Saturday, June 10, 2006

Kenya: The Mystery of the Armenian Brothers Remains Unresolved

Francis Openda
The East African Standard (Nairobi), Washington

The mystery of the two Armenian brothers Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargasyan has continued to deepen since they emerged to make bribery claims against Lang'ata MP Raila Odinga and his Mwingi North counterpart Kalonzo Musyoka.
The Government on its part has added to the mystery by making contradictory statements about their nationality and nature of business.
When they "jetted in" from Dubai and addressed a press conference at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport VIP lounge, Immigration minister Gideon Konchella told journalists in Kisumu that the two men were Czech citizens.
He quickly followed this with a fax message to newsrooms retracting his earlier position and stating that the two were Armenian consultants in marketing, business development and finance on a valid two-year class H permits issued on January 28.
Konchellah later said there was an "untold story" about the two men and what their business in Kenya was.
He asked for patience as his ministry investigated.
"There is something fishy in the whole affair," he said but added that his ministry had records showing when the two men came in. But Margaryan later said they had been in Kenya for only four months.
The statement read by Environment minister Prof Kivutha Kibwana claimed it was the Orange Democratic Leaders who were recruiting mercenaries. The mystery deepened when on March 16, when Internal Security minister John Michuki said he could not tell whether the individuals were businessmen or hit men
Jun 10, 2006

Brothers in terror raid freed without charge

Stephen Wright
Daily Mail

London (UK):
Two Muslim brothers arrested in a terror raid were released without charge last night in a humiliating end to a week-long investigation.
The men were freed from top-security Paddington Green police station in central London where they had been quizzed over allegations they had plotted a 'poison bomb' attack in the capital.
The decision to free Abul Kahar Kalam, 23 and Abul Koyair Kalam, 20, is a major embarrassment to Anti-Terrorist Branch chiefs.
Last Friday's high-profile operation involved more than 250 Metropolitan Police officers, fire engines, ambulance staff and chemical experts from Porton Down.
The dramatic raid in Forest Gate, East London, came after an MI5 informant drew a sketch of a poison bomb and a vest or jacket that could have been used to smuggle it on to the Tube network or into a pub crowded with World Cup fans.
Abul Kahar was shot in the shoulder during the operation, prompting allegations of police heavy-handedness.
The overall cost of the raid - including officers' salaries and overtime, the bill for sealing off local streets and for ripping apart the terraced home at the centre of the alert - is believed to exceed £500,000.
The Metropolitan Police last night issued a humiliating statement confirming both men have been released without charge. It said the force would pay for the house to be 'restored'.
Police search teams and forensic experts have spent the last week desperately trying to find any trace of the chemical bomb.
As it became clear that the device was not at the property, a rift has developed between police and security services over who was responsible for authorising the raid.
Jun 10, 2006

S.Korean jet lands with no nose, no radar, no view

Seoul (South Korea):
A South Korean jet with 200 passengers on board landed safely in Seoul after hailstones blew off the plane's nose, destroyed its radar and shattered the front cockpit windows, airline officials said on Saturday.
Asiana Airlines flight 8942 was pelted with hailstones late on Friday while flying to Seoul from the southern resort island of Cheju, a spokesman at the country's second-largest carrier said by telephone.
The hail wrecked the housing for the main radar system and also punctured its engine covers.
The cockpit windows of the Airbus 321 jet were made of safety glass and remained in place after shattering, but it was nearly impossible to see through the glass.Small side windows in the cockpit remained intact.
No injuries were reported. Among the passengers, were 177 elementary school students on a school tour, the spokesman added.
Jun 10, 2006

Mystery of missing MacKenzie millions

Gethin Chamberlain
Scotsman, UK
He was revealed this week as the perpetrator of Scotland's biggest-ever banking fraud. Yet friends of Donald MacKenzie find it hard to believe that the quiet man with a "nondescript" lifestyle could really have embezzled £21 million from his employer, the Royal Bank of Scotland - and no-one seems to have any idea why.
Asked to recall anything remotely interesting about his personal life, the best anyone could come up with was that his wedding rounded off with a chorus of New York, New York.
He was certainly not a high-roller or a man to throw money about. One former friend said the 45-year-old business banker would make sure he turned up late at events to avoid buying a round of drinks.
It was a complete shock to those who knew MacKenzie when police raided his modest Edinburgh home two years ago and detained him on suspicion of swindling the Royal Bank out of £21 million.
Anyone else might have indulged themselves a little - a new car, perhaps, a house in the country, a few holidays in exotic locations. But not MacKenzie.
Although his legitimate earnings amounted to a healthy £53,268 a year, he contented himself with a pleasant but unprepossessing house in a quiet neighbourhood and a light blue Ford Focus, which remains parked outside in the street. His wife still shuttles the children - aged six and three - about in a gold-coloured Toyota Yaris.
Yet over a five-year period, MacKenzie was responsible for moving around £69 million of the Royal Bank's money, nearly £50 million of which he used to cover the tracks of his fraudulent transactions.
The question everyone wants to answer is simple: why did he do it and what did he do with the money? If the Royal Bank knows the truth, it is not saying. It refuses to talk about the case in public or offer any explanation about how he got away with it.
Bank insiders say even behind closed doors, the name Donald MacKenzie is rarely uttered, such is the embarrassment felt by executives at having been so thoroughly taken in by a man they regarded as one of their highest fliers.
Jun 10, 2006

Teen's MySpace rendezvous in W. Bank thwarted

David N. Goodman
Associated Press

Detroit, Micigan (US):
A 16-year-old honor student from Michigan tricked her parents into getting her a passport and then flew off to the Mideast to be with a West Bank man she met on, authorities say.
U.S. officials in Jordan persuaded her to turn around and go home before she reached the West Bank. She was on her way home Friday.
The teen is a straight-A student, her father said. "She's a good girl. Never had a problem with her," he said.
The student, who lives with her mother about 80 miles north of Detroit, disappeared Monday after talking her family into getting her a passport by saying she was going to Canada with friends, sheriff's officials said. They said she apparently planned to visit a man whose MySpace account describes him as a 25-year-old from Jericho and whom she contacted about three months ago.
The FBI traced the teenager to a Wednesday flight from New York's Kennedy Airport to Tel Aviv. At a scheduled stop in Amman, Jordan, U.S. officials persuaded her to return home, the FBI said.
June 10, 2006

