- For U.S.-Mexico border town, Sept. 11 brought high wall
- Two dead, 22 wounded in shooting at Florida nightclub
- Gaddafi town hit as NTC chief warns still a threat
Posted: 10 Sep 2011 09:35 PM PDT
NACO, Mexico (Reuters) - When news broke of the airliners striking the twin towers in New York 10 years ago, Mexican bookkeeper Jose Manuel Madrid was readying for work in his tiny hometown on the Arizona border.
Watching the tragedy unfold on television, he had no inkling of how it would transform the lives of residents in the remote community of Naco straddling the international border.
"Nobody imagined the repercussions ... that these events would have" for us, said Madrid, now the mayor of Naco, a dusty ranching town of 6,000 residents in Mexico's northern Sonora State.
The Sept. 11 attacks, orchestrated by al Qaeda militants, led to the largest shake-up of the U.S. federal government since the Cold War, with the founding of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.
As part of its core mission of preventing "terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States," the new Customs and Border Protection agency has since sharply boosted security on the nation's borders
The surge more than doubled the number of Border Patrol agents to 20,000. Infrastructure added to secure the Mexico border includes nearly 700 miles (1,125 km) of additional fences as well as lights, sensors, cameras, ground radar and even unmanned surveillance drones.
The changes transformed the lives of residents in Naco, Mexico, and its namesake twin in Arizona -- which have strong community and family ties dating to before the Mexican Revolution more than a century ago.
As a mark of a sometimes quirky relationship, firefighters from the Arizona side race south to help their less well equipped colleagues put out fires in Mexico. Residents used to hold a joint fiesta with a volleyball game over the waist high border fence, although those games no longer happen.
"We had to adapt to a new situation and get used to the changes," said Madrid, sitting in his office a couple of blocks south of the tall, steel border fence that now marks the international border.
On Sept. 11, 2001, locals recall how Border Patrol agents armed with assault rifles immediately took up guard at the Naco station, although the larger changes to security have been incremental over the past decade.
Most noticeable is the new border wall. Whereas it once extended about a mile either side of Naco, a curtain of steel up to 15-foot (4.5-meter) tall now carves across 20 miles (32 km) of the high grassland valley, lit at night by stadium-style lights, and monitored by video cameras.
The number of agents at the local U.S. Border Patrol station, meanwhile, has quadrupled to around 400. The station itself is being rebuilt at a reported cost of $40 million to include a new helipad, stabling for more than two dozen horses, as well as a gym, indoor shooting range and offices for agents.
As a measure of its success, the Tucson sector Border Patrol notes that drug seizures in the stretch of border including Naco have risen over the decade, while illegal immigrant arrests have plunged to 212,000 last year from highs of 616,000 in 2000.
"I believe, as an agent, we are more effective than we were 10 years ago, no doubt about it," said Tony Dominguez, a supervisory Border Patrol agent who has worked at the Naco station since before the attacks on New York and Washington.
"All the new infrastructure, the technology, the manpower increase -- it's given us an advantage to basically interdict anything that comes north," he added.
While the security surge has ended the volleyball match over the fence, it is welcomed by some on the Arizona side concerned about Mexican drug traffickers and even bandits slipping over the border.
"It feels a bit safer because of the wall," said local fire district chief Jesus Morales, who is the only elected official in the tiny, unincorporated Arizona town.
"It's ... a bit harder for people coming in to do bad stuff over here," he added.
But other residents in the high desert valley are not persuaded that the build up has been a benefit to the local community.
"With the wall, and the lights and the Border Patrol hovering over my house at five o'clock in the morning, I'm a lot less happy on the border now than I was," said Diane Daniel, who made soap and goats' cheese at her home near Naco at the time of the attacks.
Daniel is also skeptical that the surge at the border would prevent future attacks like those in 2001, carried out by 19 hijackers from several Arab countries who entered the United States legally.
"I think that the terrorists are either going to be domestic -- that would be my first concern -- or they are going to fly in First Class just like they did the last time," she said.
Local rancher John Ladd says some things have not changed since the attacks.
A decade on, a daily game of cat and mouse between the Border Patrol, smugglers and illegal immigrants continues to play out across his family's 14,000-acre (5,666-hectare) spread outside Naco, damaging fences and gates and letting livestock onto the highway.
"We've got cameras, we've got radar, we've got street lights, we've got more agents, we've got a wall," he said with a weary smile. "Nothing's changed."
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Greg McCune)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 10 Sep 2011 09:35 PM PDT
ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - At least two gunmen armed with possible semi-automatic weapons opened fire outside a Florida nightclub early on Saturday morning, killing two people and wounding 22, according to police.
A witness described panic and chaos inside the Club Elite in the town of Palmetto south of Tampa.
"I was on the floor trying not to die," said Chip "Blu Chip" Hunt, a promoter who works with the club management. "I was between one who got shot in the back of the head and one that got killed and one gentleman that got Bayflighted (airlifted) out."
The two killed were named as Gwenette Matthews, 38, of Bradenton, and Trayon Goff, 25, of Palmetto, according to police.
Palmetto police spokesman Scott Tyler said the shooters were outside the club, but some bullets passed through the nightclub's open front door. Police believe at least one of the shooters was on foot and disappeared in a getaway car.
Hunt, who promoted the club's Friday night "Grown & Sexy" event, said Matthew was socializing inside the club with her sister and was killed by a bullet that came through the front door.
Hunt said the torrent of bullets seemed to be aimed at Goff who was outside, sitting up against the front wall of the building.
