Egypt Independent: World-Main news en Suspected Al-Qaeda militants arrested in Italy for Vatican plot <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Italian police were arresting 18 people on Friday suspected of belonging to an armed group linked to al Qaeda who were plotting attacks on the Vatican as well as in Pakistan and Afghanistan.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Some of the suspects, who are all Pakistanis and Afghans, were arrested in early morning raids across Italy. Police burst into the home of the group&#39;s suspected spiritual leader, in the northern city of Bergamo, a video released by them showed.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Though the suspects were plotting attacks mainly in their native countries, phone taps suggest the Vatican was also a target, said Mauro Mura, chief prosecutor of the Sardinian city of Cagliari, where the group based its headquarters.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In the tapped conversations, the suspects discuss &quot;a big jihad in Italy,&quot; added Mario Carta, head of the police unit on the case. They reference the word &quot;baba&quot;, which could mean the pope, Carta said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We don&#39;t have proof, we have strong suspicion,&quot; that the Holy See was a possible target, he added.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the hypothetical attacks were in the past, and that the new disclosures were not a matter for concern.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Italy, like other European countries, has been on heightened alert for possible terrorist schemes in the wake of the January attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>European capitals are particularly worried about possible &quot;sleeper&quot; militants, apparently living normal lives in their countries, who may at some point in the future be activated to stage attacks at home or abroad.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Italian officials are also concerned that members of terrorist groups might be hiding among the thousands of migrants who arrive in desperate state on Europe&#39;s shores every week.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Outlining the investigation at the news conference, Mura said the group had a large number of weapons and numerous followers willing to carry out acts of terrorism.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Police wire taps had determined that two people among the 18 targeted by arrest warrants were suspected of being part of a group that had protected al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US special forces at his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011, police said in a statement.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The group supported the &quot;armed struggle against the West&quot;, and wanted to incite a popular uprising against the Pakistani government so it would stop its backing of US forces in Afghanistan.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The United States has withdrawn most of its forces from Afghanistan. However, a relatively small number remains for training and special operations, while Washington is also carrying out drone strikes on Taliban militants.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The money was sent to Pakistan by members of the group who managed to avoid Italy&#39;s currency control regulations. In one case, 55,268 euros ($60,160) were carried to Pakistan on a flight from Rome to Islamabad.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But police said much of the money was moved through the trust-based transfer system known as hawala, the banking system of choice in Afghanistan&#39;s cash-based economy.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The imam arrested in Bergamo is suspected of having been a point person for the fund raising, who collected funds purportedly for religious purposes from Pakistanis and Afghans in Italy, police said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Some of those under investigation were believed to be involved in attacks that have already taken place in Pakistan, including one that killed more than 100 people in a market in the northwestern frontier city of Peshawar in 2009, the police added.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The group arranged for Pakistanis and Afghans to get into Italy under work contracts or as refugees seeking asylum and later sent some to cities in northern Europe, police said.</div> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 14:44:00 +0000 Reuters 2448638 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/04/24/484151/vatican_plot.jpg Euro zone warns Greece no cash till full reform deal <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Euro zone finance ministers warned Greece on Friday that its leftist government will get no more aid until it agrees a complete economic reform plan, as Athens lurches closer to bankruptcy.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis faced a harsh morning in which euro zone ministers bemoaned talks they felt &quot;were going nowhere&quot; and one minister said that maybe it was time governments prepared for the plan B of a Greek default.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chaired the meeting in the Latvian capital, slammed the door on Varoufakis&#39; proposal for early cash after partial reforms.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;A comprehensive and detailed list of reforms is needed,&quot; Dijsselbloem told a news conference following a meeting in Riga. &quot;A comprehensive deal is necessary before any disbursement can take place ... We are all aware that time is running out.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>He also said a remaining 7.2 billion euros in frozen bailout funds would no longer be available after June, and Greece&#39;s creditors would not talk about longer term funding and debt relief until Athens concluded a full interim agreement.