Foreign Press Digest

Ed's Note: This roundup assembles from regional news sources a collage of headlines and viewpoints that have gone missing in action in the U.S. press.

Top Al Qaeda Lieutenant Reportedly Captured
Osama bin Laden's most senior lieutenant, Egyptian militant Ayman al-Zawahiri, has reportedly been caught and is jailed in Iran. An unconfirmed report in the Hayat-e-Nou newspaper, owned by a leading Iranian legislator who is also brother of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, said al-Zawahiri was captured several days ago and imprisoned in Tehran's Evin jail. The Iranian foreign ministry denied the report.
(Hindustan Times, New Delhi, India)

U.S. Propaganda Leaflets Drop on Pakistan
Pamphlets dropped by American planes to warn people against giving shelter to Osama bin Laden are now falling in Pakistan's tribal areas instead of just Afghanistan. The pamphlets show a smiling bin Laden making fun of his supporters because "you don't know that he is sending you to death." Other pamphlets announce a reward of $25 million for bin Laden and show him relaxing in a cave while his fighters risk death. It is unclear if the pamphlets have been deliberately dropped due to rumors that bin Laden may be hiding in Pakistan.
(The News International, Karachi, Pakistan)

Brother of Slain Northern Alliance Leader Made Ambassador
The brother of the charismatic Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Masood, who was slain shortly before Sept. 11, has been appointed Afghanistan's ambassador to Moscow by the government of Hamid Karzai. By appointing Ahmad Zia Masood, Kabul is sending a signal that it sees ties with Russia as "friendly, stable and of strategic character," reported the Afghan charge d'affaires.
(Tehelka.com, New Delhi, India)

U.S. Arms Firms Jump at Indian Market
Major American armament firms are making a beeline for the Indian market now that sanctions against India have been lifted. Maj. Gen. Bruce Scott, chief of the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, was in India recently discussing sales of the Firefinder Weapon Locating System, which can locate long-range mortars, rocket launchers and missiles. He said the weapon sales would enhance communications between Indian and American ground forces. He said radar weapons systems being sold to Pakistan were different.
(Rediff.com, Mumbai, India)

Comeback for Exiled Afghan King?
Whatever happened to Zahir Shah? The exiled former king of Afghanistan was supposed to help unify his war-torn country. Now an unnamed official says the king wants to return in time to celebrate the Afghan New Year -- Nau Roz -- on March 21. But some people are concerned that the recent killing of aviation minister Abdul Rahman, a supporter of the king, was a warning from hard-line forces that oppose the king.
(The News International, Karachi, Pakistan)

Iranian Student Leader Says He Was Framed
Iran's most famous student leader said he was forced to confess on television that he was attempting to overthrow the government. Ali Afshari, a leader of the pro-reform Office to Foster Unity, said he was kept in solitary confinement for 328 days and then interviewed in prison under psychological and physical torture. He says he was made to read an article about students seeking to overthrow the government that had been printed in a conservative newspaper. "Later, they mixed all these elements (and broadcast it on TV)," Afshari said at a press conference.
(Gulf News, Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


Philippine Army Fears Flood of Afghan Weapons, Fighters
Philippine generals have asked the United States for help in stemming a possible flood of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters and weapons to Southeast Asia. The generals relayed the request to the U.S. congress through visiting Congressman Jim Gibbons, who heads the intelligence subcommittee on human intelligence, analysis and counterintelligence. Philippine army officials asked for stricter control on arms going out of Afghanistan.
(The New International, Karachi, Pakistan)

Israeli Government Gets Green Light to Recognize Converts
The Supreme Court in Israel has given the government the right to officially recognize converts to Judaism. This right used to belong to rabbis, and the court decision has sparked off severe criticism from Orthodox rabbis. Jewish Americans, who are mostly from the Reform and the Conservative schools, are pleased because conversions done by their rabbis were frequently not recognized by the Orthodox rabbis. Whether this decision will have an impact on other issues, such as the fact that only Orthodox schools receive state funding, remains to be seen.
(Al Jazeera Television, Doha, Qatar)

Arab League to Open U.S. Offices
The Arab League is planning to set up liaison offices in the United States. Secretary-General Amr Moussa called on the Arab American community to be a bridge between the Arab world and America. Nasser Badayoun was named the first liaison, and will be based in Michigan. Moussa said other representatives would be named, and the Arab League would hopefully soon have a permanent ambassador in Washington.
(Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)

Sandip Roy is associate editor at Pacific News Service and host of "Upfront" -- a weekly radio program on KALW-FM San Francisco.

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