Archive for category Foreign

Election dispute emerges as serious test for Indonesia

By Ben Bland in Jakarta
Financial Times
July 14, 2014

After 16 years of peaceful democracy, the dispute over who won Indonesia’s presidential election is turning into a serious test for both the country and outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whose legacy will depend on how he handles the clash.

Both Joko Widodo, the reformist Jakarta governor, and Prabowo Subianto, a self-styled military strongman, have claimed victory in the July 9 election, although most polling agencies and independent political analysts suggest Mr Widodo has won.

The official vote count will not be completed until July 22, but both sides have already accused each other of trying to rig the process. If neither side accepts the outcome of the official count, it will be left to the national election commission (KPU), the Constitutional Court and President Yudhoyono to find a solution.

“Without question, the vote-count will be the major test for Indonesia’s democracy and, in particular, President Yudhoyono’s presidency,” says Tom Lembong, managing partner of Quvat, an Indonesia-focused private equity fund manager. “People only remember the beginning and the end.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Have The Islamist Militants Overreached In Iraq And Syria?

by Deborah Amos
NPR
July 05, 2014

The Islamist radicals who have declared an Islamic caliphate on land they control straddling Iraq and Syria are waging an audacious publicity stunt, according to some analysts.

While it may bring them even greater attention, it’s also likely to be an overreach that will open riffs with its current partners, the Sunni Muslims in Iraq who welcomed the militant group in early June. They all share the goal of overthrowing Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his sectarian rule, but the more secular parts of the Sunni coalition didn’t sign up for an Islamic state.

“By announcing the caliphate, they are picking a fight with everybody,” says David Kilcullen, a guerrilla warfare expert and former chief counter-terrorism strategist for the U.S. State Department.

The militants were known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. But in announcing a caliphate, which is a single, unified Islamic state, they are now simply calling themselves the Islamic State. Read the rest of this entry »

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Militant Leader in Rare Appearance in Iraq

by Alissa J. Rubin
New York Times
July 5, 2014

BAGHDAD — Wearing a black turban and black robes, the leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic state that stretches across eastern Syria and much of northern and western Iraq made a startling public appearance, his first in many years, at a well-known mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul, according to a video released on Saturday whose contents were confirmed by experts and witnesses.

Until then, there had been very few photographs on the Internet of the insurgent known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. But on Friday he delivered a public sermon in a city once under American control with an audacity that even Osama bin Laden never tried.

Previously he had been all but invisible, seemingly reluctant to risk a public appearance as his group grew in strength and he became the United States’ second-most sought-after terrorist, after Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of Al Qaeda. The United States government has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture.

The victories gained by the militant group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria were built on months of maneuvering along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which define a region known as the cradle of civilization.

But on Friday at the pulpit of Mosul’s Great Mosque, Mr. Baghdadi appeared confident, calm and measured as he urged the faithful to fast during Ramadan and undertake jihad. He also asserted his position as caliph, or spiritual leader, of the Muslim faithful, calling himself “Khalifa Ibrahim,” or caliph Abraham, a reference to the prophet Abraham, who appears in the Quran. Mr. Baghdadi’s militant group declared its territory in Iraq and Syria a caliphate, or Islamic state, on June 29. Read the rest of this entry »

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Under Isis, Iraqi women again face an old nightmare: violence and repression

Yifat Susskind
Guardian
3 July 2014

The militants are using rape and brutality to control women who have not stopped mobilising since the US occupation

In a PBS NewsHour video report in June, Isis extremist militants parade through Mosul, Iraq, one of the first cities to fall to their onslaught in early June. The armed men are hanging off the back of trucks, as the crowd films them. One fighter leans out a car window, wagging his finger. The footage provides a translation. The fighter has spotted a woman, and he is ordering her to cover up.

