U.S. Intensifies Screening for Travelers From 14 Nations

Citizens of 14 nations including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria who are flying to the United States will be subjected indefinitely to the intense screening at airports worldwide that was imposed in the aftermath of the Christmas Day bombing plot, Obama administration officials announced Sunday.

But American citizens, and most others who are not flying through those nations on their way to the United States, will no longer automatically face the full-range of intensified security that had been imposed after the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight, officials said.

Bomb attack kills three in Pakistan: police

The City & My Life|AFPA suspected suicide bomb attack at a Pakistan police checkpoint on the ring road of northwest city Peshawar killed three people and wounded another five on Monday, police said.

“It was a suspected suicide attack. Three people were killed, five wounded,” police official Mohammad Karim told AFP.

Doctor Zafar Iqbal at the city’s main government-run Lady Reading Hospital confirmed that medics received two dead bodies and six wounded.

Monday’s attack came one day after a suicide bomber killed 14 people in a crowded cattle market in Peshawar

India sees Pakistani hand in fake note flood

 

An official from the Punjab Police displays fake currency in Amritsar, India. A report this year by a state body that tracks the flow of fake money, has said counterfeit currency was being brought in by militants from abroad and then moved through criminal networks.

An official from the Punjab Police displays fake currency in Amritsar, India. A report this year by a state body that tracks the flow of fake money, has said counterfeit currency was being brought in by militants from abroad and then moved through criminal networks.

When India’s central bank admitted discovering 400,000 fake notes in its currency reserves, many here woke up to the scale of the country’s counterfeit money problems.

 

Worse still, the embarrassing admission related to a survey from the last financial year to March 2009 and authorities say the problem has since got worse.

Police and the central bank have observed a tripling in the value of notes detected or seized in raids in recent years and authorities are convinced the source of the deluge is a familiar foe across the border: Pakistan.

“We have had some success in tracking the routes and will continue to counter it, but behind this racket is an organised effort in Pakistan and PoK (Pakistan-administered Kashmir),” Home Minister P. Chidamabaram said recently.

“It’s not just a cottage industry.”

Hardly a day passes without news of arrests of currency smugglers, but police say they are only catching the small-fry racketeers while the big fish printers act with impunity over the border.

Many locals here complain of withdrawing fake notes from bank machines and ever-vigilant shopkeepers routinely check the water marks that are meant to protect the larger denomination 500 and 1,000-rupee notes.

A report this year by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), a state body that tracks money flows, said counterfeit currency was brought in by militants from abroad and then moved through criminal networks.

The DRI said that 130 million high-quality counterfeit notes were being smuggled into India every year and only a fraction were detected.

The security establishment is now clamouring for more scrutiny of India’s banking system and the central bank, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), has instructed nationalised banks to install sorting machines to weed out fakes.

“If the circulation of counterfeit notes was not checked then the economy could be running with over 25 percent fake notes making the rounds across the country,” said analyst Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Managment.

The RBI is also running awareness campaigns, even educating schoolchildren to detect fake notes, and plans to introduce a billion special plastic-coated notes that are tougher to counterfeit.

Federal police say intelligence gleaned from arrested suspects suggests the existence of sophisticated printing presses in Pakistan under the control of the Inter Services Intelligence agency.

“The ISI prints them in Pakistan, supplies them to agents in Nepal and Bangladesh, who identify Indians willing to take the risk of circulating fake notes,” said Sahni.

The quality of the fakes varies from amateurish to extremely sophisticated.

“You cannot expect a local bank clerk to detect sophisticated fakes,” an intelligence officer told AFP, asking not to be named.

Police and other agencies seized six million dollars in fake notes in 2008, nearly triple the amount seized in 2007 and a majority of the counterfeit notes were the 500-rupee bill (10 dollars), police figures show.

The RBI said in its last report that the value of counterfeit notes detected in the banking channels was over three million dollars in 2008-09, triple the amount detected in 2007-08.

Some fear that if fake currency continues to increase at this rate, it will damage the economy.

Economists suggest consumers’ trust in the rupee could be undermined, while officials at the central bank complain that fake currency complicates their deliberations about interest rates.

“The rising trend of fake notes in the market poses a threat to the economy. Policies, inflation are based on monetary calculations — all of which can go wrong due to fakes,” said a policymaker at the RBI who declined to be named.

K.P. Singh, a police officer in the central state of Madhya Pradesh who netted a huge haul in September of 4,000 high-denomination notes was pessimistic about the possibility of stemming the flow.

“We are arresting the dealers and petty smugglers operating in India but the kingpins are based in Pakistan,” he told AFP.

“It is in Pakistan the problem begins and can only be ended there.”

Islamabad university reopens after suicide bomb attack

The Islamic International University of Islamabad has reopend its doors after a twin suicide bomb attack killed seven students and staff and injured dozens last Tuesday.

The bombers targeted both the male and female campuses in a simultaneous strike.

The violence prompted the government to close down educational institutions across the country, which have also reported back after the weekend.

The explosions are part of a series of recent militant attacks, which have spread fear through the country’s cities.

