Nine Circles! Friday: Nothing is Certain But Death and Debt
Events in Algeria are obviously developing.
However, there are all sorts of reports including the freeing of nearly 600 hostages with dozens still remaining held in Algeria.
USA TODAY offers what almost comes off as a blog, citing numerous sources to piece their story together.
They report, “About 60 foreign workers taken hostage by Islamists remain missing Friday following a raid by Algerian forces that freed hundreds of Algerians, according to the Algeria military.
“The state Algeria Press Service says the military freed 573 Algerians and more than half of the 132 non-Algerians in Thursday’s raid at the natural gas facility in the remote desert.
“It remains unclear how many foreign workers died in the raid or of what nationality, and how many escaped the In Amenas facility.
“The Algerian special forces who carried out the raid killed up to 20 hostage-takers, members of an Islamic group known as Qatiba, which translates as Signers in Blood. The forces have surrounded a portion of the facility where more terrorists and some hostages remain, provincial administration sources told APS.
“The military is still trying to reach a ‘peaceful settlement’ before ‘neutralizing’ the terrorist group, security sources told APS.
“Workers at the facility include citizens of Britain, Ireland, Japan, Netehrlands and the United States British Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday during an address to members of parliament that efforts to free the hostages without violence are continuing.
“The exact fate, and number, of hostages kidnapped by Islamic militants remains unclear.
“A U.S. official said late Thursday that while some Americans escaped, other Americans remained either held or unaccounted for, the Associated Press reported. The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
“Earlier Friday, the Reuters news agency, citing local sources, reported that a U.S. plane has landed in Algeria to pick up Americans caught up in the crisis. Reuters also reported that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking to security specialists in London on Friday, said ‘Terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere.’”
USA TODAY continues, “Reuters, citing an Algerian security source, is reporting that 30 hostages were killed in the assault, including several Westerners. The source also says 11 militants died, including the group’s leader, Tahar Ben Cheneb, described as a ‘prominent commander in the region.’
“A British official told CNN there was a ‘significant’ number of British victims.”
“Members of the hostage-takers Qatiba have been in contact with the a news agency in neighboring Mauritania called ANI and told the agency that the raid by Algerian forces killed the leader of their group, Abou El Baraa. At least 14 other terrorists were killed, ANI said.”
This was the most up-to-date news on Algeria as of 9:18 AM (US central time).
Things have likely changed since earlier this morning.
There is a first-hand account of the Algeria hostage taking.
When reading this, please stay as skeptical as I am while considering the ‘eyewitness account.’
The New York Times describes,”The drama began at about 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday with an attack on a bus carrying workers to the nearby airport that was thwarted by Algerian security escorts. It turned into a major hostage-taking as well-armed and experienced Islamists took over the facility’s residential area, which is situated at a distance from the plant to protect workers should an explosion occur.
“A Briton called his wife while he was being taken hostage, saying he had been forced to sit at his desk with Semtex, an explosive, strapped to his chest. After the man, Garry Barlow, 49, called his wife, Lorraine, 52, The Daily Mail reported, she informed the Foreign Office that an attack was under way. ‘He rang home and told his wife the complex had been taken over by what they thought then was the mujahedeen,’ a friend told the newspaper.”
A friend quotes Barlow saying, “I’m sat here at my desk with Semtex strapped to my chest. The local army have already tried and failed to storm the plant, and they’ve said that if that happens again they are going to kill us all.”
The Times adds, “Al Mulathameen, the Islamist group that has claimed responsibility for the attack, has made clear in statements to Mauritanian news outlets that foreign citizens were explicitly targeted. Foreigners were separated from Algerian workers, according to an Algerian man who worked on the site and escaped on Thursday afternoon. The attackers told Algerians that they were their “brothers,” the man said, speaking on the condition of anonymity from In Amenas, the city not far from the gas site.