This is how an extremist agenda is imposed: on women’s bodies. That fighter had barely arrived in Mosul yet his first order of business gives us a chilling glimpse of a broader strategy, one that targets women with repression and violence. In recent weeks, women living under Isis control have been seized from their homes and raped. They have been ordered to cover themselves fully and stay in the house.

As Iraq descends into war, women are not only on the frontlines: they are the battlefield. But here is the part that too many media reports have missed: they are not just victims; they are critical first responders. Read the rest of this entry »

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Arab Spring, Jihad Summer

By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times
2 July 2014

Welcome to IS. No typo; the final goal may be (indiscriminate) regime change, but for the moment name change will do. With PR flair, at the start of Ramadan, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, or ISIL – the Islamic State of the Levant – to some) solemnly declared, from now on, it will be known as Islamic State (IS).

“To be or not to be” is so … metaphysically outdated. IS is – and here it is – in full audio glory. And we’re talking about the full package – Caliph included: “the slave of Allah, Ibrahim Ibn ‘Awwad Ibn Ibrahim Ibn ‘Ali Ibn Muhammad al-Badrial-Hashimi al-Husayni al-Qurashi by lineage, as-Samurra’i by birth and upbringing, al-Baghdadi by residence and scholarship”. Or, to put it more simply, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

IS has virtually ordered “historic” al-Qaeda – yes, that 9/11-related (or not) plaything of one Osama bin Laden – as well as every other jihadi outfit on the planet, to pledge allegiance to the new imam, in theological theory the new lord over every Muslim. There’s no evidence Osama’s former sidekick, Ayman “the doctor” al-Zawahiri will obey, not to mention 1.5 billion Muslims across the world. Most probably al-Qaeda will say “we are the real deal” and a major theological catfight will be on. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Caliphate Fantasy

by Khaled Diab
New York Times
July 2, 2014

The jihadist insurgent group ISIS, or as it now prefers to be called, the Islamic State, appears well on the road to achieving its stated goal: the restoration of the caliphate. The concept, which refers to an Islamic state presided over by a leader with both political and religious authority, dates from the various Muslim empires that followed the time of the Prophet Muhammad. From the seventh century onward, the caliph was, literally, his “successor.”

The problem with this new caliphate, which, an ISIS spokesman claimed on Sunday, had been established under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Islamist militant leader since the early days of the American occupation of Iraq, is that it is ahistorical, to say the least.

The Abbasid caliphate, for example, which ruled from 750 to 1258, was an impressively dynamic and diverse empire. Centered in Baghdad, just down the road from where ISIS is occupying large areas of Iraq, the Abbasid caliphate was centuries ahead of Mr. Baghdadi’s backward-looking cohorts. Abbasid society during its heyday thrived on multiculturalism, science, innovation, learning and culture — in sharp contrast to ISIS’ violent puritanism. The irreverent court poet of the legendary Caliph Harun al-Rashid (circa 763-809), Abu Nuwas, not only penned odes to wine, but also wrote erotic gay verse that would make a modern imam blush. Read the rest of this entry »

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In the grisly delusions of Isis, past and present are one

By Tom Holland
Financial Times
July 2, 2014

Faith and memory can haunt the Middle East, often to convulsive effect. Almost 70 years after the founding of Israel in the land that devout Jews believe was promised them by God, another state has been reconstituted that similarly traces its origins back to ancient times, and claims a divine sanction for itself.

On Sunday, carefully timed to coincide with the start of Ramadan, the jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant proclaimed the resurrection of “khalifa” or caliphate. No longer, they have announced, are they to be known by the acronym “Isis”.

Instead, with pretensions so global in scope that they now haughtily dismiss the legality of all other “emirates, groups, states, and organisations”, they have rebranded themselves as a universal Islamic state. Videos on YouTube duly portray the whole world as existing in the shadow of their fluttering black banner. On Twitter, their hashtag has been upgraded with great solemnity from #ISIS to #IS. Mastery of social media and an obsession with history are the keynotes of go-getting contemporary jihadists.

