The news at a glance ... International
Subway suicide bombings: Two female suicide bombers attacked two major Moscow subway stations during a morning rush hour this week, killing 39 people and raising fears of a renewed wave of terrorism. Authorities blamed Muslim extremists from Chechnya, and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed that those responsible for the plot would be “dragged out of the sewers into broad daylight.” In Dagestan, which neighbors Chechnya, two suicide bombings at police stations this week killed 12 people. One of the Moscow subway stations that was bombed, Lubyanka, is adjacent to the headquarters of the FSB, Russia’s intelligence service. During Russia’s last spate of Chechen terrorism, from 2002–2004, many attackers were “black widows”—women whose husbands or fathers had been killed during Russia’s two brutal wars to suppress Chechen separatism.
Leading in executions: China executed “thousands” of people last year, more than the rest of the world combined, Amnesty International said in a report this week. The exact number of Chinese executions is a state secret. “The Chinese authorities claim that fewer executions are taking place,” said Claudio Cordone, Amnesty’s interim secretary general. “If this is true, why won’t they tell the world how many people the state put to death?” China is unique in its use of the death penalty even for white-collar crimes, such as corruption and tax fraud. After China, Iran is next in executions. Iran put to death 388 people in 2009, more than 100 of them during and after the summer protests over the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Baengnyeong Island, South Korea
Ship explodes near North Korea: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak placed the nation’s military on high alert this week after a patrol ship exploded and sank near the maritime border with North Korea. Officials said they weren’t sure what caused the Cheonan, a 1,200-ton combat corvette, to break in two. One possible explanation is that it hit a mine left over from the Korean War, but officials wouldn’t rule out a hostile act by North Korea. South Korean and U.S. Navy crews rescued 58 crew members, but 46 others were missing and presumed dead. Lee made a personal visit to the rescue site. “I wish I could plunge into the water myself,” he told relatives of the missing sailors.
Election boycott: The party of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won’t participate in the country’s first elections since 1990, it announced this week, claiming the election rules set down by Myanmar’s ruling military junta are ludicrously unfair. Under rules for the elections, one-quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military, which is also empowered to block any constitutional changes. Political parties with members in jail are automatically disqualified, which means opposition parties would have to abandon prominent leaders—many of whom are jailed dissidents—to participate. Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party won the 1990 elections, but the military junta canceled the results and jailed her. She has been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years.
Running out of dogs: India is suffering a shortage of bomb-sniffing dogs. Since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, which killed 173 people, demand for the canines has soared, largely because dogs are cheaper than electronic explosive-detection devices. “Every city wants more and more sniffer dogs now,” said Commandant M.L. Sharma, head of the Indian army’s dog-breeding and -training program, which is seeking to more than double the corps of trained dogs in the next two years. Meanwhile, security experts said, unscrupulous security companies have been sending untrained dogs to hotels and shopping malls, and then proclaiming the areas safe.
More nuclear plants: In direct defiance of the United Nations, Iran may be building more nuclear plants, U.N. inspectors told The New York Times this week. The declaration came as Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told an Iranian news agency that two new nuclear sites would soon be built “inside mountains,” where presumably they can be protected from attacks. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is intended to produce energy to generate electricity. But it has already been caught secretly enriching uranium in an apparent attempt to make bomb-grade fuel. Last year, President Obama revealed evidence of a hidden nuclear plant outside the Iranian city of Qum.
Sufis oppose Islamists: Sufi clerics this week called on Somalis to wage a holy war against al-Shabaab, the militant Islamist group that controls much of the country. Al-Shabaab enforces a strict version of Islamic law, including cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning adulterous women to death, and they consider Sufism, the main Islamic sect in Somalia, to be heretical. Recently the militants began disinterring the remains of Sufi clerics, who they contended were being revered at the expense of Allah. Hundreds of people protested the desecration. “People were really disturbed by the move of al-Shabaab to destroy the tombs of the revered sheikhs,” said Mohyadin Hassan Afrah, a civic activist.