Eighth hostage killed
An eighth person from the Philippines has been confirmed killed in last week’s siege by Islamic militants of a remote natural gas plant in Algeria, the government said yesterday. The eighth fatality is male, foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez said, without naming the victim. “His body was positively identified by our team in Algeria. We still have one unaccounted for,” Hernandez said. The government has said 12 other workers survived the 72-hour hostage drama in the north African desert, including four still recovering from their wounds at an Algiers hospital.
More sex-tryst officials fired
A scandal involving city officials having sex with women hired by developers who secretly videotaped the trysts to extort construction deals has expanded, with state media saying 10 more officials were fired. The first high-profile case broke in November last year when video clips of a 50-something official in the southwestern city of Chongqing in the throes of passion went viral online. Images of Lei Zhengfu’s (雷政富) jowly, pop-eyed face became a target of derision and disgust over government corruption. Lei was fired from his position as Communist Party head of a district in Chongqing after the video was released by a former journalist. State media said yesterday that 10 more district and county-level officials in Chongqing’s government, Communist Party departments and state-owned enterprises have been fired as a result of the investigation.
Man survives raft crossing
A Polish man was lucky to be alive yesterday after sailing from Papua New Guinea to a north Australian island on a raft made of twigs and sticks, through crocodile and shark-infested waters and during a cyclone. The man was found washed up in mangroves on Saibai Island in the Torres Strait, a treacherous stretch of water that lies between the two countries. What made his survival even more miraculous was that he attempted the trip in the aftermath of Cyclone Oswald, with 1.5m swells and high winds, rescue authorities said. “It is the first time I have heard of someone trying to cross the Torres Strait in a raft in the middle of a cyclone,” Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Jo Meehan said, adding that the flimsy raft was held together with string. “It is not something we would recommend. Navigation in the area is challenging for normal vessels, it is quite treacherous with reefs and rocks, and he did it in high winds and high seas. He is very lucky to have made it.” Australian immigration authorities said they were waiting to interview the man and it was not clear whether he was carrying a passport.
Hacker spokesman charged
Criminal charges continue to mount against a Texas man who has described himself as a spokesman for the hacker-activist group Anonymous. A two-count federal indictment returned yesterday in Dallas charges Barrett Brown with concealing evidence by hiding two laptop computers from authorities. The 31-year-old defendant was a de facto spokesman for Anonymous, willing to speak for a movement that prides itself on anonymity. The latest indictment alleges that he concealed the laptops from authorities at the home of an associate identified only as “KM.” The indictment does not detail what was on the laptops. He already is accused of stealing data from the Austin-based private intelligence firm Stratfor and threatening an FBI agent on the Internet. A message to Brown’s attorney, Doug Morris, was not returned.
‘Star Wars’ picks director
Sci-fi and action filmmaker J.J. Abrams has been tapped to direct a seventh Star Wars movie expected to be released by Disney in 2015, Variety magazine reported on Thursday. After purchasing Star Wars creator George Lucas’ Lucasfilm for US$4 billion in October, Disney announced it was planning a new trilogy in the wildly popular sci-fi saga, which has raked in an estimated US$4.4 billion since 1977. Variety said Disney was close to finalizing the deal with the 46-year-old Abrams, the co-creator of the popular television series Lost, who is currently finishing work on Star Trek Into Darkness. Abrams, who also writes and produces, directed Mission: Impossible III (2006), Star Trek (2009) and Super 8 (2011). Lucas — who created the saga and directed four of the six films to date — will serve as a creative consultant for the three new films, which are expected to come out every two to three years.
Equipment failure blamed
Investigators say equipment failure caused a Russian plane to crash in Moscow last month, killing five people. The Russian-made Tupolev Tu-204 belonging to Red Wings airline careered off the runway at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, rolled across a snowy field and slammed into the slope of a nearby highway, breaking into pieces and catching fire. The crash killed five of the eight crew members aboard the jet, which was returning to Moscow from the Czech Republic with no passengers on board. The Moscow-based Interstate Aviation Committee said on Thursday that the crash occurred because thrust reversers on the plane’s engines failed, even though the crew repeatedly tried to activate them. Panels on the plane’s wings designed to rise while landing and slow the aircraft down also failed to work.
Car bomb kills four
A suicide car bomber attacked a NATO convoy in Kapisa Province yesterday, killing at least four civilians, officials said. “There was an insurgent attack on an ISAF convoy in Tagab District with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device,” a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said. “Current reporting is that there were no ISAF fatalities or injuries. However, several Afghan civilians were killed.” Kapisa Provincial Governor General Mehrabuddin Safi said “four civilians are dead and several others are wounded.” A spokesman for Taliban insurgents Zabihullah Mujahid said in a text message to Agence France-Presse that 12 US troops had been killed and wounded. The Taliban regularly exaggerate their battlefield actions.