Thursday, February 24, 2005

Re Saudi Arabia: three articles

Scot finally cleared of car-bomb killing

Relief for man who faced death penalty in Saudi Arabia

LOUISE GRAY
Scotsman 23 February 2005
A SCOT who faced beheading in Saudi Arabia for a murder he did not commit spoke last night of his relief at being officially exonerated, and called on the British authorities to try to find the real culprits.
Sandy Mitchell, 49, from Glasgow, was allegedly tortured in prison after being arrested and accused of murdering Christopher Rodway, 47, in a car-bomb attack in Riyadh on 17 November, 2000.
Mr Mitchell and William Sampson, 45, from Penrith, Cumbria, were allegedly tortured into confessing on Saudi television in February 2001 to having planted the car bomb. They were sentenced to death.
The pair were then given a royal pardon and released in August 2003, having spent more than two and a half years in jail. They retracted the confessions on their release.
At an inquest into Mr Rodway’s death yesterday, David Masters, the Wiltshire coroner, found nothing to link either Mr Mitchell or Dr Sampson to the fatal explosion.
It is the first time Mr Mitchell has been publicly exonerated and his voice shook as he described his relief. "It is great - just a load off my mind," he said. "It is the first time the authorities have officially said we are exonerated. It would have saved a lot of pain and torment if the Saudi authorities displayed the same degree of professionalism."
Mr Mitchell said the results of the inquest should force the British authorities to put pressure on the Saudi government to find the real killers.
He said: "It is very easy to get someone to confess under torture - it takes no art at all and eventually everyone will break. But getting someone to confess will not solve the crime."
Speaking from his home in Halifax, Yorkshire, where he lives with his pregnant wife and six-year-old son, he went on: "I would like the British authorities to find out who really killed Christopher Rodway - his family are entitled to that."
The Saudi authorities had claimed the two men were behind the bombing and others like it that were said to be part of a bloody turf war to gain control of the kingdom’s illegal alcohol trade. The men always maintained the bomb was planted by Islamic fundamentalists.
John Lyons, the MP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, who fought for Mr Mitchell’s release, said the coroner should have ordered a police investigation to find Mr Rodway’s killers. "You cannot say a man was unlawfully killed and then do nothing about it," he said. "Mr Rodway’s family will want justice. It’s a matter of fact that Sandy Mitchell and Dr Sampson were tortured into making confessions.


Saudi Minister Says Women Could Soon Vote
By Michael Drudge
London
Voice of America 23 February 2005
The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia says the kingdom could give the right to vote to women in the next election.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal raised the prospect of women's suffrage at a conference in London on political, social, and economic reforms in the kingdom.
He noted that Saudi Arabia's first-ever elections for city councils, in which only men could vote, were held without problems this month. Prince Saud says the religious affairs ministry has determined there is nothing in Islam that prevents women from voting.
"The smoothness of the electoral process led our election commissioner to announce that he is recommending that women participate in the coming elections," Prince Saud said. "Therefore I would not be surprised if they do so in the next round of elections."
The prince did not clarify, but it is believed women will remain barred for the second phase of municipal council voting set for next Thursday. The final round of the municipal election cycle is planned for April.
Also attending the London conference was British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. He said the lack of reform in societies such as Saudi Arabia's can produce destabilizing effects.
"No nation can stand still, and the challenge for Saudi Arabia is to adapt to this changing world reality, while preserving all that is good and admirable in its society," Mr. Straw said. "For without reform, frustrated aspirations for change will fuel resentment and strengthen those forces who wish to destroy all that the society hold dear."
Both men noted that it took centuries for democratic traditions to evolve in Europe, and that Saudi Arabia is moving to modernize at a quicker pace.
Prince Saud pointed to suspicions in the Middle East about the reform agenda, which is a prominent plank in President Bush's policy toward the region. The prince also appealed for more understanding between Middle Easterners and the West.
"There is widespread suspicion among people in our region that Western calls for social and political reforms, which are not indigenous to our region, is intended to establish political dominance," Prince Saud said. "In order for us to cooperate fully, we must strive to correct misunderstandings, misperceptions and misrepresentations."
Prince Saud said his country, and the Muslim faith, have been unfairly tarnished as the source of Islamic terrorism. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden, and 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 2001 attacks against the United States were Saudis.
But the U.S. investigation into those attacks found no official Saudi government involvement, though it did fault the kingdom for doing little to curb fund-raising by al-Qaida.

