- - Monday, February 27, 2012

IRAQ

Remains of last U.S. soldier returned

BAGHDAD — A Shiite extremist group handed over a simple wooden casket containing the remains of the last U.S. soldier missing in Iraq, a prominent Iraqi lawmaker said Monday, drawing a close to a case that has anguished the American’s family since his 2006 disappearance.

Shiite lawmaker Sami al-Askari, a close ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Ahmed al-Taie were turned over last week as part of a prisoner exchange agreement between the Iraqi government and the militant group Asaib Ahl al-Haq.

The Pentagon confirmed Sunday that it had recently received remains that were verified as Sgt. al-Taie’s.

But Mr. al-Askari’s comments provide the first confirmation that Asaib Ahl al-Haq, an Iranian-backed insurgent group, was responsible for the 2006 kidnapping of Sgt. al-Taie after the Iraqi-born soldier sneaked out of the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad to visit his wife and family on a Muslim holiday.

YEMEN

Aides: Saleh to seek exile in Ethiopia

SANAA — Aides to Ali Abdullah Saleh said Monday that the ousted Yemeni president plans to go into exile in Ethiopia, as pressures mounted on him to depart the country for fear of sparking new cycles of violence.

The aides said the former president will leave Yemen within two days along with some of his family members and will reside in a villa in the suburb of Addis Ababa. Other family members already have left for the United Arab Emirates.

A diplomat in Sanaa confirmed that arrangements had been made for Mr. Saleh’s departure for Ethiopia. Aides said that visas had been issued and Mr. Saleh’s belongings already shipped to Ethiopia.

SPAIN

Court clears ex-judge in civil war probe

MADRID — An embattled, popular judge known for taking on high-profile international human rights cases was acquitted Monday on charges of overstepping his jurisdiction by launching a probe into right-wing atrocities during and after the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.

But the ruling was bittersweet consolation for Baltasar Garzon, 56, whose once high-flying career effectively ended last month when he was barred from the bench for 11 years after he was found guilty of similar charges in a separate domestic corruption probe.

Judge Garzon has said he may appeal that case.

RUSSIA

Putin targeted by Chechens, report says

MOSCOW — Security forces have foiled a Chechen-linked plot to assassinate Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, state television reported Monday in a broadcast likely to boost support for his bid to regain the presidency.

Other candidates immediately questioned the timing of the report, just days before Sunday’s presidential election and as Mr. Putin and his United Russia party face unprecedented protests after a scandal-marred parliamentary election in December.

The Communist Party candidate called the assassination report a “cheap trick.”

Mr. Putin has portrayed himself as a strong protector of Russia’s national interests and has counted the victory over Chechen separatist rebels as one of the key achievements of his 12-year rule.

INDONESIA

Court restores sentence for radical cleric

JAKARTA — Indonesia’s highest court on Monday reinstated the 15-year jail sentence for a radical Islamic cleric who set up a terrorist training camp in western Indonesia, a court spokesman said.

Abu Bakar Bashir is known as the spiritual leader of al Qaeda-linked terrorists blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings and a string of other deadly attacks in the predominantly Muslim nation. In June, a district court convicted him of inciting terrorism.

In October, Jakarta’s high court quietly reduced the 74-year-old cleric’s initial sentence to nine years on appeal, citing his age and good behavior in prison.

Bashir was accused of providing key support for a jihadist training camp in westernmost Aceh province that brought together men from almost every known extremist group in the country.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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