TIME India

Indian Maoists Massacre 16 Police Officers During Ambush

An injured Indian CRPF personnel is taken to a hospital at Raipur
An injured Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel is taken to a hospital at Raipur in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh March 11, 2014. Reuters

Attack in restive state comes a month before nationwide elections

Sixteen Indian police officers were killed in an ambush by an estimated 200 Maoist rebel fighters in Chhattisgarh state on Tuesday.

“The attack sparked a gun battle that lasted about three hours,” Rajinder Kumar Vij, who heads anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh, told the AFP.

The gun battle occurred near to where a convoy of members from India’s ruling Congress Party was targeted by Maoists last May, which resulted in the deaths of 24 people.

The brazen assault on state security forces in the restive state comes just over a month before India is set to begin nationwide elections.

Maoist insurgents have been battling the central government for more than four decades and have been described as one the greatest threats to India’s internal security by outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

[AFP]

TIME Aviation

The Missing Malaysian Plane: 5 Conspiracy Theories

Women are silhouetted as they watch a Malaysia Airlines jet taxi on the tarmac at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Women are silhouetted as they watch a Malaysia Airlines jet taxi on the tarmac at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, March 11, 2014, in Sepang, Malaysia. Wong Maye-E—AP

The tragic disappearance of flight MH370 has spawned an unlikely assortment of conspiracy theories -- from supernatural intervention to the influence of the illuminati.

The reason why a Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 239 people disappeared on Saturday is still as mysterious as when the plane first lost radar contact. While fears of terrorism began to fade when it was revealed Tuesday that one of the infamous stolen passports was held by a 19-year-old Iranian asylum seeker with no terrorist ties, search teams now have even fewer explanations for what might have happened. When asked where the plane could be, air traffic controller Izhar Bahari at Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation told TIME, “We’ve made no progress, we don’t have a clue.”

In the absence of any definitive answer, conspiracy theorists have emerged with explanations of their own, however implausible. While there’s no credible evidence to support these theories, here are the ones getting the most attention:

1. Eerie cell phones rings could mean passengers’ phones are still on—or inhabited by ghosts. Relatives and friends of the plane’s passengers said they were able to find their loved ones on a Chinese instant messenger service called QQ, reports the Washington Post. Others tried calling the vanished passengers’ phones and heard ringtones even though the calls were not picked up. Many thought the phones might still be on, and more than 100 of them signed a petition to the Malaysian government to hurriedly investigate.

That led more suspicious observers to fire off rounds of irrational theories. Did the mysterious ringing indicate the passengers had been kidnapped and are still alive somewhere? Or was it the supernatural at work?

2. An otherworldly portal could have sucked up the flight.“If we never find the debris, it means some entirely new, mysterious and powerful force is at work on our planet which can pluck airplanes out of the sky without leaving behind even a shred of evidence,” said one blogger. Was it an alien abduction? others ask.

3. The flight’s disappearance was predetermined and perhaps written into the very fabric of the universe. Reddit is rife with commenters fixated on the numerical coincidences of the flight’s disappearance. “Interesting numerology,” said one Reddit user, RedditB. “Flight 370 disappears on 3/7 while reportedly traveling 3,700 km. Flight 370 flew at an altitude of 37,000 feet when it was last reported using flight tracking software. Luigi Maraldi, age 37, was one of the individuals whose passport was stolen. Malaysia Airlines is one of Asia’s largest, flying nearly 37,000 passengers daily. As of today, we are beginning the 37th month since the Fukushima tragedy, which is located on the 37th degree and initially caused 37 injuries at the plant.”

4. The North Koreans hijacked the jet. Others have argued the jet was hijacked by North Koreans and flown to Pyongyang. One Reddit user, Nickryane, claims the plane had enough fuel to fly to North Korea and remain within cell phone range. The dictatorship hijacked a jet in 1969, so Kim Jong-un would be pulling an old card out of the deck.

5. The Illuminati did it. One guess points to the supposed vortex energy points on the earth’s surface that Illuminati “and/or ancient aliens” who can control the energy grid. Commenters and bloggers emerged to point to occultists and nefarious shadowy figures who helped down the plane.

