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Entries in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (7)

Monday
May072012

Al Qaeda Bomb Plot Thwarted; Aimed to Coincide with Bin Laden Anniversary

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. and European officials say that even though an al Qaeda bomber was stopped before he could board a plane for the U.S., the threat is far from over -- there are believed to be several other would-be bombers with similar non-metallic devices that could get through most airport security screening.

Federal officials confirmed Monday that the U.S., working with other intelligence agencies, recovered an explosive device that resembles other bombs manufactured by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They described it as a refinement of the so-called underwear bomb with which AQAP recruit Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to take down Northwest flight 253 to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

This most recent plot was timed to coincide with the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death, but the bomber was apprehended before he could purchase plane tickets or choose a U.S.-bound flight. As ABC News first reported last week, the plot led the U.S. to order scores of air marshals to Europe to protect U.S.-bound aircraft. Flights out of Gatwick Airport in England received 100 percent coverage, according to U.S. officials.

Authorities say no flights were ever actually in danger.

As ABC News detailed last week, al Qaeda bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri, who designed Abdulmutallab's underwear bomb, was again the mastermind of the plot, according to U.S. and other intelligence sources. The latest bomb, according to authorities, was an improved version of Abdulmutallab's bomb, which failed to detonate properly.

The new bomb that was intercepted had what is being called "a highly refined detonation system" and is now being examined by FBI bomb technicians.

"The FBI currently has possession of the IED and is conducting technical and forensics analysis on it," said the FBI in a statement. "Initial exploitation indicates that the device is very similar to [bombs] that have been used previously by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in attempted terrorist attacks."

White House officials said President Obama was briefed on the plot in April by his counter-terror advisor, John Brennan.

Just one week ago, Brennan denied there was any such plot. "There is not credible reporting right now that there is an active plot underway to coincide with the anniversary of the bin Laden takedown," said Brennan then.

On Monday, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council said, "While the President was assured that the device did not pose a threat to the public, he directed the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement and intelligence agencies to take whatever steps necessary to guard against this type of attack."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Sep302011

American Jihadi Samir Khan Killed with Awlaki

Thinkstock/Comstock(SANA'A, Yemen) -- A young American who edited al Qaeda's English-language magazine, and had urged Muslims to mount deadly attacks on U.S. targets, was killed in the same CIA drone strike that eliminated Anwar Awlaki in Yemen Friday, U.S. officials said.

Khan, 25, was the Saudi-born, New York-raised editor behind Inspire magazine, the English language online publication of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.  Khan had become a rising figure in jihadist propaganda and an "aspiring" Awlaki, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

But while Awlaki relied on sermons to recruit jihadis, Khan used sarcasm and idiomatic English in an attempt to appeal to Western youth.  As Khan himself has said, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that I [am] Al Qaeda to the core."  He titled a rebuke of toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak "A Cold Diss."  Khan's ability to use American vernacular, like a graphic depicting graffiti that reads, "Jihad 4 Eva," had prompted concerns that young Muslims with an interest in jihad and al Qaeda would be drawn to a voice similar to their own.

"He does appear to be increasingly involved with operational activities [of Al Qaeda]", a U.S. official told ABC News in 2010.

British officials found copies of Inspire in the apartments of several suspects arrested and charged in connection to a bomb plot in the U.K.  Officials said the suspects were avid followers of both the magazine and Awlaki.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali-American college student charged with plotting an attack on a Christmas lighting event in Portland, Oregon, last year, was in contact with Khan, and wrote articles for him, authorities say.

Mohamud, who was arrested in an FBI sting, is accused of attempting to detonate what he believed to be a car bomb in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square via cellphone during the annual lighting of the Christmas tree, which had drawn a crowd of thousands. The FBI affidavit alleges that Mohamud told FBI agents that he had written four articles since 2009 for two different on-line jihadist magazines edited and distributed by Samir Khan.

Khan had edited seven separate issues of Inspire since launching the publication in 2010, penning such articles as "How To Build A Bomb In the Kitchen of Your Mom." Inspire carried sermons by Awlaki and other jihadi figures, boasted about the failed "printer bomb" cargo plane plot, and paid tribute to Osama bin Laden before and after his death. It outlined various techniques for jihadis to attack Americans within U.S. borders, including using pick-up trucks to mow down pedestrians, how to blow up buildings with natural gas, and how to use an AK-47 automatic rifle. The magazines grew in graphic sophistication with each issue, and Khan seemed to write, edit or design the majority of the content.

