, a long time defense lawyer who has spent years petitioning the state, told The Los Angeles Times. “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has never taken its obligation to provide basic healthcare seriously.”

 

FSB wants Russian internet communications to be recorded



Russia’s Communications Ministry, in cooperation with security services, is finalizing a directive obliging internet providers to record private internet communications.
However, unwilling to bear unanticipated expenses, internet providers are citing constitutional freedoms.
According to Kommersant daily, the new directive has been in development for over six months, in close cooperation with the Federal Security Service (FSB).
The major innovation of the new directive is that it would require internet providers to record constantly the last 12 hours or more of traffic coming through their servers, starting from July 1, 2014. This would allow the FSB secret service to control phone numbers, IPs, register entries, e-mails of social networks users etc.
Kommersant Daily has obtained a letter from Russia’s communications giant, Vympelkom, to the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media. The letter signed by Aleksey Rokotyan, Vympelkom’s Director of analytical support and liaison with governmental bodies, maintains that the directive contradicts articles 23, 24 and 25 of the Russian constitution, which guarantee secrecy of communications and prevents collection and recording of private information, unless ruled otherwise by a court.
The letter also mentions the provider’s concern with the additional expenses it would have to bear if the directive comes into force.
Actually, all major providers are already closely cooperating with the FSB and have their servers connected to FSB’s web monitoring facilities. But recording terabytes of dataflow is an expensive activity requiring additional data storage installation; some minor providers would simply be unable to sustain this financially.
So far providers have had to connect their servers to FSB lines at their own expense, Kommersant Daily reports.
According to another Kommersant’s source, Vympelkom estimates that $100 million of additional investment will be needed to comply with the upcoming law, whereas according to the same source another Russian IT major, MTS, estimates its extra expenses caused by the law will be a much less - 300 million rubles (less than $10m).
So the question now is whether the government is ready to finance the undertaking from the budget, paying for millions of dollars’ worth of equipment needed.
Russia’s Ministry of Communications and Mass Media said that the new directive “principally adds nothing new to the work of internet providers”. Most of them have already been working with security authorities closely since 2008, when obligatory connection of servers’ dataflow to the FSB’s Operational-Investigative System was introduced.
The Ministry’s press-service stressed that the new directive only specifies the technical aspects of the FSB’s internet data use and does not circumvent the necessity of a court ruling to get access to private data.
“The system is not a threat to a law abiding citizen, it only brings additional security,” the Ministry says.
“Operators would only be obliged to install the necessary equipment and ensure FSB’s access to the data. Operators themselves would not have access to the data processed on that equipment, being performed in accordance with the law, within the framework of the operational-investigative activities,” the Ministry maintains.
Russian lawmakers gave an assurance that honest citizens have nothing to fear.
“If someone doesn’t know, as of today (internet) operators are actively and voluntarily cooperating with special services, because no company, I hope, no citizen is interested in concealing information that may lead to the identification of a perpetrator and bring him to responsibility [sic],” vice-speaker, Sergey Zheleznyak, told the RIA news agency. Mr Zheleznyak oversees information technologies in the Russia’s parliament. The MP also noted that the introduction of the new directive is prompted by the fast development of the IT sphere.
The Chairman of the Senate’s Defense and Security Committee, Viktor Ozerov, commented to RIA on the matter, saying that if the FSB is investigating terror acts and crimes threatening national security, he sees “nothing tragic” in special services having access to internet dataflow. The Senator pointed out that if police can, in certain cases, enter a private dwelling without a court’s ruling, why can’t special services have a right to access the servers of internet providers.
“We always talk about human rights when it comes to us personally, but when serious security matters emerge, people tend to blame special services for bad work,” the Senator added.
There is nothing wrong with controlling the internet as long as the information is restricted for use strictly within the special services, Russian MP Aleksandr Khinshtein commented on the news.