While the absence of a distress signal has helped such conspiracy theories abound, it does not rule out the very real possibility that the jet exploded at a high altitude and disintegrated. It’s a terrifying prospect because it would mean no trace of the jet will be found, and that the search for the plane is in vain.

“The fact that there was no distress signal is very disturbing,” Ross Aimer, an aviation consultant, told Al-Jazeera. “It’s almost unprecedented.”

TIME Iran

‘I’m Safe’: Last Status Update of Teenager on Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight

Pouria Nourmohammadi, a 19-year-old Iranian aboard Flight MH370 with a stolen passport who was planning to reach Germany, wrote "I'm Safe" on Facebook hours before the plane vanished over the weekend

The last status update Pouria Nourmohammadi posted on his Facebook page indicated he was “feeling excited.” The 19-year-old Iranian had good reason to be: he was embarking on the first leg of a flight that would ultimately take him to Germany where his mother was waiting to help him begin a new life.

But his journey was tragically interrupted. His flight, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing early Saturday morning with all 239 people on board. Nearly four days later, no trace has been found of the Boeing 777 in spite of a massive search operation conducted by at least nine countries.

Nourmohammadi had earlier hinted he would be going on a long, life-changing trip. “Because of some problems I will deactivate my account. Friends, seriously, if I’ve done any of you a bad turn, forgive me because maybe …” he posted on his Facebook page on Feb. 24.

It was only when he started posting pictures of himself in Malaysia at popular Kuala Lumpur landmarks like the Petronas Towers that some of his friends realized he had left Iran.

“So you’ve gone as well?” wrote one on March 4. “Will you ever return?”

“No,” replied Nourmohammadi.

The revelation that two Iranians had boarded the Malaysian jetliner with stolen passports raised suspicions of hijacking or terrorism. However this was played down by authorities on Tuesday. Ronald Noble, secretary general of Interpol, said at a press conference that Nourmohammadi and 29-year-old Seyed Hamid Reza Delavar were “probably not terrorists.”

The head of the Malaysian police force, Khalid Abu Bakar, also said on Tuesday that after having been in touch with Nourmohammadi’s mother in Frankfurt, he believed the teenager had been trying to reach Europe as an asylum seeker. Because of dire economic circumstances as well as restrictions on social freedoms at home, some Iranian youth opt to make such risky trips. Many of them must use illegal methods, usually involving human-trafficking rings. Nourmohammadi had left Iran with his official passport, but apparently used a stolen Austrian passport when he arrived in Kuala Lumpur.

Until a few weeks ago, Nourmohammadi’s Facebook page seemed much like that of any other 19-year-old. It has posts on cars, girls and video clips of youth poking fun at those in authority. But as he approaches his departure from Iran, his posts turn more cryptic, the youthful cheerfulness dims. Nourmohammadi knew he was taking a big risk: he asked friends to pray for him the night before he left. After he went through Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s passport control, he posted: “Thanks to all of those who prayed for me, I’m safe.”

When news broke that he was on Flight 370, the comments started pouring in on his Facebook page.

“If only he would post exactly the same message again,” said Tannaz Nasr yesterday, commenting on his “I’m safe” post.

“I’m waiting for a miracle,” commented Shaqayeq GT today.

“I don’t know you, but I wish from the bottom of my heart that you will return to your family,” said Vahid Ajami.

Some of those who commented made clear they saw Nourmohammadi as a victim. “If you are no longer in this world then you are at last free my son … damn those who forced you to flee your home,” wrote commenter Mojgan Shahnazi on Nourmohammadi’s picture in front of the Petronas Towers.

TIME Turkey

Turkish Protests Erupt After Teenager in Coma Dies

Last June in Istanbul, Berkin Elvan, then 14, went out to buy bread for his family. He didn’t return. Elvan got caught between skirmishing police and anti-government protesters and was hit by a tear gas canister. He slipped into a coma and became a rallying point for those opposed to reigning Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled the country for over a decade but faces calls for his resignation amid corruption scandals and mounting public frustration with his heavy-handed governance. When Elvan died this Tuesday, protesters once again took to the streets and clashed with security forces.