Robot with the human touch feels just like us

Lewis Smith
Times Online, UK

A touch sensor developed to match the sensitivity of the human finger is set to herald the age of the robotic doctor.
Until now robots have been severely handicapped by their inability to feel objects with anything like the accuracy of their human creators. The very best are unable to beat the dexterity of the average six-year-old at tying a shoelace or building a house of cards.
But all that could change with the development by nanotechnologists of a device that can “feel” the shape of a coin down to the detail of the letters stamped on it.
The ability to feel with at least the same degree of sensitivity as a human finger is crucial to the development of robots that can take on complicated tasks such as open heart surgery.
The touch device has been created by researchers in America who used nanoparticles to sense the contours of a coin. It is accurate enough to detect the outline of Abraham Lincoln’s face on a 1c coin and the letters TY in the word Liberty.
Vivek Maheshwari and Ravi Saraf, of the University of Nebraska, say: “Variation in stress distribution caused by the embossing on a 1c coin leads to significant change in local current density.”
The ability to feel an object, whether a coin or a scalpel, would enable robots to improve their ability to grasp items. It would allow them to detect the texture of an item and judge whether it was slipping or being held so firmly that it was being squashed.
June 09, 2006

Friday, June 09, 2006

Zarqawi's identity remains a mystery

Lawrence Joffe
The Guardian, UK

British people will forever associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed yesterday in his late 30s, with the kidnap and beheading in October 2004 of Ken Bigley. Zarqawi, the self-styled leader of "al-Qaida in the land of the two rivers", is also believed to have personally decapitated the 26-year-old American hostage Nick Berg earlier that year.
Yet increasingly his targets were Iraqis; the number of Shia civilians that his minions have slain since 2003 grotesquely eclipses the number of foreigners he is known to have dispatched. Despite this worldwide intelligence interest, Zarqawi's identity remains a mystery. He was probably born in Zarqa, an industrial town east of Jordan's capital, Amman. "Zarqawi" merely denoted his birthplace; his true name was likely Ahmad Fadil Nazal al-Khalayleh. Rather than being Palestinian - as was once believed - he probably hailed from the Bani Hassan, a Jordanian desert tribe.
He grew up in poverty, dropped out of school and took to heavy drinking, tattoos and fighting. Allegedly jailed for sexual assault, he embraced militant Islam and travelled in Afghanistan in 1989. With the Soviets already defeated, he was left to edit a magazine for demobilised mujaheddin. In Afghanistan he met bin Laden, and his penchant for expertly synchronised suicide bombings recalled al-Qaida's methods. Yet colleagues said relations between the two men cooled. By 2000 Zarqawi was running training camps for his Jund al-Sham (Levantine Soldiers) in Herat, hundreds of miles from bin Laden's bases.
In 1992 Zarqawi joined Bayat al-Imam (Loyalty to the Imam), a radical Jordanian clique led by another former convict, Issam Barqawi.
Reportedly jailed for possessing arms in 1993, Zarqawi became a taciturn loner; fellow prisoners recalled him intimidating inmates with a mere glare. Released in an amnesty in 1999, he was soon to be sentenced in absentia for plotting to bomb tourists celebrating the new millennium at the Radisson SAS hotel in Amman.
In 2000, Zarqawi escaped with his ailing mother to Peshawar in Pakistan. Late the following year, he was apparently wounded during the US bombardment of al-Qaida's Afghan bases. Surgeons at Baghdad's Ibn Sina hospital operated on his leg in May 2002. American and Kurdish forces destroyed Ansar camps in April 2003, but Zarqawi slipped away.
Soon Zarqawi was back in Iraq, where he revived his group, Tawhid al-Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War, or Unity and Struggle). Its epicentre was Falluja, where four US private security agents were killed in April 2004.
In February 2004 Washington raised Zarqawi's bounty to $25m - the same as it had put on Saddam and bin Laden.
Some detected the outlaw's hand outside Iraq. Spanish officials investigated his possible role in the train bombings that killed 191 in Madrid on March 11 2004. He took credit for car bombs that killed 60 in Najaf and Karbala in December 2004; rocket attacks on Israel and US navy vessels in Jordan the following August, and a triple attack on three Amman hotels which killed another 60 on November 9 2005. Most significantly - and curiously, in the light of his growing unpopularity - bin Laden accepted his oath of allegiance as recently as December 2004, in effect making him an al-Qaida brand franchise. In May last year he justified the collateral killing of Muslims, where necessary. The following month his website launched a slick 46-minute video, All Religion Will be for Allah. The man whose remoteness earned him the nickname al-Gharib (the Stranger) - a moniker he used to sign letters - was videoed that December cradling a gun, swathed in a suicide bomber's vest, and, for the first time, unmasked. It was another stake at self-promotion.
June 09, 2006

Young Star May Be Encircled by Diamond Studded Planets

David McAlary
Voice of America

Washington (US):
Astronomers have found a star where planets may be forming from sources extra rich in carbon. If so, experts believe such planets would be teeming with smoggy atmospheres, tar-covered terrain, and vast diamond deposits.
The planets that could be forming around the star Beta Pictoris might be a jeweler's dream, but inhospitable to life as we know it.
Beta Pictoris is nearly twice the mass of our sun, and relatively close to us in cosmological terms - 60 light years away, the distance it takes light to travel in 60 years. At less than 20 million years of age, it is relatively young.
Its carbon-rich environment is a surprise. Ever since astronomers discovered the gas and dust disk around Beta Pictoris 22 years ago, they assumed it had the same composition as the one from which our solar system formed. But they also wondered why the disk lingers when it should have been blasted away by light particles, called photons, in the intense radiation from the big, young star.
An answer now comes from a study in the journal Nature, using data from a U.S. space agency satellite called the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, or FUSE.
Space agency astronomer Aki Roberge says FUSE has detected an extreme abundance of carbon in the Beta Pictoris nebula - nearly 20 times as much as thought to have existed in our infant solar system. She says carbon resists the intense radiation pushing on it.
June 08, 2006

