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Crowded field

"Crowded field" Continued...

Issue: "2011 Books of the Year," July 2, 2011

Most dangerous man

The Somali soldiers working a checkpoint in Mogadishu did not realize who they had killed. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and another man arrived at the checkpoint in a luxury car, and when one pulled a pistol the soldiers fired on them. Sophisticated weapons, maps, other materials, plus tens of thousands of dollars found in the car-along with later DNA testing-confirmed that one of the men killed was Mohammed, a lead al-Qaeda operative. The Somalian had topped the FBI's most-wanted list for 13 years and had a $5 million bounty on his head for planning the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings that killed 224 in Kenya and Tanzania. It was the third major strike in six weeks against al-Qaeda: Following Osama bin Laden's May killing, a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed Ilyas Kashmiri, wanted in connection with the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. Mohammed, according to Bill Roggio, managing editor of The Long War Journal, "is considered by U.S. intelligence officials to be al-Qaeda's most dangerous operative in Africa."

Interference

Ahead of elections in Zimbabwe-announced for this year but as yet unscheduled-President Robert Mugabe has launched a crackdown on political opponents, including churches. Four Anglican priests and 11 church wardens were arrested June 1 for interfering when a Mugabe ally tried to take over the home of the rector of St. Mary's Church in Harare. Mugabe has clashed with Anglican leaders in Africa since they excommunicated his longtime ally, Nolbert Kunonga, as bishop of Harare in 2008. In April a truckload of riot police fired tear gas and stormed a Nazarene church sanctuary in Harare where about 500 Christians from area churches had gathered for a prayer service on behalf of the country. One participant was shot dead by police and about 100 arrested.

Mugabe and his party's Zanu-PF forces have stepped up pressure against churches for their failure to support his regime-in a country where nearly 80 percent of the population are Christians-even as he seems unable to pull off elections slated for 2011. Some congregations report that church leaders have been pressed to sign petitions opposing international economic sanctions against Mugabe. And the 87-year-old president, who himself was Jesuit-educated, has turned from his own Catholic church and increasingly aligned himself with renegade figures like Kunonga or the growing vapostori, a cult-like movement.

Syria's crackdown

Thousands of pro-government demonstrators hoisted a mile-long Syrian flag in downtown Damascus on June 15 in a rare show of public support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. But elsewhere in the country anti-government protesters entered their third month of open agitation against Assad's regime, despite military crackdowns and a growing refugee crisis. Syrian security forces shot dead at least 34 demonstrators in the town of Hama on June 10, with snipers firing into crowds coming and going to Friday prayers. Elsewhere security forces have deployed tanks to surround towns and cut off internet and cell phone service. Human-rights groups say that Syrian security forces have killed more than 1,300 civilians since Syrians first began their own wave of "Arab spring" protests against Assad's longstanding, repressive regime. And across the border, Turkish authorities reported over 8,000 Syrians have turned up in camps as refugees.

Flood season

The first week of Atlantic hurricane season brought heavy rain, mudslides, flooding, and death to quake-ravaged Haiti. Officials reported at least 28 people died in storms that flooded towns and destroyed homes. Residents in Port-au-Prince reported floodwaters reaching 4 feet high in parts of the capital, and aid groups scrambled to evacuate vulnerable earthquake victims from low-lying tent cities.

Some 680,000 Haitians remain in tents more than 18 months after its devastating earthquake, and newly elected President Michel Martelly faces urgent pressure to form plans for long-term recovery, including sustainable housing. Aid groups reported also a spike in cholera. Officials from Doctors Without Borders said the group treated more than 2,500 cholera patients in Port-au-Prince during the first week of June-an increase from around 300 cases a week in April. Aid workers distributed hygiene kits, but more rain could worsen the spread of the waterborne disease that has killed more than 5,400 people-and sickened over 330,000-since October.

Fire and snow

An abandoned campfire may have started the largest wildfire in Arizona history. Flames have burned more than 747 square miles since Memorial Day weekend, destroying 32 homes and four rental cabins. As it spread across state lines to northwestern New Mexico, authorities evacuated 200 residents from the town of Luna. Scant winter precipitation in Arizona, New Mexico, west Texas, and southern Colorado is blamed on La Niña, a climate phenomenon where cooler waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean keep the jet stream from dipping down and bringing storms to the region. Instead, rain and snow further north have left record snowpack in the Sierra Nevada range in California and in the Rockies.

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