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In a sign of the euro zone&#39;s frustration, the discussion on Greece lasted little more than an hour, while ministers declined to go into any detail over issues such as the budget surpluses Athens might target because Greece had no details prepared.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels on Thursday he hoped for an agreement by the end of this month and Merkel on Friday reiterated her call for a deal soon.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But Dijsselbloem said finance ministers would review progress again only on May 11 - a day before Greece has to make a crucial and uncertain 750 million euro payment to the International Monetary Fund.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the ECB would go on allowing emergency lending to Greek banks as long as they were assessed as solvent. But he cautioned that soaring Greek government bond yields were diminishing the value of the collateral that the banks present to get funds.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Facing a wave of deposit outflows, the banks are staying afloat with 75.4 billion euros in emergency liquidity assistance from the Greek central bank. But criticism of the lifeline is growing inside the ECB, central bank sources say, and it would be in doubt if Greece missed a payment to its creditors.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>European Economics Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said despite some progress in recent days, international creditors were still nowhere near an agreement with Athens.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Our message today is very clear: We need to accelerate, we need to accelerate from today ... there is no other choice if we want to reach the goal that everyone shares, which is a stable, prosperous Greece anchored in the euro zone,&quot; Moscovici said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Varoufakis sought to play down the differences, saying ministers had agreed to speed up the negotiations, which have also been delayed by Greece&#39;s insistence that EU/ECB/IMF teams avoid lengthy stays in Athens for fear of intensifying the popular backlash against the hated &quot;troika&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We agreed that an agreement will be difficult but it will happen and it will happen quickly because that is the only option we have,&quot; he told a separate news conference. He later said he was willing to find a compromise, warning of the huge cost to the euro zone if Greece were to default.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Concessions</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Before the tense meeting, Varoufakis offered some concessions in an effort to secure new funding before Athens runs out of money, saying in a blog post he was open to some privatizations and to a commission to supervise tax collection that would be independent of the government.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But he rejected any more wage or pension cuts and said creditors must agree on a realistic target for the primary budget surplus before debt service.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Our government is eager to rationalize the pension system (for example, by limiting early retirement), proceed with partial privatization of public assets, ... create a fully independent tax commission,&quot; Varoufakis said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Greek officials say they are aiming for a primary surplus of 1.2 to 1.5 percent of gross domestic product this year, well below the goals of 3 percent in 2015 and 4.5 percent in 2016 set in Greece&#39;s 2012 EU/IMF bailout program.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told Reuters there was room for maneuver on Greece&#39;s primary surplus, &quot;as long as it remains positive.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Exactly when Greece&#39;s cash reserves run out is unclear, but sources familiar with the matter said Athens would struggle to meet the IMF payment, and it was not certain to scrape together a targeted 2.5 billion euros from state entities&#39; idle cash.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Merkel appeared to send a signal of goodwill after her meeting with Tsipras on Thursday, telling reporters &quot;everything must be undertaken to prevent&quot; Athens running out of cash.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But the tone of finance ministers was tougher, in a clear effort to dramatize the stakes and force the novice Greek government to accept unpopular measures it had resisted such as pension and labor market reforms. Negotiations have been largely fruitless since radical leftists won power in Athens in January on a promise to reverse austerity and renegotiate Greece&#39;s 240-billion euro bailout package.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Europe safer</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The impact of a potential Greek default is the biggest risk to the euro zone&#39;s economic recovery after a long crisis from which the 19-nation currency area is finally emerging.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Unlike at the height of the crisis in 2011-12, economists believe the euro zone is far better placed to withstand any Greek default because the currency bloc has its own bailout fund, support from the European Central Bank and a banking union that can protect banks from crisis fallout.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The risk of contagion exists, but it is much lower than it was before,&quot; Standard &amp; Poor&#39;s Chief Economist Jean-Michel Six told Italian financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The lack of progress is starting to hurt Tsipras&#39; popularity and that of his government. Varoufakis warned in his blog against pushing Greece too hard, saying the Greek people would not support more spending cuts after one of the deepest recessions in Europe since the 1950s.