“Perhaps 40 people, including 9 foreigners, were eating breakfast in the cafeteria at the site at about 5:30 a.m. when they heard gunshots, the man said. They remained in place until fighters entered the cafeteria at about 9 or 10 and began to separate the Algerians from the foreign workers, whose hands they bound. Five dark-skinned foreigners hid among the Algerians and were allowed to leave with them when they were directed into a separate building nearby, the man said. Workers whom the man identified as Pakistanis were placed among other foreigners, but argued with the attackers that, like them, they were Muslims; it was not clear how the attackers responded.
“Many of the attackers spoke with non-Algerian accents, the man said, and he suggested that some of them may have been Libyan and Syrian, along with Algerians. One of the fighters was French, the man said.
“At one point, he said, the fighters shot an Italian man in the back in the presence of other hostages. It was not clear why he had been shot, the man said, and he did not know if the Italian was alive or dead. He claimed that there had been several executions, but that he had not been present for them.
“On Thursday afternoon, the fighters urged him to leave the site with other Algerians. They boarded a bus and rode toward the perimeter of the site, where security forces halted and searched them. The five foreigners who had claimed to be Algerian were among those to escape, the man said.
“One French hostage, who works for the catering company CIS at the facility, said he hid in a room away from other foreign hostages, arranging planks of wood to conceal his presence, and survived thanks to food brought by Algerian colleagues.
“The man, Alexandre Berceaux, told Europe 1 radio after his release that the hostage-taking on Wednesday was a complete surprise.”
They quote Berceaux saying, “I stayed hidden for nearly 40 hours in my bedroom. I was under the bed, and I put boards everywhere just in case. I had a bit of food, a bit to drink; I didn’t know how long it would last.”
The Times continues, “A hostage who escaped unharmed on Thursday said the Algerian Army bombed four jeeps carrying fellow captives and probably killed many of them, his brother told Reuters. The hostage, Stephen McFaul, an Irishman, told his family that he survived because he was aboard the only one of five jeeps not hit by Algerian bombs on Thursday, according to his brother Brian, who spoke to Stephen’s wife, Angela.”
They quote Brian McFaul saying, “They were moving five jeeploads of hostages from one part of the compound. At that stage they were intercepted by the Algerian Army. The army bombed four out of five of the trucks, and four of them were destroyed.”
The Times says “The truck Stephen McFaul was in crashed, and, according to his brother, “at that stage Stephen was able to make a break for his freedom. He presumed everyone else in the other trucks was killed.”
The Times tells us, “Mr. McFaul, his brother said, said that some of the hostages had their mouths taped and explosives hung from around their necks.”
There’s plenty of accounts that are attributed to witnesses in this story. Who knows how accurate these accounts are. That said, it’s what we have now.
France has been surprised by the effectiveness of the Mali insurgents they are fighting.
Reuters explains, “French troops’ initial clashes with Islamist militants in Mali have shown that the desert fighters are better trained and equipped than France had anticipated before last week’s military intervention, French and other U.N. diplomats said.
“The realization that the fighting could be bloodier than anticipated in the weeks — or months — ahead might make Western countries even more reluctant to get involved alongside France. French officials, however, hope it will rally their allies behind them, diplomats say.”
Reuters continues, “The diplomats were speaking after French forces had their first encounters with Islamist fighters in recent days. The ground war appeared headed for escalation on Thursday as French troops surrounded the town of Diabaly, trapping rebels who had seized it three days ago.”
A senior French diplomat said, “Our enemies were well-armed, well-equipped, well-trained and determined.
“The first surprise was that some of them are holding the ground.”
“French, Malian and African forces are facing off against an Islamist coalition that includes al Qaeda’s North African wing, AQIM, and the homegrown Ansar Dine and MUJWA militants. The motley mix of Tuareg rebels, Islamists and foreign jihadists has been united by the threat of foreign military intervention, which the Security Council called for last month.”
The Tuareg role in this war has been ignored since French intervention. This is the first report I’ve seen saying they’ve joined sides with the Islamists who they were previously fighting. If this intervention leads to an alliance of the indigenous Tuareg who want their own state and the Islamists, then this has the potential to be the worst intervention yet — and with the most blowback.
