Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

mosque destroyed

December 28, 2008

Two Palestinians were killed when a mosque was bombed in Gaza City, Hamas officials and medics said.

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Indian forces kill last muslim terrorist gunmen in Mumbai

November 29, 2008

Facts:

Perpetrators: muslim terrorist gunmen

Duration of crisis: 60 hours

Killed Americans: 6

Killed foreigners total: 18

Sites attacked: 10

Killed Indian troops: 20

Total killed people: 195

Jews killed: New York Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife Rivkah

MUMBAI, India – A 60-hour terror rampage that killed at least 195 people across India’s financial capital ended Saturday when commandos killed the last three gunmen inside a luxury hotel while it was engulfed in flames.

Authorities searched for any remaining captives hiding in their rooms and began to shift their focus to who was behind the attacks, which killed 18 foreigners including six Americans.

A previously unknown Muslim group with a name suggesting origins inside India claimed responsibility for the attack, but Indian officials said the sole surviving gunman was from Pakistan and pointed a finger of blame at their neighbor and rival.

Islamabad denied involvement and promised to help in the investigation. A team of FBI agents also was on its way to India to lend assistance.

Some 295 people also were wounded in the violence that started when heavily armed assailants attacked 10 sites across Mumbai on Wednesday night. At least 20 soldiers and police were among the dead.

Orange flames and black smoke engulfed the landmark 565-room Taj Mahal hotel after dawn Saturday as Indian forces ended the siege there in a hail of gunfire, just hours after elite commandos stormed a Jewish center and found at least eight hostages dead.

“There were three terrorists, we have killed them,” said J.K. Dutt, director general of India’s elite National Security Guard commando unit.

Later, adoring crowds surrounded six buses carrying weary, unshaven commandos, shaking their hands and giving them flowers. The commandos, dressed in black fatigues, said they had been ordered not to talk about the operation, but said they had not slept since the ordeal began. One sat sipping a bottle of water and holding a pink rose.

With the end of one of the most brazen terror attacks in India’s history, attention turned from the military operation to questions of who was behind the attack and the heavy toll on human life.

The bodies of New York Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, were found at the Jewish center. Their son, Moshe, who turned 2 on Saturday, was scooped up by an employee Thursday as she fled the building. Two Israelis and another American were also killed in the house, said Rabbi Zalman Schmotkin, a spokesman for the Chabad Lubavitch movement, which ran the center.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said eight bodies had been discovered in the Jewish center and that officials were investigating the possibility of there being a ninth.

Among the foreigners killed in the attacks were six Americans, according to the U.S. Embassy. The dead also included Germans, Canadians, Israelis and nationals from Britain, Italy, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia and Singapore.

By Saturday morning the death toll was at 195, the deadliest attack in India since 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai killed 257 people. But officials said the toll from the three days of carnage was likely to rise as more bodies were brought out of the hotels.

“There is a limit a city can take. This is a very, very different kind of fear. It will be some time before things get back to normal,” said Ayesha Dar, a 33-year-old homemaker.

Indians began cremating their dead, many of them security force members killed fighting the gunmen. In the southern city of Bangalore, black clad commandos formed an honor guard for the flag-draped coffin of Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who was killed in the fighting at the Taj Mahal hotel.

“He gave up his own life to save the others,” Dutt said from Mumbai.

A group called deccan mujahideen, which alludes to a region in southern India traditionally ruled by Muslim kings, claimed responsibility for the attack, but Indian officials pointed the finger at neighboring Pakistan.

On Saturday, officials said they believed that just 10 gunmen had taken part in the attack. “Nine were killed and one was captured,” Maharshta state Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh told reporters. “We are interrogating him.”

Deshmukh’s deputy, R.R. Patil, identified the gunman as a Pakistani national, Mohammad Ajmal Qasam.

The gunmen had sophisticated equipment and used “GPS, mobile and satellite phones to communicate,” Patil said. “They were constantly in touch with a foreign country,” he said, refusing to give further details.

On Friday, India’s foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, told reporters that evidence indicated “some elements in Pakistan are responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani insisted his country was not involved. His government was sending an intelligence official to assist in the probe.

Deshmukh said the attackers arrived by sea.

On Saturday the Indian navy said it was investigating whether a trawler found drifting off the coast of Mumbai, with a bound corpse on board, was used in the attack.

Navy spokesman Capt. Manohar Nambiar said the trawler, named Kuber, had been found Thursday and was brought to Mumbai. Officials said they believe the boat had sailed from a port in the neighboring state of Gujarat.

Indian security officers believe many of the gunmen may have reached the city using a black and yellow rubber dinghy found near the site of the attacks.

In the U.S., President-elect Barack Obama said he was closely monitoring the situation. “These terrorists who targeted innocent civilians will not defeat India’s great democracy, nor shake the will of a global coalition to defeat them,” he said in a statement.

On Friday, commandos killed the last two gunmen inside the luxury Oberoi hotel, where 24 bodies had been found, authorities said.

But in the most dramatic of the counterstrikes Friday, masked Indian commandos rappelled from a helicopter to the rooftop of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish center.

For nearly 12 hours, explosions and gunfire erupted from the five-story building as the commandos fought their way downward, while thousands of people gathered behind barricades in the streets to watch. At one point, Indian forces fired a rocket at the building.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel’s Channel 1 TV that some of the victims found at the center had been bound.