In the latest issue, which expressed frustration with Iran for spreading conspiracy theories about 9/11 instead of giving credit to al Qaeda, the editor-in-chief called himself "Yahya Ibrahim," but U.S. officials suspect that's just a pseudonym for Khan.

Khan was born in Saudi Arabia and raised from the age of seven in Queens, New York. He was a normal city teenager who listened to hip hop and wore baggy clothing.

Even before his family relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2004, however, Khan had begun to take an interest in Islam. He ditched his baggy pants for jalabiyas, the long white robes traditionally favored by Saudis. He joined two Islamic groups, but neither espoused violence.

But with the move south, Khan took a turn towards radicalism. In 2004, after watching online videos of suicide bombers blowing themselves up at American military checkpoints in Iraq, Khan began to openly support Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and to express that support on-line.

In 2007, shortly after Osama bin Laden released a communiqué, The New York Times reported that Khan, who had launched a blog called "A Martyr, God Willing" in Arabic, praised the al Qaeda leader, and beseeching Americans to "take his message with great seriousness."

In one of his only interviews, Khan told The New York Times that his favorite online video showed a suicide bomber striking a US base in Iraq.

"It was something that brought great happiness to me," Khan said.

Khan spent years in his parents' Charlotte basement blogging, posting al Qaeda messages, and becoming increasingly radicalized by the war in Iraq. His blog's popularity rose as his rhetoric became more extreme.

In 2009, he started a precursor to Inspire called Jihad Recollections, saying, "We have decided to take it upon ourselves to produce the first jihadi magazine in English." In the third issue, amidst calls for jihad and attacks against non-Muslims, Khan devoted space to a gushing review of a product dear to the hearts of American jihadis and infidels alike, Apple's iPhone 3. According to Khan, iPhone was "quickly becoming a standard as opposed to just another phone. With over 35,000 applications available, it becomes a joke when we hear about the so-called 'iPhone killers'."

According to Oren Segal, a researcher at the Anti-Defamation League who has followed Khan's online rhetoric since 2004, Khan left the U.S. for Yemen in October 2009, which is around the time the fourth and final issue of Jihad Recollections appeared. In Yemen, he launched Inspire, and after his arrival in Yemen, say U.S. authorities, his online efforts had been in conjunction with AQAP.

Inspire's second edition, which was published before the October 2010 printer bomb attempt and included Khan's claim to be "Al Qaeda to the core," featured a photo of the Chicago skyline, which U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials think was a tip-off of the terror group's intention to address the bombs to Jewish targets in Chicago.

"He's a model of what Americans can do in the propaganda sphere," said Segal.  "He's what's next.  His message resonates and appeals to Western audiences."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jul052011

Al Qaeda-Linked Operative Held on US Navy Vessel in Secret for Two Months

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Last April in an operation off the coast of Africa, the U.S. military targeted a senior commander with the Al Shabaab terrorist group who acted as an envoy between al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, holding him in secret until Tuesday, when a federal indictment was announced by the Justice Department.

The man, identified as Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, is allegedly a top leader in the al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia, and has been acting as a go-between with al Shabaab and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  The latter, Yemen-based group was behind the failed Christmas day bombing of a U.S. Airliner in 2009 and a plot to blow up cargo aircraft last year.
 
Warsame has been charged in a nine-count federal indictment filed in Manhattan with conspiracy charges, providing material support to Al Shabaab and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, carrying firearms in furtherance in crimes of violence, conspiracy to teach and demonstrate the making of explosives, and receiving military training from AQAP. 

Warsame was held on a U.S. Navy vessel and interrogated for intelligence purposes since he was detained by U.S. military special forces, who interdicted him as he returned to Somalia from Yemen on April 19, 2011. According to officials, Warsame was flown into the United States late on Monday night, and made a brief court appearance Tuesday after the indictment was unsealed against him.
 
In a statement, Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said, “As alleged, Ahmed Warsame was a conduit between al Shabaab and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- two deadly terrorist organizations -- providing material support to them both.”
 
If convicted of all the charges against him, Warsame could face life in prison.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec072010

Court Rules Executive Branch May Target Anwar Al-Awlaki

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- In a victory for the Obama administration, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the governments' authority to assassinate Anwar Al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen hiding in Yemen.

Awlaki is a member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He has been linked to the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009, the shootings at Fort Hood in Texas by Army Maj. Nidal Hasan and the recent seizure of bomb-making materials in the cargo of two planes.

According to ABC's Martha Raddatz, President Obama himself has authorized the targeted killing of Awlaki in Yemen, where he is believed to be hiding.