“If a person visits a normal, lawful website, what should he be afraid or ashamed of?” Khinshtein said, stressing though that there must be “certain controllability” of the internet overseeing process.
The leader of the Fair Russia party, Sergey Mironov, has spoken against the directive, saying that if Kommersant’s information is correct, this is a direct violation of the Russian constitution.
At the same time, Mironov noted that he would like to get acquainted with the document personally, saying that “the publication, honestly speaking, looks strange and raises very big questions.”
Last week the Russian government also announced the preparation of a bill allowing the FSB to take measures against hackers who threaten the country’s information systems.

Kremlin regaining control over Russian internet

Russian lawmakers started preparing new legislation empowering the FSB with new powers, following President Vladimir Putin’s directive to ensure tighter national control over the Russian segment of the World Wide Web.
Speaking at an expanded session of the FSB counterintelligence service in February, President Putin declared that “nobody has a right to sow hatred and rock society and the country, thus jeopardizing the life, wellbeing and peace of millions of our citizens,” stressing that extremist and terrorist groups use the internet for disseminating their messages.
The Russian president urged the prevention of people, in particularly younger members of society from “being dragged into terrorist groups and militant gangs”.
“We should act resolutely to break up the different types of extremist structures, and thwart the attempts of extremists to use the capabilities of modern information technologies, Internet resources and social networks for their propaganda,” stipulated Vladimir Putin, demanding the development of a uniform system that will be able to “detect, prevent and repel” computer attacks against Russia's information resources “as promptly as possible”.
However, these “well-planned special operations” must be implemented with “perfectly legal and judical transparency,” said Putin back in February. RIA Novosti/Vadim Zhernov

Two dead after shooting at Nevada school

Sparks Middle School (Image from google maps)
Sparks Middle School (Image from google maps)
 
 
A teacher was shot and killed by a student at a middle school on Monday near Reno, Nevada. The shooter then turned the gun on himself.
Sparks Middle School was put on lockdown Monday morning after shots were heard shortly after 7 a.m. local time, KVVU-TV reported. Several people were reportedly injured.
Around two hours after the incident first unfolded, police officials confirmed to the Reno Gazette Journal that two people were declared dead, including the gunman. Authorities have since confirmed that the gunman—a student at Sparks—was among the deceased, apparently having committed suicide.
The second person killed during the shooting was later identified as Michael Landsberry, an eighth grade math teacher at the school.
Landsberry's family told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the teacher, who was also in the Nevada Army National Guard and served several tours in Afghanistan, had tried to get the student shooter to put his gun down before being shot and killed.
“The teacher came to investigate,” eight grader Kyle Nucum, 13, told the Gazette. “I thought it was a firecracker at first, but the student was pointing a gun at the teacher after the teacher told him to put it down, and the student fired a shot at the teacher and the teacher fell and everybody ran away."
“And we ran across the field to get somewhere safe and while we were running we heard about four or five more shots and we just got somewhere safe."
“To hear he was trying to protect those kids doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Chanda Landsberry, who is married to Michael’s younger brother. “He could have ducked and hid, but he didn’t. That’s not who he is.”
Sparks City Manager Shawn Carey told the Journal earlier that day that the alleged shooter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
According to Journal reporter Siobhan McAndrew, 13-year-old Kyle Nucum said the shooter was another student dressed in the Sparks middle school uniform.
You ruined my life, now I’m going to ruin yours,” Nucum told McAndrew he heard the shooter say before opening fire on a teacher.
Renown Regional Hospital spokeswoman Angela Rambo said that two male patients, both minors, were in critical condition at her facility, the Journal reported.
The school is located just east of Reno, Nevada and has around 630 students enrolled in grades seven and eight.
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval has released a statement saying he was “deeply saddened to learn of the horrific shooting” and that his family extends their “thoughts and prayers to the victims and those affected by these tragic events.”
Reno Police Deputy Chief Tom Robinson said during the Monday morning press conference that parents can “rest assured.”
The schools are safe. The rest of the city is safe,” Robinson said.

