SANAA (Reuters) – At least 20 people were killed on Thursday in a car bomb and gun battle at the Yemeni defense ministry compound in the capital Sanaa, sources inside the complex said, in one of the most serious attacks in the past 18 months.
The defense ministry said the attack targeted the ministry’s hospital and most of the gunmen had been killed or wounded.
“The attackers have exploited some construction work there to carry out this criminal act … the situation is under control,” the ministry said in a statement on its website.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack. But the U.S.-allied country has been grappling with a security threat by al Qaeda-linked militants, who have repeatedly attacked government officials and installations over the past two years.
Witnesses said the explosion shook the compound in the old district of Sanaa, where the country’s central bank is also located.
“The attack took place shortly after working hours started at the ministry, when a suicide bomber drove a car into the gate,” the defense ministry source said.
“The explosion was very violent, the whole place shook because of it and plumes of smoke rose from the building,” an employee who works in a nearby building told Reuters.
Ambulance sirens and gunshots were heard after the blast as soldiers exchanged fire with the gunmen, said to have been disguised in Yemeni army uniforms, who had stormed the compound.
A military source said that at least 20 people, including militants, were killed in the attack and dozens were wounded. The Yemeni health ministry appealed to citizens to donate blood to help save the wounded.
At least two sources inside the defense ministry said the attackers came in two vehicles. One was driven by a suicide bomber who attacked the gate of the compound, while armed men entered the compound in the second, the sources said. The ministry statement made no reference to a suicide attacker.
Violence is common in Yemen, where an interim government is grappling with southern secessionists, al Qaeda-linked militants and northern Houthi rebels, as well as severe economic problems inherited from veteran President Ali Abdallah Saleh who was forced out of office in 2011.
The insurgents were emboldened by a decline in government control over the country during protests that eventually ousted Saleh. They seized several southern cities before being driven out in 2012.
Al Qaeda militants have killed hundreds of Yemeni soldiers and members of the security forces in a series of attacks since an offensive, which the United States has supported with intelligence and drones, drove them out of their strongholds.
In July last year, an al Qaeda suicide bomber wearing a Yemeni army uniform killed more than 90 people rehearsing for a military parade in Sanaa. Al Qaeda later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Yemen’s defense minister, Major General Muhammad Nasir Ahmad, escaped a car bomb on his motorcade in September 2012 that killed at least 12 other people.
(Reporting by Mohammad Ghobari; Writing by Maha El Dahan and Sami Aboudi; Editing by Rania El Gamal, Patrick Graham and Sonya Hepinstall)
Interesting stuff… TGO
Refer to story below. Source: SPACE.com
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has detected water in the atmospheres of five planets
The five exoplanets with hints of water are all scorching-hot, Jupiter-size worlds that are unlikely to host life as we know it. But finding water in their atmospheres still marks a step forward in the search for distant planets that may be capable of supporting alien life, researchers said.
“We’re very confident that we see a water signature for multiple planets,” Avi Mandell, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., lead author of one of the studies, said in a statement. “This work really opens the door for comparing how much water is present in atmospheres on different kinds of exoplanets — for example, hotter versus cooler ones.”
The two research teams used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to analyze starlight passing through the atmospheres of the five “hot Jupiter” planets, which are known as WASP-17b, HD209458b, WASP-12b, WASP-19b and XO-1b.
The atmospheres of all five planets showed signs of water, with the strongest signatures found in the air of WASP-17b and HD209458b.
“To actually detect the atmosphere of an exoplanet is extraordinarily difficult. But we were able to pull out a very clear signal, and it is water,” Drake Deming of the University of Maryland, lead author of the other recent study, said in a statement.
Water is thought to be a common constituent of exoplanet atmospheres and has been found in the air of several other distant worlds to date. But the new work marks the first time scientists have measured and compared profiles of the substance in detail across multiple alien worlds, researchers said.
The water signatures were less intense than expected in all cases, likely because the five hot Jupiters are surrounded by a haze of dust, researchers said.
“These studies, combined with other Hubble observations, are showing us that there are a surprisingly large number of systems for which the signal of water is either attenuated or completely absent,” Heather Knutson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, a co-author on Deming’s paper, said in a statement. “This suggests that cloudy or hazy atmospheres may in fact be rather common for hot Jupiters.”
The study led by Mandell came out today (Dec. 3) in The Astrophysical Journal, while the paper led by Deming was published in September in the same journal.