Two public interest groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, had filed the suit on behalf of Anwar al-Awlaki's father, Nasser al- Awlaki. They sought a declaration from the court that the Constitution and international law prohibit the government from carrying out targeted killings outside of armed conflict, except as a last resort to protect against imminent threats of death.

But U.S. District Judge John Bates found the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case because it was brought by Awlaki's father, instead of Awlaki himself. Furthermore, the judge agreed with the government that the issue of whether Awlaki poses a national security threat to the United States is best left to the political branches and not the Court.

At a news conference Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Tony West said, "We are pleased with the court's ruling. People need to remember that this really was an unprecedented case in which the plaintiffs were asking a court to review military decisions for the benefit of a leader of a foreign terrorist organization. And as we said when we filed this case, if Anwar al-Awlaki wants to access our court systems he ought to surrender to the authorities and be held accountable for his actions.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Nov212010

Al Qaeda Reveals Cost of Foiled Mail Bomb Plot

Photo Courtesy - ABC News/Handout(WASHINGTON) -- Printer bombs planted on two cargo flights last month cost only a few thousand dollars and were intended to affect the American economy, according to a newly published al Qaeda-affiliated magazine.

The attempt was called "Operation Hemorrhage," boasted the magazine, and the entire plot cost al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, only $4,200.

Yesterday, a special edition of Inspire magazine -- an English-language propaganda publication produced by AQAP -- gave a detailed description of how the attempted attack was conceived and produced.

"Two Nokia mobiles, $150 each, two HP printers, $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses add up to a total bill of $4,200," one article said.  "That is all that Operation Hemorrhage cost us. In terms of time, it took us three months to plan and execute the operation from beginning to end."

The magazine also revealed the attack was not meant to kill more than the plane's pilot and co-pilot, and was meant to force the U.S. government to spend billions of dollars on preventive security screening measures.

The strategy, the magazine said, was "of attacking the enemy with smaller, but more frequent operations is what some may refer to as the strategy of a thousand cuts. The aim is to bleed the enemy to death."

AQAP also took credit for the September crash of a UPS cargo flight in Dubai. However, U.S. and U.A.E. officials have concluded that the crash was not an act of terrorism.

The publication was unusual for the level of detail and candor with which AQAP revealed its attempt and threatened future attacks, said a terrorism analyst who monitors jihadist groups online.

"We have never seen a jihadist group in the al-Qaeda orbit ever release, let alone only a few weeks after, such a detailed accounting of the philosophy, operational details, intent and next steps following a major attack," said Ben Venzke, head of IntelCenter.

"This may represent a new level of interaction by jihadi groups following an operation and is a far cry from the days of shadowy claims and questions as to who was actually responsible."

The magazine also mocked preventive measures taken by Western governments after the attempted attack: "The British government said that if a toner weighs more than 500 grams it won't be allowed on board a plane. Who is the genius who came up with this suggestion? Do you think that we have nothing to send but printers?"

AQAP is largely based in Yemen, where the printer bomb plot was hatched. The group mailed the two printers from Yemen, addressing them to Jewish institutions in Chicago.

Shortly after they were sent, Saudi intelligence was able to learn the tracking numbers and passed the information to U.S. counterparts. The packages were intercepted and disabled in Dubai and England.

The plot itself was not unexpected. The CIA and the White House were aware of 'dry run' attempts in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 29 plot.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Oct312010

Lawyer Says Female Bomb Suspect in Yemen Released, No Charges

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(SANA’A, Yemen) -- Authorities in Yemen have released on bail a 22-year-old female engineering student whose name and phone number were on the shipping documents for the two bombs sent to the United States. A lawyer for Hanan Samawi told ABC News that the young woman had returned home after being held and questioned over the last 24 hours. The lawyer said Samawi's father had been instructed to have his daughter avoid news reporters.

A Yemeni official briefed on the investigation said the suspect "is not allowed to leave the country pending further questioning." The official said the shipping agent who received the packages was called in to identify her and said Samawi "was not the person who signed the shipping manifesto." The official said authorities now believe it is a case of "stolen identity by an individual who knew the detained suspect's full name, address and telephone number."

Her arrest had been trumpeted by the President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, as evidence of its cooperation with the U.S. and others to combat terrorism. But as her fellow students mounted a protest Sunday at a university, her lawyers questioned why anyone involved in the plot would use their real name and phone number to ship a bomb.

President Obama's top anti-terrorism advisor went on ABC News Sunday to warn that authorities are hunting for other packages like the ones containing powerful explosives that were found Friday on UPS and FedEx cargo jets bound for the United States.

"We can't presume that there are none others that are out there," John O. Brennan told ABC News. "What we're trying to do right now is to work very closely with our partners overseas to identify all packages that left Yemen recently and to see whether or not there are any other suspicious packages out there."