Reuters adds, “A number of diplomats said it was clear that the initial French assessments of the militants had underestimated their strength. It is a view that French officials do not dispute.”
A senior Western diplomat said, “They are better trained, I think, than the French had anticipated at the beginning and are fighting harder than had been anticipated.”
Reuters concludes, “Diplomats said that the overly optimistic assessments of the Islamists were understandable in what several envoys described as ‘the fog of war,’ where clarity is rare and precise information and accurate intelligence are often hard to come.”
Hey France, back off. Underestimating the bad guys is America’s job!
The Mali war will create at least a million displaced Malians.
Australia Associated Press reports, “Some 700,000 more Malians are expected to be displaced by the new wave of fighting in the restive country in the coming months, the UN refugee agency says.”
UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming is quoted saying, “We believe that in the near future there could be up to 300,000 people additionally displaced inside Mali, and over 400,000 additionally displaced in the neighbouring countries.”
AAP adds, “Those numbers came in addition to the existing 229,000 people already displaced inside the country and 147,000 refugees already in neighbouring nations, she said.”
AAP continues, “Many more are unable to leave Mali due to the high costs, Fleming said, pointing out that taking public transportation to Burkina Faso, for instance, cost around $US50 ($A47.64) – ‘for many equivalent to more than a month’s earnings.’”
Fleming is quoted at the end of the article saying, “Nobody thinks this is going to be over tomorrow.”
The question is, once the Algeria hostage crisis ends, will the US still mention the Mali war?
Egypt’s Christians and Muslims are fighting again.
The Associated Press informs us, “Police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Muslim protesters outside a church in southern Egypt Friday. The demonstrators were demanding an investigation into allegations that a Christian man sexually assaulted a 6-year-old girl.
“Residents in the province of Qena said four shops owned by Coptic Christians were torched overnight after villagers accused one of the store owners of molesting the young girl.
“The clashes took place in the village of Marashda in Qena province.
“Residents said protesters threw stones at the local church after midday Friday Islamic prayers. Police fired tear gas to scatter the crowd, which is in one of Egypt’s poorest areas.”
The AP continues, “Flare-ups of violence between Egypt’s Christians and Muslims have become more frequent in the past two years in the wake of the country’s uprising that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak but also weakened security across the nation.
“Egyptian Christians fear that the power vacuum that has followed Mubarak’s overthrow is giving ultraconservatives and extremist Muslims a freer hand to attack churches and Coptic property, especially in poor areas of the nation.
“Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s 85 million people, have long complained of discrimination by the state. They are the largest Christian community in the Middle East.”
Mubarak was a dictator. A horrible person who was supported by the West. Often, during times of chaos, citizens wax nostalgic about the past oppressive regime which at least created some for of stability.
I’m doubting that’s happening in Egypt, but I would like to see a poll.
Syria’s civil war violence is actually getting worse.
The Associated press says, “Two car bombs exploded in southern Syria and a rocket slammed into a building in the north in a spike in civil war violence Friday that Syrian state media blamed on rebel fighters trying to topple President Bashar Assad.
“The rocket attack in the northern city of Aleppo and the suicide car bombings in Daraa, south of Damascus, occurred during a particularly bloody week nearly two years after an uprising began against Assad’s regime. On Thursday, opposition activists said pro-government militia swept through a town in central Syria, torching houses and killing more than 100 people.
“Both sides have been blaming each other for the recent attacks, and it was the second time in a week that the government accused rebels of firing rockets.”
There’s still a war in Syria? No way. Next thing you’re gonna tell me is the war isn Iraq and Afghanistan haven’t ended either.
Indonesia’s floods have let up, but thousands are left homeless.
Reuters observes, “Severe floods in Jakarta eased on Friday, a day after unusually heavy monsoon rains swamped parts of the Indonesian capital in waist-deep water and left more than 18,000 people homeless.
