- Mexico probes if blast was attack or accident, 33 dead
- Iran escalating efforts to destabilize region - Panetta
- Suicide bomber kills guard at U.S. embassy in Turkey
Posted: 01 Feb 2013 06:30 PM PST
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's government vowed on Friday to find out whether an explosion that killed 33 people at the headquarters of its state-run oil monopoly Pemex was a deliberate attack or yet another stain on the company's poor safety record.
Rescue workers continued to pull bodies from the debris on Friday and officials said the search would continue until they account for everyone inside the Mexico City building.
Government officials have refused to speculate over what caused the explosion on Thursday but said they had deployed large teams of experts to pore through the wreckage.
"The government is determined to find out the truth, whatever that may be ... whether it was an accident, negligence or an attack, whatever," Attorney General Jesus Murillo said on Friday evening. "We are not going to rule out anything."
He said the explosion did not cause a fire but refused to be drawn on what that implied about the cause. Parts of the reinforced concrete ground floor of the building caved in, and the ceiling was a mess of twisted metal pipes and ducts.
The blast at Pemex's complex in the capital killed at least 33 people and a further 121 were injured. The scenes of chaos have dealt another blow to Pemex's image, just as Mexico's new government is seeking to open up the oil industry to more private investment.
Speculation over the cause has ranged from a bomb attack, to a gas leak, to a boiler blowing up.
"A fatal incident like yesterday's cannot be explained in two hours. We are working with the best teams in Mexico and from overseas. We will not speculate," Pemex's chief executive, Emilio Lozoya, said on Friday.
FIRST TEST FOR NEW PRESIDENT
New President Enrique Pena Nieto declared three days of national mourning.
Pemex, which was created when Mexico nationalized its oil industry in 1938, is a symbol of self-sufficiency but it has also been blighted by corruption, inefficiency and frequent accidents costing hundreds of lives.
The latest Pemex disaster is one of the first serious tests for Pena Nieto, who must overcome the legacy of his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled for much of the last century.
After seven decades in power, the party gained a reputation for corruption and cover-ups that have made Mexicans sceptical of whether they are being told the truth.
Investors have been closely following how far he will go in enticing private capital to boost flagging oil output in a country that is the world's No. 7 producer.
"This incident speaks very poorly of the image of Pemex management, and that's interpreted as additional risk in the market," said Miriam Grunstein, an energy researcher at Mexico's CIDE think tank.
A Pemex official said the damaged area of the company's headquarters was used for human resources in the corporate and refining divisions. It did not have a boiler or gas installations, the official said.
Former Pemex worker Ricardo Marin, 53, said there was nothing in the building that would explode and that the kitchen, where there would be gas, was on the other side.
"The only thing that occurs to me is that it was an attack - but against whom? There's no one with an important job down there," he said, waiting outside the Pemex hospital where a friend was in intensive care. "Maybe it could be a message to Pena Nieto, but not even that has any logic."
Pemex office worker Alfonso Caballero, who was one floor above the blast at the time, said he did not smell any gas and guessed it had been caused by machinery.
Mexican officials have not ruled out sabotage.
An official at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said an "international response team" was on its way to Mexico City at the request of the Mexican government. The team includes explosive specialists and fire experts.
Pemex CEO Lozoya said the four floors most affected by the explosion normally had about 200 to 250 people working on them. About 10,000 staff work in the entire complex.
Red Cross official Isaac Oxenhaut said the ceiling had collapsed in three lower floors of the Pemex building.
The blast followed a September fire at a Pemex gas facility near the northern city of Reynosa that killed 30 people. More than 300 were killed when a Pemex natural gas plant on the outskirts of Mexico City blew up in 1984.
Eight years later, about 200 people were killed and 1,500 injured after a series of underground gas explosions in Guadalajara, Mexico's second-biggest city. An official investigation found Pemex was partly to blame.
Whatever caused the explosion, the deaths and destruction will put the spotlight back on safety at Pemex, which only a couple of hours beforehand had issued a statement on Twitter saying it had managed to improve its record on accidents.
"I suspect this was a bomb," said David Shields, an independent Mexico City-based oil analyst. "There are clandestine armies across Mexico, not just the (drug) cartels."
Shields pointed to the bombing of several Pemex pipelines in the eastern state of Veracruz in 2007. A shadowy Marxist rebel movement took credit for some of the blasts.
Meanwhile, George Baker, director of Energia.com, a Houston-based energy research centre, said past history suggested the government could seek to exploit the incident.
He pointed to the 1992 Guadalajara blast and the subsequent deal that followed to overhaul the Pemex administration led by then-President Carlos Salinas, like Pena Nieto a PRI member.
"Salinas said he wanted a response from Pemex, and months later Pemex announced a restructuring. The restructuring had nothing to do with the Guadalajara accident, but it was used as a pivot to do something," Baker said.
Pena Nieto has yet to reveal details of his Pemex reform plan, which already faces opposition from the left.
Both Pena Nieto and his finance minister were this week at pains to stress the company will not be privatized.
(Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera, Simon Gardner, Krista Hughes and Tim Gaynor in Phoenix; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Kieran Murray, Louise Ireland, Vicki Allen, Eric Beech and Lisa Shumaker)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 01 Feb 2013 06:23 PM PST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Outgoing U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta accused Iran of an intensified campaign to destabilize the Middle East by smuggling anti-aircraft weapons to militant allies, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
"There is no question when you start passing MANPADS around, that becomes a threat, not just to military aircraft but to civilian aircraft," Panetta told the newspaper in an interview. "That is an escalation."
