A Terrorist Bomb Plot Shut Down; The Man to Watch in Iran's Politics; The Aftermath of Hurricane Felix; Putting the Nuclear Chips on the Table; A Russian Lesson in Positive Thinking



A Terrorist Bomb Plot Shut Down

Just days before the anniversary of 9/11, law enforcement authorities in Germany swept down on what they said was a group of al Qaeda-trained terrorists planning to bomb a U.S. military base or other locations frequented by Americans such as the Frankfurt airport. The three initial suspects arrested (two German converts to Islam and a Turkish resident of Germany) had been monitored by security agencies for months. Authorities had followed them so closely that police located their storehouse and managed to substitute a harmless alternative for their explosive ingredient, concentrated hydrogen peroxide. At least 10 others were being sought by German authorities.

Aside from the bomb plot itself, what drew attention was that the three men allegedly received their explosives training at a terrorist camp in Pakistan run by the Islamic Jihad Union, an al Qaeda-allied group of Sunni Muslim radicals from Uzbekistan. The shift of terrorist training camps, run by Arabs and Uzbeks, from Afghanistan to Pakistan's tribal region has been an increasingly contentious issue in U.S. relations with Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Had the attack succeeded—authorities said it could have been deadlier than those that killed 191 people in Madrid in 2004 and 52 commuters in London in 2005—it might have prompted the United States to retaliate against targets in Pakistan's border region.

German authorities said there didn't appear to be a connection to an alleged terrorist bomb plot broken up a few days earlier by authorities in Denmark. Authorities arrested six Danish citizens and two foreigners with residence permits in what was described as a crackdown on "militant Islamists with connections to leading al Qaeda persons."

 The Man to Watch in Iran's Politics

He is the comeback specialist of Iranian politics. Last week, Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who lost his run against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to return to that job, won election as chairman of Iran's Assembly of Experts, a key clerical body that selects Iran's supreme spiritual leader. Rafsanjani is seen typically as a more moderate government insider than the hard-line but populist Ahmadinejad and as more focused on halting the financial damage and political isolation flowing from Iran's disputed nuclear programs. Rafsanjani defeated a vociferous hard-line cleric for his new Assembly post, which may reflect pushback among Iranian elites against Ahmadinejad's more confrontational style in dealings on the nuclear front and on Iraq.

Some analysts also suggest that Rafsanjani gained support by vowing greater oversight of Iran's current supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A renowned political deal broker, Rafsanjani will also continue to head Iran's Expediency Council, a high-level mediating group set up within the country's complex power structure.

The political move came as Iran permitted one of the four Iranian-Americans known to have been jailed there for alleged antistate activities to leave the country: Washington-based scholar Haleh Esfandiari. Journalist Parnaz Azima was also given permission to leave, and social scientist Kian Tajbaksh is expected to be released soon. A fourth Iranian-American, California businessman Ali Shakeri, remains in custody.

The Aftermath of Hurricane Felix

It could have been worse. But for those in the path of Hurricane Felix, the category 5 storm that slammed ashore on Nicaragua's Miskito coast, it was a killer. The storm flooded coastal islands used by lobster fishermen before bringing ashore rains and 160-mph winds. Tens of thousands lost their homes. The death toll passed 100, many of them Miskito Indians, with at least 24 dead fishermen recovered from the sea along the Nicaragua-Honduras coast.

Putting the Nuclear Chips on the Table

North Korea is opening up a bit. The so-called Hermit Kingdom said it will permit experts from the United States, China, and Russia to tour its nuclear complex and recommend ways of disabling facilities that have been at the center of a running conflict over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons ambitions. This is the next step in implementing an accord that could bring a formal U.S.-North Korea peace deal and other benefits for the impoverished nation.