French Alps Plane Crash, Israeli Spying, Flushing Gold

French Alps Plane Crash, Israeli Spying, Flushing Gold

Photo: A Germanwings Airbus A320 — Xinhua/ZUMA
An Airbus A320 carrying 150 people crashed in the southern French Alps near the town of Digne this morning, and French President François Hollande has said officials expect no survivors in what represents the first crash of a low-budget airline in Europe.

  • The crash occurred in a particularly hard-to-access area of the French Alps, between the cities of Digne and Barcelonnette, the French daily Le Monde reports.
  • The flight was operated by Germanwings, a Lufthansa budget airline, and was connecting 144 passengers and 6 crew members from Barcelona to Düsseldorf.
  • Madrid officials say there could be at least 45 Spanish victims.
  • According to Germanwings, 67 German passengers — including 16 students and their two teachers returning from a school exchange — were on board.
  • One of the two black boxes has been recovered, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced.
  • After first announcing the aircraft issued a distress call, the French Civil Aviation Authority said "the crew had not transmitted a Mayday."
  • Plane debris have been found, and search and rescue teams are on site.
  • The weather conditions were reportedly clear at the time of the crash.

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” a senior U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal in a news story reporting that Israel spied on the Iran nuclear talks. Israeli officials deny the claims, but in a development that highlights an increasingly tenuous relationship between the two countries, sources told the newspaper that the White House discovered the operation when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel “intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks.”

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel appear to have a hard time understanding each other in a photo on today’s front page of the Greek daily I Kathimerini. Merkel was welcoming the Greek prime minister in Berlin — his first visit to Germany since taking office in January — as Tsipras was seeking financial help from Germany for cash-strapped Greece. Read more on our 4 Corners blog.

Three men accused of leading a terrorist attack that killed 31 people and wounded 141 at a train station in Kunming, China, last year, were executed today on the orders of the Supreme People's Court, China Daily reports. In December 2014, a group of knife-wielding attackers, believed to be separatists from the Uyghur minority in northwestern China, randomly attacked civilians before the police shot four of them dead and arrested four others. A spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress rights group said the defendants were denied a fair trial and that China used the death penalty as a political tool.

The inflation rate in the United Kingdom has fallen to 0.0% for the first time on record, The Guardian reports.

Masked gunmen killed 13 people near Afghanistan’s capital Kabul today when they opened fire on bus passengers, Reuters quoted local officials as saying. This follows two other bus attacks by unknown gunmen in the last month. In the previous raids, members of the ethnic Hazara group, who were persecuted during Taliban rule, seemed to have been targeted. Current Taliban insurgent groups have denied any links to these attacks, while militants who have allegedly sworn allegiance to ISIS have also been accused.


Australian National University scientists said yesterday that they found a 400-kilometer-wide asteroid impact area — the largest ever discovered — in central Australia’s Warburton Basin. The asteroid broke into two before it hit the ground at least 300 million years ago, according to the research team.

As Die Welt’s Dirk Schumer writes, the European Union was built atop the rubble of so much bad history, and was meant to build democracy and keep peace among neighbors. But something has come undone, and the union itself is now in mortal peril. “Now the last bastions of international courtesy are crumbling after decades of a common market and shared laws,” he writes. “Greek officials, led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, are demanding reparations dating back to World War II and threaten to enable Islamic terrorists to travel to Berlin by allowing illegal immigrants in Greece to travel northward unless the eurozone backs down on austerity demands. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn't gone that far. And never has a common social calamity, an international showdown, been treated with more cynicism and defamation.”
Read the full article, The Dying Days Of The Great European Experiment.

An eight-year study by the U.S. Geological Survey has found that significant levels of precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum can be found in human feces and could even be comparable with those found in mines. Scientists believe that retrieving the metals could be both an income source and a way to make waste a safer fertilizer.

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

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"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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