US takes to the airwaves in hunt for Bin Laden

Declan Walsh in Islamabad
Guardian February 24, 2005

Spying hasn't worked, and neither has shooting. So America has turned to its great cultural weapon to flush out Osama bin Laden - television.
After a fruitless three-year hunt, the US is funding advertisements on Pakistani television which it hopes will touch the hearts of those close to the elusive al-Qaida leader.
As photos of Bin Laden and 13 other wanted men flicker across the screen a voice implores: "Who are the people who are suffering from terrorism? Our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters! Who can stop these terrorists? Only you!"
The 30-second ads, broadcast in Pakistan's five main languages, also dangle a $25m (£13m) carrot before potential informers - one that might soon double thanks to a new law passing through Congress.
The advertising blitz sees the US move into terrain already expertly exploited by al-Qaida. A videotape released last October, four days before the US presidential election, showed a vigorous-looking Bin Laden taunting President Bush. The message was broadcast around the world.
Last Sunday Bin Laden's bespectacled deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, featured in a second tape predicting a crushing defeat for the "crusader campaign".
The television war underscores the dismal failure of the manhunt that started when Bin Laden disappeared from the Tora Bora caves in Afghanistan in late 2001.
The US has since deployed satellites, spies and thousands of troops, scattered leaflets from planes and printed matchboxes bearing Bin Laden's image. Experts have scoured the plant and rock backdrops in his video appearances for clues.

Currently the chase is focused on the Afghan border, a 1,400-mile stretch of jagged mountains. The hunt relies heavily on Pakistani cooperation.
Last year President Pervez Musharraf sent 25,000 troops into South Waziristan, one of Pakistan's most lawless areas, to flush out al-Qaida militants sheltering there.
But although the army killed more than 200 militants - as well as dozens of civilians, stirring intense local anger - it found no trace of Bin Laden.
Now the al-Qaida group, led by an Uzbek militant, Tohir Yuldeshev, has been scattered into the surrounding districts, said a US official in Islamabad. "They are very tough and experienced fighters. But they are the al-Qaida shooters, not the leadership," he said.
The hunt is also constricted by President Musharraf's com plex political calculations. His support for the US is disliked, and his government has become sensitive about any direct association with American operations.
For example, a New York Times report last December which said CIA agents had established covert bases along the north-west frontier sparked furious denials. "We do not know any whereabouts of Osama, nor is there any question of carrying out a search operation for him by the US forces on our territory," said Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, the interior minister.
Now the US is pinning its hopes on money and media to provide the leads it needs. Although some suspect that Bin Laden has fled to a city such as Karachi or Quetta, the main target area remains the border area, where al-Qaida is supported by local tribesmen influenced by the teaching of radical mullahs. American officials believe their loyalty is based on cash as much as ideology. The tribesmen charge al-Qaida militants more than 10 times the going rate for food, lodgings and supplies.
Last November the Pakistani army paid four elders to cement a peace deal. The money was supposed to repay al-Qaida loans.
The rewards scheme might well work, said a defence analyst, Professor Rifaat Hussain. "Attempting to isolate al-Qaida from its sanctuaries is the right approach. They should have done it a long time ago," he said.
US officials admit the campaign is a shot in the dark when it comes to finding Bin Laden. Some diplomats argue that the publicity may glorify, not weaken, his stature among extremists. And there are no guarantees the campaign will even reach its target.
The border tribesmen, for example, are unlikely to see the adverts because they have no electricity. And though there is a radio version, the most respected station in tribal areas is the BBC World Service - which does not carry advertising.
Those who do hear the ads may be too terrified to talk - there has been a string of killings of suspected US informers in the tribal areas over the past year.
The "Rewards for Justice" campaign, which helped capture Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay, has paid out $57m to 43 people since 1984. So far the Bin Laden adverts have elicited 28 contacts, said a US embassy spokesman, Greggory Crouch.
But according to another official, the contacts were mainly crank calls, interview requests and media organisations looking for advertising.
"But it only takes one valid tip to make it all worthwhile," he said.
· Efforts to identify victims of the September 11 attacks in New York have ended, with 1,161 of the 2,749 victims still unidentified because of difficulties in getting DNA samples from remains.

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