TIME U.S. Department of Agriculture

Giant African Snails Seized at Los Angeles Airport

Giant Snails Seized
This photo provided by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows a person using two hands to hold a single snail from an air cargo shipment of 67 live snails that arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on July 1, 2014. Officials said that the 35 pounds of snails arrived from Nigeria along with paperwork stating they were for human consumption. Greg Bartman—AP

The U.S. Department of Agriculture incinerated a package of 67 giant snails from Nigeria that inspectors seized from the Los Angeles National Airport because the snails are prohibited in the U.S.

(LOS ANGELES) — Inspectors at Los Angeles International Airport seized an unusually slimy package — 67 live giant African snails that are a popular delicacy across West Africa.

The snails — which are prohibited in the U.S. — arrived from Nigeria and were being sent to a person in San Dimas, said Lee Harty, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border protection.

The snails were confiscated July 1 and a sample was sent the next day to a federal mollusk specialist in Washington, D.C., who identified them as a prohibited species, Harty said.

The mollusks are among the largest land snails in the world and can grow to be up to 8 inches long. They are native to Africa and can live for up to 10 years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture incinerated the snails after they were inspected, Harty said. The animals are prohibited in the U.S. because they can carry parasites that are harmful to humans, including one that can lead to meningitis.

The snails are also agricultural pests, said Maveeda Mirza, the CBP program manager for agriculture.

“These snails are seriously harmful to local plants because they will eat any kind of crop they can get to,” Mirza said.

The person the snails were destined for is not expected to face any penalties, Mirza said. She said authorities are investigating why a single person would want so many snails.

“We’re investigating what happened, but it doesn’t seem like there was smuggling involved. When someone doesn’t know a commodity is prohibited under USDA regulations there is usually no punishment,” she said.

Although the agency has found one or two snails that may have accidentally gotten into a traveler’s luggage in Los Angeles, this is the first time that they have confiscated the snails in such a large quantity, Mirza said.

TIME Nigeria

All Malala Wants for Her Birthday Is Safe Return for Boko Haram Girls

Calls kidnapped girls her "sisters" during visit to Nigeria

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Girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai met Sunday with parents of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the militant group Boko Haram and pledged again to fight for their safe release.

“I can see those girls as my sisters… and I’m going to speak up for them until they are released,” she told a crowd of parents, Reuters reports. “I can feel… the circumstances under which you are suffering. It’s quite difficult for a parent to know that their daughter is in great danger.

“My birthday wish this year is… bring back our girls now, and alive,” she added.

More than 200 schoolgirls have been missing since they were abducted by Islamist terror group Boko Haram on April 14 as they were preparing to take exams near Chibok, in the northeast region of the country. In the months since the abduction, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been unable to secure their release amid widespread international focus, even as Boko Haram leaders threatened to “sell them in the market.”

Malala, who became renowned as an international advocate for girls’ education after she survived a Taliban assassination attempt, is scheduled to meet with the Nigerian leader on Monday. She turned 17 on Saturday.

TIME Soccer

Nowhere to Go: Chronicling Soccer’s Human Trafficking Problem

Photographer Jason Andrew's "Black Diamonds" reveals the sordid underbelly of the world's most popular sport in Turkey and West Africa

Every four years, the World Cup draws unparalleled attention to soccer and its stars — the “beautiful game” played on its grandest stage for all to see. Far less attention is minded to those whose passion for the game has led to their exploitation.

In his series of photographs “Black Diamonds,” Jason Andrew chronicles the human trafficking of African soccer players from Nigeria to Istanbul by an assortment of scouts and unlicensed agents. These young athletes, largely under-informed and uneducated, are promised the opportunity to realize their dreams of becoming soccer stars — if their impoverished families are willing to pay fees that can exceed $5,000 to send them to Turkey. But instead of using their time in Turkey to kickstart successful soccer careers in top-tier European leagues, the players are typically abandoned shortly after their arrival and forced to fend for themselves in a harsh and unforgiving land.

Since 2011, Andrew has followed the journeys of these young men, many of whom end up destitute and desperate for whatever work they are able to find. Some have returned home to West Africa, more have remained in Turkey, sharing apartments and jobs with others lured north under false pretenses, but very few have found even a fraction of the glory and riches once promised.

The problem is a growing one. Jean Claude Mbvoumin of the Foot Solidaire group, a charity whose goal is to protect young African soccer players, estimated that as many as 15,000 soccer-playing African youths were emigrating under what can only be described as the falsest of pretenses, and that number shows no sign of shrinking. Nearly every day more of these young players arrive in Turkey, just as their predecessors’ visas expire.