Greek mystery may have been solved

Monsters and, UK
Athens (Greece):
Scientists say they may have solved the puzzle produced by the 1900 discovery off Greece of a bronze mechanism created in 80 B.C.
The 'Antikythera Mechanism' was discovered on the wreck of a cargo ship off the tiny Greek island of Antikythera, The Scotsman reported.
But now a team of British and Greek researchers report finding a hidden inscription on the machine that might determine the purpose of the shoe box-sized mechanism, which some scientists believe might be the world`s oldest astronomy computer.
The team believes the machine might have been used to predict the motion of the planets, although the mechanism involving more than 30 wheels and dials represents a technical prowess not to be replicated for thousands of years, The Scotsman said.
Xenophon Moussas, a researcher at Athens University, told The Scotsman the inscription indicates the machine was used to track planetary bodies.
June 08, 2006

UNESCO to take a look at Bosnia's mysterious pyramid

Ethan McNern
Scotsman, UK

Bosnia's mystery pyramid is to be investigated and inspected by a team of experts from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, it emerged yesterday.
Semir Osmanagic, an amateur archaeologist, has caused a stir with his find at Visocica hill in the centre of Bosnia, although local and European archaeologists denounce it as nonsense.
Geologist Aly Abd Barakat, an Egyptian researcher sent by Cairo to assist Mr Osmanagic's team last month, has said that the 2,300ft hill did appear to be a primitive man-made pyramid of uncertain age.
Mr Barakat said huge stone blocks found on the three sides of the hill used the same type of artificial cement as ancient Egyptian pyramids
June 06, 2006

Aussie rocks could be earliest life forms

Ker Than

They resemble upside-down ice cream cones or egg cartons, but a new analysis suggests that the odd sedimentary structures found in Western Australia are among the earliest signs of life on the planet.
Called "stromatolites," the structures are believed to be about 3.4 billion years old. Since they were first described nearly 30 years ago, scientists have see-sawed between attributing them to the work of ancient microbes or hydrothermal vent activity.
But in a new study detailed in the June 8 issue of the journal Nature, Australian researchers argue that the shapes of the stromatolites are too complex and diverse to have been formed by physical processes.
Abigail Allwood of Macquarie University in Sydney and colleagues analyzed a 6-mile stretch of the rock formations and identified seven different types of stromatolites.
Allwood said her team was able to recover a few scraps of organic matter from the site which they will begin analyzing soon. The sample is so small, however, that it is difficult to say much more about the organisms that made the stromatolites than that they were microbial, Allwood told LiveScience.
If the stromatolites do turn out to have a biologic origin, it could change how scientists think about life on early Earth.
If the stromatolites were formed by microbes, then life must have adapted to normal, non-extreme environments even as early in the planet's history as 3.4 billion years ago. Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Furthermore, life by that time would have already diversified enough to form complex ecosystems.
June 07, 2006

Has Merapi volcano erupted or not?

Heru Andriyanto

Magelang (Indonesia):
The Indonesian government denied media reports Thursday that the Merapi volcano in Central Java has erupted, while thousands of villagers on its slope continued to flee the volcano, this time without hesitation.
"Merapi has not erupted yet. What is happening there is increasing volcanic activities as shown by gas clouds and lava, like what we have been witnessing over the last one month," Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie said at a news conference in Jakarta.
However, Bakrie said residents within a 7-km radius of the crater should leave immediately and unconditionally.
Metro TV reported earlier the "eruption" occurred at 09:05 a.m.(02:05 GMT) with a thunderous sound, followed by lava flowing into nearest rivers and gas clouds mushrooming from the crater.
Reports from the volcano monitoring office in Yogyakarta said gas clouds with a temperature of 175 Celsius degree flew down as far as 5 km, the longest range since Merapi was placed in the highest alert status on May 15.
The clouds burned forest trees and crops grown by villagers.
"For me, that was an eruption," said Wiryo Sumarto, who has been living on the Merapi slope since he was born 68 years ago.
June 08, 2006

5 skeletons found under French flats

Susan Bell
Scotsman, UK

Paris (France):
Detectives were yesterday investigating the mysterious discovery of five female skeletons buried beneath the courtyard of a nondescript block of flats in the French town of Meaux, near Paris.
The first skeleton was found last week by a workman renovating the property. It was lying on its back, arms by its side, in a shallow grave.
Police had already sent the remains to the Paris coroner's office for analysis when the same workman made another gruesome discovery only a few hours later. This time, the skeleton was that of a tall woman, her arms crossed over her chest.
Police recovered pieces of wood and several rusty nailheads from the earth surrounding both skulls, suggesting the remains had been placed inside coffins before burial.
Last Friday, the mystery deepened after the first results from the coroner's office showed that the second skeleton was composed of bones from three bodies. Further excavations uncovered two more skeletons. On Wednesday police brought in a mechanical digger and uncovered a fifth skeleton.
Police said yesterday they were unsure whether they were dealing with a serial killer or whether the remains were those of Benedictine nuns whose convent had occupied the site about 200 years ago.
June 09, 2006

Duane Faust wants to take the 'mystery' out of his project

John Bumgardner

Atlanta (US):
There's new information about a proposed development along the Grand River in Grand Rapids. A company called The Grand Rapids Development Corp. owned by Duane Faust sent the city a letter on May 19th expressing interest in 15.8 acres of city owned land.
Today Faust's company released documents they hope will support their claims of jobs and growth coming to the area because of the River Grand project.
“In addressing questions from the task force, we wanted to go a step further in ‘demystifying' The River Grand, and show the community the depth we can bring to Grand Rapids if selected to provide a full proposal,” says Faust.
Faust's company is seeking to develop 36 acres in downtown Grand Rapids. Under his proposal 25% would turn into housing, 25% would be office space, 35% allotted to retail and entertainment and 15% general development. The total investment promised by Faust is projected to be between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billon dollars.
June 08, 2006