TIME Aviation

Malaysian Military Says Missing Jet Went Wildly Off Course

Students Pray For Passengers Onboard MH370 In Zhuji
Students from an international school in the eastern Chinese city of Zhuji hold a candlelight vigil for the passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane on March 10, 2014 ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

A Malaysia Airlines plane that went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with hundreds on board showed up on military radar hundreds of miles from the spot where it was last seen on civilian scopes, a signal that it veered wildly off course before disappearing

The missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane showed up on military radar hundreds of miles away from where it lost contact with civilian authorities before vanishing Saturday, a Malaysian air-force official said Tuesday.

Air-force chief General Rodzali Daud said a military base near the Strait of Malacca detected Flight MH370 in the early morning hours at the northern approach of the busy international waterway, the Associated Press reports.

“After that, the signal from the plane was lost,” Rodzali said.

The search for the flight, which originated in Kuala Lumpur with 239 people aboard, has been widened to include the Malacca Strait. Earlier search efforts had been focused along the eastern coast of Malaysia and Vietnam, the last area to which civilian officials tracked it. The search for the mysteriously missing plane has stumped authorities thus far.

[AP]

TIME Mexico

Mexico’s Craziest Drug Lord ‘Died’ Twice and Used to Dress as God

Military personnel and federal policemen guard an area where the dead body of Mexican drug lord Nazario 'El Chayo' Moreno Gonzalez remains, in Apatzingan, Mexico, March 9, 2014.
Military personnel and federal policemen guard an area where the dead body of Mexican drug lord Nazario 'El Chayo' Moreno Gonzalez remains, in Apatzingan, Mexico, March 9, 2014. EPA

Mexican authorities confirmed killing the leader of the Knights Templar cartel, Nazario Moreno, a mysterious drug lord who was part mobster, part evangelical cultist. He also claimed to espouse Christian values and wrought Old Testament justice on rivals

When drug lord Nazario Moreno was a child sharing a shack with his 11 brothers and sisters, alcoholic father and violent mother, he took refuge reading the cult Mexican comic book Kalimán. In the stories, the superhero Kalimán defeats his enemies using martial arts and telepathy while reciting one-liners of wisdom. Later, when Moreno became a millionaire meth trafficker, he authored his own book of “wise” phrases, which are strikingly similar to those of Kalimán. His life story also became as surreal as that of a comic book; he commanded a bloodthirsty cartel that he called the Knights Templar, dressed up in white robes (as did Kalimán), and faked his own death at the hands of federal police.

But the tale of Moreno, alias “The Maddest One,” reached the final chapter last weekend, when Mexican soldiers really did appear to shoot him dead as he celebrated his 44th birthday. The take-down of Moreno was another victory for President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose government also oversaw the recent arrest of trafficker Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman. “Today we are observing a Mexican state with better capabilities and strengths,” Pena Nieto said Monday following Moreno’s death. “Important criminals from different organizations have been arrested and been stopped.”

For thousands in Mexico’s western Michoacán state, the suffering under Moreno’s tyranny was no comic book adventure. Knights Templar gunmen kidnapped, extorted and raped, dumping severed heads in village squares and on disco dance floors. Confronted with this terror, Michoacán residents rose up in vigilante militias and drove the gangsters out of towns, pressuring the army to take action. Vigilantes and soldiers finally closed in on Moreno’s mountain hideouts last week, cornering him on a highland ranch. His death, confirmed with photos and fingerprints, was an embarrassment for former President Felipe Calderon, under whom federal police claimed to kill Moreno in 2010. On that occasion, police said Moreno’s gunmen escaped with his body.

As the vigilantes further ground away at the Knights Templar, bizarre details of Moreno’s cult-like leadership emerged. Moreno’s followers venerated the drug lord as a saint and kept statues of him in medieval armor decorated in gold and diamonds. Some had copies of his book of phrases, entitled Mis Pensamientos (“My Thoughts”) or of a memoir entitled Me Dicen el Más Loco; El Diario de Un Idealista (“They Call Me the Maddest One; Diary of an Idealist”), which TIME had access to.

