WikiLeaks IDs Four Said To Have Helped Syrian Regime

BRUSSELS, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Newly leaked U.S. cables from WikiLeaks identify four men said to have helped finance the Syrian regime or hide money for it.

EUobserver reports the diplomatic notes, dating from 2006 to 2009 and published by WikiLeaks, focus on actions against Syrian President Bashar Assad because of his suspected role in the assassination of pro-Western politician Rafik Hariri in Lebanon in 2005.

None of the men has been targeted by the punitive measures against Syria by the European Union, which is preparing for additional action this week. The release of the names comes as the EU and United States prepare to apply diplomatic pressure at a United Nations Security Council meeting on Syria Wednesday.

In a communique Friday, the White House said leaders of France, Germany and the United States condemned “Assad’s continued use of indiscriminate violence against the Syrian people.”

The WikiLeaks dispatches identify Fawas Akhras, Morthada Dandashi, Nabil Kuzbari and Zuhair Sahloul.

Akhras, a London-based cardiologist, “is suspected of being another avenue used by Assad to stash funds abroad,” a U.S. diplomat’s 2008 cable states.

Sahloul, “the most important black-market money changer in Syria,” helped stabilize the Syrian pound during a crash in 2005 and, according to an acquaintance, “could move $10 million anywhere in the world in 24 hours,” the cable says.

Kuzbari, a Vienna-based businessman, is said to have helped hide funds for Rami Makhlouf, the regime’s main financier, and move regime assets abroad.

And according to another cable, Makhlouf “deposited significant sums under Dandashi’s name in the Damascus branch of the Lebanese Byblos Bank.”

London Criticizes Press Freedoms In Iran

LONDON, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Iran is taking concrete steps to ensure that its people are cut off from the outside world through a culture of censorship, London said.

British Middle East and North African Minister Alistair Burt in a statement said more than two dozen journalists are behind bars in Iran and more than 5 million Web sites and international satellite sites are jammed by Iranian authorities.

“Far from building bridges of cultural understanding, the Iranian authorities have demonstrated ruthless determination to cut their people off from all outside contact,” he said.

Iran, following the unrest that greeted the 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, jammed cellphone communications and restricted access for foreign journalists covering the events. The 2009 unrest was compared with the country’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. Hundreds were killed during the violence and many more were sent to jail.

Burt’s comments come as the British government copes with growing unrest in London and other metropolitan areas. Riots erupted during the weekend after police killed a British man.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said via the official Islamic Republic News Agency that British police are called on to exercise restraint.

Report: Many Mobile Apps Insecure

OAK PARK, Ill., Aug. 9 (UPI) — A study by a U.S. security company found many smartphone applications do not fully protect personal information.

ViaForensics examined apps for Google’s Android system and Apple’s iOS, Cnet reported. The survey found 76 percent of the apps store usernames with no encryption and 10 percent do not encrypt passwords.

The company gave apps a passing grade for providing complete security for usernames, passwords and application data. A failing grade meant important information, including passwords, was not secure, while a warning meant ViaForensics found some information to be insecure but determined there was little risk if someone else accessed it.

The company failed 39 apps, passed 17 and gave 44 a warning. Financial apps were more likely to be secure than others, but even with those only 14 passed and eight out of 32 failed.

“It would be a fair generalization to say that so far, Apple has made more efforts toward data protection in their iOS platform, compared to Android,” the report noted. “However, users do still face risks due to malware that can compromise the device, or data recovery from lost/stolen devices.”

Sect Leader Warren Jeffs Gets Life In Prison

SAN ANGELO, Texas, Aug. 9 (UPI) — A Texas jury Tuesday sentenced polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs to life in prison for sex with underage girls he called “wives.”

The Salt Lake Tribune said the jurors in San Angelo conferred for 40 minutes before reaching the life sentence on one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child and 20 years in prison for one count of sexual assault of a child.

Prosecutor Eric Nichols told the jury the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had “perverted a religion to his own ends” and treated women and children as “property for sexual gratification and child bearing,” the Tribune said.

Jurors convicted Jeffs, 55, last week in connection with two plural marriages to girls 12 and 15. Prosecutors rested their case in the sentencing phase Monday. The defense then declined to call witnesses.

During the sentencing phase, prosecutors told jurors Jeffs took a total of 78 plural wives. Prosecutors said those wives included 12 girls he married at age 16 and another 12 he married at age 15 or younger.

Jurors also heard audio recordings of Jeffs giving sexual instruction to underage wives and having sex with girls inside a temple at the sect’s Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, the newspaper reported.

Rights Situation In Belarus Worries U.S.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Washington is deeply concerned by reports that a top Belarusian human rights activist was arrested by state authorities, the State Department said.

Belarus is facing mounting international criticism over its human rights record following a crackdown against opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko following last year’s election.

Belarusian authorities had charged Ales Bialatski with tax evasion, though German broadcaster Deutsche Welle said his arrest may have been related to his work as a human rights activist.

Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament, and other European leaders last week issued statements condemning the arrest.

“Given the many worrying reports of harassment of human rights defenders in Belarus, we call on the authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Bialatski and all human rights defenders in Belarus,” a statement from the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights added.

Washington described activists like Bialatski as vital to a vibrant democratic society in Belarus and expressed deep concern over the repression of basic human rights in the country.

“The United States calls on the government of Belarus to immediately and unconditionally release Bialatski and the more than 40 political prisoners in Belarus today,” said Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department.

