MADRID

Blast suspect may have al-Qaida links

Evidence is mounting that Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaida
were behind the Madrid bombings and the assault may be tied to a
bloody attack in Morocco last year, officials said yesterday.

One of five suspects held by Spanish police in connection with
last Thursday’s attack in Spain had traveled to his home
country of Morocco, then left on April 20, 2003 — almost a
month before the May 16 attacks in Casablanca that killed 45
people, officials said.

The suspect, Jamal Zougam, also has connections to a key suspect
in the Casablanca attacks and possibly to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a
Moroccan official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Al-Zarqawi is a key operative working with Osama bin Laden’s
terror network who has been blamed in attacks in Jordan, Iraq and
elsewhere. It appears “increasingly likely” Islamic
extremists played a role in the Madrid attacks, though “a
number of avenues are being pursued,” said a U.S.
counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of
anonymity.

U.S. authorities aren’t ruling out al-Qaida involvement or
the possibility Muslim extremists were working with the Basque
separatist group ETA.

 

JERUSALEM

Sharon rules out peace talks with Palestinians

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday ruled out
negotiations with the Palestinians, accusing them of doing nothing
to stop terror attacks a day after a double suicide bombing killed
10 Israelis.

The declaration dealt a blow to efforts to restart peace talks,
clearing the way for the prime minister’s proposal to
withdraw from the Gaza Strip and impose a boundary in the West Bank
unilaterally.

Addressing Israel’s parliament, Sharon said Sunday’s
attack at the Israeli seaport of Ashdod “reinforces the
understanding that there is no Palestinian leader with the courage,
the ability, to struggle against terrorism.”

“Clearly, in this situation, there will be no political
negotiations,” he said.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat called Sharon’s
declaration “unfortunate.”

“This was a very grave development which will not add
anything to the efforts to revive the peace process, but will only
add to the complexities,” he said.

U.S. officials and international mediators have pushed Israel
and the Palestinians to implement the “road map” peace
plan.

 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

Exiled leader Aristide arrives in Jamaica

Ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide arrived in Jamaica from
exile in Africa yesterday, prompting Haiti’s interim leader
to withdraw his ambassador to Jamaica and suspend ties with the
Caribbean economic bloc.

Aristide’s arrival in neighboring Jamaica raised tensions
in Haiti, where his followers plan more protests to demand the
return of the country’s first democratically elected
leader.

A U.S. Marine was shot in the arm while patrolling a
pro-Aristide neighborhood in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince
— the first American peacekeeping casualty since Aristide
fled Haiti and foreign troops arrived Feb. 29.

U.S. troops have been attacked several times and have shot and
killed at least six Haitians in the past week.

Aristide arrived with his wife, Mildred, at the airport in
Kingston, Jamaica, some 130 miles from Haiti.

 

NEW YORK

Martha Stewart quits post at her company

Ten days after being convicted in a stock scandal, Martha
Stewart resigned yesterday from the board of the homemaking empire
that bears her name and stamps it on everything from magazines to
bedsheets.

Stewart, 62, also stepped down as chief creative officer of
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

But she was given the new title of founding editorial director,
meaning she will probably remain an influential part of the
company, despite an impending prison sentence that could last more
than a year.

The move showed that the company is not ready to completely
sever its ties with the homemaking queen, who owns 61 percent of
the stock.

 

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia

Al-Qaida region chief may have been killed

Saudi security forces killed two militants, including one
considered al-Qaida’s chief of operations on the Arabian Peninsula,
in a shootout in the capital of Riyadh yesterday, U.S. and Saudi
officials said.

A Saudi Interior Ministry statement said the two were killed in
the al-Nasseem neighborhood, in eastern Riyadh, in an exchange of
fire with security forces yesterday afternoon.

Abu Hazim al-Sha’ir, a Yemeni believed to be about 30, was the
senior al-Qaida figure in the region, a U.S. counterterrorism
official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

— Compiled from Daily wire reports

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