The video, released by the Associated Press news agency almost six months after the storm devastated New Orleans, shows federal disaster officials warning Mr Bush and his homeland security chief in dramatic and sometimes agonising terms.

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The president asked no questions during the final government-wide briefing, but assured soon-to-be battered state officials that “We are fully prepared”.

Katrina struck on August 29, killing more than 1,300 people, many in New Orleans.

More than 2,000 people are still officially listed as missing.

Six days of footage and transcripts obtained by AP show in detail that while federal officials anticipated the disaster, they were fatally slow to realise they had failed to assign resources to deal with it.

Some of the footage conflicts with the defence that federal, state and local officials made in trying to deflect blame and minimise the political fallout.

The government’s slow reaction to the devastation has contributed to a major slump in the Bush administration’s popularity rating.

In the video, the then head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Michael Brown said: “This is, to put it mildly, the big one”.

He told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he was concerned that there weren’t enough disaster teams to help thousands of people stranded at the Superdome, saying it was “about 12 feet below sea level.”

“I don’t know whether the roof is designed to withstand a Cat Five hurricane,” Mr Brown was heard saying in the video.

Head of the National Hurricane Centre, Max Mayfield, said during a briefing there was “very, very grave concern” that New Orleans’ levees could be toppled by Katrina.

Four days after the hurricane hit, Mr Bush told a television interviewer that “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees”.

The president listened to the August 28 briefing by video link from his Texas ranch where he was on holiday.

He asked no questions but did say: “I want to assure the folks at state level that we are fully prepared”.

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However federal police said that when arrested the suspects claimed that the first blazes were set as “a joke” and that other churches were set alight to throw investigators off the track.

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Governor Bob Riley said the fires did not appear to be “any type of conspiracy against organised religion” or the Baptist faith.

Benjamin Nathan Moseley and Russell Lee Debusk, both 19-year-old students at Birmingham-Southern College, appeared in federal court and were ordered held on church arson charges pending a hearing on Friday.

Matthew Lee Cloyd, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, was also arrested over the fires.

The fires broke out at five Baptist churches in Bibb County, south of Birmingham, on February 3 and four Baptist churches in west Alabama on February 7.

The fires were mostly set at night in the sanctuary near the altar when the buildings were empty.

The federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency had made the investigation its top priority, with scores of federal agents joining state and local officers.

Acquaintances of the accused said DeBusk and Moseley were both amateur actors who were known as pranksters.

They performed in campus plays and appeared in a documentary film.

Moseley confessed to the arsons after his arrest, investigators alleged in documents presented to the court.

The documents said Moseley allegedly told agents that he, Cloyd and Debusk went to Bibb County in Cloyd’s sport utility vehicle on February 2 and set fire to five churches.

A witness quoted Cloyd as allegedly saying Moseley did it “as a joke and it got out of hand”.

Moseley also allegedly told agents the four fires in west Alabama were set “as a diversion to throw investigators off,” an attempt that “obviously did not work.”

During the investigation police said that there appeared to be no racial pattern in the fires; four were white congregations, five were black.

All were Baptist churches, the dominant faith in the region, but agents were uncertain if that denomination was a factor.

The three students are white and all either attend or previously were enrolled at Birmingham-Southern, a liberal arts college affiliated with the Methodist church.

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“From the moment when Hamas continues on the path of terrorism, nobody in the movement will benefit from immunity,” Mr Mofaz said when asked on army radio about the possibility of Mr Haniya being subject to a targeted killing operation.

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Mr Haniya has been given the task by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas of forming a government following the group’s election victory in January.

Hamas has carried out dozens of anti-Israeli suicide attacks during the course of a five-year Palestinian uprising, although none in the past 12 months.

Killings to continue

Two Hamas leaders, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdelaziz al-Rantissi, were killed in Israeli air strikes two years ago. Mr Haniya was also present with Mr Yassin during an earlier assassination attempt in September 2003.

More recently, Israel has targeted leaders of the extremist Islamic Jiahd movement which has continued to carry out attacks, including seven suicide bombings in the past year.

Two members of Jihad died in an air strike on Gaza City on Monday but three children were also killed in the attack, prompting criticism from the United Nations.

But Mr Mofaz vowed that the so-called targeted killing operations would continue.

“This policy is just and it will be pursued,” he said, adding that the strikes were carried out with “surgical precision”.

Questioned about the deaths of an eight-year-old and two teenage boys in Monday’s strike, Mr Mofaz said he was “sorry when civilians are hit.”

The UN Middle East peace envoy, Alvaro de Soto, stressed his opposition to what he called “extra-judicial killings”, which posed a danger to innocent bystanders.

“While recognising Israel’s right to defend itself, particularly from rocket attacks, I call on the Israeli military authorities to desist from extra-judicial killings and show maximum restraint at this delicate time.”

Israeli elections

Mr Mofaz’s comments come less than three weeks before Israel’s general election on March 28, with the ruling Kadima party keen to deflect any suggestion they are “soft on terrorism.”

Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing opposition Likud party, has claimed Hamas’s victory was a direct result of the government’s decision to pull troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip last year.