This is not quite the paradox it might seem, for in their fantasies past and present are invariably conflated. The concept of the caliphate that Isis is busy pushing on Facebook and Twitter reaches back, according to the traditions told by Muslims to explain the origins of their faith, to the very beginnings of Islam. Read the rest of this entry »

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Open letter from a Malaysian living in New Zealand

— John Ling
The Malay Mail Online
July 2, 2014

JULY 2 — When the news first broke that a Malaysian diplomat had been accused of sexual assault in New Zealand, I was struck by that sharpest of emotions — shame. And soon enough, that shame deepened into disgust when official government correspondence was released. They appeared to show that diplomatic immunity had been used to sidestep a criminal conviction, and this was done at the expense of a young female victim.

This international incident has sent shockwaves through New Zealand society. Kiwis are famously known for their cheerful and unassuming nature. But, in this instance, they have grown increasingly vocal at what they perceive to be a miscarriage of justice. Anger has been directed primarily at the present National government for not pushing hard enough to prosecute the offender within New Zealand’s jurisdiction. Anger has also been directed at the Malaysian government for exploiting a loophole in the Vienna Convention that allowed them to fly the offender back to Malaysia.

To understand why this alleged crime has struck such a raw nerve with New Zealanders, you first have to understand this country’s history. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fears of extremism rise in Muslim nations, poll shows

The Malaysian Insider
2 July 2014

Fears about Islamic extremism are rising in nations with large Muslim populations from the Middle East to South Asia and support for radical groups is on the slide, according to a poll released yesterday.

Concern about extremism has increased in the past 12 months amid the dragging war in Syria and attacks by Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants, the Pew Research Center found after interviewing more than 14,200 people in 14 countries.

Extremist groups such as al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Boko Haram and even Hamas, which won elections to take control of running the Gaza Strip, are also losing support.

And backing for the use of suicide bombings against civilian targets has dropped significantly in the past decade following a slew of brutal attacks.

The review was carried out from April 10 to May 25, before the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – now renamed the Islamic State – took over the northern Iraqi town of Mosul in a lightning offensive which has seen it seize a large swathe of territory. Read the rest of this entry »

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How ISIS is overshadowing al Qaeda

By Tim Lister, CNN
June 30, 2014

(CNN) — In a bold declaration of its ambition, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has laid claim to leadership of the global Islamist movement, calling on Muslims worldwide to swear allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

By claiming such preeminence, ISIS is seeking to eclipse al Qaeda and its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in what analysts see as the most dramatic shift in militant jihadism since 9/11. But ISIS also makes the outlandish claims — if its words are taken literally — that it leads 1.5 billion Muslims and that the world, not just the deserts of Syria and Iraq, are its new stage.

What did ISIS say?

The declaration was made Sunday in a 34-minute audio message by ISIS spokesman and ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Adnani al-Shami, who said that from now on, ISIS would simply be called the “Islamic State.” That is much more than a change of name; it simultaneously strips away the geographical limits imposed by the previous name and underlines the movement’s control of a wide swath of territory in Iraq and Syria. It even suggests that the group should exercise authority over Islam’s holiest places.

In a direct challenge to al-Zawahiri, al-Shami said it is now “incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to the Khalifah Ibrahim and support him.”

Khalifah Ibrahim is the name now given to al-Baghdadi, a secretive figure never seen in ISIS’ voluminous propaganda output. Al-Shami says that al-Baghdadi has accepted the pledge of allegiance offered by senior figures of the “Islamic State.” Read the rest of this entry »

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ISIS Threatens Al Qaeda as Flagship Movement of Extremists

By BEN HUBBARD
New York Times
JUNE 30, 2014

AMMAN, Jordan — As Syria’s civil war raged, a Kuwaiti Islamist, Ghanim al-Mteiri, funneled cash from wealthy donors in the Persian Gulf to Syria’s affiliate of Al Qaeda in hopes that it would overthrow the government and lay the foundations of an Islamic state.