Brennan said the U.S. was "very fortunate" to have received help from Saudi Arabia, and that the assistance "saved lives here."

"Once they received the information, they contacted us immediately, and it was a race against the clock to find those packages, to neutralize them," he said. "And so we owe a debt of gratitude to the Saudis. I think their actions really saved lives here."

The administration's decision to publicly identify the Saudis as the source of that critical tip has brought some criticism, though, from Republicans on Capitol Hill. The ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee told ABC News Sunday that the White House was "stupid" to identify Saudi Arabia as the source of the tip that helped foil the Yemen-based terror plot to sent bombs to the United States by UPS and FedEx.

"Why do you finger the Saudis?" Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri said Sunday. "When you identify your sources, you may make it easier for al Qaeda to retaliate. And you may embarrass the Saudis."

Bond said he and others in Congress have more questions about the way American intelligence responded to the potentially deadly terror plot that was foiled Friday. Chief among them is to determine when, exactly, the intelligence community received the detailed tip that enabled them to identify and remove the packages from two cargo jets.

It is a concern, Bond said, that the bombs appear to have traveled aboard at least one passenger flight, and that both packages were able to be loaded on cargo planes without detection.

"There are a whole lot of things that the intelligence community needs to be tying up," Bond said. "When did we know these packages were out there? Why did it take so long for them to intercept it? Were they really directed at a synagogue in Chicago? Or were they going to be detonated in the air?"

Bond singled out Brennan for identifying the Saudis as the source of the information that unraveled the plot. He said it reminded him of Brennan's earlier announcement, after the failed Christmas bomb plot, that American intelligence officials were speaking with members of the suspected bomber's family from Nigeria. "How about drawing a great big bull’s-eye on their back. This is the same thing. Stupid."

Bond said the only possible reason he could imagine for the Saudis wanting to be fingered as the source of the intelligence would be if they wanted to build good will on Capitol Hill. Congress is just now digesting the news announced last month that the administration plans to sell Saudi Arabia up to $60 billion in aircraft, helicopters and other arms.

"If any of my colleagues have doubt that they can be friendly, I suppose this would send a strong signal that they can be friendly," Bond said.

White House officials told ABC News that the decision to identified the Saudis was "coordinated every step of the way with the Saudis, and that they were aware that they'd be named before we did it."

Brennan made the rounds Sunday morning, providing new information about how the plot was unfolding. He told CNN the bombs "could have brought those planes down."

"They were self-contained. They were able to be detonated at a time of the terrorists' choosing," Brennan said. "They were destined for a particular location in the United States and Chicago, but it appears as though they had the capability to be detonated on board that aircraft, and they could have brought those planes down."

Brennan said U.S. officials are working closely with British and Emirati authorities on the construction of the explosives. He told ABC News there are strong suspicions that the bomb maker who constructed the latest devices also made the underpants bomb that failed to explode last year.

He told CNN the devices "seem to be very sophisticated both in terms of the type of construction as well as the concealment techniques that were used. So we're still learning a lot about this plot and we're trying to make sure that we do everything possible to protect air travel as well as the American public and others."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Oct302010

Terror Plot: Explosives Discovered in Packages Bound for US

Photo Courtesy - ABC News/WABC-TV New YorkYemen Says Woman Arrested For Sending Bomb Packages

(WASHINGTON) -- Security forces in Yemen arrested a female suspect Saturday, who the country's President says shipped two bombs hidden in printers to synagogues in Chicago.

Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh made the announcement in Sanaa, the country's capitol, according to reports.

A spokesman at the Yemeni embassy in Washington, D.C. said he could not confirm the arrest.

President Saleh said the woman was taken into custody after Yemeni security forces surrounded a home at an undisclosed location earlier in the day.

The packages were both shipped earlier in the week, one by FedEx and the other by UPS, both destined for Chicago.

The Saudi Arabia intelligence service provided extensive information about the plot including the FedEx and UPS tracking numbers, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

"We were able to identify them by where they were emanating from and package number, where they were located," Napolitano told ABC News.

In Chicago, the Or Chadash synagogue whose members are primarily gay and lesbian Jews said it had been notified it was one of the two targets of the terror plot. Or Chadash shares space with another synagogue, the Emanuel Congregation.

The communications director of Emanuel Congregation told ABC News that she noticed an unusually high number of hits on the temple's website from an IP address in Cairo.

Elsewhere Saturday, US officials continued to check out other packages sent to the United States from Yemen, but said they believed they had contained the immediate plot.