Israel’s hardline candidates have accused Acting Prime Minister and Kadima party leader Ehud Olmert of being too soft on Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction and refuses to renounce violence.

Another leading Kadima candidate, the former Shin Beth internal security chief Avi Dichter, also threatened Mr Haniya over the weekend.

“If Haniya and his people continue their policy of terror and assassinations when they are in power, they will find themselves behind bars or joining Sheikh Yassin,” he said.

Hamas reacted to Mr Mofaz’s comments by accusing Israel of conducting “state terrorism”.

“Hamas does not fear these threats and blackmail. We are committed to the defence of our rights and our people whatever the price,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.

“These comments by the Israeli defence minister are an illustration of state terrorism.”

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18 Iraqis found dead in bus

By
April 29th, 2019

Security officials said the gunmen stormed the Al-Rawafed security company headquarters in eastern Baghdad and forcing the staff to leave the building at gunpoint.

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Iraqi officials could not immediately say if the gunmen were from the interior ministry or if the employees had been kidnapped by insurgents disguised as police commandos.

Bodies found

The incident came less than 24 hours after police found the bodies of 18 men crammed into a minibus in a Sunni Arab district of west Baghdad. Some had been shot but most had been strangled.

The victims wore civilian clothes soaked in blood and the faces of several of them had turned blue. Two more bodies were discovered earlier in another part of Baghdad.

Fearing a fresh outbreak of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites, interior ministry officials refused to say if the killings were sectarian in nature.

In other violence at least 11 Iraqis were killed and scores of others wounded in a series of rebel attacks. The dead included four Iraqi policemen and two soldiers.

The latest round of violence came as the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, acknowledged that the US-led invasion had opened a “Pandora’s box” of ethnic and sectarian tension in the region.

The bombing of a Shiite shrine in the northern town of Samarra on February 22 triggered the worst sectarian violence since the invasion and has left hundreds dead, mainly Sunnis.

Mr Khalilzad said Washington had little choice but to maintain a strong presence in Iraq or risk a regional conflict with Arabs siding with the Sunnis and Iran which backs the Shiites.

Parliament to open

Meanwhile Iraq’s Shi’ite vice president has finally signed a presidential decree calling parliament into session.

The move has broken a political deadlock that had delayed the creation of a unity government in Iraq. US officials are hoping the formation of parliament will help to curb the unrelenting violence so their forces can start going home.

Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s signature on an executive order opens the way for the much-delayed first session of the parliament which was elected on December 15.

It has also signalled fundamental disagreement within the once-unified majority Shi’ite ranks.

The constitution dictates that the first meeting be held no later than Sunday, but negotiations were still under way on a specific date.

The first session had been delayed by weeks of intense political infighting and reached an impasse after Abdul-Mahdi refused to sign President Jalal Talabani’s decree on Monday.

The dispute centres around Shi’ite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s bid for a second term, which is opposed by a coalition of Sunni Arab, Kurdish and secular Shi’ite politicians.

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But his defence team argued against the penalty, saying that it would turn him into a martyr.

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Moussaoui, 37, a Frenchman of Moroccan background, was in jail at the time of the September 11 attacks on the US.

He is the only man so far to be tried in a US courtroom in connection with the attacks.

He pleaded guilty in April to six counts, three of which carry the death penalty, including conspiracy to commit terrorism.

“Please don’t make him a hero,” defence lawyer Edward MacMahon said at the start of the trial to determine Moussaoui’s sentence. “He just doesn’t deserve it.”

‘Blood on his hands’

Government lawyers said he had the blood of nearly 3,000 victims on his hands, as he had lied to investigators after his arrest, the month before the attacks when he raised suspicions at a flight school.

“Even though he was in jail on September 11, 2001, Moussaoui did his part … as a loyal al-Qaeda soldier,” said lead prosecutor Robert Spencer.

“His lies provided the operational security and allowed his brothers to go forward and kill. Had Moussaoui just told the truth on September 11, 2001, it would all have been different,” he said.

“This man knew there was a ticking timebomb in the United States, he knew there was a plot that was about to unfold,” said Mr Spencer.

But defence counsel Mr MacMahon said the jury must not allow Moussaoui to “live on as some smiling face in a recruiting poster for Osama bin Laden”.

Long process

Moussaoui’s sentence hearing, behind held in Alexandria, Virginia, is expected to last up to three months.

Twelve jurors are to decide on his fate, firstly on whether his actions directly led to at least one death on September 11.

If it finds so, another phase of the trial will be held to decide whether Moussaoui will be executed.

If spared the death sentence, he is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Moussaoui, dressed in a green prisoner’s jumpsuit and a white cap, spent most of his time leaning back in his chair rubbing his long, bushy beard.

In the past he has disrupted court appearances, but this time he watched with little expression and took notes.

After the judge left the courtroom, Moussaoui criticised Mr MacMahon, one of several court-appointed lawyers whom Moussaoui detests, and vowed to testify to tell his side of the story.

Hundreds of relatives of those killed in the September 11 attacks watched the trial live by video link from special courtrooms around the country, and a few were present in the courtroom.

Although Moussaoui claims he was not meant to be part of the September 11 attacks, he said Osama bin Laden had picked him to fly a plane into the White House as part of a broader conspiracy.

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