Iraqi authorities seized the headquarters of the country’s most influential Sunni clerical group Wednesday, sealing off its west Baghdad compound and accusing the organization of supporting al-Qaida in Iraq.
The group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, has long opposed the U.S. military presence in Iraq and has often taken public positions in support of Sunni insurgent goals. The association spearheaded the Sunni boycott of the January 2005 elections and has frequently been at odds with the Shiite-dominated government.
The timing of the move suggests that the government is more confident it can take action against the hardline Sunni clerics without risking a backlash within the Sunni community and reprisal attacks by al-Qaida and other insurgent groups.
But it also coincided with a powerful blast that hit a U.S. patrol in the center of Baghdad – a chilling reminder that the capital remains dangerous despite notable gains in security in recent weeks.
Brown boosts travel security
Travelers face new delays and disruption on trips to Britain under government plans unveiled Wednesday to tighten defenses against terrorism at airports, rail stations and major public spaces.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said airports and 250 of the busiest train terminals will get new blast barriers. The recommendations include new baggage checks at major rail terminals, strict limits on cars dropping travelers off near departure gates, and – at times of heightened threat – frisking customers before they enter shopping malls.
Brown said Internet and technology companies will be asked to help stop online terrorist propaganda, and he announced that a meeting would be convened with leading British Internet service providers to find ways of doing that.
Office to research Nazi thefts of art
A new office within Germany’s Institute for Museum Research is opening in January to help identify and research art stolen by the Nazis, Germany’s culture minister said Wednesday.
The office, which comes under the State Museums of Berlin, will help museums, libraries and archives identify items that were taken from their rightful owners during the Nazi period, Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said.
Neumann founded a working group to look into how to deal with restitution issues, after Berlin sparked controversy with a decision last year to return Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s “Berlin Street Scene” to the heirs of a Jewish collector who said the Nazis forced the family to sell it in the 1930s.
Some art experts questioned whether the expressionist work was sold under duress and whether its return was legal.