"The wall is like Swiss cheese," said Hunt. "He had so many wounds it was crazy. He got 75 percent of the shots. That's the one they was after."
Hunt estimated 150 people were inside the club.
Tyler said most victims were treated and released. Six people were flown to a trauma center in St. Petersburg and one remains in very critical condition, he said.
(Editing by Greg McCune and Sandra Maler)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 10 Sep 2011 09:35 PM PDT
NORTH OF BANI WALID, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan fighters launched an assault on one of the last bastions of ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi while the head of the provisional government arrived for the first time in the capital and warned that the fugitive former leader still posed a threat.
Fighters poured into the desert town of Bani Walid on Saturday after a deadline set by the National Transitional Council (NTC) for Gaddafi strongholds to surrender expired. Scores of men loyal to the fugitive leader put up resistance.
The provisional government, which is trying to establish its control over the entire country and restore normal life, announced that it could restart some production of the oil that underpins Libya's economy within three to four days.
Bani Walid, 150 km southeast of the capital, has emerged as one of the final holdout towns for Gaddafi supporters making a stand after NTC forces overran his Tripoli headquarters in late August.
Anti-Gaddafi fighters believe one or two of the ousted leader's sons may be holed up in the town. Some NTC officials have even suggested Gaddafi might be there.
NTC fighters have had the town under siege for days and said they would assault it on Saturday if it did not yield. Fighting broke out a day early on Friday both there and near Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, one of the other few holdout cities.
NTC fighters said they had fought to within 500 m of the centre of Bani Walid on Saturday, but pulled back suddenly. NATO aircraft struck at least seven times at Gaddafi loyalist positions around the town, witnesses said.
Black plumes of smoke rose from surrounding areas as powerful explosions echoed across a rocky valley in Bani Walid's northern outskirts. A rocket fired by Gaddafi loyalists landed in the hills, kicking up clouds of dust.
"Field commanders have told us to retreat because NATO will be bombing soon," fighter Abdul Mulla Mohamed said, driving away in one of dozens of vehicles leaving the town.
"All our troops have retreated because of NATO. We are waiting for orders from our comrades to go back in again."
Graphic on rebel leadership click http://link.reuters.com/quz33s
Graphics on Libya/Middle East click http://r.reuters.com/nym77r
NATO confirmed its aircraft were flying missions over Bani Walid but would not comment on any airstrikes.
The main NTC positions on the northern approaches to Bani Walid came under fire, with sniper bullets and shells whistling over military pick-up trucks scattered around the narrow valley.
"We are not far from liberating Bani Walid," Daw Saleheen, a representative of the NTC's military council, said. "We urge Gaddafi fighters to lay down their weapons. You can go to any house and will be safe. It is not too late."
Two NTC commanders were killed and two wounded in the fighting. Doctors said two Gaddafi soldiers and one NTC fighter were killed on Friday. Abdullah Kanshil, an NTC official, said four or five civilians had died in overnight fighting.
Kanshil said about 1,000 Gaddafi supporters were defending the town -- far more than the 150 NTC officials previously had said were there.
OIL TO FLOW AGAIN
As battles raged for the last towns still outside its grip, the NTC pushed ahead to assert its legitimacy.
It called the arrival of its chairman, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, in Tripoli on Saturday "historic". Abdel Jalil, a former Gaddafi justice minister who had run the NTC from the eastern city Benghazi, was greeted by scores of flag-waving supporters.
"Brotherhood and warmth -- that's what we will depend on to build our future. We are not at a time of retribution," Abdel Jalil told reporters on his arrival.
"This is the time of unity and liberation."
The NTC has said it will complete its move to Tripoli from Benghazi by the end of next week -- though previous forecasts have been followed by delays.
Establishing a unified interim government in the capital would be an important achievement in a country where opponents of Gaddafi are divided along regional and factional lines.
The interim authorities also are anxious to show they can restart an economy almost entirely dependent on oil. Production essentially stopped since the start of the six-month civil war.
The interim oil and finance minister, Ali Tarhouni, told reporters some oil production would start again at some fields in just three to four days, and full pre-war output levels would be reached within a year.
Diplomats said Britain plans to submit a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council early next week to start easing sanctions against Libya and establish a modest U.N. mission in the country.
The International Monetary Fund also chipped in on Saturday, recognising the NTC as Libya's legitimate governing body and saying it planned to send a team there when it is safe enough.
But Jalil said they must still capture Gaddafi's last strongholds before they can declare Libya "liberated" and set the clock ticking for elections and a new constitution.
"Gaddafi still has money and gold. These are the fundamental things that will allow him to find men," he said. "We must focus on our abilities to liberate Bani Walid, Sabha and Sirte."
The front lines around Sirte appeared to be quieter on Saturday after Friday's fighting. The NTC has also been sending hundreds of fighters south towards Sabha, the Gaddafi stronghold deep in the desert, in the last two days.
Gaddafi's own whereabouts remain a mystery. Hisham Buhagiar, the military coordinator of the NTC's hunt for him, said on Friday he had indications his quarry was in or near the town of Birak, some 700 km south of Tripoli. NATO forces had bombed the area late on Thursday, he said.
(Additional reporting by Sherine El Madany near Sirte, Emma Farge in Benghazi, William MacLean, Mohammed Abbas and Mohammad Ben-Hussein in Tripoli, Barry Malone and Sylvia Westall in Tunis, Abdoulaye Massalatchi in Agadez, Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Alistair Lyon and Barry Malone; Editing by Michael Roddy)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
|You are subscribed to email updates from The Star Online: World Updates |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google Inc., 20 West Kinzie, Chicago IL USA 60610|