Mystery as China bans Da Vinci Code from the nation's cinema screens

Min Lee
Scotsman, UK

Hong Kong:
China has ordered cinemas to stop showing the controversial blockbuster film The Da Vinci Code from today, media officials said.
Authorities said the withdrawal - an unprecedented move - was to make way for films produced in China, an industry executive reported yesterday.
"This is coming directly from the film bureau," she said, adding that it was the first time the government had pulled a foreign film from cinemas.
She declined to be named because she was not authorised to comment.
The film had been given the widest release yet for a foreign production in China, with 393 prints sent to cinemas, breaking the record of 380 set by King Kong last year, its distributor said earlier.
The official explanation appears to be contradicted by the release of another Hollywood blockbuster, Ice Age - The Meltdown in China today.
However, China does limit film imports to 20 a year in an effort to protect state studios.
Another possible explanation is that officials do not want the film to do well in China.
Having made £7 million there since its release on 19 May, it was on its way to becoming one of the highest-ever earning foreign films in China, the executive said.
The Da Vinci Code has been opposed by Christian groups because it suggests Jesus fathered children who continued his lineage. China's state-backed Catholic church urged followers to boycott the film, but few of China's 1.3 billion people are Christians. Estimates range from 16 million to 47 million.
June 09, 2006

Monday, June 05, 2006

Shooting mystery man in custody

Stewart Paterson
The Herald
London (UK):
A man who was shot during an anti-terror raid was yesterday transferred into police custody although he was still too ill to be questioned. Abdul Kahar, 23, was moved under high security from a London hospital to the city's Paddington Green police station. He was shot during the police operation at his east London home on Friday.
His solicitor, Kate Roxburgh, said last night: "It has all been about the doctor assessing whether my client is fit to be interviewed at the moment. The man's lawyers maintain he was shot in the shoulder by police officers during the raid but Whitehall sources have been reported as claiming he was shot by his 20-year-old younger brother, Abul Koyair, who has also been arrested. Official police statements on the incident have said a man received gunshot wounds but not who fired the shot and no-one has attempted to clarify who fired the gun. Lawyers for Abul Koyair say he did not shoot his brother and both men deny any involvement in terrorism.
June 05, 2006

China orders investigation after military plane crashes

Malaysia Star

Beijing (China):
The weekend crash of a military transport plane in eastern China killed all 40 people aboard and prompted President Hu Jintao to order an investigation into its cause, the government's Xinhua News Agency reported.
The Xinhua report late Sunday was the first official confirmation of the death toll from Saturday afternoon's crash. Villagers near the crash site in Anhui province described a gruesome scene, with bodies and body parts strewn across a mountain slope where the plane went down.
Immediately after learning of the crash, Hu, who heads the Communist Party commission that oversees the military, ordered an investigation team led by a senior general to the crash site to determine the cause, Xinhua said, citing unidentified sources from China's Air Force.
No other details about the victims or the flight have been released.
The Xinhua report on the death toll was released more than 30 hours after the crash. Newspapers on Monday carried brief, identical Xinhua dispatches about Hu sending condolences to families of the victims - an indication that the government was keeping a tight rein on media, all of which is state controlled.
June 05, 2006

Police question Rahul Mahajan inside ICU

The Hindu
New Delhi (India):
Rahul Mahajan, whose name is linked to a drug abuse case, was today questioned by the police at the Apollo Hospital about his mystery ailment and the death of his aide Vivek Moitra.
Hospital sources said that Rahul was being questioned inside the Intensive Care Unit itself after doctors said he was fit to give a statement.
See Also:
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Sahil was a drug courier, says Delhi Police
Delay in action raises eyebrows
A team of police officials led by Ram Kishan, Station House Officer of the Mandir Marg Police Station began recording the statement at about 11:00 am.
Doctors reviewed Rahul's situation this morning and found him fit to give a statement.
June 05, 2006

Indonesian embassy staff helping police with mystery man

Radio New Zealand
Staff at the Indonesian Embassy are assisting police trying to identify a man with critical head injuries who was dropped off at Tauranga Hospital on Friday night.
The man has since been transferred to Auckland City Hospital where he is in a critical condition.
Police believe he is an Indonesian national, who was working in a kiwifruit picking gang. He had a pair of kiwifruit picking gloves on him.
Police have spent the day trying to contact some of the 300 contractors who employee pickers on kiwifruit orchards throughout the Bay of Plenty.
June 05, 2006

Riddle of Saturn’s moon may have been answered

Daily Times
Scientists believe they can explain a mystery that enshrouds Enceladus, a moon of Saturn that could be the best bet for looking for life elsewhere in the Solar System.
Orbiting eccentrically in Saturn’s outermost ring, Enceladus is a strange and tiny world of white. It measures just 504 kilometres (315 miles) across, thus defying its name as a giant of Greek mythology, and has brilliant shell of ice that is pristine except for some odd-looking grooves and pockmarks from recent space impacts.
Just as its surface is a frigid hell, counter-intuitively, beneath the ice Enceladus seems to be relatively balmy. Flybys by the US probe Cassini have shown plumes of water vapour that vent from its surface, shooting crystal jets upwards for hundreds of kilometers (miles).
A pair of American space scientists believe they have the answer for this. Spinning bodies are most stable if most of their mass is close to the equator. Any redistribution of mass within a rotating object causes the axis of spin to become unstable.
In the case of Enceladus, the large blob of low-density material — either warm water or hot silicate at its rocky core — would cause the moon to roll over. The spin axis would remain fixed, but the blob, known as a diapir, would end up on the south pole.
June 05, 2006

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Mysterious red cells might be aliens