The attackers were well-prepared, carrying large bags of almonds to keep up their energy during a long siege. One backpack found contained 400 rounds of ammunition.

India has been shaken repeatedly by terror attacks blamed on muslim militants in recent years, but most were bombings striking crowded places: markets, street corners, parks. Mumbai — one of the most highly populated cities in the world with some 18 million people — was hit by a series of bombings in July 2006 that killed 187 people.

The latest attacks began Wednesday at about 9:20 p.m. with shooters spraying gunfire across the Chhatrapati Shivaji railroad station. For the next two hours, there was an attack roughly every 15 minutes — the Jewish center, a tourist restaurant, one hotel, then another, and two attacks on hospitals.

Jews and muslims Share Holy Season in Jerusalem

September 29, 2008

JERUSALEM — Jews are not quiet in prayer. Even when focused on the most personal of quests, as they are this season — asking God for forgiveness for dark thoughts and unkind deeds in the past year — they take comfort in community, chanting and swaying and dancing in circles, blowing the trumpet-like shofar, a ram’s horn.

These are the days of the Jewish month of Elul, leading up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when tradition says that God determines who will live and die in the coming year, and the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem’s Old City is a festival of piety that runs from midnight till dawn. Tens of thousands roll in and out during the night reciting the special penitential prayers called Slihot.

Coincidentally — the Muslim calendar shifts every year — it is also Ramadan, the month when the faithful believe that God gave the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad, a time of fasting, self-reflection and extra prayer, when being at Al Aksa Mosque here is even more important than usual. At night, when the fasting is over, the celebrating begins. The ancient stone alleyways of the Old City are lit up with strings of colored lights, special foods are prepared, and Palestinian Muslims come and go by the thousands.

The result has been a kind of monotheistic traffic jam in September along the paths of the tiny walled Old City, especially as dawn approaches each day. The Muslims and Jews walk past one another, often intersecting just at the Via Dolorosa of Christian sanctity, as they hurry to their separate prayer sessions: the Muslims above at the Dome of the Rock, the Jews just below at the Western Wall.

It would be wrong to call these tense encounters, because there are essentially no encounters at all. Words are not exchanged. Religious women in both groups — head, arms and legs covered in subtly distinct fashion — look past one another as if they took no notice. Like parallel universes with different names for every place and moment they both claim as their own, the groups pass in the night.

But there is palpable tension. Israeli soldiers walk in small packs to ward off trouble. Security cameras bristle from most walls and intersections. Commemorative stone plaques mark past acts of terrorism (“On this spot Elhanan Aharon was killed. From his blood we will live and build Jerusalem.”) while Palestinians complain that they are losing the competition for control of these ancient byways and that those in the occupied West Bank are barred from coming without special permission.

“I don’t believe the Jews and Muslims can ever have peace here,” Said Abed said on his way to dawn prayers at Al Aksa when asked his view of the unusual intersection of Slihot and Ramadan. “The Jews are trying to control Jerusalem by deciding who can stay here.”

Some Muslims defy archaeology and history by saying that Jews have no link to the site and that it is purely Muslim sacred territory. The same problem exists on the other side as well — some Jews believe that the holiness here is theirs alone.

Inside a closed-off area of the Western Wall plaza a few hours earlier, four young men were studying Talmud, reading to one another rabbinic commentary about a prayer for rain that is said as the new year starts. What did they think of the coincidence of Jewish and Muslim prayers only yards from each other during these days?

“The Muslims shouldn’t even be there,” offered Haim Ben Dalak, 18, of Petah Tikvah, who just started a year at a Jerusalem religious seminary before his army service. “There should be a Jewish temple there. That’s what we believe.”

Thirty years ago, the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, who knew this city as few others have, wrote:

The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers and dreams like the air over industrial cities.

It’s hard to breathe.

The Hebrew name for the city, Yerushalayim, ends with “-ayim,” a grammatical construction used for pairs of things. The device, known as a dual, exists in Hebrew and Arabic but few other languages. Which duality is being invoked has been lost to history, but it would not be hard to imagine that it is the one of heaven and earth, of holy and profane, and the difficulty of their coexisting. But of course everyone tends to focus on the holy.

Called Al Quds (the Holy One) in Arabic, Jerusalem is the city that Mohammad visited on his night journey to heaven. Just as Jews pray facing Jerusalem from anywhere in the world, Muslims did so originally as well, until the site was moved to Mecca. Jerusalem remains for Muslims the third holiest city after Mecca and Medina.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall for the past 12 years, goes every midnight during this period to Slihot at the wall.

“Night is a special time for spiritual reflection and this wall makes even those with hearts of stone shed a tear,” Rabbi Rabinowitz said after his half-hour Slihot prayer next to the wall, its crevices revealing the imploring notes to God stuffed there by visitors.

Above his voice can be heard scores of groups — some large, some small, all of slightly different tradition — praying in a mix of Hebrew and Aramaic, acknowledging sin, seeking redemption.

Most are devout, but some are secular Jews who come here for Slihot season, a growing trend.

“We love coming to Jerusalem at this time of year,” said Ada Lugati, a hairdresser from the northern city of Afula, who was dressed in distinctly nonobservant manner, in slacks with a uncovered head and bare midriff.

“It feels here as if the heavens are open to our prayer,” she said as she looked up at the clear night sky. Avi Kenig, 17, starting a year of religious study at an institute just across from the wall, put it this way: “We have been taught that here we are at the center of the world. These are the gates to heaven.”