“Black Diamonds” highlights a few of these exploited players, tracking their attempts to fulfill the dreams that had once been promised them — the same dreams that others have been living at this summer’s World Cup. For these exploited soccer players, however, the path forward is far less certain.

All photographs by Jason Andrew.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia Is Becoming a Global Hub For Internet Scams Preying on the Lovelorn

IAC Will Turn Match Dating Service Into a Separate Business
The Match.com website is displayed on laptop computers arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The ease of obtaining visas, opening bank accounts and arranging money transfers are all part of Malaysia's newfound criminal appeal.

Lax student visa regulations and a high-tech banking system has made Malaysia a global hub for Internet scams, according to U.S. officials, with money being swindled out of unwitting Americans and Europeans by racketeers prowling online dating sites.

The conmen typically hail from Nigeria or Ghana and dupe lonely, middle-aged men and women from the U.S. and Western Europe through matchmaking services like Match.com, reports Reuters. A dozen new cases are reported to the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur every week, with scam complaints forming four-fifths of new work for duty officers.

“This is a serious issue hurting many Americans financially and emotionally,” said a U.S. embassy spokesperson. “We would hope that through publicity more Americans would be made aware of these scams.”

While most Internet users have received — only to swiftly mock and discard — some crude Nigerian scam emails, these tricksters are more sophisticated, and slowly build trust as a budding romance ripens. Then the request for money comes, normally a relatively small amount at first; but once the hooks are in, the victim struggles to turn down subsequent heftier demands without admitting to having been hoodwinked.

“Some victims find it very hard to break away from the relationship, even when they’ve been told it’s not real,” says Professor Monica Whitty, an expert on Internet fraud psychology. “So the criminal admits to scamming the victim but says that they also fell in love with them at the same time, and they get back into the same scam.”

But it is not just lovelorn Americans who are being swindled; other foreign embassies in Kuala Lumpur are dealing with similar complaints, reports Reuters. Whitty says that at least 500,000 U.K. citizens have fallen prey to such “sweetheart scams” since the phenomenon was first reported around 2007.

Slightly more men than women are duped by fraudulent lovers, but men are less likely to seek recompense out of embarrassment.

“Some people mortgage their houses to pay these criminals,” Whitty says, “but often the devastation they feel is more about the loss of the relationship than the money — of realizing they’ve been duped.”

And worryingly, such scams appear to be growing more common; last year, U.S.-based IT security developer SOPHOS ranked Malaysia as sixth globally in terms of cyber crime threat risks, as the total cyber crime bill topped $300 million. The ease of obtaining visas, opening bank accounts and arranging money transfers are all part of the nation’s criminal appeal.

“Scammers are increasingly using targeted social engineering attacks against their victims due to the extremely high success rate,” Ty Miller, an Australian security expert and founder of Threat Intelligence, tells TIME. “This not only affects individuals, but also organizations.”

Awareness and technology are key to tackling this scourge, says Miller, who is running a fraud-prevention course in Kuala Lumpur in October. “Techniques can be deployed that allow malicious individuals to be tracked,” he says, “which as time goes on will build intelligence to unveil the identity of the perpetrators.”

Amirudin Abdul Wahab, CEO of CyberSecurity Malaysia, an agency under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, says all involved nations must share information and jointly investigate cases according to agreed procedures and technical processes.

“Various authorities from the various countries involved should work together rather than blaming each other,” he said by email. “These countries need to synergize their efforts, in order to effectively address this scam problem.”

TIME Africa

Report: More Than 60 Nigerian Girls Escape Boko Haram Captors

NIGERIA-UNREST-BLAST
People gather near burned vehicles by the crowded Monday Market in Maiduguri, Nigeria, on July 1, 2014 AFP—Getty Images

The daring escape comes after days of heavy fighting in northeast Nigeria

More than 60 girls and women kidnapped in northeast Nigeria last month by suspected Islamist militant group Boko Haram have reportedly fled their captors.

Their escape was confirmed to news agency AFP by a high-level though unnamed security source in the restive Borno state.

A local vigilante, Abbas Gava, also said he had “received an alert from my colleagues … that about 63 of the abducted women and girls had made it back home.”

More than 200 schoolgirls abducted in April are still being held by Boko Haram, which seeks to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the country’s north.

