Diplomat snatched in Gaza

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September 30th, 2019

The man, named by Egyptian officials in Gaza City as Hossam al-Musseli, was heading toward his office in Gaza City’s Al-Rimal

neighbourhood when masked gunmen surrounded his car and forced him into a separate vehicle, police said.

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The kidnappers then took off on a coastal road heading toward the southern Gaza Strip.

Egyptian officials said Mr Musseli worked as a military adviser in the diplomatic mission.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas ordered an urgent manhunt for the captors and the diplomat, as police erected barricades across the territory.

“This action is foreign to the traditions of the Palestinian people,” Mr Abbas said.

“We will not allow anyone to damage brotherly relations between Palestine and Egypt.”

An Egyptian delegation has been in the Gaza Strip for several months to help the Palestinian Authority reorganise its security forces following Israel’s pullout from the territory last September.

About 30 Egyptian military instructors left the territory last week at the end of their mission.

The radical movement Hamas, which won a landslide victory in parliamentary polls last month, also condemned the kidnapping.

“Those who carry out such acts are seeking to hurt our people and damage distinguished relations that link the Egyptian and

Palestinian people,” said Hamas’s spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu

Zuhri.

Amr Mussa, secretary general of the Arab League, termed the kidnapping as “unacceptable”.

The kidnapping of a diplomat from “a country which has always supported the Palestinian people harms Palestinian interests,”

Mr Mussa said in a statement.

No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

Kidnappings of foreigners have become a frequent occurrence in the Gaza Strip amid the security chaos fostered by armed militants.

The kidnappings have been largely concentrated in the southern

Gaza Strip, close to the border with Egypt.

All those abducted have been released unharmed, usually within a matter of hours.

Mr Abbas has repeatedly failed to fulfill vows to address the security chaos in the Palestinian territories, especially in Gaza, where gunmen from a plethora of armed factions often operate above the law.

The kidnappings, which are usually accompanied by demands for either jobs or payment, have served to frighten off investment in Gaza, one of the most impoverished and overcrowded strips of land in the world.

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Brown blames White House

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September 30th, 2019

Michael Brown, who was the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on last August, told a US Senate panel investigating the government’s slow response to the disaster that he had personally alerted the White House on the night the storm hit.

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He dismissed claims by agency officials that they did not know about the severity of the damage until the day after he did.

Mr Brown said he had phoned White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin on Monday night, telling him of the destruction under way after a FEMA official had reported seeing breached levees during helicopter overflights of the Louisiana city.

“I think I told him that we were realizing our worst nightmare, that everything we had planned about, worried about, that FEMA, frankly, had worried about for about 10 years was coming true,” he said.

Mr Brown, who quit under fire days after the storm hit, said he agreed with descriptions of himself as a scapegoat.

He suggested that the administration’s fixation with fighting terrorism could be in part to blame for the slow government response, describing natural disasters as the “stepchild” of the Department of Homeland Security.

He said if there had been a report that a terrorist had blown up the 17th Street Canal levee, then action would have been taken immediately.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was told that Mr Brown had fought for emergency aid for New Orleans and was “as frustrated as everyone” over the slowness of the response.

“I was screaming and cussing,” he said, adding that he had pushed the appropriate officials to do everything they humanly could.

Homeland Security officials have told the committee they did not know the extent of the disaster until Tuesday, however Mr Brown dismissed the assertions as “disingenuous” and “baloney”.

Much of the blame for the mishandling of the disaster fell to Mr Brown in the days after the hurricane struck.

Critics say the administration’s response was too little and too late, and contributed to the loss of more than 1,300 lives in four states, including 1,100 in New Orleans and the state of Louisiana.

The debacle undermined public confidence in President Bush’s leadership abilities and contributed to a decline in his opinion poll ratings.

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US hostage in new video

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September 30th, 2019

Ms Carroll, dressed in a headscarf and speaking directly to the camera, urged US authorities to comply with hostage-takers’ demands “as quickly as possible”, without elaborating.

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“I’m fine, please just do whatever they want,” said the 28-year-old journalist, who was freelancing for the Christian Science Monitor when she was abducted on January 7.

“There is very short time,” she said, at first saying the video was being recorded on February 6 before correcting herself and saying it was February 2, 2006.

The video was aired on Al Rai TV, a private Kuwaiti channel, unlike two previous videos of Ms Carroll issued by her captors, which were handed over to the more widely watched al-Jazeera.

The video was delivered to the station’s Baghdad office, said Hani al-Srougi, an editor at the station’s headquarters in Kuwait.

It was accompanied by a letter written by Ms Carroll, which the station is holding.

In the tape, Ms Carroll mentions the letter and suggests that her captors issued a letter in her handwriting previously.

“I am with the mujahadeen (holy warriors). I sent you a letter written by my hand, but you wanted more evidence, so we are sending you this letter now to prove I am with the mujahadeen,” she said.