Jebediah Reed
Popular Science

As bizarre as it may seem, the sample jars brimming with cloudy, reddish rainwater in Godfrey Louis's laboratory in southern India may hold, well, aliens.
In April, Louis, a solid-state physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University, published a paper in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Astrophysics and Space Science in which he hypothesizes that the samples -- water taken from the mysterious blood-colored showers that fell sporadically across Louis's home state of Kerala in the summer of 2001 -- contain microbes from outer space.
Specifically, Louis has isolated strange, thick-walled, red-tinted cell-like structures about 10 microns in size. Stranger still, dozens of his experiments suggest that the particles may lack DNA yet still reproduce plentifully, even in water superheated to nearly 600 degrees Fahrenheit . (The known upper limit for life in water is about 250 degrees Fahrenheit .)
So how to explain them? Louis speculates that the particles could be extraterrestrial bacteria adapted to the harsh conditions of space and that the microbes hitched a ride on a comet or meteorite that later broke apart in the upper atmosphere and mixed with rain clouds above India.
If his theory proves correct, the cells would be the first confirmed evidence of alien life and, as such, could yield tantalizing new clues to the origins of life on Earth.
Last winter, Louis sent some of his samples to astronomer Chandra Wickramasinghe and his colleagues at Cardiff University in Wales, who are now attempting to replicate his experiments; Wickramasinghe expects to publish his initial findings later this year.
Louis's theory holds special appeal for Wickramasinghe. A quarter of a century ago, he co-authored the modern theory of panspermia, which posits that bacteria-riddled space rocks seeded life on Earth.
June 02, 2006

No cocaine found in Rahul Mahajan's blood samples

Times of India
New Delhi (India):
The blood samples of Rahul Mahajan, who is admitted to Apollo Hospital in a critical condition, doesn't contain cocaine and any other banned drug, hospital officials said.
The tests for all the toxic screen are negative including that for cocaine and ecstasy, the officials said.
The tests were done for 14 drugs, they said, adding the doctors were not in a position to comment, if he had taken any other drug, Dr Anupam Sibal of Apollo Hospital said.
Observing that when brought in, Rahul Mahajan was in a critical condition with "some kind of intoxication", Sibal said, "we cannot really say what it (ailment) was."
Conspiracy theories doing rounds
Rahul Mahajan's condition improves
Mahajan Jr case: Search on for missing 4th visitor
"We are unable to identify what caused the clinical situation," he said adding all toxic screening done is negative and "we will not be able to say anything (if he has taken anything else) as tests are not available for everything."
Moitra's post-mortem report suggests poisoning
Traces of poison has been found in the body of late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan's secretary Vivek Moitra, sources in AIIMS hospital where the autopsy was conducted said on Saturday.
"There were traces of poison and we have sent the visra to Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory (CFSL) to determine the type of poison," they said.
Moitra died in wee hours on Friday after suspected poisoning while Mahajan's son Rahul was admitted to Appollo Hospital in New Delhi in a serious condition.
June 03, 2006

Friday, June 02, 2006

US video probe into 'new Iraqi massacre'

Irish Examiner
The BBC has uncovered video footage it says suggests US forces may have been responsible for the deliberate killing of 11 innocent Iraqi civilians in March.
The broadcaster said the images appeared to challenge the US military’s account of events which took place in the town of Ishaqi.
US authorities in Baghdad said an investigation was underway, the BBC reported.
Iraqi police have already accused American troops of shooting 11 people, including five children, on purpose in a raid on a house in the town 60 miles north of Baghdad on March 15.
The US military reportedly said at the time that four people were killed during a military operation when a building collapsed under heavy fire.
But the BBC said its tape, which comes in the wake of the alleged massacre in Haditha in November, showed a number of dead adults and children at the site with gunshot wounds.
June 02, 2006

Tomb could hold Tutankhamen's widow

Daily Telegraph, Australia
London (UK):
It has been 84 years since Egypt's famed Valley of the Kings revealed its last great riches – the fabulous gold of Tutankhamen's tomb.
Now archaeologists believe they have stumbled across one final secret: The mummified remains of the boy king's widow buried 3000 years ago.
In a mysterious shaft less than 15m from Tutankhamen's burial ground, US archaeologists found seven coffins.
They believe one they have not yet been able to open may contain the remains of Queen Ankhesenpaaten.
The tomb – found by accident by Memphis University team leader Dr Otto Schaden – contained seven coffins stacked closely together and ringed by 28 clay jars, each decorated with a beautiful face mask. The coffins were buried about 1320BC.
A child-sized coffin – one of five so far raised – contained a small gilded ornamental sarcophagus of a quality that was usually buried only with royalty.
Ankhesenpaaten's link to the tomb was further underlined when a coffin seal was found with part of her name on it.
June 02, 2006

Teen's 'execution' murder mystery

Sydney Morning Herald
Sydney (Australia):
The murder of Sydney teenager Matthew Di Losa will remain unsolved for now, after the NSW coroner found insufficient evidence to refer the matter to prosecutors.
Mr Di Losa died after being shot in the neck in what newspaper reports at the time called "an execution style" killing.
His body was found by the Cooks River canal at Enfield, in Sydney's west, on October 10, 1991.
NSW Coroner John Abernethy today delivered an open finding at the conclusion of the two-day inquest into the 18-year-old's death.
"This is an unsolved murder and I generally say little in such cases," Mr Abernethy told Glebe Coroner's Court.
"Sadly, the inquest has not taken this case much further."
But, he said, a $50,000 reward would be offered to any person who could provide information leading to the apprehension of Mr Di Losa's killer.
"I urge any member of the community with information to come forth," Mr Abernethy said.
The inquest had earlier heard how Di Losa was murdered just weeks after returning from a European holiday ended his trip early to recover $5,000 from a failed gun deal.
Mr Di Losa had been trying to buy 10 guns for $5,000 from a friend, Kevin Khaschan, shortly before his death.

Who is 'John Doe'?