</div> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 14:40:00 +0000 Reuters 2448636 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/01/30/499612/greece.jpg Protesters demand answers over Baltimore police death <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p>Police arrested two people on a fifth day of street protests in Baltimore over the death of an African American man in police custody that has yet to be fully explained.</p><p>More than 200 protesters rallied mid-afternoon outside Baltimore&#39;s stately city hall, chanting &quot;No justice, no peace&quot; and demanding to know the circumstances that lead to Sunday&#39;s death of Freddie Gray, 25, a week after his arrest in a rundown housing project.</p><p>He was the latest of a growing list of African American males whose death at the hands of police have put a harsh spotlight on law enforcement and race relations in the United States today.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s really inconceivable that a young man, 25 years of age, in the prime of his life, would end up dead for absolutely no reason at all,&quot; said Reverend Jamal Bryant, an organizer of Thursday&#39;s protests.</p><p>Two people were arrested Thursday for disorderly conduct and destruction of property, police said, as protesters marched at rush-hour through downtown Baltimore, snarling traffic, en route to the Western District police station, scene of nightly protests since Gray died.</p><p><strong>- Thin blue line -</strong></p><p>There, a largely African American crowd -- with a good turnout of white supporters -- faced off against a thin blue line of mostly white police officers, with six mounted police at the ready in a dark alley but no riot-equipped officers or equipment in sight.</p><p>Several white-shirted police lieutenants, captains and majors -- some black, some white -- ventured up to the barricade and listened patiently as protesters vented frustrations.</p><p>&quot;What needs to happen, and what the people want, is that someone gets indicted, that someone is held responsible for the death of Mr Gray,&quot; Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), told AFP.</p><p>Concern about police conduct vis-a-vis African Americans has been a hot-button issue since the August 9 shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which touched off sometimes violent protests nationwide.</p><p>But Gray&#39;s case is unique, in that it has unfolded in a blue-collar port city -- scene of the hit TV series &quot;The Wire&quot; -- where Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, and police commissioner, Anthony Batts, are both black.</p><p><strong>- Pinned to ground -</strong></p><p>Videos of Gray&#39;s arrest on April 12, taken by bystanders, show two bicycle-riding white police officers pinning him to the ground at the Gilmor Homes housing project, in a known high-crime area.</p><p>He can be heard howling in apparent pain, before more police officers are seen packing him into a white police van.</p><p>&quot;They had him folded up like he was a crab or a piece of origami,&quot; Kevin Moore, who took one of the videos, told the Baltimore Sun newspaper. &quot;He was all bent up... just screaming for his life.&quot;</p><p>Within an hour, however, Gray was rushed to hospital, in a coma, with 80 percent of his spine severed at his neck, according to his family&#39;s lawyers. Despite shock trauma surgery, he never recovered.</p><p>It remains unclear what transpired inside the van, or why exactly he was stopped, although police said he was found after his arrest to be carrying a switchblade knife.</p><p>Police said Gray had asked for his inhaler and requested medical attention after his arrest.</p><p>Batts has promised that a police investigation will be completed by May 1, but has not said whether it will be made public.</p><p><strong>- &#39;We want answers&#39; -</strong></p><p>&quot;We&#39;re not bashing the police, but we want answers,&quot; Reverend Charles Neal, a Baltimore pastor and protest organizer who knew Gray, told AFP.</p><p>He said he remembered Gray as &quot;a young man trying to find his way&quot; after previous run-ins with the law that included petty offenses and drug charges.</p><p>Recently, Gray had been working at a local flower shop with a policy of giving young men like him a second chance, Neal said.</p><p>Several other investigations are underway as well, including one announced Tuesday by the US Justice Department into whether Gray&#39;s civil rights may have been violated.</p><p>Six officers have been suspended with pay in the meantime, and five of them have given statements. The sixth is reportedly exercising a right not to do so.</p><p>Members of Gray&#39;s family appeared briefly before Thursday&#39;s city hall crowd, but did not speak.</p><p>Gray&#39;s funeral is set for Monday, to be preceded on Saturday by a downtown protest that organizers hope will attract a crowd of 10,000.</p> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 09:13:00 +0000 AFP 2448606 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/04/24/499612/police_death_-protesters_demand_answers_over_baltimore.jpg Shocked by drowned migrants, Europe restores rescue mission <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p>Four days after up to 900 desperate people drowned trying to reach Europe from Libya, EU leaders agreed on Thursday to triple its naval search mission in the Mediterranean, restoring its funding to last year&#39;s level.</p><p>Critics called it a face-saving operation that did not go far enough to emulate an Italian rescue mission abandoned six months ago for want of EU support. And divisions remained over longer-term proposals, ranging from dealing with people smugglers and African migrant camps to how to redistribute asylum-seekers around 28 nations where anti-immigrant parties are on the rise.