BERLIN (AP) — The most violent nations in the Middle East are perceived to be the region’s most corrupt and are getting worse as political instability allows abuses to flourish, according to a survey released Tuesday by an international watchdog group.
Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index ranks more than four-fifths of countries in the Middle East below 50 on a scale where zero is a country perceived to be highly corrupt and 100 perceived to be very clean. Countries in the region scored an average 37, below the global average of 43.
Three countries that have faced persistent upheaval dropped notably over the past year, with Yemen’s rating falling five points to 18, Syria dropping nine points to 17, and Libya down six points to 15. Iraq also dropped from 18 to 16.
“Imagine what it takes for a country to root out corruption — it always takes institutions with people in them who have levels of integrity and a system of independent oversight,” said Christoph Wilcke, Transparency’s director for Middle East and North Africa.
“In conflict situations, all of that goes out of the window right away.”
The index measures the perception of corruption in the public sector. Wilcke said that there is a general feeling of corruption across the board in the Middle East, including police, judiciary, and government procurement offices.
“Almost all sectors entrusted with public government functions are seen as corrupt,” he said.
The survey of 177 countries is based on local and international experts’ opinions of public sector corruption.
Denmark and New Zealand tied for first place with scores of 91, followed by Finland, Sweden and Norway. Australia and Canada tied in ninth with scores of 81. Britain was 14th with 76 and the United States tied with Uruguay in 19th place with a score of 73.
Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia tied for last place with scores of 8.
The survey, first conducted in 1995, draws on a variety of sources that capture perceptions of corruption, including World Bank and World Economic Forum assessments, the African Development Bank’s governance ratings, and Transparency International’s own Bribe Payers Survey.
Greece, one of the countries hit hardest by the European financial crisis, ranked in 80th place with a score of 40 , though that was still an improvement of four points over last year’s result. By contrast Spain, whose economy is also suffering, dropped six points to 59 points and placed 40th on the list.
Transparency’s Western Europe coordinator, Valentina Rigamonti, said that while Spain has seen several scandals and has approved little new anti-corruption legislation, Greece has announced an anti-corruption drive, convicted a former minister on embezzlement charges and has taken other action.
“These are really little steps in the fight against corruption but they are signs the government is trying to do something,” Rigamonti said. “The government showed they can do something but now, and in the long term, we need to see some more changes — especially in implementation.”
Most significant in Europe, however, is that the perception in most countries changed very little, she said.
“It’s stagnation and governments need to act more,” Rigamonti said. “Corruption is still a big problem in Europe.”
Refer to story below. Source: SPACE.com
If life does exist anywhere else in the universe, it may only be fleeting. Now scientists are researching how signs of life might look on dying planets.
Astronomers have discovered hundreds of distant alien planets in the past two decades. Future missions could detect potential signs of life called biosignatures on those worlds, such as oxygen or methane in their atmospheres.
Astrobiologist Jack O’Malley-James at the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland and his colleagues noted that biosignatures of life on Earth have not remained the same over time, but have altered considerably over its history. This led the researchers to speculate about how Earth and other planets might look in the future.
“Astrobiology as a field seems to put a lot more focus on the origins of life and how to find life beyond Earth, but less emphasis is put on the end of life, which is what got me interested in finding out more about how biospheres on other planets might meet their ends, and by extension, how long we could expect to detect life on a habitable planet over the course of its habitable lifetime,” said O’Malley-James, the lead author of the study.
The scientists were testing a computer model of the climates and biospheres — the overall life — of possible exoplanets.
“That was when the idea came about to run this model forward in time to see when all water and all life would disappear from the planet,” O’Malley-James said.
The Sun is a middle-aged star, currently about 4.6 billion years old. In the later stages of its evolution, about 2 billion to 3 billion years from now, the Sun will grow much hotter, leading to much higher surface temperatures on the future Earth and thus far harsher environments for any last life to grow and survive on the planet.
The research team modeled the biosignature gases Earth’s biosphere would generate up to 2.8 billion years from the present.
“The most exciting thing about these results is that they suggest that we could potentially detect the presence of life on a planet even at the very end of its habitable lifetime, when the diversity of life and population sizes are considerably reduced compared to what we see on Earth today,” O’Malley-James toldAstrobiology Magazine.
