Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Notes From All Over

Pakistani Court Charges 5 Americans With Terrorism

A Pakistani court charged five young Americans on Wednesday with planning terrorist attacks in the South Asian country and conspiring to wage war against nations allied with Pakistan, their defense lawyer said.

The men - all Muslims from the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia - pleaded not guilty to a total of five charges, the most severe of which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, defense lawyer Hasan Dastagir said.

The men, all in their late teens or early 20s, were charged by an anti-terrorism court inside a prison in Sargodha, the city in Punjab province where they were arrested in December. They were reported missing by their families in November after one left behind a farewell video showing scenes of war and casualties and saying Muslims must be defended.

Their lawyer has said they were heading to Afghanistan and had no plans to stage attacks inside Pakistan.

The court also charged the men with planning attacks on Afghan and U.S. territory, said Dastagir. The charges did not specify what was meant by U.S. territory but could be a reference to American bases or diplomatic outposts in Afghanistan.

The men also were charged with contributing cash to banned organizations to be used for terrorism and with directing each other to commit terrorist acts. The penalty is life in prison. The trial will begin on March 31, and the prosecution is slated to present more than 20 witnesses, Dastagir said. The defense plans to bring witnesses from the U.S. and provide evidence of community service carried out by the men back home, Dastagir said.

Pakistani police have publicly made several accusations against the young men, claiming the suspects contacted Pakistani-based jihadi groups. They accused the five of using the social networking site Facebook and video-sharing site YouTube while they were in the U.S. to try to connect with extremist groups in Pakistan.

During past court hearings, the men have claimed they were tortured by Pakistani police and FBI agents. Pakistan and the U.S. have denied those allegations.

The U.S. has pressed an often-reluctant Pakistan to crack down on militants in its territory, many of whom are believed involved in attacks on American and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan. At the same time, several recent cases have highlighted incidences of foreigners signing up to join the insurgents on both sides of the border.

The men have been identified as Ramy Zamzam of Egyptian descent, Waqar Khan and Umar Farooq of Pakistani descent, and Aman Hassan Yemer and Ahmed Minni of Ethiopian descent.

Senate OKs Jobs Bill For Obama's Signature

The Senate is sending the first of several promised election-year jobs bills to President Obama for his signature.

It would provide a temporary payroll tax holiday to companies that hire and would pump $20 billion into the federal highway construction fund to make up for low gasoline tax revenues. Critics argue that it's not the job-creating engine Democrats have advertised.

The bill was passed Wednesday on a bipartisan 68-29 vote. Democrats promise additional jobs legislation, but concerns about the deficit are slowing progress. The new measure would exempt businesses hiring unemployed from the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax through December and give employers an additional $1,000 credit if new workers stay on the job a full year.

Students Help Save Town From Flood

Some children lugged sandbags that weighed more than they did. Determined teens showed up just after dawn with groups of friends, ready and willing to shovel. New groups of kids arrived by the busloads, all ready to join the race to protect their city from the rising Red River.

Thousands of volunteers are lending a hand this week to fill and stack sandbags to place along the river and near endangered homes as Fargo faces the threat of a severe flood after the river's expected crest Sunday. But the heart of that volunteer corps are the city's youngest citizens.

It's a job that elsewhere might be reserved for emergency workers or at least, their parents. But here, students can be excused from class with their parents' permission and join the hundreds of adults who are taking on the task of filling 1 million sandbags to hold back the impending floodwaters.

Many of the volunteers know that what they're doing may help save a neighbor or friend. Many students didn't mind missing a day of school to get dirty filling sandbags, and guessed many would end up near their own home or their friends' homes.

The students are providing critical manpower when their community needs it most. Since March 1, volunteers have been bused in to Fargo's "Sandbag Central," an arena-size utility building normally used to house a fleet of 25 garbage trucks, said Terry Ludlum, the city's solid waste utility manager. There, with the help of machines and volunteers, up to 100,000 sandbags can be filled in a 12-hour shift. Fifty volunteers can fill about 1,000 sandbags an hour.

The volunteers are expected to meet their goal Wednesday afternoon, three days ahead of schedule and largely because of the help of the young students. More than 1,000 children and teens have participated in the effort.

Student volunteers are a critical part of Fargo's flood response plan, and without them, the city would be sunk. College students helped with the sandbagging effort last year when the region lived through record flooding, but this year, they are on spring break. To fill the gap, hundreds of middle school and high school students have been enlisted to work three- to four-hour shifts for 12 hours each day.

Some children are in grade school, or not even old enough to enroll.

Determined Dog Chews Officer's Tires, Bumper

What happened to a Chattanooga police officer's car was certainly under the radar.

A city police spokeswoman said Sunday that Officer Clayton Holmes had been checking traffic speeds with radar and stopped to fill out a report when he felt his car shaking. He found a dog chewing on the tires.

After the dog attacked two passing cars and a second police car, officers used pepper spray and a Taser on it, but the animal wasn't deterred.

By the time McCamey Animal Center staffers captured that dog and two others, it had chewed two tires and the entire front bumper off Holmes' patrol car.

Officer Rebecca Royval said the dogs got out of a fence at a nearby welding shop. The owner was cited and the dogs were removed.

AP; Reuters; FOX News.

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