</p><p>But Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who had called for the emergency summit in Brussels after the deadly sinking of a crowded vessel on Sunday pierced many Europeans&#39; indifference to the fate of unwelcome migrants, called it &quot;a big step forward for Europe&quot;.</p><p>Countries, including Britain which will send the Royal Navy&#39;s helicopter-carrying flagship, pledged aircraft and boats to Operation Triton, an EU frontier operation off Italy. Funding for a similar operation off Greece was also to be increased.</p><p>Officials said the difference could be felt within days. Italy warned that, after nearly 2,000 deaths so far this year out of nearly 40,000 people making the crossing, a summer season was starting that could push total arrivals on its shores for 2015 to 200,000, an increase of 30,000 over last year.</p><p>&quot;We face a difficult summer,&quot; said the summit chairman, European Council President Donald Tusk. He took pains to warn that there would be no quick fix for problems that saw more than 600,000 people seek asylum in the European Union last year.</p><p>Tripling annual funding to 120 million euros ($130 million) puts Triton in line with Italy&#39;s Mare Nostrum mission. That rescued 100,000 people last year but was criticised by Germany, Britain and others for attracting more people to put to sea in leaky craft supplied by profiteering gangs of traffickers.</p><p>In the face of public outrage, governments have muted those concerns about a &quot;pull factor&quot; and launched what one EU official said was a Mare Nostrum Mark II, ready to roam the high seas - although human rights groups worry its border defence mandate may mean ships stay too far from the trouble spots off Libya.</p><p><strong>&quot;DESTROY VESSELS&quot;</strong></p><p>Among 17 proposals in a summit communique, leaders agreed to &quot;undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers&quot;. It is unclear how that may be achieved and several leaders said they would need a U.N. mandate in the absence of a viable Libyan government.</p><p>The group that controls Libya&#39;s coastal capital Tripoli, which is not recognised internationally, said it would &quot;confront&quot; any such EU attacks. And veto-wielding Russia, at daggers drawn with the EU over Ukraine, could block a mandate.</p><p>Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres criticised the focus by leaders on trying to quell Libya people traffickers as they once did Somali pirates: &quot;We are amazed to see that the huge means and resources allocated to declaring war on smugglers are not equally invested in saving lives,&quot; said Aurelie Ponthieu, an MSF humanitarian adviser.</p><p>&quot;Focusing on keeping people out by cutting their only existing routes is only going to push people fleeing for their lives to find other routes, potentially even more dangerous.&quot;</p><p>Leaders said they would aim for long-term solutions, such as easing poverty and war in the Middle East and Africa, giving people in need a chance to ask for asylum before reaching Europe and opening possible legal routes to migration for some.</p><p>German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country along with Sweden takes in a large proportion of asylum-seekers, called for a change in the EU&#39;s system of managing asylum claims to better distribute the pressures across the bloc.</p><p>But few governments are willing to take a greater share and agreements on Thursday were limited. They will consider a voluntary scheme to ease the burden of arrivals on &quot;frontline&quot; states in the south - notably Italy, Greece and Malta. And they plan a pilot project to bring in refugees from abroad and resettle them around the continent, seeking a broad distribution.</p><p>An initial draft of the statement had suggested 5,000 people be brought in under this pilot. But there was no figure in the final agreement, reflecting deep hesitation across the Union.</p><p><strong>U.N. CRITICISM</strong></p><p>Underlining global attention, the United Nations had criticised the European response so far and urged it to do more: &quot;The European Union response needs to go beyond the present minimalist approach ... which focuses primarily on stemming the arrival of migrants and refugees on its shores.&quot;</p><p>EU officials and diplomats said differences among the states meant the legal mandate of Operation Triton would not be changed to make it explicitly intended to search for migrants and rescue them close to the Libyan coast. However, vessel commanders would have freedom to monitor where they wished to bar illegal entry to EU waters - and must under maritime law rescue anyone in trouble.</p><p>British Prime Minister David Cameron, seeking to fend off anti-immigration populists as he faces an election just two weeks away, pledged a warship, helicopters and support craft. But he stressed that people picked up would not automatically be given refuge in Britain and would mostly be delivered to Italian authorities to deal with.</p><p>Even as the leaders gathered, the Italian coast guard picked up 84 men, all apparently sub-Saharan Africans, from a sinking rubber boat 35 miles off Libya after receiving a distress call.</p><p>There were just 28 survivors from Sunday&#39;s disaster, apparently the worst among migrants fleeing by sea to Europe from north Africa.</p><p>An interfaith funeral was held in Malta for 24 victims, the only ones whose bodies have been recovered so far from a ship in which many are believed to have been locked in below deck.</p><p>Imam Mohammed El Sadi said what had happened should raise awareness of the migrants&#39; plight, while Bishop Mario Grech called for action motivated by love, rather than just the law.</p> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 08:27:00 +0000 Reuters 2448602 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/03/05/499612/migrants_entered_eu.jpg