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]

TIME press freedom

Western Journalist Shot Dead in Afghanistan

Swedish journalist Nils Horner.
Swedish journalist Nils Horner. Mattias Ahlm—Sveriges Radio/EPA

Nils Horner, the South Asia correspondent for Swedish Radio, was reportedly shot dead by gunmen in broad daylight—a rare, brazen attack on a foreigner near the city's diplomatic district

A British-Swedish journalist was shot dead in Kabul on Tuesday, in a brazen attack in a busy section of the city that many worry is a harbinger of future security issues in Afghanistan’s capital.

Nils Horner, 52, the South Asia correspondent for Swedish Radio, was killed assassination-style by a pair of gunmen in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, an area populated with embassies, western nongovernmental organizations and journalists, the Washington Post reports. Afghan police said Horner, who was identified by the Swedish embassy, was on his way to visit a Lebanese restaurant Taverna du Liban that was bombed in January, killing 21 people, mostly foreigners.

Horner had spoken to the news desk earlier in the morning, Anne Lagercrantz, head of news at Swedish Radio, told the AP. Upon seeing the news that a foreign journalist had been shot, staffers aimed to contact their colleague by email but received no response. When they called his cell phone, Lagercrantz added, a doctor answered to say Horner was the victim.

Cilla Benkö, the chief executive of Swedish Radio, confirmed initial reports that gunmen shot Horner in the back of the head and fled the scene. Horner was taken to the hospital where he died from his injuries, the Post reports. Afghan police said two suspects had been arrested.

Benkö said Horner always took the appropriate safety precautions in these types of reporting situations. “This was his life,” he said. “He didn’t want to do anything else.”

During an interview in 2011, Horner, who was known for coverage from Afghanistan in 2001, Baghdad in 2003 and Thailand following the tsunami in 2004, elaborated about the risks of radio field reporting: “We don’t feel the same pressure to always be in the middle of a firefight, or something like that, but of course we want to be as close as possible,” he said. “You almost have to sort of, everyday, ask yourself is this worth doing—taking the risk—or is it not?”

Although Kabul has often been the scene of bomb attacks on government buildings, the city has rarely seen such an attack on a civilian in broad daylight, on the edges of an area the Guardian describes as “the heavily fortified diplomatic district.” A Taliban spokesman said the group was not claiming responsibility, but that they would speak with insurgent groups who may have been responsible for Horner’s killing.

[Washington Post]

TIME Tibet

No Self-Immolations by Locals in Tibet, Says Senior Chinese Government Official

Padma Choling, head of China's Tibet Autonomous Region Congress gestures during their open session in the Great Hall of the people at the National People's Congress in Beijing on March 8, 2013 Mark Ralston—AFP/Getty Images

Claim stretches truth as described by human rights groups, independent journalists and pretty much everyone else

Don’t be fooled by all those foreign news reports and incendiary images leaked at the risk of imprisonment. At the National People’s Congress (NPC) annual confab currently underway in Beijing, Padma Choling, one of the highest-ranking Tibetan officials in China, said that no self-immolations by locals have taken place under his watch. Exile groups and human-rights watchdogs say at least 125 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest Chinese state repression.

Most self-immolators have using their final moments of life to call for the return of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who has lived in exile for more than five decades after a failed uprising back home. The Chinese government blames the Dalai Lama for orchestrating the fiery protests, a charge the 78-year-old monk denies.

“None of the 46,000 monks and nuns in Tibet’s 1,700-plus monasteries, nor any local residents, have self-immolated,” said Padma Choling, a former soldier who is the chairman of the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). This is not the highest-ranking political position in Tibet; that top post has never gone to a Tibetan, one of the many power gaps felt keenly by some locals.

Technically, Padma Choling is close to right on the self-immolations. Nearly all of the incendiary acts have taken place not in the TAR that he helps command but in ethnically Tibetan areas of three other Chinese provinces: Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu. And the Tibetan official was careful to stress that no TAR locals were involved, leaving open the possibility of other Tibetans coming to the TAR to self-immolate. At another high-level meeting in Beijing in 2012, Che Dalha, the Communist Party Secretary of the TAR’s capital Lhasa, noted that “only a few cases have happened in the Tibetan Autonomous Region.” Overall, Padma Choling seemed determined to gloss over the situation across the Tibetan high plateau. Locals complain of state-imposed religious restrictions and an influx of migrants from China’s Han ethnic majority, who tend to secure the best jobs.

Padma Choling’s cheery estimation of his homeland isn’t unusual among party officials. At the 2012 Chinese Communist Party Congress, another senior Tibetan official claimed that a nationwide poll had deemed Lhasa the happiest city in China for four years. Since 2008 race riots claimed at least 100 Tibetan and Han lives, Lhasa has turned into perhaps the most militarized city in all of the People’s Republic, with constant checkpoints and security personnel patrolling the streets. Riot gear, armored vehicles, paramilitary forces—is this really what such a happy metropolis should feel like? In its latest human-rights report, the U.S. government said that nearly 90 people had been jailed in connection with the self-immolations. Some were locked up simply for having been related to the protesters.

In recent weeks, the Chinese government’s pr campaign has intensified against the Dalai Lama and other people it occasionally calls “splittists.” The Dalai Lama has for decades advocated a “middle way” that forswears outright Tibetan independence in exchange for meaningful autonomy. On March 10 at the NPC, China’s top political advisor Yu Zhengsheng said that “efforts should be made to help local officials and people get a clear understanding of the nature and danger of the Dalai Lama’s preaching of the ‘middle way’ and ‘high-degree autonomy,’” according to state news agency Xinhua.

Yu’s criticism felt rather feeble compared to other broadsides unleashed by Chinese government representatives. Commenting on the Tibetan spiritual leader’s U.S. tour — during which he met last month with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House — Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang said the encounter “grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs.” Qin went on to assail the Dalai Lama. “Facts have fully proved that the Dalai Lama is by no means a pure religions figure,” he said, “but a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the cloak of religion.” At least that was a tad more polite than when Chinese officials referred to the Tibetan cleric as a “wolf in monk’s robes.”

On March 4, the Dalai Lama led a prayer session at the U.S. Senate. China, again, expressed displeasure. Yet there’s no question that the Dalai Lama’s long decades of exile have not dulled Tibetan reverence for him. His image, technically illegal, often resides in the photos kept on Tibetan cellphones. This month, a memoir by the former guerilla commando who founded Tibet’s Communist Party was published in Hong Kong. The book is entitled A Long Way to Equality and Unity and in it, Bapa Phuntso Wangye (also known as Phunwang), 92, makes an extraordinary plea: He wants the Chinese government to allow the Dalai Lama to return home.

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