Observers view the recent wave of suicide bombings as retaliation against the Pakistan military’s offensive in South Waziristan, the mountainous border region, long seen as a Taliban stronghold.

Earlier, Pakistan claimed it killed 19 suspected militants and lost six soldiers in fighting inside a Taliban stronghold close to the Afghan border.

Attacks force closure of Pakistani schools

The Pakistani authorities are no taking no chances following the suicide bombings at Islamabad’s Islamic University, and all schools are being closed for a week around the country.

Millions of pupils and students from both the private and public sectors will get an extra holiday, although the hope is they will be able to reopen next Monday.

“This step the government has taken to close schools is both good and bad. It’s good because it may help save many lives; it’s bad because the children’s time is being wasted. Some proper steps should be taken to end terrorism,” said one student.

The Interior Minister today recognised his country was in a state of war, and blamed the Taliban in Waziristan for the university attack.

The army’s offensive continues to grind on. Heavy fighting continues around Kotkai, and senior army commanders admitted the rough terrain and heavier resistance meant progress would be slower than first thought.

The first pictures to arrive from the combat zone show little is being spared in the onslaught. The shattered villages and demolished farms may struggle to support life when and if the civilians are allowed to return.

Pakistani assault forces thousands to flee the fighting

Some 28,000 Pakistani troops backed by artillery and air support are battling with Taliban insurgents as the army attempts to take control of militant strongholds in South Waziristan.

More than 100,000 civilians have fled the fighting with the authorities expecting the numbers to double.

“The fighting is going on there. The houses are being bombarded so are the mosques and madrassas, everything. So we really don’t have any choice, we have to get out to find somewhere safe,” said one man fleeing the conflict.
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The Pakistani military claim its forces have surrounded the militants and are attacking on three fronts.

However, many believe the assault is just a starter with the real fighting expected when the army reaches the sparse areas of forest that litter the arid mountains.

The US is keeping a close eye on the situation and hoping the Taliban in Afghanistan stay out of the fray.

Army launches ground offensive on Taliban stronghold

AFP – Pakistani ground troops backed by warplanes launched a major operation against Taliban in South Waziristan where they were locked in clashes with well-armed fighters, officials said Saturday.

The mountain district is part of the tribal belt on the Afghan border that US officials call the most dangerous place in the world and a stronghold for Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone attack.

Aircraft bombed Taliban bases as troops advanced north, west and east out of garrisons ahead of a long-planned final ground assault that had been expected to encounter heavy resistance on terrain well suited to the guerrillas.

Pakistan vowed to root out militants branded a threat to sovereignty after a spike in a two-year Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked campaign of attacks cementing Pakistan’s position on the frontline of the US-led “war on terror”.

Long-distance artillery pounded rebel positions as the vanguard of troops fought heavy clashes in Sharwangi and Spinkai Raghzai, a local administration official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“They are using heavy weapons” against troops, he told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media. A military official confirmed that troops had run into resistance.

Four soldiers were wounded during clashes as troops thrust north towards the Mehsud stronghold of Makeen, east towards Kotkai, Spinkai Raghzai, and west towards Kunigaram, Saam and Baddar, administration officials said.

Remote-controlled bomb attacks also killed three soldiers — two in North Waziristan and one in South Waziristan, said security officials.

A senior military official told AFP that the initial objective was to establish footholds, but that three divisions of the military, paramilitary and police would be mobilised, eventually numbering up to 60,000 troops.

“The operation has been launched this morning. Forces are moving inside Mehsud territory,” he told AFP.

A formal announcement on the start of the operation was expected by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, security officials said.

There are 10,000 to 12,000 fighters from the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) movement in South Waziristan and up to 25,000 across Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt with a history of fierce independence, experts estimate.

“It will be a very swift operation bearing in mind the weather conditions. Soon there will be a complete change in the weather and maybe snowfall. We will try to complete it before snowfall,” said the military official.

The troop movement was accompanied by an indefinite curfew slapped on parts of South Waziristan from 7:00 am in the district of Wana, the main town in the vast and lawless region, as well as in Shakai and Tiarza, officials said.

Authorities earlier this week registered 90,000 people displaced from South Waziristan since August, fleeing their homes fearing a military onslaught.

“Ground and air forces are moving. The objective is to clear all kinds of miscreants from South Waziristan,” Tariq Hayat, a senior government official in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt, told AFP, referring to the militants.

“This has been in the works for a long time. It was only a question of timing and the timing was decided. Troops were in place and they moved in.”

The prime minister chaired crisis talks of main political leaders late Friday to listen to a briefing from army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.

“The recent upsurge of terror incidents in the country were condemned and it was agreed that these elements pose a serious threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the state,” said the prime minister’s office.

“In the given circumstances, the national consensus is reaffirmed to establish and maintain the writ of the state to weed out these elements.”

On Thursday, gunmen blasted into three security buildings in Lahore, in the country’s political heartland, five days after attackers besieged the army headquarters near the capital Islamabad and humiliated the military.

The frequency and sophistication of a string of attacks since October 5 has underscored the weakness of government security forces who Western analysts say lack necessary military hardware and counter-insurgency expertise.