“However, authorities warned of more rain and disruptions in the city of about 10 million people after Thursday’s floods killed six people and turned Jakarta’s main thoroughfare into a stream of red mud.
“Other main roads were still full of water and choked with traffic on Friday as commuters struggled to return to work and emergency workers tried to clear the mess.”
Reuters continues, “Large areas of the city were still without electricity after state utility PLN cut power in some places to avoid the risk of electrocution.”
Reuters adds, “The state palace was inundated and a $700,000 Rolls-Royce was among scores of cars swallowed by the floodwaters on Thursday, witnesses said. Many businesses remained closed.
“Soldiers using an excavator struggled to stem the flow after a large section of a canal burst, sending a torrent of dirty water into the heart of the capital. Debris including sofas and dead fish littered the soggy streets and police captured a 3-metre python in the city, wrestling it into a van.”
Indonesia and the rest of the world, if you want the US media to cover your tragedy, either rename it Sandy or have it hit New York City. Otherwise, they really don’t care.
The Republicans want to change the voting rules in states they lost in the 2012 presidential election.
According to The Associated Press, ” After back-to-back presidential losses, Republicans in key states want to change the rules to make it easier for them to win.
“From Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, GOP officials who control legislatures in states that supported President Barack Obama are considering changing state laws that give the winner of a state’s popular vote all of its Electoral College votes, too. Instead, these officials want Electoral College votes to be divided proportionally, a move that could transform the way the country elects its president.
“Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus endorsed the idea this week, and other Republican leaders support it, too, suggesting that the effort may be gaining momentum. There are other signs that Republican state legislators, governors and veteran political strategists are seriously considering making the shift as the GOP looks to rebound from presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Electoral College shellacking and the demographic changes that threaten the party’s long-term political prospects.”
Obviously, as The AP points out, “Democrats are outraged at the potential change.”
The AP adds, “While some Republican officials warn of a political backlash, GOP lawmakers in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are already lining up behind proposals that would allocate electoral votes by congressional district or something similar.”
Remember when Democrats wanted all of Florida’s votes cast in the presidential election and Republicans replied by saying Dems were ‘sore losers.’
So what do you call someone who wants to change the rules of the game because they lost?
Oh yeah. Whiny hypocrites.
Finally today, you’ll still have credit card debt when you’re dead.
Yahoo! explains, “Young people are racking up far more credit card debt than their parents ever did, a new study shows, and economic experts are worrying that Generation Y — people born in the early 1980s — will end up dying without ever paying off their credit card bills.”
Ohio State University economics professor Lucia Dunn, a co-author of the study, is quoted saying, “Credit is more readily available now, and there have been changes in interest rates and less stigma attached to having credit-card debt, which may all make younger people today more willing to go into debt,”
Yahoo! continues, “According to the data, which was drawn from 32,542 consumers who participated in the Ohio Economic Survey and the Consumer Finance Monthly survey, people born between 1980 and 1984 are likely to have much more credit card debt than the previous two generations of consumers. Members of Generation Y carried an average of $5,689 more debt than people who born between 1950 and 1954 (a.k.a. their parents) did at the same age, and $8,156 more debt than people born between 1920 and 1924 (their grandparents’ generation).
“What’s worse: They’re paying down that debt about 24 percentage points more slowly than their parents paid off theirs, and a whopping 77 percentage points more slowly than their grandparents did. Translated into plain English for us non-finance folks, it means that if their grandparents paid off 100 percent of their credit card debt each year, a 20something today is paying off less than a quarter of hers each year.
“Take the higher level of debt, add in the lower rate of pay off — not to mention the fact that young people have much, much higher levels of student loan debt than past generations — and what you have is a recipe for future financial disaster.”
Dunn says, “If our findings persist, we may be faced with a financial crisis among elderly people who can’t pay off their credit cards. Our projections are that the typical credit-card holder among younger Americans who keeps a balance will die still in debt to credit-card companies.”
Which reminds me of the old “Cobler of Preston” line, “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
However, that needs to be updated.
“Nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and posthumous credit card debt.”