The development follows Friday’s clashes between Nigerian soldiers and Boko Haram militants in Borno. At least 50 insurgents were killed as the Nigerian military repelled an attack on its military base in the town of Damboa, said the Defense Ministry on Saturday.

Six Nigerian soldiers, including the commanding officer, died during the fighting, said Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade.

An officer who requested anonymity told the AP that the raid appeared to be a reprisal attack by Boko Haram after the Nigerian military carried out devastating air strikes 24 hours earlier.

[AFP]

 

TIME World Cup

The 16 Best Photos From the World Cup’s Round of 16

The celebrations, the heartaches, and the sometimes gravity-defying saves and goals that made this leg of the tournament all pins-and-needles

TIME

Car Bomb Explodes at Market in Northeast Nigeria

BAUCHI, Nigeria — A car bomb exploded Tuesday in a market in Maiduguri, the northeast Nigerian city that is the birthplace of Boko Haram Islamic extremists, reducing stalls, goods and vehicles to piles of trash. Dozens of people are feared dead, witnesses said.

Witnesses blamed Boko Haram extremists who are accused of a series of recent bomb attacks in the West African nation.

Tuesday’s explosives were hidden under a load of charcoal in a pickup van, according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Trader Daba Musa Yobe, who works near the popular market, said the bomb went off just after the market opened at 8 a.m., before most traders or customers had arrived.

Stalls and goods were reduced to debris as were the burned-out hulks of five cars and some tricycle taxis set ablaze by the explosion.

Yobe said security forces cordoned off the area but had a hard time keeping people out, though they warned there could be secondary explosions timed to target rescue efforts.

Witnesses said they saw about 50 bodies. They said the toll may be worse but fewer than normal traders and customers were around because most people stay up late to eat during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting from sunrise to sunset.

A security official at the scene confirmed the blast, saying many casualties are feared. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the press.

Explosions last week targeted the biggest shopping mall in Abuja, Nigeria’s central capital, killing 24 people; a medical college in northern Kano city, killing at least eight; and a hotel brothel in northeast Bauchi city that killed 10. It was the third bomb blast in as many months in Abuja, and the second in two months in Kano. In May, twin car bombs at a marketplace also left more than 130 dead in central Jos city and killed at least 14 people at a World Cup viewing site in Damaturu, another town in the northeast.

Maiduguri, a city of more than 1 million people, has suffered many attacks. In March, twin car bombs killed more than 50 people at a late-night market where people were watching a football match on a big screen.

Boko Haram has attracted international attention and condemnation since its April abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from a northeastern town.

Nigeria’s military announced Monday night that it had busted a terrorist intelligence cell and arrested a businessman who “participated actively” in the mass abduction that caused outrage around the world.

It was unclear if the first arrest of a suspect in the kidnappings could help in rescuing at least 219 girls who remain captive. Boko Haram is threatening to sell the girls into marriage and slavery if Nigeria’s government does not exchange them for detained insurgents.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade said in a statement that businessman Babuji Ya’ari belonged to a vigilante group fighting Boko Haram and used that membership as cover “while remaining an active terrorist.”

He said information yielded by Ya’ari’s detention had led to the arrests of two women — one who worked as a spy and arms procurer and another described as a paymaster.

Boko Haram has adopted a two-pronged strategy this year of bombings in urban areas and scorched-earth attacks in northeastern villages where people are gunned down and their homes burned.

On Sunday, suspected extremists sprayed gunfire on worshippers in four churches in a northeastern village and torched the buildings. At least 30 people were reported killed there.

The extremists have been attacking with more frequency and deadliness in recent months.

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday condemned the recent attacks. A statement said “The president assures all Nigerians once again that the federal government and national security agencies will continue to intensify ongoing efforts to end Boko Haram’s senseless attacks until the terrorists are routed and totally defeated.”

The inability of the military to curb attacks has brought international criticism, with the United Nations noting the government is failing in its duty to protect citizens. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement Monday “reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to support Nigeria as it responds to this challenge in a manner consistent with its international human rights obligations.”

TIME World Cup

World Cup Kisses Goodbye to Africa

FBL-WC-2014-MATCH54-GER-ALG
Algeria's defender and captain Madjid Bougherra gestures to the crowd after losing their Round of 16 football match against Germany following extra-time at Beira-Rio Stadium in Porto Alegre during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 30, 2014. Gabriel Bouys—AFP/Getty Images

Nigeria and Algeria made World Cup history with tenacious performances

(RIO DE JANEIRO) — Nigeria and Algeria made World Cup history for Africa and now leave with their heads held high.