In the autobiography, which was self-published and distributed exclusively inside the cartel, Moreno describes growing up so broke that refried beans were a luxury and he thought the rich drunk Coca-Cola instead of river water. The comic Kalimán was an inspiration to escape from this, he writes. “My brother and I dreamed of being great characters, helping the people and bringing justice to the poor.”

At the age of 16, Moreno describes leaving Michoacán to sneak into the United States, which he refers to as “gringo-landia.” He soon sold marijuana from San Jose to the Indian reservations of Humboldt County and guarded the safe-houses of more experienced traffickers. When African American and Chicano dealers threatened Moreno, he says he was quick to fight back with a knife or a gun, earning his “maddest one” nickname. This propensity to rumble eventually led him to being beaten repeatedly in the head, giving him permanent brain injuries, including hallucinations, making him even more loco.

Moreno also confesses to suffering alcohol problems like his father. He finally escaped his angry drunken ways, he says, when he discovered evangelical Christianity through Latino preachers in the United States and began to read and pray obsessively. But rather than leaving crime, he brought his religious beliefs into it. Returning to Michoacan, he built a meth-trafficking cartel that also claimed to espouse righteous Christian values and wrought Old Testament justice on rivals. They identified with the Knights Templar, a medieval crusader order of brave and holy warriors.

An agent for Mexico’s federal anti-organized crime division says the memoir is authentic and largely corresponds to facts police had already established about Moreno’s life. The agent, speaking to TIME on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to give public statements, says that Moreno probably believed his own propaganda, but also saw the quasi-religious elements as a way to discipline his troops. Quizzed about Moreno’s alleged death in 2010, the agent says that federal police really believed they had killed him in a firefight. Moreno then took advantage of their claims, pretending to be dead while encouraging his followers to venerate him.

As the vigilante militias have reclaimed towns from the Knights Templar, they have recruited many of Moreno’s old henchmen over to their side. These former templarios also offer insights into the drug lord’s rule. In the town of Antunez, a man named Hilario confessed that he was a gunman for three years for the Knights Templar before joining the vigilantes in January. He describes going on a week-long course in which they studied Moreno’s writings. At the end, Moreno came to speak to them clad in white robes. “He was dressed as God. His balls went too far up into his head,” scoffs Hilario, who served time in a U.S. prison for cooking meth. Hilario also describes guarding a meeting with Moreno and one of his lieutenants: “He would suddenly flip. One second he was talking about religion and the next he was ordering a hit on somebody.”

Other vigilantes suffered the brutality of Moreno firsthand. A lime farmer in Antunez named Elias described how Knights Templar thugs kidnapped him for failing to pay extortion quotas and held him for three days in the mountains. After he was beaten on the lower back with a wooden board, he said that he saw Moreno coming into the room. “Every time I remember his face I remember my pain and my anger,” says Elias, while carrying a Kalashnikov and scouring the hills for Templar gunmen.

Despite the cruelty of his cartel, Moreno insisted in his writing he was a social fighter. As well as claiming to be Christian, he hails Latin American revolutionaries such as Emiliano Zapata and Che Guevara. Moreno argues that drug trafficking is a result of Mexico’s unequal system that gives the poor no opportunities. “They say that each society has the government it deserves,” Moreno writes. “I would also say that each society and government have the criminals that they deserve.”

TIME europe

Spain Mourn Victims of Madrid Train Bombings 10 Years Later

SPAIN-ATTACKS-CEREMONY-VICTIMS
Local Police wait to lays flowers during a commemoration ceremony in held in the Rememberance Garden of Madrid's Retiro Park on March 11, 2014 JAVIER SORIANO—AFP/Getty Images

Spaniards remember the 191 people killed and 2,000 injured in the terrorist attacks

Spaniards dressed in black and gathered in the Almudena Cathedral on Tuesday to mourn and mark the 10-year anniversary of the deadly 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid, when bombs ripped through four commuter trains and killed 191 people.

