Black boxes found in Swissair crash

ZURICH, Switzerland

Workers combing through a muddy wood found the flight recorders from a Swiss airliner that crashed near Zurich, killing 24 people, officials said yesterday. Nine people survived, two in critical condition.

The four-engine Crossair Jumbolino Avro RJ-100 crashed a few miles short of the runway Saturday night after a flight from Berlin with 28 passengers most of them foreigners and five crew aboard.

Authorities said the bodies of all 24 victims were recovered by yesterday evening. The survivors included two crew members, but the pilot and co-pilot were among the dead, they said.

A Zurich police statement said the passengers and crew included 10 Swiss, 13 Germans including one who also had U.S. citizenship three Israelis, two people from the Netherlands and one each from Austria, Canada, Ghana, Spain and Sweden. They did not release the names.

Before all 24 deaths were confirmed, Israeli officials said three prominent Israelis were among those missing and feared dead. They were Yaakov Matzner, dean of the Hebrew University school of medicine another leading doctor, Amiram Eldor, and Avishai Berkman, a Tel Aviv city official.

Leahy letter powerful enough to kill 100,000

WASHINGTON

Sen. Patrick Leahy says there was enough anthrax in the letter sent to his office to kill more than 100,000 people. The letter to the Vermont Democrat was discovered Nov. 16 in a batch of unopened mail sent to Capitol Hill and quarantined since the discovery of an anthrax-contaminated letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D- S. D.) on Oct. 15.

“We still haven”t got the letter open,” Leahy said yesterday on NBC”s “Meet the Press.” “It is so powerful that they”re having difficulty figuring out how best to open it and preserve the evidence.”

An FBI microbiologist said last week that there were billions of spores inside the letter, which was taped around the edges. “You could feel the powder inside,” the microbiologist told reporters.

Daschle, speaking a day after a memorial service for a 94-year-old Connecticut woman who died from inhalation anthrax, said Americans should be careful opening the mail.

“I would be very skeptical about opening envelopes that aren”t recognizable, that look suspicious,” Daschle said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Militant”s death increases violence

JERUSALEM

A spike in Mideast violence yesterday dampened prospects for a new U.S. mediation effort, as a Palestinian teen-ager died in a clash with Israeli soldiers and Israeli helicopters blasted buildings in Gaza after a mortar shell killed an Israeli soldier.

The violence came a day before Assistant Secretary of State William Burns and new envoy Anthony Zinni, a retired Marine Corps general, were to begin their peace mission here. The Americans hope to quash Israeli-Palestinian fighting before it undermines the U.S.-led coalition against international terrorism.

The mediators arriving tomorrow were to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was on a trip to Arab countries and was not expected back until Wednesday.

Holiday shopping down from last year

NEW YORK

Lured by big discounts and fears that must-have holiday items will be in short supply, consumers crowded malls and shopping centers over the Thanksgiving weekend, snapping up video games, DVDs and anything to do with Harry Potter.

But the weekend”s receipts won”t be the bonanza some merchants hoped for.

Early-bird specials and other bargains from big chains like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. attracted consumers who were already frugal before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted them to further curtail their spending. The come-ons worked, giving the value-priced retailers satisfactory sales.

But other merchants, particularly department stores and specialty stores that have been languishing for months, barely met their modest expectations for the weekend, the start of the holiday buying rush.

U.S to form anti-drug policy in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON

U.S. officials are exploring ways to prevent a surge in opium cultivation in Afghanistan, once the world”s leading producer, now that the Taliban”s control is crumbling. The challenge is persuading the factions likely to govern to fight opium production and trafficking, when these groups in the past have shown little inclination to do that.

U.S. counternarcotics officials want to make drug-fighting a condition for receiving international humanitarian aid. They expect some of the assistance will include programs to encourage Afghan farmers to give up opium, the raw material for heroin, in favor of wheat and other legal crops.

Representatives of U.S. anti-drug agencies have met to begin developing a counterdrug plan. With efforts under way to form a new multiethnic government in Afghanistan, the opium issue is attracting the attention of leading Bush administration officials.

U.S. policy-makers had limited interest in it before the Sept. 11 attacks. Afghan opium is sold mostly in Europe and Asia. It accounts for only a tiny fraction of the heroin sold in the United States, most of which is from Latin America.

After Sept. 11, Afghan opium was seen in a new light: as an important moneymaker for the Taliban militia that harbored Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the attacks.

Afghan opium production surged after the Taliban took control of most of the country in 1996, and reached a peak of 4,030 U.S. tons last year, according to State Department statistics. That accounted for 72 percent of the world market.

Citing Islamic principles, the Taliban banned opium, virtually eliminating it from its territory this year. U.S. officials suspect the Taliban was trying to reduce the opium supply to boost the price of existing stockpiles.

The ban remains in effect, but farmers began ignoring it after Sept. 11.

“The farmers are poor people and they need money and the opium crop is a profitable crop for them, said Mohammad Amirkhizi, an official of the U.N. Drug Control Program in Vienna, Austria.

“If the conditions remain in a way that no one is enforcing the noncultivation of illicit drugs in Afghanistan, then the farmers will go back to cultivating,” he said.

The Taliban”s rivals have not tried to ban opium and some are believed to have profited from the drug trade. The northern alliance, which now controls more than half the country, “has taken no action of which we are aware against cultivation and trafficking in its area,” the State Department said in March.

Asa Hutchinson, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said it is too early to tell how cooperative the northern alliance will be in the future.

“Certainly we”re not naive that the northern alliance does not have their own interest and history in poppy cultivation and trafficking,” he said. “But it”s certainly a new world in Afghanistan and we”re just going to have to work hard to encourage (an) anti-drug policy.”

Hutchinson said the DEA has been working with Afghanistan”s neighbors, including Pakistan, to help block the movement of Afghan opium through their territory.

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