So Mr. Mteiri watched in dismay as another, even more violent jihadist organization, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, seized a chunk of Syria, stormed into Iraq and not only declared itself an Islamic state, but also demanded that all Muslims swear allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

For the first time since its emergence more than two decades ago, the Qaeda of Osama bin Laden finds itself facing a rival jihadist organization with the resources and influence to threaten its status as the flagship movement of violent extremism. For the moment, Al Qaeda has lost ground, but the question remains: Will this new group, which now calls itself simply the Islamic State, endure?

Those still allied with Al Qaeda think the new group will fall victim to the same tactics that somehow have simultaneously made it an enemy of the West and of Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of Al Qaeda.

“We all dream of an Islamic state, but we want a political Islam that is able to stand up and not be erased from the map,” Mr. Mteiri said. “The great powers will never accept this, and they are bigger and stronger than ISIS.” Read the rest of this entry »

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A German lesson for Malaysia

by Zairil Khir Johari
FZ
Jun 27, 2014

Zairil Khir Johari draws similarities between Germany and Malaysia but finds how Germany’s system of federalism is efficiently decentralised and embedded with check-and-balance mechanisms at every level.

I WAS in Berlin when I came across Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield. And no, it wasn’t because of his creative space recording of David Bowie’s 1969 hit single, Space Oddity, which generated more than 22 million YouTube views before it was removed recently following the expiry of its copyright term.

Instead, Hadfield, who is also well known for having a keen photographic eye, happened to be in the headlines for a particularly poignant photograph he had taken of Berlin from space.

The now famous shot, taken at night from the International Space Station, illustrates a cobweb of lights with a bright white core radiating from the heart of the city where the government quarter lies.

Sprouting out from that core, the picture takes an interesting twist. The entire western half of the web is peppered with bright white lights, while the eastern half emanates softer, yellow glows. Two contrasting halves: one white and bright, one yellow and dim.

Although 24 years has passed since the reunification of Germany in 1990, the legacy of one of Europe’s greatest divisions could not have been clearer than in that photograph.

The separation of colours as seen from space is not simply the result of two different town-planning approaches, but rather the remains of what was a horrific war and decades of bitter separation.

This historical experience was evident throughout my many interactions during my week-long working visit to Germany. In almost every briefing and discussion with officials and legislators, whether at the state (Landtag) or federal (Bundestag and Bundesrat) level, there was always a sense of a large chip weighing down their shoulders. This was especially true of older Germans.

One of the key aims of my visit was to learn about the German political and legislative systems, as well as the division of powers between the different branches and tiers of government. In these areas, I found that Malaysia and Germany have many things in common. Yet, at the same time, we are also quite dissimilar in the very same areas that we share commonalities. Read the rest of this entry »

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Australia Warns of Islamic Militant Migration

By Rob Taylor
The Wall Street Journal
June 24, 2014

Australia Increases Counterterrorism Strategies to Combat Threat

CANBERRA — Australia has warned of a “disturbingly large” migration of Islamic militants from at home and elsewhere joining the conflict in Iraq, and said it was trying to increase regional counterterrorism cooperation to guard against any future threat they might pose.

Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, hinted at intelligence pointing to militants on the move internationally toward the Middle East to join the ranks of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham rebels, who have seized control of large swaths of northern Iraq. Prime Minister Tony Abbott is promising tougher security laws giving Australian spy agencies more power to intercept communications to counter a growing threat of homegrown jihadists returning from conflicts in Iraq and Syria and using their skills to launch violent attacks.

Ms. Bishop said some of the militants were from Australia and neighboring countries, heightening concerns among security officials about a repeat of militant attacks launched more than a decade ago by al Qaeda and allies, including the Jemaah Islamiah group responsible for bombings in 2002 and 2005 on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali.