“The anniversaries affect you a great deal,” Antonio Gomez, who was on a train and broke his leg when a bomb detonated, told AFP. “It is a strange feeling, of pain, of sadness, of rage. It’s a mixture of many feelings at the same time. Rage because we were just workers riding a train. We were not important personalities, people with a lot of money, we were regular people. What do regular people have to do with politics? We were going to work to earn money to raise our families and live decently.”

King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy joined in the commemoration.

While many use the anniversary as a day of remembrance, Gomez was avoiding reminders of the “Dantesque” wreckage and mutilation: “On the 11th I will probably go to the cinema or watch the children’s station Disney Channel,” he said.

[AFP]

TIME europe

Crimea Moves to Become an Independent State

A pro-Russia supporter waves a Crimean flag at Chongar checkpoint blocking the entrance to Crimea
A Russia supporter waves a Crimean flag at Chongar checkpoint blocking the entrance to Crimea on March 10, 2014 Alisa Borovikova—AFP / Getty Images

Lawmakers in the Crimea region of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops voted to declare their peninsula an independent state if its residents vote in favor of splitting from Kiev in a referendum being held this weekend

Lawmakers in the contested Crimea region of Ukraine voted on Tuesday to declare the peninsula an independent and autonomous state if residents vote in favor of splitting from Ukraine in a coming referendum.

The local parliament adopted a “declaration of independence of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea” if residents voted in favor of leaving Ukraine. The state would be “a democratic, secular and multiethnic state,” read the declaration, in an apparent move to ease concerns over ethnic divisions within Crimea. The move may also be an attempt to ease tensions over Russia moving to annex Crimea, and instead allow the Black Sea peninsula to exist as a self-proclaimed state.

Meanwhile, Russian troops have continued to tighten their control over the Crimea region in the run-up to Sunday’s referendum. And on Wednesday, Ukraine’s parliament will be voting on a motion to mobilize its Interior Ministry troops into a national guard “to defend the country and citizens against any criminals, against external and internal aggression.” All flights to the airport in Crimea were suspended on Tuesday except for those from Moscow, AFP reports.

TIME South America

Venezuelan Student Leader Killed in Anti-Government Clashes

Clashes between anti-government protesters and state security forces have resulted in the death of student leader

A student leader was fatally shot in the chest Monday night in the Venezuelan university city of San Cristobal, as protests continue to rock the country.

The mayor of the city, Daniel Ceballos, said the student, Daniel Tinoco, had been killed after dark, although he did not say who might be responsible, the Associated Press reports. The incident came after a full day of street clashes between both peaceful and violent protesters and the Venezuelan security forces.

Anti-government sentiments have run hot in San Cristobal, where for the last month there have been on-going protests against escalating inflation, high murder rates and short supplies of basic goods. Venezuelan National Guardsmen fired teargas and plastic shotgun pellets at the demonstrators.

Ceballos accused the government forces of reacting disproportionately, claiming that “where the government sees paramilitaries, in truth there are just citizens who are defending themselves.”

[AP]

TIME europe

Ousted Ukraine Leader Says He’s Still In Charge

Viktor Yanukovych said he plans on returning to Ukraine and called the current government a “band of ultranationalists and neo-fascists"

Ukraine’s ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych said Tuesday that he remains the country’s legitimate leader and commander-in-chief, and accused the new government of fomenting a civil war.

Speaking from the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Yanukovych, who fled from Ukraine in February following months of anti-government protests, branded the new government a “band of ultranationalists and neo-fascists,” Reuters reports. The fugitive leader said we would be returning to Ukraine “as soon as circumstances allow”—despite there being an arrest warrant issued against him for the alleged “mass murder of peaceful civilians.”

Yanukovych said he would appeal to armed forces to defy any “criminal orders” handed down by the new government. “I am certain the officers and soldiers of Ukraine… know what your are worth and will not carry out your criminal orders,” he said.

This is the second time the ousted president has spoken out since his removal on Feb. 22. Yanukovych also said the contested region of Crimea was “breaking off,” and repeated the Russian claim that Ukraine’s authorities were too accommodating to radical nationalists, potentially pushing Ukraine toward a civil war.

[Reuters]

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