 

Russia did not violate rights of Katyn victims’ relatives – ECHR

The Katyn Memorial in the Smolensk Region. (RIA Novosti/Iliya Pitalev)
The Katyn Memorial in the Smolensk Region. (RIA Novosti/Iliya Pitalev)
 
 
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled Russia did not violate the rights of the relatives of the 1940 Katyn massacre victims. The court, however, criticized the country for refusing to hand over copies of classified documents for the proceedings.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) announced on Monday its final judgment in the case initiated by 15 relatives of the Katyn massacre victims, who accused Russia of conducting an inadequate investigation into the tragedy, dating back to WWII. In 1940, Soviet security services (NKVD) killed, without trial, about 22,000 Polish prisoners of war and buried them in mass graves. Most executions took place in the Katyn forest near the city of Smolensk. 
The ECHR ruled it has no competence in verifying the adequacy of the Russian investigation into events which had taken place ten years before the European Convention on human rights was adopted. 
Relatives of the Katyn victims accused Russia of “inhuman or degrading treatment” towards them, citing Article 3 of the Convention. For several decades Moscow refused to reveal the truth about the mass executions. The ECHR cleared Russia in this respect, saying that by the time Russia joined the Convention in 1998 it had already publicly acknowledged that the Soviet authorities were responsible for the massacre. 
What the Court found Russia guilty of is a breach of Article 38 of the Convention (obligation to furnish necessary facilities for examination of the case). Moscow refused to submit a copy of the 2004 decision to stop the Katyn investigation to the ECHR, explaining that it was a classified document and national legislation prohibited such papers to be shown to foreign individuals and organizations.
Poland was disappointed by the Court decision.
"The ruling does not take into account all the arguments of the Polish side that have here a great moral and historic right," the Polish Undersecretary of State, Artur Nowak-Far said in a statement.
It was not until 1990, 50 years after the Katyn massacre, that the Soviet Union recognized it was responsible for the deaths of the Polish prisoners. Before that the tragedy had been blamed on the Nazis. 
President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, apologized to the Polish people, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered some of the secret documents related to the Katyn case to be released to historians.
Nevertheless the tragedy has persisted in casting a shadow over the two countries’ relations. 
Many in Poland were dissatisfied with the fact that Russia shelved the Katyn massacre investigation in 2004. Moscow explained the move by saying all of the Soviet officials allegedly responsible for the executions were already dead. 
The decision to terminate the investigation was classified as “top secret”, together with 36 out of a total of 183 volumes of the Katyn case’s files. 
In November 2010, Russia’s State Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, adopted a statement admitting that the executions of Polish citizens near Katyn in 1940 took place on the direct orders of Josef Stalin and other Soviet leaders. The statement titled “The Katyn Tragedy and its Victims” said that it was necessary to continue “verifying the lists of victims, restoring the good names of those who perished in Katyn and other places, and uncovering the circumstances of the tragedy". 

 

Banker Lebedev starts community service in Tula region

Banker Alexander Lebedev (RIA Novosti/Sergey Kuznecov)
Banker Alexander Lebedev (RIA Novosti/Sergey Kuznecov)
 
Billionaire banker Aleksander Lebedev, who was sentenced to 150 hours community service for a brawl with real estate mogul Sergey Polonsky during a TV show, has arrived to his native Tula Region to serve his punishment.
53-year old Lebedev, whose personal wealth exceeded $1.1 billion in 2012 (according to the Forbes magazine), went to the Tula Region where he is officially registered as a resident after talking to officials from Moscow city directorate of the Federal Service of Execution of Punishment. Before leaving he was fingerprinted and signed the necessary papers, Russian news agencies reported.
Lebedev told the press that most likely he would work on a construction site, building a school or a kindergarten.
However, the ITAR-TASS news agency quoted some sources in the directorate as saying the banker could be sent to clear orchards, mow grass or do janitorial work.
The banker is known for his sponsorship of the popular Russian liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta (of which Mikhail Gorbachev is also a key shareholder) and for ownership of the British daily the London Evening Standard.
Lebedev was sentenced to compulsory works in July this year after a lengthy trial. The story started in September 2011 when Lebedev took part in a TV show aired by the popular NTV channel on the issue of social responsibility of businessmen. Another participant in the program was real estate developer Sergey Polonskiy – known for his controversial media statements.
 