MANPADS are shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. Western officials have worried about the spread of such weapons and the risk they pose to airline passengers as well as to military helicopters and jets.
Yemeni forces intercepted a ship on January 23 carrying a large cache of weapons - including surface-to-air missiles - that U.S. officials suspect were being smuggled from Iran and destined for Yemeni insurgents.
"It is one of the first times we have seen it," Panetta said, referring to the seizure of MANPADS.
A Defence Department spokesman was not immediately available for comment on Panetta's remarks to the paper.
Yemen's government said the arms intercepted aboard the ship off the country's coast also included military-grade explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and bomb-making equipment.
Iran denies any interference in Yemen's affairs.
Panetta said the United States was stepping up efforts to counter the Iranian threat, and was leading a multinational exercise in the United Arab Emirates through Thursday to improve the interdiction of Iranian arms and other weapons.
He called the exercise critical to building up Arab capabilities to help halt Iranian arms transfers, including the smuggling of MANPADS.
U.S. officials have said the anti-aircraft weapons intercepted on January 23 likely were headed to northern Yemen's Houthi separatists, who are fighting the U.S.-backed government in Sanaa and have also clashed with Saudi forces.
Panetta is preparing to step down as Defence secretary after 19 months in the job.
The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on Thursday on the nomination of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to succeed Panetta.
(Writing by Doug Palmer; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 01 Feb 2013 04:39 PM PST
ANKARA (Reuters) - A far-leftist suicide bomber killed a Turkish security guard at the U.S. embassy in Ankara on Friday, officials said, blowing open an entrance and sending debris flying through the air.
The attacker detonated explosives strapped to his body after entering an embassy gatehouse. The blast could be heard a mile away. A lower leg and other human remains lay on the street.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the bomber was a member of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), a far-left group which is virulently anti-U.S. and anti-NATO and is listed as a terrorist organisation by Washington.
The White House said the suicide attack was an "act of terror" but that the motivation was unclear. U.S. officials said the DHKP-C were the main suspects but did not exclude other possibilities.
Islamist radicals, extreme left-wing groups, ultra-nationalists and Kurdish militants have all carried out attacks in Turkey in the past. There was no claim of responsibility.
"The suicide bomber was ripped apart and one or two citizens from the special security team passed away," said Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
"This event shows that we need to fight together everywhere in the world against these terrorist elements," he said.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the attack as a heinous act.
Turkish media reports identified the bomber as DHKP-C member Ecevit Sanli, who was involved in attacks on a police station and a military staff college in Istanbul in 1997.
Turkey is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East with common interests ranging from energy security to counter-terrorism and has been one of the leading advocates of foreign intervention to end the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
Around 400 U.S. soldiers have arrived in Turkey over the past few weeks to operate Patriot anti-missile batteries meant to defend against any spillover of Syria's civil war, part of a NATO deployment due to be fully operational in the coming days.
The DHKP-C was responsible for the assassination of two U.S. military contractors in the early 1990s in protest against the first Gulf War and launched rockets at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul in 1992, according to the U.S. State Department.
Deemed a terrorist organisation by both the United States and Turkey, the DHKP-C has been blamed for suicide attacks in the past, including one in 2001 that killed two police officers and a tourist in Istanbul's central Taksim Square.
The group, formed in 1978, has carried out a series of deadly attacks on police stations in the last six months.
The attack may have come in retaliation for an operation against the DHKP-C last month in which Turkish police detained 85 people. A court subsequently remanded 38 of them in custody over links to the group.
U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone emerged through the main gate of the embassy shortly after the explosion to address reporters, flanked by a security detail as a Turkish police helicopter hovered overhead.
"We're very sad of course that we lost one of our Turkish guards at the gate," Ricciardone said, describing the victim as a "hero" and thanking Turkish authorities for a prompt response.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the attack on the checkpoint on the perimeter of the embassy and said several U.S. and Turkish staff were injured by debris.
"The level of security protection at our facility in Ankara ensured that there were not significantly more deaths and injuries than there could have been," she told reporters.
It was the second attack on a U.S. mission in four months. On September 11, 2012, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three American personnel were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The attack in Benghazi, blamed on al Qaeda-affiliated militants, sparked a political furore in Washington over accusations that U.S. missions were not adequately safeguarded.
A well-known Turkish journalist, Didem Tuncay, who was on her way in to the embassy to meet Ricciardone when the attack took place, was in a critical condition in hospital.
"It was a huge explosion. I was sitting in my shop when it happened. I saw what looked like a body part on the ground," said travel agent Kamiyar Barnos, whose shop window was shattered around 100 metres away from the blast.
CALL FOR VIGILANCE
The U.S. consulate in Istanbul warned its citizens to be vigilant and to avoid large gatherings, while the British mission in Istanbul called on British businesses to tighten security after what it called a "suspected terrorist attack".
In 2008, Turkish gunmen with suspected links to al Qaeda, opened fire on the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, killing three Turkish policemen. The gunmen died in the subsequent firefight.
The most serious bombings in Turkey occurred in November 2003, when car bombs shattered two synagogues, killing 30 people and wounding 146. Part of the HSBC Bank headquarters was destroyed and the British consulate was damaged in two more explosions that killed 32 people less than a week later. Authorities said those attacks bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul, Mohammed Arshad and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Stephen Powell and Sandra Maler)
Blast damages side entrance of U.S. embassy in Ankara
Turkey's Erdogan says U.S. embassy blast was suicide bombing
U.S. says will investigate embassy blast in Turkey
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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