Mexican authorities rescued 165 kidnap victims who had been held for weeks in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas, the country’s Interior Ministry said Thursday.
A majority of the victims — 150 — are Central American migrants. Another 14 are Mexican nationals, and one is from India, the ministry said.
They were held captive for as many as three weeks, officials said.
Drug cartels that operate in the area are known to have kidnapped migrants in the past and requested ransoms for their release.
Amnesty International has said that immigrants in Mexico “face a variety of serious abuses from organized criminal gangs, including kidnappings, threats and assaults.”
During a six-month period in 2010, Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights said, at least 11,333 migrants were kidnapped.
That same year, authorities found the bodies of 72 slain immigrants from Central and South America on an abandoned ranch near the Mexico-U.S. border.
The Central American migrants freed Thursday included 77 Salvadorans, 50 Guatemalans and 23 Hondurans.
By Ian Johnston, Staff Writer, NBC News
The FBI has appealed for help in finding Armando Torres III, a U.S. Marine who was kidnapped in Mexico along with his father and uncle.
In a statement on its website, the FBI said Torres had gone just across the border to visit his father’s ranch in La Barranca, Tamaulipas, on May 14, when he was abducted.
His father Armando Torres II and uncle Salvador Torres, both Mexican citizens, were also taken.
“Shortly after he (Torres) arrived at the ranch, armed gunmen entered the ranch and took all three Torres family members by force. They have not been seen or heard from since this event,” the FBI statement said.
A criminal investigation is underway in Mexico and the FBI said it was also conducting an “international kidnapping investigation and is vigorously pursuing all investigative leads.”
The statement said Armando Torres III was a U.S. Marine and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
His sister Cristina Torres, 24, who lives in Virginia, told The Monitor newspaper, which is based in McAllen, Texas, that the family thought the kidnapping was related to a land dispute as drug traffickers have been trying to get the property because of its position close to the border.
She also said that her cousin witnessed the kidnapping.
“She saw a white truck with people in it and they just went in the house and got my brother and my dad and my uncle and just put them in the truck and took off,” Cristina Torres said. “They took a lot of their belongings in the house and they took the cars, as well.”
The Monitor said the kidnapped Marine, of Hargill, Texas, has two children, aged 4 and 3.
Friends and fellow Marines have started a Facebook group called “Get Our Brother Back” in support of Torres. It had 1,372 members at 6:40 a.m. ET Tuesday.
Mexico City sees its share of protests, but this one was unusual.
One woman wept. Other protesters shouted at the tops of their lungs, demanding answers. Still others showed pictures of their relatives to puzzled passersby.
The protesters who gathered Thursday are relatives of 11 partygoers who went missing more than a week ago from a bar in a posh Mexico City neighborhood known as “Zona Rosa,” or Pink Zone. The area has a vibrant night scene with bars, nightclubs and upscale restaurants on every street.
The protesters say their relatives were kidnapped on May 26 as they were partying at Heaven, an after-hours bar in the neighborhood. All 11 disappeared between 10 a.m. and noon, they say.
The bar is only steps away from Paseo de la Reforma, an iconic avenue in central Mexico City. The emblematic Angel of Independence monument is nearby, as are the U.S. Embassy and the financial district.
Guadalupe Dominguez, a relative of one of the missing, said a witness told her the 11 people were kidnapped by armed men who showed up in SUVs, but authorities say there’s no evidence of such an incident.
“A young fellow who managed to escape was the one who told us about it, but we don’t really know anything else,” Dominguez said.
The military leader of al-Qaida’s Yemeni branch says Americans will not be safe unless their leaders respect the security of other nations and do not attack or oppress them.
In a message addressed “to the American nation,” Qassim al-Rimi, commander of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, said: “your security is not achieved by despoiling other nations’ security or by attacking and oppressing them.”
The six-minute English-subtitled audio, posted on a militant website late Saturday, implored Americans to “leave us with our religion, land and nations and mind your own internal affairs.”
Al-Rimi said the bombing of the Boston marathon in April, and the recent sending of ricin-tainted letters to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg “indicate that the control of your security has broken away.” The video was produced by al-Qaida’s media arm, al-Malahem Foundation.
By Ian Johnston and John Newland, NBC News
A senior Israeli defense official warned on Tuesday that Russia’s plan to send sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons systems to Syria’s President Bashar Assad was a “threat” and signaled Israel could take some form of unspecified action in response.
Israel has launched airstrikes inside Syria that it says were designed to stop weapons shipments getting to the Assad-allied Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.
Russia on Tuesday reiterated its intention to go ahead with the arms deal. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said it would “restrain some hotheads from escalating the conflict to the international scale,” according to Russia Today.
In the wake of an alleged terrorist attack on one of its soldiers, Britain is forming a task force that will examine the forces behind extremist groups in the country, Prime Minister David Cameron’s office announced Sunday.
The group, led by Cameron, will “have a general focus on extremist groups, but accept that in practice the greatest threat is from Islamist extremists,” a statement from Downing Street said.
The Muslim Council of Britain said the task force needs to look at “extremism from all quarters” while forming an effective strategy.
“In doing so, we hope wisdom prevails as we reflect on the response of these past few days and the missed opportunities of previous years,” said a statement from the council’s secretary-general, Farooq Murad. “We must be vigilant and ensure we do not inadvertently give into the demands of all extremists: making our society less free, divided and suspicious of each other. Lessons from the past indicate that policies and measures taken in haste can exacerbate extremism.”
