The world at a glance . . . International
Port Edward, South AfricaBiker princes: British princes William and Harry spent this week zooming across South Africa in an off-road motorcycle race. The princes’ participation in Enduro Africa ’08 raised money for several charities, including UNICEF and a fund Harry started for HIV-infected children in Lesotho. Harry said the event was a chance to bond with his brother. “We never really spend any time together,” he said. “We’ve got separate jobs going on at the moment.” Harry is a soldier in the Household Cavalry, while William serves in the Royal Air Force.
Kabul, AfghanistanTaliban murders Christian: The Taliban killed a British aid worker in Kabul this week, saying she had been trying to convert Afghans to Christianity. Gayle Williams, 34, worked with the disabled for a Christian group called SERVE Afghanistan. She was killed in a drive-by shooting. The Taliban claimed responsibility on its website, saying that it had been following her for days. Williams’ group said it would continue its work, but the murder prompted other charities in Afghanistan to assess their security arrangements. “If it became much worse, then we would look at pulling back to somewhere like Turkmenistan,” said Matt Wilson of the relief agency War Child.
CyberspaceAl Qaida sites off-line: Jihadists worldwide are feeling cut off these days, since four of the five websites that al Qaida uses for its pronouncements abruptly shut down last month and have remained off-line. The al-Fajr Media Center, a distribution network that supports extremists, said the sites had closed because of “technical reasons,” raising suspicions that a cyberattack had damaged them. U.S. intelligence officials refused to comment on any possible U.S. involvement in the matter. “This has left al Qaida’s propaganda strategy hanging by a very narrow thread,” said Evan F. Kohlmann, an expert on jihadist media. Chat rooms frequented by Islamists are now filled with prayers for the sites to be restored. “Oh, my God,” said one posting, “save my brothers on the jihadi forums.”
DelhiFilm shows stupid Americans: Indians are flocking to a Bollywood musical about work in a call center that depicts young, hip Indians patiently giving technical assistance to imbecilic American callers. The film, Hello, premiered to rave reviews in a country where the call-center industry has spawned a subculture of 20-somethings who work nights and practice American accents. In one scene, an instructor explains to new recruits that “a 35-year-old American’s brain and IQ is the same as a 10-year-old Indian’s.” In another, an American caller has taken the top off an oven in order to fit a large dish inside, and can’t understand why the oven now does not work.
Bali, IndonesiaTerrorists want to be beheaded: Three men convicted of terrorism lost their appeal this week to change the method of their execution. The three members of the Islamist militant group Jemaah Islamiyah—Amrozi, his brother Mukhlas, and Imam Samudra—were sentenced to death by firing squad for the 2002 bombing of a Bali nightclub, which killed more than 200 people. They say that death by shooting is a form of “torture,” because it does not guarantee instant death, and they want to be beheaded instead. The courts denied the request. “There is no method of execution without pain,” said presiding Judge Mohammad Mahfud. Lawyers for the men say they are considering appealing to the country’s highest court.
BangkokConvicted in absentia: Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was sentenced in absentia this week to two years in prison for corruption. Thaksin, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup, lives in exile in Britain. The conviction this week related to an alleged conflict of interest in a land deal; he also is expected to be charged with illegally pocketing up to $2 billion in state funds. The verdict has encouraged anti-government protesters, who have been besieging the prime minister’s office for weeks, saying the current government, led by Thaksin’s brother-in-law, is a front for a continued Thaksin administration. From his house in London, Thaksin shrugged off his conviction. “The case is politically motivated,” he said, “and you know what politics in Thailand is like.” Thai prosecutors said they will seek to have Thaksin extradited.
MoscowNo to McCain: Russia this week formally rejected a request for funds from John McCain’s presidential campaign. Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, says he received a campaign mailer at his New York City residence addressed to “Dear Friend” and asking for a contribution to defeat Barack Obama. Churkin responded by releasing an official statement declaring that Russia never finances political activity in foreign countries. Going public with the matter, which the McCain campaign says was simply a mailing error, is seen as Russia’s way of chiding McCain, a harsh critic of Russian policy.