The death of Earth’s biosphere as it exists today would start with plants dying off. Rising temperatures cause silicon-loaded rocks known as silicates to wear away, increasing their absorption of carbon dioxide. The resulting drop in atmospheric carbon dioxide, which plants need in order to generate energy from sunlight, would eventually bring an end to the age of plants.
The extinction of plants would both curtail atmospheric oxygen levels and remove the primary source of food from most ecosystems, leading to the simultaneous extinction of animals, from large vertebrates to smaller ones, with invertebrates having the longest stay of execution. All in all, the researchers calculated Earth’s surface would become largely uninhabitable between 1.2 billion and 1.85 billion years from the present.
Still, life is hardy, so microbes could last for much longer than more complex organisms on a dying Earth. After the extinction of plants and animals, the scientists reasoned the planet’s future biosphere will be much like its early biosphere in consisting mainly of single-celled microbes. Without plants to help generate oxygen, atmospheric oxygen would eventually reach negligible levels, triggering a relatively quick shift — within a few million years — toward microbes that can survive without oxygen. The final survivors of Earth could persist either in caves, deep underground, or in relatively cool refuges at high altitudes until roughly 2.8 billion years from now, when the Sun will probably make the planet too hot for astronomers to detect any life from a distance.
The scientists calculated the extinction of higher plants would lower atmospheric oxygen and ozone levels to concentrations undetectable by astronomers by about 1.11 billion years from now. Still, this drop in oxygen could mean levels of the volatile compound isoprene could build up in the air, potentially serving as a biosignature until plants go extinct. Isoprene is a biological substance that normally has a very short lifetime in the atmosphere, since it quickly reacts with oxygen.
The death of plants and animals would also generate large amounts of decaying matter that would release compounds such as methanethiol into the atmosphere. This gas is only known to come from biological sources — although sunlight rapidly breaks this gas down, the resulting gas, ethane, could serve as a potential biosignature until all plants and animals go extinct.
Methane could also be a biomarker when all other biomarker gases become undetectable in a dying planet’s atmosphere. In fact, far-future levels of methane in Earth’s atmosphere could be 10 times higher than the present — methane-producing bacteria get more of the carbon dioxide they need as fuel because plants are no longer there to remove the carbon dioxide. Still, the researchers caution life is not the only source of methane — volcanoes and chemical reactions involving volcanic rocks can generate the gas as well.
The scientists also conjecture that clouds might serve as homes to potential biosignatures on a dying planet. Once the planet’s surface becomes too hot to live, microbes could find refuge in the clouds — microorganisms are known to exist in Earth’s atmosphere today, although it remains uncertain whether they are just passing through before falling back down or whether they actively live in the sky. Airborne microorganisms could help generate unexpectedly large cloud droplets in the atmospheres of arid planets, the researchers say. In addition, vegetation could serve as a detectable biosignature until higher plants go extinct — leaves cause a red edge to appear in the spectrum of light reflected off Earth.
One major confounding factor into how a dying alien planet might look could be the influence of extraterrestrial intelligence.
“Intelligent life is difficult to factor in when making these kind of predictions,” O’Malley-James said. “It’s certainly possible that intelligent life could play a role in mitigating these changes to the far-future environment, perhaps by some form of geoengineering [artificial changes to the land, sea or air], or even moving the planet out to orbit in a cooler position. Predicting what that would do to a planet’s biosignatures would be quite a challenge, but it may simply make the planet’s biosphere appear younger than we would expect given the age of the planet.”
All in all, when astronomers start finding habitable-zone planets circling older stars, “it will be useful to know if we could expect to see any signs of life and, if we can, what signatures that life might leave for us to detect, because the biosphere on a dying planet would be very different to the life we are familiar with on Earth today,” O’Malley-James said.
The next step with this avenue of research is to start applying it to real examples astronomers have discovered of older, habitable-zone planets around Sun-like stars, O’Malley-James said. “There are not very many of these yet, so this may involve some modeling of theoretical planets around chosen nearby examples of older stars,” he noted. “It’s likely that these worlds would not be nice exact copies of Earth, so this may impact the timeline of events that lead up to the end of life on that particular planet.”
O’Malley-James is also investigating whether Mars could serve as a template for an alien planet that has reached the end of its habitable lifetime — “in this case, by becoming cold and dry,” he said. The researchers would adapt their existing computer model “to simulate Mars and populate all the potentially habitable regions on the planet with microbes that could live there, with the aim of adding to the suite of possible biosignatures for dying biospheres.”