Emotional plea

Ms Carroll is being held by a group calling itself the Brigades of Vengeance, which has called for the freeing of all female prisoners from Iraqi jails as a condition for her release.

Ms Carroll was first seen in a video released on January 17 which showed her wearing a grey sweatshirt with her long brown hair loose.

Her captors made a threat to kill her unless their demands were met by January 20.

That deadline passed with no word on her fate until a new video appeared on al-Jazeera on January 30, showing Ms Carroll — now in an Islamic veil — weeping and making an emotional plea.

In late January, more than 400 Iraqi detainees, including five women, were released from US and Iraqi-run prisons, but authorities denied the move was linked to Ms Carroll’s case. Fifty more detainees, all men, were released last week.

The US military said it would also release a fresh batch of about 450 more people detained in Iraq, but did not specify whether any of them would be women.

Ms Carroll was abducted in Baghdad by armed men who shot dead her interpreter.

She had visited the office of a prominent Sunni political figure, Adnan al-Dulaimi, whom she hoped to interview.

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Egypt tomb discovery unveiled

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September 30th, 2019

The previously unknown single-chamber tomb contains five sarcophagi, believed to contain mummies, surrounded by about 20 pharaonic jars.

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“This is the first tomb discovered in the Valley of the Kings since that of Tutankhamun 84 years ago,” Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawas told journalists at the recently excavated site.

Researchers from the University of Memphis made the discovery, and are yet to enter the tomb.

They found the entrance to the tomb by accident while working on a nearby tomb, said team leader Edwin Brock.

“It was a wonderful thing. It was just so amazing to find an intact tomb here after all the work that’s been done before. It was totally unexpected,” said Mr Brock.

He said it does not appear to be a pharaoh’s tomb, but rather one of a court member.

Mr Hawas said they might be royals or nobles moved from original graves to protect them from grave robbers.

He said the tomb, buried under three metres of limestone and pebbles, has to be cleaned before any attempt is made to open the sarcophagae and identify the mummies.

Based on their style, he said the jars appear to date to the late 18th Dynasty of around 1500 BC to 1300 BC.

The tomb is located near that of Tutankhamun, the last new burial site to be discovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922.

Despite being one of Egypt’s least significant kings, Tutankhamun has been surrounded by mystique because of the legend of the curse released when the tomb was opened, supposedly leading to the deaths of Carter and other members of his team.

Mr Brock said the coffins appear to have suffered some termite damage, and conservation work will be needed.

The clay pots, which bear pharaonic seals but whose contents are as yet unknown, were arranged haphazardly, suggesting the burials were made in haste.

The Valley of the Kings was used as a burial site for royalty and nobles to the west of present day Luxor, around 700 kilometres south of Cairo.

Archaeologists say the latest discovery may reverse previously-held notions that there is nothing new left to discover in the valley.

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Senior Kenyan ministers quit

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September 30th, 2019

President Mwai Kibaki said accepted the resignations of Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi and Education Minister George Saitoti.

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The resignations come after another cabinet minister quit this month over two alleged schemes to milk state coffers of hundreds of millions of dollars, after Finance Minister David Mwiraria stood down on February 1.

“I have today accepted the request by (Saitoti) to step aside from his responsibilities … to pave the way for investigations into the issues raised in the Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Goldenberg affair,” he said.

“I have further accepted the request by (Murungi) to step aside from his responsibilities … in order to allow full investigations into allegations made against him in regard to the Anglo Leasing affair,” he said.

“I urge all Kenyans to exercise patience as the relevant arms of the law carry out investigations into these issues,” he said.

Mr Murungi is alleged to have been involved in trying to block an inquiry, and was allegedly recorded asking Kenya’s former top anti-corruption investigator to slow down a corruption inquiry that became known as the Anglo Leasing scandal.

John Githongo resigned his post and fled to Britain around a year ago, citing death threats.

In January he implicated several top officials, including Mr Murungi and current vice president Moody Awori in Anglo Leasing.

An inquiry into an alleged US$600 million under the previous government called for Mr Saitoti to be investigated.

Vice President Awori has thus far refused to step down over Anglo Leasing, which involved the payment of more than $200m to fake firms.

As public anger mounted over Githongo’s revelations, the government last week released long-awaited report from an inquiry panel in the Goldenberg scandal in the 1990s.

The so-called Goldenberg affair involved huge sums of public money in a bogus gold and diamond export operation

While the scam predates the existing administration, the report implicated Me Saitoti who served as finance minister under the former president.

Mr Kibaki was elected in 2002 on an anti-corruption platform, and has faced criticism for failing to crack down on rampant graft within the government.

His personal assistant, Alfred Gitonga, has also been implicated in the Anglo Leasing scandal, and his contract has not been renewed, according to officials.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), a coalition of parties opposed to Mr Kibaki, has welcomed the resignations and pressed for prosecutions.

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