Despite tenacious resistance, Africa’s last representatives were sent home on Monday by France and Germany.

Those two former champions will next play each other on Friday in Rio de Janeiro. That quarterfinal means Europe is guaranteed at least one semifinalist in this World Cup that has smiled on the Americas, supplier of eight of the last 16 teams.

With exceptional saves, goalkeepers again starred both in France’s 2-0 win over Nigeria and Germany’s 2-1 marathon against an Algerian team whose bravura has been among the many revelations of this surprise-packed tournament.

This was Algeria’s first taste of World Cup knockout football, having never advanced from the group stages in three previous attempts.

Germany needed extra time to win after both teams failed to score in two absorbing halves, and it let Abdelmoumene Djabou get a goal back in the dying seconds, doing little for the three-time champion’s credentials as a favorite to lift the trophy again on July 13.

France, winner in 1998, looks the sharper of the two. Germany’s tactics of pushing players forward and leaving a large chunk of defending to goalkeeper Manuel Neuer would almost certainly undo it against a stronger attack.

Other highlights of another dramatic day at one of the best World Cups in memory included:

—France’s Paul Pogba scored the 146th goal, pushing the tally from this tournament beyond that of South Africa in 2010, with 10 matches still to play.

__The goal total climbed to 150 by the end of Monday’s two games, after an own-goal from Nigerian captain Joseph Yobo that sealed France’s win, extra time strikes for Germany from Andre Schuerrle and Mesut Ozil, and Djabou’s consolation goal. If the current average of more than 2 goals per game holds through to the final, Brazil could finish with the highest goals total of any of the 20 World Cups. The total to beat is 171, scored at France 1998.

—Luis Suarez confessed. Having previously denied that he bit Giorgio Chiellini, the disgraced Uruguay striker reversed course, apologized to the Italy defender and to “the entire football family” via Twitter and vowed that his third ban for biting would be his last.

Chiellini quickly tweeted back: “It’s all forgotten. I hope FIFA will reduce your suspension.”

Suarez is serving a four-month ban for what FIFA’s disciplinary panel ruled was a “deliberate, intentional” and unprovoked bite in Uruguay’s 1-0 group stages win against Italy. Without Suarez, Uruguay promptly lost 2-0 to Colombia in the last 16.

—Facebook said it passed the 1 billion mark in World Cup interactions. No other single event has generated this much activity in Facebook history.

Before Brazil, Africa never had two teams make the knockout stage at the same tournament. Like Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010), the Nigerians were hoping to reach their first quarterfinals after twice stalling at the last 16.

And with goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama flying like Superman, it seemed for a long while that the Nigerians might do it.

The Super Eagles sank claws into France in the first half, with tough physicality viewed leniently by U.S. referee Mark Geiger. In Paris, an ocean of fans watched on a giant outdoor screen at Paris City Hall. Encouragement even came from the famed Orsay museum, which is tweeting photos of blue-themed artworks to encourage Les Bleus. After Edgar Degas’ “The Blue Dancers” on Sunday, Monday’s choice was Lucien Levy-Dhurmer’s “The Inlet.”

France had the best first-half chances and squandered them. Pogba fired a right-footed, taekwondo kick-like volley straight at Enyeama. Brazilian TV’s speed trap clocked the ball at 87 kilometers (54 miles) per hour off the midfielder’s foot.

After Enyeama got a hand to Karim Benzema’s second-half header, tipping it over his crossbar, the French striker kicked one of the posts in frustration.

In South Africa, goalkeepers complained of strange swerves from the ball and there were epic mistakes from Brazil’s Julio Cesar and England’s Robert Green.

But Brazil is becoming a gallery for their art.

Against Germany, Algeria’s Rais Mbolhi somehow got fingertips to a pile-driver off the right foot of German captain Philipp Lahm and stopped a point-blank header from Thomas Mueller.

At the other end, Neuer dug himself out of a goal-mouth scramble and then hoofed an extraordinarily accurate kick up-field to Schuerrle, who couldn’t capitalize on the chance, failing to wriggle free of an Algerian marker. Neuer also showed great athleticism and anticipation haring out of his box against Algerian attacks.

The acrobatics prompted a tweet of admiration from Gary Lineker, top scorer at the 1986 tournament for England: “The quality of goalkeeping at this World Cup has been extraordinarily high.”