“We are working closely with a number of other nations to counter the threat of people returning who have been radicalized and who have trained as terrorists,” Ms. Bishop said told Australia’s parliament. “We are seeking to expand our counterterrorism cooperation with countries in our own region, including in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.” Read the rest of this entry »

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The ISIS Extremists Causing Havoc in Iraq Are Getting Funds and Recruits From Southeast Asia

Time
Yenni Kwok
June 17, 2014

Militants from Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, are being lured by ISIS’s hard-line Sunni extremism

Men in balaclavas are cradling Kalashnikovs as they look into a camera, somewhere in Syria. They are university students, businessmen, former soldiers and even teenagers. One by one, they urge their fellow countrymen to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the jihadist group so extreme that it has been denounced by al-Qaeda. But these aren’t Syrians, or Uzbeks, or Chechens. They are Indonesian.

“Let us fight in the path of Allah because it is our duty to do jihad in the path of Allah … especially here in Sham [the Syrian region] … and because, God willing, it will be to this country that our families will do the holy migration,” says one in Bahasa Indonesia peppered with Arabic phrases. “Brothers in Indonesia, don’t be afraid because fear is the temptation of Satan.”

A fellow jihadist, a former Indonesian soldier, calls on those in the police and armed forces to repent and abandon the defense of their country and its “idolatrous” state ideology, Pancasila.

The video of the Indonesian men in Syria emerged shortly before ISIS seized the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit, in landmark victories on June 10 and 11. It reflects the growing attraction that the Sunni extremist group holds for the most militant jihadists from Indonesia — the country with the world’s biggest Muslim population, and one that has long battled threats of terrorism. Read the rest of this entry »

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Isis, Isil or Da’ish? What to call militants in Iraq

By Faisal Irshaid
BBC
24 June 2014

The crisis in Iraq has highlighted the fact that English-speaking governments and media organisations cannot settle on what to call the al-Qaeda breakaway that has led the offensive by Sunni militants and tribesmen in the north and east of the country.

When referring to the jihadist group, UN and US officials have been using the acronym “Isil” or “I-S-I-L”, which they say stands for “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”.

The BBC News website uses the same translation, but a different acronym. It has instead opted for a more common one – “Isis” – based on the other widely used translations “Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham” or “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”.

Some have also started referring to the group as “Da’ish” or “Daesh” a seemingly pejorative term that is based on an acronym formed from the letters of the name in Arabic, “al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham”. Read the rest of this entry »

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Obama’s Malaysia Test

Bridget Welsh
Project Syndicate

APR 25, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR – When Barack Obama lands in Malaysia this weekend, his two-day stopover will be the first visit by a US president since 1966. Unfortunately, human rights will probably not be on the agenda. Even as Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s government pursues yet another politically motivated case against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, the United States, by refusing to schedule a meeting with Anwar, has signaled that it will not stand up for justice in Malaysia.

In fact, the Obama administration has refused to treat Malaysia like a normal country and engage leaders from all sides – a stance that has emboldened Najib to move against Anwar, whose coalition received a higher proportion of the popular vote in the May 2013 election than Obama did in the 2012 US election. And the many serious challenges to human rights and governance in Malaysia do not end with politicized convictions of opposition leaders. Just days after Obama declared last October that Malaysia was a model of “diversity and tolerance,” Malaysian authorities denied non-Muslims the right to use the word “Allah” in the practice of their own faiths – a decision condemned throughout the Muslim world for its negative portrayal of Islam.

Moreover, members of Najib’s government endorse hudud, a class of penalties within sharia law that could imply strict limitations on Muslims’ right to choose how they practice their faith. According to the US State Department’s own human-rights reports, curbs on religious freedoms have included demolition of Hindu temples, bombings of Christian churches, and a ban on the practice of Shia Islam, to which some 15% of the world’s Muslims adhere. Likewise, according to the Pew Research Center, Najib’s government has “very high” restrictions on religious freedom. Read the rest of this entry »

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Classified data shows plane may have crashed in Bay of Bengal or Indian Ocean

The Malaysian Insider
March 15, 2014

Classified intelligence analysis of electronic and satellite data has indicated that the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight 370 likely crashed either in the Bay of Bengal or somewhere in the Indian Ocean, an exclusive report by the CNN said.