Barney Lerten,

Eighteen months after a man's body, bundled up in a sleeping bag, was found along a Deschutes River walking trail, stumped Deschutes County sheriff's detectives released a computer-reconstruction photo Thursday in hopes of identifying the "John Doe."
Deputies responded around 10:40 a.m. on Nov. 27, 2004 to a report of a deceased male along the river near Meadow Camp, west of Bend. Deputies found the man, bundled in a sleeping bag, and detectives were called in.
The man appeared to be transient, and no identification was found on or near him, said sheriff's Det. Troy Gotchy. The medical examiner's office determined he had died of exposure.
Investigators tried to identify the man by sending his fingerprints to the Oregon State Police, to be compared with others in the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or AFIS, but no match was found, Gotchy said.
"Detectives have followed up on several leads, and identification still has not been made," Gotchy said in a news release.
The man's DNA also has been sent to a missing persons DNA database at the University of North Texas Health Center, but no match has been found, the detective said.
The unidentified man also has been placed on a Website called the Doe Network ( The page lists case histories, and both computer and clay reconstructions of missing and unidentified deceased people, Gotchy said.
June 01, 2006

Seeking answers in 'barn owl mystery'

BBC News
A Northern Ireland academic is seeking the public's help to find out the causes of poisoning in barn owls.
Dave Tosh of Queen's University is examining if rat poisons are turning up in animals which are not targeted.
He has appealed to the public in a bid to find out where barn owls roost and collect the pellets that gather there.
The number of barn owls in Northern Ireland is low and Mr Tosh is analysing their diet and if it is likely to expose them to rodenticides.
"Understanding the species' diet is important, as in the UK the vole is the most common prey item of the barn owl," he said.
"Unfortunately for the barn owl, the vole does not naturally occur in Ireland, so it must be eating something else.
"What that is, we don't know, but we could speculate that it is eating wood mice, house mice and brown rats.
"It is therefore possible that rodenticides used to target these species are indirectly affecting the barn owl through its diet."
The barn owl population is thought to have declined in the UK by as much as 50% in the past 50 years.
June 01, 2006

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Saddam witness says "executed" people still alive

Omar al-Ibadi and Fredrik Dahl

Baghdad (Iraq):
A witness for Saddam Hussein appeared to dispute prosecution allegations that 148 people were executed after a failed assassination bid in 1982, telling the court on Tuesday that some of them were still alive.
The anonymous man, testifying from behind a curtain in the courtroom in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, suggested the survivors fled abroad after the attempt on Saddam's life but had returned after his overthrow in 2003.
"Some of the people, who it was said at the time were executed because of their role in the assassination attempt against Saddam, came back to Iraq after the American occupation," he said.
"Some of them came from Iran, others came with American tanks," he added.
Saddam and seven co-defendants are accused of crimes against humanity for bloody reprisals that the prosecution says led to the deaths of 148 men and teenagers after the attempt on his life in Dujail, a mainly Shi'ite Muslim town north of Baghdad.
If convicted they face possible death by hanging.
One of the defense lawyers told the court one of their witnesses had been killed a few days ago but did not elaborate.

Mysterious sheep killer puts wolf debate back in the crosshairs

Gwen Florio
Great Falls Tribune, MT

On the morning before Easter, Jordan-area rancher Mike McKeever walked the quarter-mile from his house down to the sheep pens to check on his pregnant ewes.
One was dead, but untouched. Beyond it was a second carcass, and that's when McKeever knew he had a problem.
"She was hollowed out ... it must have munched through her ribs and went down through her body cavity. It pulled out her intestines and her lambs and ate them all," said McKeever.
He is among a handful of ranchers in Garfield, McCone and Dawson counties who have lost about 100 sheep since the beginning of the year, most recently in mid-May, to a ravenous creature that dispatches 170-pound sheep with ease and ferocity.
And that creature is?
"A wolf," said McKeever.
"A wolf or wolf hybrid," said Carolyn Sime, the statewide wolf coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
"A dog or a hybrid," said Suzanne Asha Stone, the Boise-based Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife.
The forests of Yellowstone, thick with elk and deer, are more than 400 miles from the barren, windswept plains of eastern Montana. Stone said that's what makes it so unlikely that the sheep-slaughterer is a wolf.
"It's something perhaps more feral than wild .... It's very common for feral dogs to kill livestock," she said.
Kay Rene Whiteside said the mystery animal killed 21 of her sheep in January and injured another 40.
McKeever believes it's a wolf because it preys on adult sheep. Coyotes usually take lambs, and only one or two at a time, he said.

Study: global warming boosts poison ivy

The Associated Press
Seattle Post Intelligencer

Washington (US):
Another reason to worry about global warming: more and itchier poison ivy. The noxious vine grows faster and bigger as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise, researchers report Monday.
And a CO2-driven vine also produces more of its rash-causing chemical, urushiol, conclude experiments conducted in a forest at Duke University where scientists increased carbon-dioxide levels to those expected in 2050.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas - a chemical that traps heat similar to the way a greenhouse does - that's considered a major contributor to global warming.
Poison ivy's itchy, sometimes blistering rash is one of the most widely reported ailments to poison-control centers, with more than 350,000 reported cases a year.
Compared to poison ivy grown in usual atmospheric conditions, those exposed to the extra-high carbon dioxide grew about three times larger - and produced more allergenic form of urushiol, scientists from Duke and Harvard University reported.
Their study appears in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
May 29. 2006

New chief for mystery bodies probe

Ismail Wolff
IHT ThaiDay, Thailand

Justice Ministry permanent Secretary Jarupong Ruangsuwan has been assigned to oversee an investigation concerning the identification of more than 300 corpses that have lain in unmarked graves in the South for over a year, minister Chitchai Wannasathit said yesterday.
The move seemingly puts Jarupong in charge of the investigation previously headed by Khunying Pornthip Rojanasunan, director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS), under the Justice Ministry.
Chitchai said Jarupong will go to cemeteries in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat to direct the investigative process.
Asked if that would undermine Khunying Pornthip’s role in the investigation, Chitchai simply said: “I have already assigned Jarupong to be in charge.”
The justice minister also stressed there was no evidence to suggest the hundreds of corpses were connected to the alleged kidnapping and disappearance of local Muslims at the hands of security forces in the region.
Police claim most of the bodies are those of foreign migrant workers murdered in crimes unrelated to the violent insurgency plaguing the southernmost border provinces since January 2004. However, Khunying Pornthip said yesterday she will finally proceed next month with exhuming the unmarked graves that were first discovered in July 2005.
May 30, 2006

