Saturday, January 8, 2011

Arizona horrified but not surprised at shootout

The shooting of a congresswoman Gabrielle Griffords at a grocery store has horrified Arizona, but some are not totally surprised at the violent turn in a state that has become ground-zero for US political divisions.

Representative Gabrielle Giffords was holding a Saturday morning meet-and-greet at the Safeway store off a busy suburban thoroughfare in the desert city of Tucson when a gunman sprayed the crowd with bullets.

"It was like a string of fireworks," said Tony Martinez, 31, a restaurant worker who had stopped at Safeway to pick up cheese and immediately raced out to his car.

"It happened so fast. Then it was silent but it was still chaos as there were bodies everywhere. They covered the congresswoman's body with a tablecloth," he said.

Giffords was rushed to a hospital in Tucson, a city of rolling desert and omnipresent cactus and agave plants an hour north of the Mexican border. Officials said Giffords was critically injured but would hopefully recover.

The apparent assassination bid was denounced across the US political spectrum as reports emerged that alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner, 22, had posted incoherent messages on the Internet.

But for some residents, the violence was also a sign of the growing vitriol of politics in Arizona which came under the national spotlight last year after it approved sweeping rules against illegal immigration.

"This is just terrible. They listen to these idiots on TV and on the blogs. She's a nice lady, married to an astronaut," said Frank Worth, the manager at a steakhouse near the site of the shooting.

"I say just try him, give him 30 days and then kill him. But instead he'll probably spend his life in prison and millions of dollars will go to that instead of the people who need it," Worth said.

Giffords is a member of President Barack Obama's Democratic Party but belongs to its more conservative wing. She has advocated tougher law enforcement on the border and, incidentally, the right to gun ownership.

Giffords had been a top target of the right-wing Tea Party movement but narrowly won re-election in November. Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, a Tea Party favorite, had put Giffords on what she termed a "hit list," largely due to the congresswoman's support for Obama's health care reforms.

"It's hard not to feel that the derogatory tone of politics in Arizona has played a part in allowing something like this to happen," said Kate Donovan, who joined hundreds of other Tucson residents in a candlelight vigil outside of the hospital where Giffords and other victims were being treated.

"To contemplate that a person could lose their humanity and do something like this. My hope is that it won't stop people from fighting for justice," she said.

Palin offered her condolences to the dead and said she was praying for the victims and their families.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican who has become a lightning rod for criticism for championing the state's controversial immigration law, acknowledged that the shooting would inflict a fresh blow to the state's image.

"It certainly doesn't show favor on the state of Arizona," Brewer told reporters. "But we have a lot of good, decent people here."

For many Arizona residents, the tragedy went beyond politics.

"I just can't believe that this has happened, that someone can have so much malice in him," said Judy Roads, who joined the mourners outside of the hospital.

"It's too early to know what motivated him, but really, it's irrelevant," she said

Rest Here:

2 French Hostages Are Found Dead in Niger

Two Frenchmen kidnapped in Niger were found dead on Saturday after a rescue attempt on the border with Mali that involved the militaries of both Niger and France, the French government said.

The hostages were kidnapped late Friday night from a bar in Niamey, the Niger capital, reportedly by four armed men wearing turbans who tried to take them into Mali.

They were pursued by Niger’s military, with French military help, and were intercepted at the border on Saturday. After a firefight, the hostages were found dead, the French defense minister, Alain Juppé, said in a statement.

“The terrorists were intercepted at the Mali border and several of them were neutralized,” he said, using a euphemism for killed. “After the fighting, the two hostages were found dead.” Their names were not immediately released.

Mr. Juppé said that the operation was “coordinated” by French forces based in the region that participated in the firefight at the border.

French officials said they believed that the hostages were killed by their kidnappers.

“At this stage, everything makes us believe that they were executed by the terrorists,” a military spokesman, Thierry Burkhard, told Reuters, adding that French special forces had intervened after one of their surveillance aircraft spotted the kidnappers close to the Mali border.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction, but the assumption in Paris was that it was carried out by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France condemned the kidnapping and deaths of the two hostages as “a barbaric and cowardly act” in a communiqué.

The death of the two Frenchmen brings to four the number of foreign hostages killed in the Sahel region — Niger, Mali, Algeria and Mauritania — in the past two years.

A British tourist, Edwin Dyer, was kidnapped in Niger and held in Mali two years ago, along with three other European tourists. His death was announced by AQIM in June 2009; the other three were released.

In April 2010, a French engineer, Michel Germaneau, 78, was kidnapped in the north of Niger as he supervised the construction of a school for an aid organization. He was killed in July by AQIM, which said it was taking revenge for the deaths of AQIM fighters three days before in a French-Mauritanian raid in Mali.

In September, five more Frenchmen, along with two Africans, were kidnapped in northern Niger on the site of a uranium mine worked by French companies. They are thought by French officials to be held in the northeast of Mali. In November, AQIM demanded that France negotiate the freedom of the hostages with Osama bin Laden and pull its troops out of Afghanistan.

French officials say the vast territory in which AQIM operates is essentially lawless and is outside the sovereign reach of governments.

US lawmaker shot, survives; 6 dead

A US House Representative, Gabrielle Giffords, is battling for life after a gunman shot her in the head at a political event in Arizona Saturday morning and then turned on others killing six including a nine-year-old girl. Giffords, a Democrat, was meeting constituents at a "Congress at your
corner" event near a grocery chain store Safeway when the gunman identified by the authorities as Jared Lee Loughner opened fire.

Loughner, 22, has been taken into custody and investigations are underway, coordinated at the highest level by FBI director Robert Mueller from the crime area on President Barrack Obama's instructions.

"This is more than a tragedy for those involved," Obama said in a statement on the shooting, adding, "It is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country."

House Speaker John Boehner, of the Republican Party, called it "a sad day for the country."

He added, "An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve."

A federal Judge John M Roll, who had earlier received death threats for his rulings on immigration cases, is among the six dead.

The others, including Giffords, 40, were being treated at a local hospital. The representative was, in fact, declared dead in initial reports. But doctors later said they were optimistic of her chances of surviving.

Not much is known about Loughner. The authorities have only identified him as a 22 year local man, with a possible Army history. In a video apparently posted by him on YouTube he describes himself as a "conscience dreamer".

His social network webpage listed Hitler's Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto among his favoured readings. But none of this is confirmed, most of this sourced to crazed internet digging underway since the incident.

Giffords is described as a Blue Dog Democrat, a conservative Democrat, who narrowly defeated her Tea Party rival to keep her seat in the face of a resurgent Republican Party.

While there was no word yet on the motive of the assailant, commentators speculated if it her shooting had anything to do with her politics - she was a bitter critic of Arizona's tough anti-immigration law.

But like most people in her state, Giffords was a staunch supporter of the rights to posession weapons. The police said the weapon used by Loughner - a Glock 19 pistol - was bought by him legally at in November.