O’Malley-James and his colleagues detailed their findings in the International Journal of Astrobiology.
Huge electric fields in the radiation belts around Earth may help explain how electrons surrounding the planet can be accelerated to speeds near that of light, researchers have found in a new study.
These findings, detailed Dec. 2 in the journal Physical Review Letters, could help shed light on the radiation belts of planets such as Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, as well as the behavior of the sun during flares and of bodies beyond the solar system, such as stellar nurseries, neutron stars and incredibly energetic black holes known as quasars.
After humanity began exploring space, the first major find made there were the Van Allen radiation belts, zones of magnetically trapped, highly energetic charged particles discovered in 1958.
These belts generally consist of two rings: an inner zone with both high-energy electrons and very energetic positive ions that remains stable in intensity over the course of years to decades; and an outer zone made up mostly of high-energy electrons whose intensity swings over the course of hours to days, primarily depending on the influence from the solar wind, the deluge of radiation streaming from the sun. Earlier this year, scientists also detected a third radiation belt temporarily surrounding Earth.
The gigantic amounts of radiation the Van Allen belts generate can pose serious risks for satellites. To learn more about them, NASA launched twin spacecraft, the Van Allen probes, in the summer of 2012. The satellites are armed with a host of sensors to comprehensively analyze the plasma, energetic particles, magnetic fields and plasma waves in these belts with unprecedented sensitivity and resolution.
Found ‘by accident’
Now, using the Van Allen probes, scientists have detected structures that pop in and out of existence in the outer belt that could help explain the high-energy electrons seen in that zone.
The structures in question are known as “double layers.” They are each made up of a pair of parallel layers of particles with opposite electrical charge that move along Earth’s magnetic field. The probes saw huge numbers of double layers in the outer belt — 7,000 in the course of a minute, each lasting on the order of seconds.
These double layers were discovered “sort of by accident as the Van Allen probes passed through this region of space, and only captured a snapshot,” said study lead author Forrest Mozer, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley.”The spacecraft will get back to this region maybe eight months, maybe 10 months from now, and we’re setting up our instruments to do what we now know they should — to collect data at that site then with a continuous view, to really get definitive information on what is going on there.”
Relativistic speeds near Earth
The double layers can in combination generate strong electric fields, ones more than 1 million volts strong. The researchers suggest the combinations of double layers seen in the outer belt are powerful enough to drive electrons to relativistic speeds, ones near the speed of light.
“It has been surprising that there are mechanisms that accelerate electrons to relativistic energies in Earth’s radiation belt and throughout all of astrophysics,” Mozer said. “There have been a lot of theories about what those mechanisms are, but many of them have shown not to work.”
These findings suggest double layers may help drive electrons to relativistic speeds elsewhere in the cosmos.
“These results provide one step in shedding light on the processes that can lead to rapid acceleration of electrons to relativistic energies,” Mozer told SPACE.com. “The processes we’re starting to define certainly could be at work in regimes like the sun, for example, and probably all throughout astrophysics.”
A very interesting interview with two fascinating scientists; Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins… TGO
Physicists have come up with a new way to gaze longingly at some of the weirdest matter on Earth — the super-cold, super-calm gas called a Bose-Einstein condensate.
While scientists have been able to steal quick glimpses of the unusual gas, until now, simply snapping a picture of a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) often destroyed it by adding extra energy from light.
“The absorption of a single photon (the smallest packet of light) is enough to break one,” lead study author Michael Hush, a physicist at the University of Nottingham, told LiveScience in an email interview.
By creating a new computer model, detailed on Nov. 28 in the New Journal of Physics, the researchers have figured out a way to re-route this heat and keep BECs chilled even during long imaging sessions.
In principle, Hush said, the proposal “could allow a BEC to be imaged indefinitely, during which we will be able to directly look at the BEC and even control it using feedback.”
“Being able to play around with a quantum object close to absolute zero right then and there is really exciting,” he added.
Bose-Einstein condensates are atoms or other particles, such as photons, chilled to nearly absolute zero. The atoms are so languid they behave strangely, as a single, bloblike mass. The slow-moving nature of the particles means scientists can easily track and study atomic processes, such as atomic spins, by studying Bose-Einstein condensates. (They are named after Albert Einstein and the Indian theorist Satyendra Nath Bose.)