Monday, May 29, 2006

Ghost ship with 11 corpses washes up in Barbados

Mail & Guardian Online
The white ghost ship rolled in the Atlantic swell as the rescue boats approached it 70 nautical miles off Ragged Point, one of the most easterly places on the Caribbean island of Barbados.
The yacht was unmarked, 6m long, and when Barbadian coastguard officers boarded it, they made a gruesome find. The boat's phantom crew was made up of the desiccated corpses of 11 young men, huddled in two separate piles in the small cabin. Dressed in shorts and colourful jerseys, they had been partially petrified by the salt water, sun and sea breezes of the Atlantic Ocean. They appeared to have come from far away.
The sea-battered yacht, identified by one local ship's captain as of French design, was towed into the port at Willoughy Fort, Bridgetown, and the bodies, by now wrapped in plastic bags, were heaved on to the quay.
In a part of the world where legends and myths have often been furnished by the sea, the mystery of the dead men soon provoked curious speculation.
An air ticket from Senegal Airlines and a tragic note written by one of the men as he was preparing to die have, however, helped investigators from several countries set about unravelling the mystery.
For, although the floating coffin appeared off the coast of the Americas, those on board had set off four months earlier from the Cape Verde islands, off the African coast, and had been heading for the European soil of the Canary Islands.
The evidence reportedly points to them having been cut adrift in the Atlantic and left to drift off to a slow, painful end. Barbados police have said the cause of the deaths was starvation and dehydration.
'Please excuse me'
"I would like to send to my family in Bassada [a town in the interior of Senegal] a sum of money. Please excuse me and goodbye. This is the end of my life in this big Moroccan sea," the note said, according to a Barbados paper, the Daily Nation.
The story of the 11 dead and about 40 other would-be immigrants from Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Gambia starts on Christmas Day last year at Praia, a port in the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde. There, for €1 300 each, they were promised a trip to the Canary Islands by a mysterious Spaniard.
Their boat was to be a motorised yacht, recently repaired but bearing no name and no flag. They paid to make the voyage, assuming that the Spaniard -- a mechanic based in the Canaries -- would be skippering the boat. At the last moment, however, a Senegalese man took over and the Spaniard disappeared. Several then refused to make the journey. One, according to the El Pais newspaper on Sunday, jumped from the yacht as it set sail. It is by no means clear what happened next.
Somewhere near the Mauritanian port of Nouadhibou the yacht ran into trouble. Another boat was sent to its aid, apparently after the skipper had contacted the Spaniard. The yacht was towed but, at some stage, the line was severed. El Pais reported that it had been hacked with a machete. With no fuel left and food and water running out, the migrants' fate was left in the hands of the sea, the weather, and luck. The latter soon ran out.
The yacht drifted into the stormy Atlantic and, it is assumed, people were tossed or washed overboard as they died.
May 29, 2006

Mystery of Michelin tycoon killed at sea

Charles Bremner
Times Online

Investigators sent a robot probe into the waters of the Atlantic yesterday to hunt for clues into the sudden death of Edouard Michelin, 42, the billionaire boss of the world’s biggest tyre company.
His death while fishing in the treacherous waters off Cape Finisterre was a blow to the French institution that was founded by his great-grandfather 140 years ago, and triggered speculation as to who would lead the company.
M Michelin’s body was found floating among lobster pots last Friday. Yesterday a Navy mine-hunter found his 24ft (7m) fishing boat on the seafloor, 150ft down.
A Navy robot camera scouring the site near the island of Sein could find no sign of the body of Guillaume Normant, a friend and experienced fisherman who had taken the tycoon out in search of sea bass.
Police do not suspect foul play but a mystery remained over the sudden death of one of France’s richest men. M Normant was a local professional with long experience in the Atlantic. Maritime officials said that conditions were acceptable when the fishing boat disappeared on Friday, although fog had cut visibility to 200 yards (180m).
But Robert Bougueon, the head of a local fisherman’s association, quoted M Normant’s wife as saying that M Michelin had persuaded her husband to take the boat out against his better judgment. “He didn’t know how to say no,” M Bougueon said.
Jean-Marie Figue, a spokesman for the maritime authorities, said: “It is a dangerous area where only professionals can fish. There are rocks, currents — it’s a real whirlpool.
The company reassured its 130,000 workers that its future was secure under Michel Rollier, 61, who was co-chairman. But doubts continued about the succession because M Rollier is only a distant descendant of the founder of the company, also called Edouard Michelin.
The company has always been run by his direct male descendants, and no Michelin appeared qualified to take over. M Michelin’s six sons and daughters are too young, and only one of his brothers works for the company, in a middle-level job.
May 29, 2006

Father: Man Who Killed Boys, Self Troubled

Newsday, NY
Miami, Florida (US):
A doctor who killed his two young sons by throwing them over a hotel balcony and then jumped to his own death seemed to be hallucinating and sounded paranoid in a phone call two days earlier, his father said.
Oebele Van Dyk, 86, said he talked to his son the day before Edward Van Dyk flew to Miami to be with his wife and two sons, who were already staying at the Loews Hotel where the incident occurred. The boys were 4 and 8-years-old.
"He was very distraught. I think he was seeing things that didn't seem to be real," Van Dyk told The Miami Herald on Sunday in a telephone interview from his home in New York.
Van Dyk described his son as a "peaceful guy," who "never, never fought" and said his son did not have any history of mental problems.
Newsday, NY

