UPI Hears ...

Nov. 26, 2002 at 11:51 AM
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Insider notes from United Press International for Nov. 26 ...

Ominous news comes from Arabic cyberspace, with a spate of messages ending with references to "Hour Zero" being near or being prepared. This is the most dramatic feature of a generalized surge in traffic over the last 24 hours on Web sites and forums that have been placed on watch for their apparent sympathy to Islamic extremism and al Qaida. Some messages appear to be coming from would-be martyrs, with phrases like "I beseech Allah's forgiveness and that He reserve my place in Paradise." These may well be hoaxes, or idiotic scare-mongering, but it got American, British, French and Israeli intelligence officials into a flurry of consultations overnight Monday and Tuesday morning. The Americans, facing the big Thanksgiving holiday with its surge of air traffic this week, are particularly concerned.

The campaign against Iraqi military capabilities has extended to the Balkans, where NATO SFOR soldiers are working with American and European intelligence to detain engineers and technicians who have been in Iraq working for the Orao aircraft maintenance factory in Bijeljina in Serb-controlled northeast Bosnia. The engineers were working on improving Iraqi ballistic missile capabilities. The contract is worth an estimated £63 million ($98.5 million), and the money trail seems to lead to Serbian extremists close to former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, wanted by The Hague for war crimes. Bosnia is getting a black eye in international circles from the shadowy arms trade; Sir Paddy Ashdown, the senior international official in Bosnia, has said that the "network of the generals" dominating the illicit sales must be stopped. Bosnian President Mirko Sarovic has said officially that Orao was only repairing engines for the Iraqi air force's MiG-21 and 23 aircraft. U.S. officials believe however that the MiG engines have been retrofitted to Russian-made Iraqi rockets to extend their range and power. Sarovic was severely reprimanded over the incident last week in Brussels. One diplomat who witnessed the dressing-down said, "The body language was pretty excruciating."

Here comes the new age of motoring. Toyota and Honda are about to unveil the world's first fuel-cell electric vehicles, with a big assist from the Japanese government. Prime Minster Junichiro Koizumi is to launch a big media ceremony at his official headquarters on Dec. 12, when the government's own fuel-cell cars will be delivered. The cars are powered by electricity, but require no cumbersome batteries. Power comes from a fuel cell that uses the chemical reaction between oxygen and hydrogen to produce power -- and no pollution. On Koizumi's order, the Prime Minister's Office, and Ministries of the Economy, Trade and Industry, Construction and Transport and the Environment are all to start leasing the new cars -- at a stunning cost of $10,000 a month each. Koizumi justifies this as a dramatic gesture to show his concern for global warming, and to help Japanese industry grab an early lead of what could be the dominant new technology in motoring. Koizumi's support was arranged by Toyota President Fujio Cho, who wants Toyota to set a Japan-originated global standard for the next generation of automobiles.

While it won't knock Eminem off the Billboard charts, Al Jazeera's "A Day that Shook the World," CD-ROM documentary on the events of Sept. 11, will be required viewing in intelligence agencies around the world. The documentary is the first in-depth look at the terrorist attacks in Arabic, and includes interviews and personality profiles of major figures, including Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri and President Bush. Analysts will find rare video footage of Osama bin Laden's speeches, background information about the Taliban and al Qaida military training techniques as well as the "Afghan Arabs" descent and the 19 hijackers. Unfortunately for those looking for the perfect Christmas gift, al Nisr Distribution plans an English version for next year, which will only be available in the United Arab Emirates.

While the U.S. dollars remains the investment hedge of choice for many Third World citizens, North Korea plans to ban the currency in December. Dollars will not be accepted in foreign exchange shops and foreign residents must convert any American currency in their bank accounts to euros or other currencies. Bank accounts will be converted automatically if their owners do not switch by the end of November according to North's Korean Trade Bank.

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