Maryland Woman, Robyn Gardner, Missing In Aruba

ORANJESTAD, Aruba, Aug. 9 (UPI) — A Maryland woman has vanished in Aruba, and the man she was traveling with has been arrested on the Caribbean island, police said.

Robyn Gardner, 35, of Frederick, Md., has not been seen since Aug. 2, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Gary Giordano, who was arrested at the airport last week just before his flight to the United States departed, has been charged with suspicion of murder, The Aruba Herald reported. He allegedly told investigators when he reported Gardner missing that she was swept out to sea while they were snorkeling.

The Post said information on the disappearance is coming from the Natalee Holloway Resource Center in Oranjestad, an organization named after the Mountain Brook, Ala., high school senior who disappeared in Aruba in 2005.

Richard Forester, who said he and Gardner have been dating for months, told WJLA-TV they had a fight shortly before she left for Aruba. He said he got an e-mail three hours before she vanished: “I love you. We will talk and sort things out when I get back.”

The TV station said Giordano has a record of domestic violence.

Stress Can Boost Student Performance

CHICAGO, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Stress can improve performance for confident students but lower it for more anxious ones, a University of Chicago researcher says.

Knowing how to deal with stress can make a big difference in performance, says Sian Beilock, an associate psychology professor and expert on poor performance by talented people.

In a study published in the current issue of the journal Emotion, Beilock and colleagues examined poor performance in math and found cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, can be linked to poor performance or success, depending on the state of mind of the student going into the test.

The researchers tested 73 undergraduate students to determine their working memory — the mental reserve used to process information and figure out solutions during a test — and their level of math anxiety.

For people with large working memories, typically the most talented, increasing cortisol could lead to better or worse performance, depending on whether they were already anxious about math, the study found.

Among those who had no fear of math, increased cortisol during the test led to better performance while for those with higher math anxiety, it was linked to poor performance.

“If a student interprets their physiological response as a sign they are about to fail, they will. And, when taking a math test, students anxious about math are likely to do this,” Beilock said. “But the same physiological response can also be linked to success if a student’s outlook is positive.”

Students, she said, can improve their performance by writing about anxieties before a test or thinking about a time when they have succeeded.

U.S. Facing Myriad Of Threats In Pakistan

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Terrorist activity, as well as severe restrictions on official movement in Pakistan, is behind the latest travel warning, the U.S. State Department said.

The State Department announced it has issued a travel warning for U.S. citizens in Pakistan, an ally in Washington’s fight against international terrorist groups like al-Qaida.

“The presence of al-Qaida, Taliban elements and indigenous militant sectarian groups poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan,” the warning states. “Terrorists and their sympathizers regularly attack civilian, government, and foreign targets, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.”

U.S. ties with Pakistan have deteriorated since the May 2 killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs. Bin Laden was discovered at a compound in Abottabad, near one of Pakistan’s most elite military academies.

At least five people were killed and two others were wounded in violence in Karachi, the BBC reported Tuesday. Human rights groups in the region blame violence between various ethnic groups for contributing to the estimated 800 people killed there since January.

The State Department notes U.S. official visits to Karachi are “several restricted.”

“The Embassy (in Islamabad) reiterates its advice to all U.S. citizens to take measures for their safety and security at all times,” the warning adds.

Returnees Now Face Scrutiny At U.S., Mexico Border

PHOENIX, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Efforts to stop the flow of guns and money from the United States to Mexico have made it more difficult for illegal immigrants to return home, officials say.

U.S. immigration agents now scrutinize passengers on southbound buses, The New York Times reports. Pedestrians and those traveling by car are also questioned.

While the main goal is to find people smuggling contraband across the border, the agents also catch people who have been living illegally in the United States, the Times said. Some would-be returnees are fingerprinted and photographed, and others arrested and deported, and both groups could be in trouble if they return to the United States illegally and are caught.

“We’re not trying to discourage anyone from leaving, but we do want to send the message that there are consequences for breaking immigration laws,” an administration official, who did not want to be identified, told the Times.

Analleli Rios Ramirez, 24, who has lived in the United States illegally since she was 11, told the Times she was worried about her lack of papers. She was leaving her home in Chandler, Ariz., outside Phoenix, to join her husband, who had already returned to Mexico.

“I thought this is what Arizona wanted, for me to leave, and I have to worry about them catching me on the way out,” she said.

In the end, Ramirez was waved across the border.

Rumors Surround Syria’s Defense Minister

DAMASCUS, Syria, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Syrian President Bashar Assad swore in Gen. Dawood Rajiha as the country’s defense minister Tuesday, the state news agency said.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency reports Assad received Rajiha, a Christian, as the new defense minister “and provided him with his directives.”

The announcement followed reports that former Defense Minister Gen. Ali Habib was found dead in his home Tuesday. SANA noted only that Habib “has been ill for some time, and his health condition deteriorated recently.”

“Habib was advancing in age and was experiencing health problems but there are reasons to suspect that he may have been assassinated by elements within the Assad regime,” an analysis from Texas intelligence company Stratfor reads.

The analysis notes that Habib had disagreed with Assad’s regime over the use of force against protesters. Assad has faced mounting international condemnation over the use of military force against people demonstrating against his regime.

The U.N. Security Council issued a statement last week denouncing the violence in Syria.

SANA added that an unidentified military source reported that army units are pulling out of the city of Hama after “completing their mission.”

Opposition figures speaking with The New York Times said during the weekend the government has handed over responsibility to security forces in the country. Activists said at least 200 civilians were killed in a weekend military offensive in Hama.