For more than a decade, physicists have peered at BECs with off-resonant photons, a type of laser imaging that tends scatter its energy off the super-chilled atoms instead of adding heat. But even this method will work for only a few tries, eventually destroying the condensate after a handful of images, Hush said.
To improve the imaging technique, Hush and his colleagues built a sophisticated computer model that simulates both off-resonant light and the weird behavior of Bose-Einstein condensates. The model revealed a never-before-seen heating effect caused by off-resonant imaging.
“The particular discovery presented in this paper was actually first thought to be a bug in our code,” Hush said. “We thought this because simpler descriptions of BECs did not predict this heating.”
Via their model, the researchers have devised a filter that removes the heating effect and feeds the extra energy back into the magnetic coils used to trap and chill the condensate, which will help keep the atoms cooled for longer periods. Now, when inquisitive viewers want to watch the atoms sit around, such picture-snapping would send more energy into the chill-inducing coils, actually making the condensate even colder.
The next step is trying out the filter in a real-world experiment.
“Once we had isolated what was causing the heating it was easy to come up with the feedback to correct it,” Hush said. “Results like this are very promising, and make me hopeful that an experimental demonstration of feedback with a BEC may be possible in the near future.”
(Reuters) – A comet’s 5.5-million-year journey to the inner solar system apparently ended during a suicidal trip around the sun, leaving no trace of its once-bright tail or even remnants of rock and dust, scientists said on Thursday.
The comet, known as ISON, was discovered last year when it was still far beyond Jupiter, raising the prospect of a spectacular naked-eye object by the time it graced Earth’s skies in December.
Comet ISON passed just 730,000 miles (1.2 million km) from the surface of the sun at 1:37 p.m. EST/1837 GMT on Thursday. Astronomers used a fleet of solar telescopes to look for the comet after its slingshot around the sun, but to no avail.
“I’m not seeing anything that emerged from the behind the solar disk. That could be the nail in the coffin,” astrophysicist Karl Battams, with the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, said during a live broadcast on NASA TV.”
“It’s sad that it seemed to have ended this way, but we’re going to learn more about this comet,” he added.
At closest approach, the comet was moving faster than 217 miles per second (350 km per second) through the sun’s atmosphere.
At that distance, it reached temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius) – hot enough to vaporize not just ices in the comet’s body, but dust and rock as well.
If the comet or any large fragments survived the close encounter with the sun, they would be visible to the naked eye in Earth’s skies in a week or two.
The comet was discovered last year by two amateur astronomers using Russia’s International Scientific Optical Network, or ISON.
Comets are believed to be frozen remains left over from the formation of the solar system some 4.5 billion years ago.
The family of comets that ISON belongs to resides in the Oort Cloud, located about 10,000 times farther away from the sun than Earth, halfway to the next star.
Occasionally, an Oort Cloud comet is gravitationally nudged out of the cloud by a passing star and into a flight path that millions of years later brings it into the inner solar system. Computer models show ISON was a first-time visitor.
“I hope we see another one soon,” said Dean Pesnell, project scientist for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz in Boca Raton, Florida; Editing by Sandra Maler)
LONDON (Reuters) – Two men tried to behead a British soldier in a “barbarous” killing on a London street, hacking at his body “like a butcher attacking a joint of meat” after running him over, a court was told on Friday.
Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, dragged the lifeless body of Fusilier Lee Rigby, a veteran of the Afghan War, into the middle of the street so horrified members of the public could see what they had done, prosecutor Richard Whittam said at the start of the men’s trial.
They deny what Whittam called a “cowardly and callous murder” by knocking Rigby down with a car as he crossed a street in Woolwich, southeast London, on the afternoon of May 22 before setting upon his unconscious body with a meat cleaver and knives.
“He was repeatedly stabbed and it appears it was Michael Adebolajo who made a serious and almost successful attempt to decapitate Lee Rigby with multiple blows to his neck made with the meat cleaver,” Whittam said.
“They had committed a cowardly and callous murder by deliberately attacking an unarmed man in civilian clothes from behind using a vehicle as a weapon,” he added.
The jury of eight women and four men was told Adebolajo, who was carrying a Koran on the day of the attack, had bought a set of five knives and a sharpener the day before. Whittam said it appeared he had picked up Adebowale, who had converted to Islam at 17, on the morning of the killing.
The court fell silent as the jury were shown closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage of the moment the Vauxhall Tigra car drove at Rigby.