If this information is true, it would offer the first glimpse of concrete details about what happened to the Beijing-bound flight which went off the radar early last Saturday.

It had enough credibility for the United States to move its guided missile destroyer, the USS Kidd, into the Indian Ocean, and Indian officials to expand its search effort into the Bay of Bengal.

An aviation industry source told CNN that the flight’s automated communications system appeared to be intact for up to five hours, because “pings” from the system were received after the transponder last emitted a signal.

The CNN report said taken together, the data points toward speculation in a dark scenario in which someone took the plane for some unknown purpose, perhaps terrorism.

That theory is buoyed by a New York Times (NYT) report that the MAS plane made several significant altitude changes after losing transponder contact.

The paper said MH370 altered its course more than once as though it was still under the command of a pilot. Read the rest of this entry »

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US ship, plane to search Bay of Bengal for missing jet

The Malay Mail Online
March 15, 2014

WASHINGTON, March 15 ― A US naval ship and surveillance plane are heading to the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal to search for a missing Malaysian airliner that vanished a week ago, officials said yesterday.

US media reports, meanwhile, suggested the plane experienced marked changes in altitude after it lost contact with ground control, and altered its course more than once as if still under the command of a pilot.

A P-8 Poseidon aircraft and a guided missile destroyer, the USS Kidd, were due to aid the international hunt for the jet as the search effort extended further west, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said.

“At Malaysia’s request, the USS Kidd is north of the Straits of Malacca in what we’re calling the western search area,” Warren told reporters in Washington.

The Kidd was preparing to search the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal for the Malaysia Airlines plane. Read the rest of this entry »

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Could MH370 have landed?

The Malay Mail Online
March 15, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, March 15 ― With new evidence suggesting the possibility that missing jetliner MH370 had been deliberately piloted towards the Andaman Islands, another theory has now emerged out of the woodwork ― could someone have landed aircraft?

Reuters cited two sources yesterday as saying that investigators believe the plane had been directed between navigational waypoints after it lost contact with ground control, which indicated it was being flown by someone with aviation training.

It cited another source as saying that investigations are now looking at the possibility of foul play, with signs pointing increasingly to the likelihood that a person who knew how to fly a plane had deliberately swung the aircraft hundred of miles off its original course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, towards the Andaman Islands.

“What we can say is we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards,” Reuters had quoted a “a senior Malaysian police official” as saying.

Although this is at best just conjecture for now, it may be one of the few working theories that could finally expose more conclusive leads to what experts have described as the most baffling of mysteries in aviation history.

But if the Malaysia Airlines aircraft had truly made the air turn-back as suspected, if it had headed to the Andaman Islands as satellite data and US officials have suggested, and if it indeed had landed, where in the remote Indian archipelago could it have parked itself so stealthily out of sight? Read the rest of this entry »

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MH370 hijack theory includes intent to use plane for ‘nefarious purposes’, say US officials

The Malaysian Insider
March 15, 2014

With evidence showing a missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Boeing 777-200ER could still be intact, US officials have not ruled out that flight MH370 was flown to a secret site so that it could be used at a later date.

There has been no trace or debris field on land or sea that is linked to the plane carrying 239 people, which vanished while on a red-eye flight to Beijing last Saturday.

“I am keenly interested in resolving this mystery so we can discard the possibility, however remote, that the airplane can be used for nefarious purposes against us in the future,” ABC News quoted a US official as saying.

The official added that “all our intelligence assets” are being used to try to figure this out.

Investigators searching for the missing MAS passenger jet said that they could not rule out hijacking and are looking at whether one of the plane’s pilots or crew could have been involved. Read the rest of this entry »

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