- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2010

TURKEY

51 military officers questioned on plot

ANKARA | Prosecutors interrogated 51 Turkish military commanders Tuesday about purported plans to destabilize the country by blowing up mosques to trigger a coup and topple the Islamic-rooted government.

With the former chiefs of the air force and the navy among those being questioned, it was the highest profile crackdown ever on the Turkish military, which has ousted four governments since 1960.

Monday’s sweep followed the gathering of wiretap evidence. Turkey was abuzz Tuesday with speculation about whether recordings of the plotters, which were posted on leading Web sites, were genuine.

In one, a top officer accuses the political leadership of trying to “tear down the country and carry it into another [Islamic] regime” and vows: “I will unleash [my forces] over Istanbul … It is our duty to act without mercy.” The authenticity of the recording could not be independently verified.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Hans Blix to lead nuclear panel

DUBAI | The United Arab Emirates has picked former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Hans Blix to head an advisory board for its nuclear power program.

Emirates state news agency WAM said Monday Mr. Blix will lead a nine-member international panel to advise the country on its recently established atomic energy initiative.

Mr. Blix was director general of the IAEA, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, from 1981 to 1997. He led the U.N. search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq until June 2003.

The Emirates awarded a South Korean consortium a $20 billion deal in December to build peaceful nuclear reactors.

EGYPT

Suspect arrested in synagogue attack

CAIRO | Egyptian police on Tuesday arrested a man suspected of throwing a suitcase containing a makeshift bomb at Cairo’s main synagogue, describing him as a criminal previously involved in violence, drugs and forgery.

During his interrogation, the man said he was heading to the U.S. Embassy to seek asylum when he was arrested, according to the official statement.

The Ministry of Interior, which manages all security services, said the 49-year old suspect, entered a downtown hotel Sunday, tossed a suitcase containing explosive materials out of the window at the synagogue across the street before fleeing.

During his flight he burned his face with sulfuric acid in his possession, the statement added.

The suitcase fell on to the sidewalk of the hotel and briefly caught fire, but it was across the street from the historic synagogue, known as known as Shaar Hashamayim, or the Gate of Heaven. The hotel was not damaged and no one was injured in the attack.

Police initially said the man appeared to have panicked when he tossed the suitcase from the fourth floor. He later told his interrogators he was angered by the Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories.

The case held four containers of gasoline each attached to a glass bottle of sulfuric acid meant to shatter on impact and ignite the makeshift bomb. It also contained clothes, cotton strips, matches and a lighter.

EGYPT

U.S. to return stolen sarcophagus

CAIRO | The U.S. will return to Egypt a 3,000-year-old wooden sarcophagus confiscated at the Miami airport after being shipped from Barcelona, the Culture Ministry announced Monday.

The brightly painted sarcophagus dates back to the 21st Dynasty (1070-945 B.C.) and belonged to a private individual called Imesy, the ministry said, though last year antiquities head Zahi Hawass linked it to a pharaoh called Ames.

Customs officials at Miami International Airport seized the coffin in October 2008 from a shipment coming from Spain after the importer could not present the proper documentation to prove ownership.

In the ensuing investigation, U.S. authorities determined the sarcophagus had left Egypt some time after 1970 and was later exhibited in Madrid in 2007.

Egypt sued to have the coffin returned in November 2009 and the importer dropped its claim. Mr. Hawass will travel to Washington on March 10 to officially receive the sarcophagus.

ISRAEL

Powerful ultra-Orthodox rabbi dies at 93

JERUSALEM | Menachem Porush, a well-known Israeli rabbi and longtime leader of one of the most influential ultra-Orthodox parties in parliament, has died. He was 93.

Porush served for more than 30 years in Israel’s parliament, acting twice as deputy labor minister. He was known for leading the minority ultra-Orthodox Jewish community’s efforts to slow secularization in Israel, leading epic battles for legislation to enforce strict Jewish laws that sparked charges from critics of “religious coercion.”

The Jerusalem-born Porush also founded several religious education centers for ultra-Orthodox children. Thousands attended a funeral Monday for Porush, who retired from politics in 1994.

SAUDI ARABIA

Cleric’s fatwa backs death for sex mixing

RIYADH | A prominent Saudi cleric has issued an edict calling for opponents of the kingdom’s strict segregation of men and women to be put to death if they refuse to abandon their ideas.

Sheik Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak said in a fatwa the mixing of sexes at the workplace or in education “as advocated by modernizers” is prohibited because it allows “sight of what is forbidden, and forbidden talk between men and women.”

Sheik Barrak, believed to be 77, does not hold a government position but he is viewed by Islamists as the leading independent authority of Saudi Arabia’s hard-line version of Sunni Islam, often termed Wahhabism.

Western diplomats believe that King Abdullah’s push for reforms is resisted by a mainly older generation of clerics who still control the religious establishment.

The monarch dismissed a cleric from a top council of religious scholars in October after he demanded that religious scholars vet the curriculum at a new flagship mixed-gender university.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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