THE DAILY BEAST
British security officials are drawing comparisons between the Woolwich killers and the Boston bombers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, arguing they represent a new generation of jihadists either born in the West or raised there. This new generation, security officials say, are difficult to identify in advance because their attacks are often opportunistic and, if directed by other jihadists, done so subtly.
“All four appeared to be on the periphery of jihad, possible wannabes, but escaped closer scrutiny because they didn’t appear to be dangerous,” a UK intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “They are not directly managed but they are inspired—[and] monitoring inspiration is no easy feat. How can you predict the ones who are going to act, who are going to go off and do something like this? We are going to have to rethink our criteria for monitoring, to pick out these natural born killers.”
A further challenge for security services on both sides of the Atlantic to identify these “natural born killers” is the low-tech nature of the attacks, leaving less of a footprint to follow before an attack: in the case of Boston, rudimentary pressure-cooker bombs; and in the case of the gruesome attack in Woolwich, southeast London, meat cleaver, knives, and machetes.
The Woolwich attack comes straight out of Al Qaeda’s terror playbook. The group’s former chief propagandist, the American-born Anwar al-Awlaki who was killed in a drone strike two years ago, had long urged supporters to launch lone-wolf attacks like this or the Boston bombings.
The two suspects—British-born Michael Adebolajo and 22-year-old Nigerian-born Michael Adebowale, also a Muslim convert—appear to have been radicalized by the Islamist group Al Muhajiroun, which was banned by the UK government in 2010 for alleged links with terrorism, officials said.
Al Muhajiroun—the Emigrants—was founded in Saudi Arabia by Omar Bakri Muhammad, a jihadist preacher originally born in Syria. Al Muhajiroun, which campaigned for the imposition of sharia law in the UK, initially attracted notoriety for a 2002 conference celebrating the 9/11 attacks. The group’s recruitment and propaganda activities on Britain’s university campuses, distributing anti-Jewish hate literature and offering to train militants, also raised alarms as did incendiary speech by the group’s founder who once vowed that Muslims would give the West “a 9/11, day after day after day.”
Known as the “Tottenham Ayatollah,” the radical preacher oversaw the International Islamic Front, an organization that allegedly trained and sent British Muslims to fight in Chechnya and the Balkans. For several years, Muhammad was also the conduit for statements from Osama bin Laden.
Statistics obtained from Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry by the campaign group Human Rights Watch reveal the number of women and girls convicted of ‘moral crimes,’ which include running away from home has increased by 50 per cent in the last year from 400 to 600.
Many of the 600 women jailed in the last year are victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse whose only crime was to run away from their assailants, the group said.
It called on the Afghan government to enforce its own Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), and to stop its judges punishing female victims.
Although it is not a crime in Afghanistan for women to run away, the group said the country’s judges, including members of its Supreme Court, regard women who run away from their homes as criminals. Many of them who flee rapes and other assaults have been charged with seeking sex outside marriage, known as Zina in Afghanistan.
Those jailed for Zina include women and girls who have been raped or forced into prostitution, the group said.
AFP, Beirut -
More than 94,000 people have been killed in more than two years of conflict in Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a newly-revised toll on Tuesday.
The watchdog group said it revised the toll — just two days after it announced a tally of 82,257 dead — after receiving new information from regime-controlled Alawite areas of the Sunni-majority country.
“Based on this information, the number of martyrs and dead killed since the beginning of the Syrian revolution is more than 94,000,” it said in a statement.
The group said it had received new figures from areas including Tartus and Latakia — strongholds on the Mediterranean coast of the Alawite minority to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.
The information showed “that the number of casualties among the ranks of the Alawite community was much higher than the Observatory’s statistics which were published two days ago.”
On Sunday, the Britain-based watchdog which relies on a vast network of activists and medics on the ground put the death toll since the March 2011 start of the anti-regime uprising at 82,257, including 34,473 civilians.
In a Sunday talk show appearance, Issa said he would seek sworn testimony from veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The two conducted an independent investigation of the Sept. 11 attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Their report was highly critical of the State Department’s handling of at the U.S. outpost. Pickering, who also appeared on the Sunday shows, defended his scathing assessment but absolved former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“We knew where the responsibility rested,” said Pickering, whose career working for Republican and Democratic administrations, spans four decades.
Issa said he wants to know with whom the pair spoke to reach their conclusions about Clinton. Cummings suggested that they testify in public before the committee on May 22.
“This is a failure, it needs to be investigated. Our committee can investigate. Now, Ambassador Pickering, his people and he refused to come before our committee,” Issa said Sunday.
Pickering, sitting next to Issa during an appearance on one Sunday show, disputed the chairman’s account and said that he was willing to testify before the committee.
“That is not true,” said the former top diplomat, referring to Issa’s claim that he refused to appear before the committee.
In a separate interview, Pickering said he asked, via the White House, to appear at last Wednesday’s hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in which three State Department officials testified. He said he could have answered many of the questions lawmakers raised, such as whether U.S. military forces could have saved Americans had they dispatched F-16 jet fighters to the consulate, some 1,600 miles away from the nearest likely launching point.
“Mike Mullen, who was part of this report and indeed worked very closely with all of us and shared many of the responsibilities directly with me, made it very clear that his view as a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that there were nothing within range that could have made a difference,” Pickering said.