Dark Energy mystery the focus of UQ astronomers' study

UQ News, Australia
Astrophysics researchers at The University of Queensland have received a massive 220-night allocation from the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) for a project to study Dark Energy.
The project will involve the largest-ever galaxy survey undertaken by telescope and will measure some 400,000 distant galaxies.
Project leader Associate Professor Michael Drinkwater said the technology at the AAT would allow the research to be undertaken in Australia, well ahead of any international competition.
“We will use the new AAOmega facility to survey galaxies in the distant universe and these measurements will enable us to test one of the major theories of Dark Energy," Dr Drinkwater said.
“Dark energy is a mysterious force which is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. Its nature is completely unknown and it may require new laws of physics to be written.”
Dr Drinkwater said the allocation was approved last week under the AAT's inaugural "large project" grants.
He said running costs for a single night on the AAT were valued at $20,000 and the allocation represented an investment of $4.4 million.
May 29, 2006

Doctor Throws Sons To Deaths, Kills Self

Miami Beach, Florida (US):
What could cause a man to throw his 4-year-old and 8-year-old sons to their deaths from a 15th-floor hotel balcony?
It happened Saturday in Miami Beach, Fla.
Police say the Illinois man, a cancer doctor who'd been visiting there with his wife and children, then jumped to his own death.
His wife heard the kids screaming, and then saw her husband jump.
She says they'd been having marital problems, but they hadn't argued right before the tragedy.
Other doctors at the Illinois hospital where Edward Van Dyk was head of the cancer center say he was quiet, intelligent and friendly.
A colleague, Dr. Ed Ragsdale, says Van Dyk dealt with patients who had severe forms of cancer.

NASA To Take A Closer Look At Mysterious Clouds

Matthew Borghese
All Headline News

Washington, D.C.:
A new National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) satellite will help study some of the most mysterious clouds on Earth.
NASA's new mission will examine the Noctilucent clouds that appear 50 miles above the surface. Interest in the phenomenon has been peaked, with records leading researchers to believe the clouds are becoming brighter, more frequent, and appearing at lower altitudes.
James Russell from Hampton University, in Virginia, explains, "Noctilucent clouds were first seen in 1885 by a British amateur astronomer, Robert Leslie."
According to the BBC, Russell is the principal investigator on the AIM (Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere) spacecraft, which will be lofted to 370 miles to make a detailed study of the clouds.
May 28, 2006

Mystery shrouds triple murder

The Daily Star, Bangladesh
Mystery shrouds the Thursday's triple-murder at Uttara as intelligence agencies are not ruling out the killing's link with insurgents of a neighbouring country.
The investigators also found the family members of the dead to be very 'suspicious'. The investigating officer (IO) of the case termed the murders 'mysterious' and suspect the family was involved in illegal activities.
Meanwhile, the identity of one of the three dead was known yesterday. Victim Ajay Singh is the uncle of Sanjay, a student of Milestone School and College, who was also killed on Thursday. The identity of the male domestic help, the third victim, is yet to be known.
Law enforcers found the bodies of three men of Manipuri community at a house in Uttara Thursday night. All the bodies had their throat slit.
Police held Kuleswar Sinha, father of Sanjay, at Uttara Police Station for quizzing after he went there to receive his son's body yesterday evening. Uttara police also picked up three, Ashit Kumar, Jisair and Lipson, for quizzing.
Law enforcers held Kuleswar on May last year after six National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) insurgents were killed in an encounter with Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) in a tea estate in Kamalganj of Moulavibazar.
He was then held for allegedly providing shelter to the six insurgents. Intelligence agencies now suspect the three murders could have been committed by people connected with those six insurgents.
May 28, 2006

'Dead' climber heads to safety

Evelyn Yamine, Australia

Sitting half undressed with his legs dangling over a deadly precipice, Australian climber Lincoln Hall told the mountaineer who saved him from Mt Everest: "I imagine you are surprised to see me here?"
As a seriously-ill Hall began his descent to safety on the back of a yak yesterday, the first details emerged of his rescue after he spent a night alone in the mountain's "death zone".
After being abandoned by fellow climbers who believed he was dead, American climber Dan Mazur stumbled across Hall as he made his own ascent to the summit on Friday.
Barely alive and disoriented from cerebral oedema, an acute form of altitude sickness, Hall was found with his legs over a sheer drop "half undressed and without a hat".
Mazur abandoned his own summit attempt to help Hall, sharing his hot tea and oxygen, after alerting Hall's expedition leader, who sent eight sherpas to rescue him.
Despite severe frostbite and a chest infection, Hall, 50, was able to walk into advanced base camp, at 6500m, later that day.
Hall's ordeal began when he became ill after reaching the peak of the world's highest mountain on Thursday. With weather conditions worsening, the two sherpas trying to lead him to safety went snow blind.
Believing Hall was already dead, they were forced to abandon him to save their own lives.
Miraculously he survived some of the worst conditions on the planet.
May 29, 2006

Sailor receives tribute 38 years after mysterious submarine death

Globe Gazette
Ames, Iowa (US):
David Stone finally received the tribute his parents had anticipated for 38 years — a military-style funeral to bring closure to a mystery that may never be solved.
Stone was among the 99 crew members aboard the Navy submarine USS Scorpion when it mysteriously sank on May 22, 1968, in the Atlantic Ocean. The Navy, hesitant to recognize the destruction of a spy vessel, never told Stone's parents why the Scorpion and their 24-year-old son never made it home.
Stone's parents only received a grave marker, which they placed in the Ames Municipal Cemetery. No body was recovered and no funeral was held.
But last week the parents got some closure when a group of submarine veterans who never knew Stone put on a full military-style memorial service.
Taps was played. An American flag was given to the family. And for a few moments, on a chilly day, their son was remembered.
``This was much more than I expected,'' said Stone's mother Sybil. ``This was really special. We never really did have any kind of closing on this.''
Stone was a 1961 graduate of Ames High School. He attended Iowa State University before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in September 1963. The machinist mate second class served three years aboard the Scorpion, a nuclear attack submarine.
May 28, 2006

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