Enyeama will rue his mistake that led to the French breakthrough. He flapped at Mathieu Valbuena’s corner. The ball flew kindly to Pogba, who stepped away from Yobo, his marker, to coolly head it in.

When the ball bounced off Yobo’s leg to make it 2-0 for France, Paris crowds erupted with waving flags, raised fists and lusty renditions of the anthem, “La Marseillaise.” With each additional victory, the team is winning forgiveness for the disgraceful strike by players at the last World Cup.

“This team is a pleasure to watch,” French President Francois Hollande purred on Twitter.

Germany, less so. But if it finally hits top gear next Friday, their quarterfinal could be a classic.

TIME Nigeria

Nigerian Pop Star Offers Her Virginity to Boko Haram for Kidnapped Girls

In a recent interview, the singer offered herself to free the girls, because she is more "experienced"

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A Nigerian pop singer told the country’s Vanguard newspaper that she would offer up her virginity to the Islamist group Boko Haram in exchange for the safe return of about 300 girls who were kidnapped about two months ago in the Nigerian town of Chibok.

“I wish I could offer myself in exchange,” said up-and-coming pop singer Adokiye Kyrian.

“They are between 12 and 15 year old girls for Christ sake. I am older and more experienced. Even if 10 to 12 men have to take me every night, I don’t care. Just release these girls and let them go back to their parents,” the singer reportedly said.

After news broke of the girls’ disappearance, an international social media campaign under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls spread globally, in an attempt to bring attention to the young women’s mass kidnapping.

TIME Nigeria

Explosion Rocks Mall in Nigerian Capital

Nigeria Explosion
Rescue services work at the scene, after an explosion at a shopping mall in Abuja, Nigeria on June 25, 2014. Olamikan Gbemiga—AP

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — An explosion rocked a shopping mall in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Wednesday and police said at least 21 people have been killed.

Witnesses said body parts were scattered around the exit to Emab Plaza, in Abuja’s upscale Wuse 11 suburb. All spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Billows of black smoke could be seen from a mile (kilometer) away.

“I heard the explosion and (felt) the building shaking,” said Shuaibu Baba, who had a narrow escape. He said he rushed downstairs to find that the driver who had dropped him a few minutes earlier was dead. “I asked the driver to come with me, and he said ‘No,’ he would wait for me in the car.”

Police Superintendent Frank Mba said 17 people were wounded and 21 bodies were recovered.

He also said one suspect has been arrested and investigations have already started.

The blast came as Nigerians were preparing to watch their country’s Super Eagles come up against Argentina at the World Cup in Brazil. Many shops at the mall have TV screens but it was unclear if the explosion was timed to coincide with the match, which started an hour later.

One witness said he thought the bomb was dropped at the entrance to the mall by a motorcyclist, but Mba said it was too early to say.

It is the latest in a series of violent attacks blamed on Islamic extremists. Nigerian security forces appear incapable of curtailing the near-daily attacks concentrated in the northeast, where Boko Haram extremists have their stronghold.

Abuja is in the center of Nigeria and the militants have spread their attacks to the capital. Two separate explosions in Abuja in April killed more than 120 people and wounded about 200 at a busy bus station. Both were claimed by Boko Haram, which has threatened further attacks.

A bomb at a medical college in northern Kano killed at least eight people on Monday. Last week, at least 14 died in a bomb blast at a World Cup viewing site in Damaturu, a state capital in the northeast. In May, twin car bombs in the central city of Jos left more than 130 people dead; and a car bomb at a bus station killed 24 people in the Christian quarter of Kano, a Muslim city.

Boko Haram attracted international condemnation for the April mass abductions of more than 200 schoolgirls, and is blamed for this week’s abductions of another 91 people — 31 boys and 60 girls and women with toddlers as young as 3.

Nigeria’s military and government claim to be winning the war in the 5-year-old insurgency but the tempo and deadliness of attacks has increased this year, killing more than 2,000 people so far compared to an estimated 3,600 killed over the past four years.

Abuja residents were urged “to remain calm and go about their normal business,” by government spokesman Mike Omeri who issued a statement saying that security agencies are “handling the situation.”

He said that “every step is being taken by the government to check the activities of insurgents in the country and advised Nigerians to remain vigilant and conscious of movement of unidentified people.”

Boko Haram wants to install an Islamic state in Nigeria, a West African nation whose 170 million people are almost equally divided between Muslims who are dominant in the north and Christians in the south.

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