Morning Report: March 19, 2006

Debka: IRI plans offensive. Debka reports: 'Tehran hatches plan for coordinated terrorist attacks in Iraq on US targets and from Lebanon against Israel. To this end, radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Ayatollah Moqtada Sadr, commander of the Mehdi Army, and Lebanon’s Hizballah secretary, Hassan Nasrallah, were secretly summoned to Tehran last week. Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz toured military defense line Sunday, March 19, on alert since March 12, while chief of staff Lt.Gen. Dan Halutz reported to the government session in Jerusalem on preparations for large-scale Hizballah action. DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources report the visit by Sadr and Nasrallah was important enough to rate an audience for the two Shiite leaders with Iran’s supreme ruler Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and talks with two high-flying Iranian generals: Qasim Suleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards al Quds force, which runs Iranian Middle East terrorist operations and Ismail Dekaiki, recently named head of Iranian terrorist networks in Iraq. The combined Tehran-instigated offensive against US troops in Iraq and northern Israel is aimed at easing US pressure on the Iranian nuclear question. The prospect prompted a high Israeli alert on its northern border with Lebanon from March 12 up until the present.' (Debka)

Syrian opposition groups unite to "fill void". BBC: 'A group of exiled Syrian opposition leaders has announced they are to form a common front to oppose President Bashar al-Assad's government. Speaking after a meeting in Brussels, former Syrian Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam said all factions agreed that the regime Damascus had to go. He said the goal of the new grouping was to set up a transitional government in Syria. Mr Khaddam broke with President Assad last year, after serving his father. The opposition grouping includes the Muslim Brotherhood, Kurds, liberals and communists. The aim of the grouping, a delegate said following the two-day meeting in Brussels, was to be ready "to fill the void" if there were to be a collapse of the Assad government.' (BBC)

Iran attacks kill 21 or 22 officials. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty: 'March 17, 2006 – Iran's national chief of police says gunmen have killed at least 21 people in southeastern Iran. Iranian authorities say the gunmen are linked to ethnic tensions near Iran's southeastern border with neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan. The killings reportedly occurred about 90 kilometers south of the Iranian city of Zabol late on March 16 in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan Province. The area borders Afghanistan's southwest province of Nimroz and Pakistan's southwest province of Balochistan. General Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam says the gunmen posed as security forces. He says they stopped vehicles traveling along Iran's Zabol-Zahedan highway and then killed the drivers and passengers.' The Guardian, via Marze Por Gohar: 'Iran accused Britain of trying to stir religious and ethnic unrest in its eastern border region yesterday after armed rebels ambushed a party of government officials and killed 21. Police said the victims, who included security officials, were ordered out of their vehicles and shot in cold blood. The fleet of cars was then set ablaze. Seven others, including the governor of the provincial capital, Zahidan, were wounded in Thursday night's incident, which happened after gunmen, disguised in military uniforms, set up a roadblock to intercept the convoy as it travelled along a remote spot in the south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan. The convoy had been returning from a function honouring religious martyrs and war dead. Reports suggested that as many as 12 others had been kidnapped by the gunmen, who were said to have fled across the border into Afghanistan or Pakistan after a brief armed exchange with Iranian security forces.' Iran Focus: 'Iran’s Interior Minister pointed the finger at Britain and the United States on Saturday for an armed attack in the south-eastern province of Sistan-va-Baluchistan in the town of Zabol which left 22 Iranian officials dead in the early hours of Friday morning. Radical Shiite cleric Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi also claimed the people behind the attack were the same as those behind a spate of bombings in Iran’s south-western province of Khuzestan earlier this year and in 2005. “What is clear about the recent events in Zabol and Khuzistan is that those behind the assailants were the same”, Pour-Mohammadi told the state-run news agency ISNA. “According to reports received, certain American and British security officials have had meetings with certain leaders of bandits and have encouraged them to carry out terrorist attacks [in Iran]”, he said. Twenty-two Iranian government and provincial officials were killed and at least seven, including the governor of the nearby city of Zahedan, were critically wounded in the ambush as their convoy was returning from a gathering in Zabol to Zahedan.' Roundup at the Free Iran news forum. (various)

FFE: Egyptian blogger expelled from university. Freedom for Egyptians reports: 'Do you remember the Egyptian blogger/writer Nabeel Abdul Kareem (Abdolkarim) (21 years old)who has a blog under “Kareem Amer” in Arabic who was detained last November for his writings about Islam's reform, lack of freedom for women in the Muslim world and how few have hijacked the religion to carry terrorist crimes? Kareem was a law student in Al Azahr University, the largest Sunni institution in the Muslim world. The university referred him to a disciplinary council that decided on expelling him from the university because of his writings on Islam on his blog and for his progressive views. ...' Read the whole post. In Arabic, here is Kareem - and even if you don't read Arabic, check out the dedication in the blog title. (FFE, Kareem Amer)

Blasphemy report. Plus Ultra (Banned in Pakistan) has a roundup of the latest developments in religious freedom vs. blasphemy in France, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. (Plus Ultra)