After a heated row Lebedev jumped from his chair and attacked Polonskiy who fell on the floor and tore his jeans.
Shortly afterwards Polonskiy posted a photo of himself on social networks holding the remains of the jeans, and sued Lebedev for beating him up. Lebedev pleaded not guilty, insisting that he acted in self defense, protecting himself from Polonskiy’s dangerously fast moves and that he hit the developer only twice. A physical attack becomes a criminal offence only when three or more punches are delivered.
The court ruled in favor of the developer and sentenced the banker to 150 hours of community service.
During the court hearings Polonskiy went on vacation to Cambodia where he was arrested for beating up and illegally detaining local citizens. Polonskiy has spent three months in a Cambodian prison and is currently awaiting trial.
 

Monsanto’s pesticides poisoning Argentina – report

Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
 
Pesticides sold by Monsanto are behind health problems ranging from birth defects to elevated rates of cancer in Argentina, a report has revealed. A lack of regulations has led to widespread misuse of Monsanto’s products in the Latin American nation.
The Associated Press carried out a report that found a clear link between the use of pesticides sold by Monsanto and growing health problems in Argentina. Absence of regulations and their enforcement has led to widespread misuse of Monsanto’s chemicals across the country. In turn, this has caused multiple health problems in the rural population.
AP documented a number of occasions when toxic pesticides were used close to populated areas and consequently contaminated the water supply and caused health problems.
Santa Fe Province, which is Argentina’s number one producer of cereals, forbids the use of pesticides less than 500 meters from populated areas. However, AF uncovered evidence that toxic chemicals were used as little as 30 meters from people’s homes.
Schoolteacher Andrea Druetta who lives in Santa Fe told AP that her children had been covered in pesticides recently while swimming in the garden pool.
In addition, studies show that cancer rates in the province are two to four times higher than the rest of the country, while in the neighboring province of Chaco birth defects have quadrupled since the introduction of biotechnology in the agricultural industry around a decade ago.
Researchers also found high rates of thyroid disorders and chronic respiratory illness in Santa Fe.

Deadly cocktails

Monsanto’s chemical pesticide, Roundup, contains a substance called glyphosate. While the substance has been deemed harmless, AP found that it is being used in a number of ways in Argentina that are “unanticipated by regulatory science or specifically banned by existing law.”
Doctor Damian Vernassi from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Rosario told RT’s Spanish channel, Actualidad RT, that these chemical mixes could be responsible for the drastic increase in health problems.
“It could be linked to pesticides,” he said. “There has been analysis of the primary ingredient, but we have never investigated the interactions between the different chemicals that are being mixed.”
AP interviewed Argentine farmhand, Fabian Tomassi, who worked preparing a cocktail of chemicals to spray crops for three years. He now suffers from the debilitating neurological disorder, polyneuropathy, and is near death.
“I prepared millions of liters of poison without any kind of protection, no gloves, masks or special clothing," he said. "I didn't know anything. I only learned later what it did to me, after contacting scientists.”
In response to the study, Monsanto issued a statement saying that it “does not condone the misuse of pesticides or the violation of any pesticide law, regulation, or court ruling."
"Monsanto takes the stewardship of products seriously and we communicate regularly with our customers regarding proper use of our products," said spokesperson Thomas Helscher in a written statement.
Argentina was one of the first countries to adopt Monsanto’s biotechnology to increase its agricultural output. The multinational’s products transformed Argentina into the world’s third largest producer of soy.
At present Argentina’s entire soy crop is genetically modified, as is most of its corn and cotton. In addition, AP found that Argentine farmers use about 4.5 pounds of pesticide concentrate per acre, which is over double the amount used in the US.  