GASPS IN COURT
There were gasps in the courtroom as his body was thrown onto the car’s windscreen. Rigby’s family were among those watching, some close to tears.
Earlier, the court was shown CCTV footage of Rigby, who held a recruiting post and sometimes worked at the Tower of London, walking through Woolwich where his barracks was based.
He was wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with “Help for Heroes”, a military charity, and was carrying a camouflage-patterned rucksack.
Whittam told the court Amanda Bailey had witnessed the car accelerate into Rigby before carrying him down the road and crashing into a road sign. The driver then got out carrying the cleaver.
“He knelt down by Lee Rigby and took hold of his hair. He then repeatedly hacked at the right side of his neck just below the jawline,” Whittam said. “He was using considerable force, bringing his hand into the air each time before he struck.”
Bailey saw him hack nine times at Rigby’s neck, Whittam said. Witnesses Gary Perkins and Gill Hucks called it an “horrific frenzied attack”, he added.
“He (Perkins) saw Michael Adebolajo sawing at the neck of Lee Rigby with a machete and the other man trying to cut bits of the body by hacking away at it,” Whittam said. “He described the actions as being like a butcher attacking a joint of meat.”
Whittam said witness Vikki Cave had heard Adebolajo talking about religion.
He told her: “These soldiers go to our land, kill or bomb our people, so an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” Whittam told the court.
He said all witnesses had reported that Rigby appeared to be unconscious before the knife attack took place.
“She saw that his eyes were open but they looked frozen. He wasn’t moving or making any noise,” said Whittam, referring to Bailey’s account.
The jury were told of the bravery of passers-by including one woman who stroked Rigby’s lifeless body and another who talked to Adebolajo, despite him holding the cleaver and with his hands covered in blood.
The attack took place yards (meters) from a junior school.
Whittam said that after the attack on Rigby the two assailants deliberately waited for the police, scaring off the public by pointing the gun at them.
They tried to attack the armed officers when they arrived, with Adebolajo wielding the cleaver and Adebowale aiming a revolver at them. The gun later turned out to be unloaded. Police shot the two men as Adebolajo closed in on them.
“Had he not been shot it is difficult to think that he would not have succeeded in killing a policeman,” Whittam said.
The pair, who the court also heard used the Muslim names Mujahid Abu Hamza for Adebolajo and Ismael Ibn Abdullah for Adebowale, both deny the murder and attempting to kill a police officer. They have pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm.
They watched silently from the dock, flanked by eight security officers.
The trial is expected to last three weeks.
(Editing by Andrew Roche)
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Police discovered the bodies of 18 men who were abducted from their homes on Friday and shot in the head in a town near Baghdad, the deadliest this year in a spate of execution-style killings across Iraq.
The corpses were found grouped together in an orchard in Meshahda, a predominantly Sunni Muslim area around 32 km (20 miles) north of Baghdad. A senior police source blamed al Qaeda.
Such killings are on the rise in Iraq, alongside a growing insurgent campaign of bomb and gun attacks targeting security forces and civilians.
The victims were taken from their homes early on Friday by men wearing military uniforms and driving around six SUVs, police sources said. Two of the abductors were dressed as army officers.
“It is definitely al Qaeda because this is the area where they are operating,” a senior official in Iraq’s federal police said, declining to be named. The victims may have been chosen because they were seen as supportive of Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government, the source added.
Abductors dressed as soldiers have often carried out such killings in this area north of the capital.
Although al Qaeda-linked militants in Iraq mainly carry out attacks on Shi’ites, they also target fellow Sunnis through kidnappings, killings and extortions.
Security officials, government employees from both sects and government-backed Sunni Sahwa militia members are all seen as prime targets for al Qaeda.
The goal of such attacks “is to weaken the relationship between the people and the security forces,” Ali al-Haidari, an Iraqi security expert, told Reuters.
He said Iraqi authorities refer to such incidents as “silent operations” because they are not aimed at controlling land or confronting security forces head on.
This year has been Iraq’s most violent since 2006-7, when tens of thousands of people died at the height of sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shi’ites.
On Wednesday, police found the bodies of 13 people around Baghdad, the apparent victims of execution-style shootings. It did not appear that Friday’s killings were linked to those earlier in the week.
Among those killed on Friday were a police officer and an army official, the headmaster of a school and a mayor from the neighborhood. The victims also included a Sunni tribal sheikh and his son.
(Additional reporting by Raheem Salman and Suadad al-Salhy, Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)