December 11, 2012

Nation & World Dispatches

From news service reports

WASHINGTON

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Free Syrian Army fighters take their positions, close to a military base, near Azaz, Syria, on Monday. A State Department report says foreign jihadists have flocked to Syria.

The Associated Press

U.S. recognizes militant group in Syria as al-Qaida

The State Department said Monday that a militant group that is at the forefront of the Syrian rebel movement is just another name for al-Qaida in Iraq, an acknowledgment that the uprising to topple President Bashar Assad is led in part by foreign Islamist extremists who fought U.S. troops for years in the bloody Iraq war.

U.S. officials said they would amend this week their 2004 designation of al-Qaida in Iraq as a terrorist group to include among the group’s aliases the Nusra Front, handing the terrorist designation to the militant Islamist organization that is responsible for many of the rebels’ recent advances against pro-Assad forces.

The Obama administration is expected to make a formal announcement Tuesday, on the eve of an international Friends of Syria summit in Morocco.

Analysts say that in labeling the Nusra Front, known in Arabic as Jabhat al-Nusra, as al-Qaida in Iraq, the U.S. is attempting to draw a clear distinction between nationalist Syrian rebels and foreign jihadists who have flocked to Syria after fighting U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the move could backfire, analysts warned, because Nusra fighters often work in close coordination with more secular rebel groups.

NEW YORK

Strauss-Kahn, accuser settle over sex assault allegations

Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn and a hotel maid settled her lawsuit Monday over sexual assault allegations that sank his political career and spurred scrutiny of his dealings with women on two continents.

The housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, looked composed and resolute as state Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon announced the confidential deal. Strauss-Kahn stayed in Paris and remained mum when asked about the settlement, which came after prosecutors abandoned a related criminal case because they said Diallo had credibility problems.

“I thank everyone who supported me all over the world,” Diallo, who has rarely spoken publicly since the May 2011 encounter between her and Strauss-Kahn, said softly after court.

“I thank God, and God bless you all,” she added.

In a statement, Strauss-Kahn attorneys William Taylor III and Amit Mehta said the former diplomat was “pleased to have arrived at a resolution of this matter.”

The lawsuit stemmed from an encounter in Strauss-Kahn’s luxury Manhattan hotel suite.

Diallo, a 33-year-old housekeeper from Guinea, told police Strauss-Kahn forced her to perform oral sex, tried to rape her and tore a ligament in her shoulder after she arrived to clean his suite. The 63-year-old Strauss-Kahn, who has since separated from his wife, has said what happened was “a moral failing” but was consensual.

SAN DIEGO

Architect caught with cocaine gets six-month sentence

A highly acclaimed architect was sentenced Monday to six months in prison for trying to enter the U.S. with nearly 13 pounds of cocaine hidden in his minivan’s battery.

A federal judge ordered the unusually light punishment after Eugenio Velazquez claimed drug traffickers threatened to kill him if he refused to carry drugs for them.

Velazquez, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico who lives in suburban San Diego, had a distinguished 30-year career in Mexico designing some of Tijuana’s most prominent buildings, including its new main cathedral, an expansion of the Tijuana Cultural Center, and police headquarters.

The San Diego native embraced his smiling wife, daughters and supporters outside court after being told to report to prison Jan. 11 to begin the sentence in federal custody, followed by six more months of home confinement.

“I’m very satisfied,” a beaming Velazquez told reporters. “I’m at peace with myself.”

Velazquez pleaded guilty in June to trying to bring 12.8 pounds of cocaine into the U.S. in a special lane for prescreened, trusted motorists. A drug-sniffing dog alerted inspectors to five packages hidden in the battery of his 2004 Nissan Quest at San Diego’s San Ysidro port of entry.

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