Terrorist blast kills 6, injures over 30 in Volgograd, central Russia

Six people were killed and 37 injured - some of them critically - after a female suicide bomber set off a bomb on a bus in Volgograd, central Russia. Local authorities have been put on high terror alert for the next 15 days.
“Today at 2:05pm Moscow time [10:05 GMT] in Volgograd inside a bus, as a result of an unknown explosive device going off, a blast happened, leading to casualties,” a national Anti-terrorist Committee representative said in the statement.
Forty passengers were on the bus. At least eight of them are in critical condition. A 20-month-old toddler is among those injured. His state is assessed as moderately severe.
Russia’s Health Ministry indicated that most of the victims in the explosion sustained mine explosive-type wounds, caused by the bus’s paneling and the shattered glass.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has instructed the Emergencies Ministry and the Ministry of Health to provide all the necessary help to the victims of the blast. An Emergencies Ministry plane has already brought four injured to Moscow for treatment.
A three-day mourning for the victims of the terrorist attack has been declared in Volgograd Oblast.

A young man named Ilya, an eyewitness of the terror act, who was in a different bus on the same route, described the scene of the blast to RT:
“First I saw a lot of pieces of broken glass scattered all over the driveway [road]… There definitely was an explosion in [the bus] as its windows burst outside sending glass to a considerable distance, but with no fire outbreak… There were a lot of police there and also people who had been just driving by and stopped to help the victims, they were bringing med kits with them. There were people from the emergency service at the scene helping the injured, but I saw a woman sitting inside the bus. She was covered with blood and I couldn’t make out whether she was alive or not. She was just sitting there.”
According to Ilya, lots of students use that bus route, as it stops at Volgograd State University, and there were apparently some students at the scene of the blast. The bus also passes the local Cardio Center, he said, adding that some heart patients might have been there too.

Photo from vk.com/club60039978
Photo from vk.com/club60039978
A relative of one of the surviving passengers told Echo of Moscow radio the explosion went off in the middle of the bus aisle. There were a lot of youngsters on the bus at the time of the blast, he said.

Witnesses reported that the front part of the vehicle was heavily damaged, and that the nearby cars had their windows broken.

Bomber identified

The Investigative Committee has identified the woman who was the suicide bomber behind the blast: it's allegedly Naida Asiyalova, from Dagestan.
The preliminary information indicates that “the female suicide bomber recently converted to Islam, and was the wife of a militant leader,” an Investigative Committee representative told the media.
Also, a grenade has been found under the vehicle and it's now being checked whether the explosive is live, a source in the security forces now at the scene told RIA Novosti.

Naida Asiyalova's passport scan (image from http://hackinferno.livejournal.com)
Naida Asiyalova's passport scan (image from http://hackinferno.livejournal.com)
According to information obtained by LifeNews from security sources, the suicide bomber, Asiyalova, earlier recruited a young Muscovite, Dmitry Sokolov, who became a skilled bomber respected by Islamist militants. Sokolov, now known as Abdul Jabbar, is wanted in Dagestan for taking part in two terrorist explosions, in which at least 29 people were injured, the media added.

RIA Novosti/Kirill Braga
RIA Novosti/Kirill Braga
Following the blast, local police cordoned off the scene and ordered all movement of minivan buses in Volgograd to be halted. A kilometers-long traffic jam has formed in the area.
Bomb technicians and investigators thoroughly searched the scene. Criminal investigators from Moscow have also been called to Volgograd, according to Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin.
Volgograd authorities have also been put on high terror alert for the next 15 days.
Emergencies Ministry video from the scene:

  Earlier, the malfunction of gas equipment inside the bus was listed as one of the possible causes of the blast. However, investigators soon indicated a terrorist act was the preliminary cause.
The transport company which owned the bus said that the vehicle worked on diesel fuel, and there was no gas equipment on board, a statement on the local governor’s website later confirmed.

RIA Novosti/Press-service of Russian Emergen
RIA Novosti/Press-service of Russian Emergen
Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, is an important industrial city and the administrative center of Volgograd region. The city spans some 80 kilometers along the Volga River in the South of Russia.
At the present time more than 1 million people live in Volgograd.

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