Suspicious packages from Yemen intercepted in Dubai and England tested positive for explosives, according to President Obama, addressing the nation Friday afternoon about what he called "a credible terrorist threat against our country."

"Last night and earlier today," said President Obama, "intelligence and law enforcement officials working with our friend and allies identified two suspicious packages bound for the United States, specifically two places of Jewish worship in Chicago."

The president said that he had "directed that we spare no effort in investigating the origins of these suspicious packages and their connection to any additional terrorist plotting."

The initial intelligence report from Saudi intelligence said there could be as many as 15 bomb packages being sent from Yemen to the U.S.

The initial report came late Thursday night and involved two separate packages shipped from Sanaa, Yemen to Chicago, according to law enforcement officials.

Officials said both packages were stopped midway on their trip to Chicago, one at the East Midlands cargo airfield outside London and the other at the airport in Dubai.

According to sources, the devices were constructed by gutting a toner cartridge and installing a complete improvised explosive inside it -- a detonator, main charge and cell phone initiator. One source gave an initial estimate that 10 to 14 ounces of homemade high explosive were contained in the devices.

Officials believe that the powder may be the explosive PETN, used in the failed plots of the so-called shoe bomber and underwear bomber.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that as a result of the discovery of the packages, "additional measures were taken regarding . . . flights at Newark Liberty and Philadelphia International Airports."

The discovery of the packages led to an international search of cargo planes carrying packages to the United States from Yemen.

Authorities in Newark and Philadelphia searched UPS and FedEx cargo jets on Friday. U.S. fighter jets also escorted Emirates Air flight 201 from Dubai into John F. Kennedy airport in New York City. According to a statement from NORAD, the plane was determined to be "an aircraft of interest."

Gibbs said President Obama was notified of a potential terrorist threat Thursday night by John Brennan, deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism, at 10:35 p.m. "The president directed U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and the Department of Homeland Security, to take steps to ensure the safety and security of the American people, and to determine whether these threats are a part of any additional terrorist plotting."

The president vowed to enhance screening of cargo planes in the U.S., and said he had been in touch with the president of Yemen.

Brennan issued a statement thanking Saudi Arabia "for their assistance in developing information that helped underscore the imminence of the threat emanating from Yemen." Brennan also thanked the U.K. and the United Arab Emirates for their assistance.

There had been conflicting reports about whether either of the two intercepted packages tested positive for explosives. British and U.S. officials initially reported that tests for explosives were negative, but other American law enforcement officials said at least one, possibly both, contained explosives. In a statement late Friday, British officials said only the "suspect package" was "currently being examined."

The package being examined in the UK also included a portion of a cellphone.

British Home Secretary Theresa May said that "a suspect package was discovered during a search of a cargo flight at East Midlands airport." May said the package originated in Yemen and was addressed to a destination in the U.S.

A FedEx official confirmed that a suspicious package shipped from Yemen had been "confiscated" at the FedEx facility in Dubai. Local authorities confiscated the package in cooperation with the FBI.

In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said it was taking steps to enhance air security. "Some of these security measures will be visible while others will not," said the statement.

"The public may recognize specific enhancements including heightened cargo screening and additional security at airports. Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams and pat downs, among others. As always, we remind the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to local law enforcement."

A spokeswoman for the Jewish Federation of Chicago told ABC News the federation was alerted this morning and passed on the alert, advising local synagogues to take security precautions. She also said the group was not one of the targets.

The FBI's Chicago office said that the packages "in question" had been addressed to two Chicago locations, but would not provide further details. The FBI "notified the targeted institutions" by phone this morning, according to a spokesman. The White House said that the synagogue across the street from the president's home in Chicago was not one of the synagogues targeted.

The Anti-Defamation League released a statement that said it had learned from "law enforcement sources" of a reported threat to Jewish institutions in packages shipped from the U.K., Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and that it had sent notice to Jewish organizations across the U.S.

While President Obama did not say that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was behind the apparent bombing attempt, he did note in his afternoon address that al Qaeda's Yemeni offshoot continues to seek ways to attack the United States.

The radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki has repeatedly called for attacks on the U.S. from his base in Yemen.

American officials believe that AQAP has trained hundreds of terrorists whose prime objective is to attack the U.S., including the so-called underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

"Yemen is the home of between 500 and 600 al Qaeda fighters, three or four times the number of al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan," said Richard Clarke, former White House counterterrorism official and now an ABC News consultant. "This is really a place where al Qaeda is operating, where it's strong, where it has training camps, where we know they have trained people and sent them to the United States."

U.S. authorities have now ordered every package shipped from Yemen to the U.S. to be inspected.  

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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