November 30th, 2008
09:55 AM ET

Attacks: A first-hand account

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The Hindu

A. Vaidyanathan , eminent economist and a member of the Central Board of Directors of the Reserve Bank of India, was in his room in the heritage wing of Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace and Towers when the terrorists struck on the night of Wednesday, November 26. After his return to Chennai, he spoke to The Hindu on his experience. Here is his first-person account, given to Meera Srinivasan in Chennai on Friday:

I was there for a meeting on the 26th. The meeting was in the afternoon. They usually put me up at the Taj, so I went there. Some of my friends, whom I normally spend time with, were not in town. So I decided to stay back in the room. I ate in the room and was just watching cricket.

Then at 9.30 p.m., things began popping. My room was in the second floor of the Palace, very close to the stairwell of the central dome. That’s where the thing apparently started. It went padapadapda...single shots and then bursts of fire. I was wondering why they were bursting crackers. There was no particular celebration at that time, there was no festival. And certainly inside the Taj wasn’t the place.


Filed under: India • India Attacked
November 29th, 2008
02:09 PM ET

Melamine in baby formula – in the U.S.

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caption="Worries over melamine in infant formula started in China and have spread to the United States."]
Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Correspondent

Silly journalists.

By now, you’ve probably heard that the Food and Drug Administration found the chemical melamine in baby formula in the United States. Yes, that’s the same toxic stuff that killed at least three babies in China, and sickened around 50,000 more.

Parents, understandably, are freaking out. So starting on late Tuesday afternoon, when the story broke that melamine had been found in a sample of infant formula made in the U.S., I had the silly thought that the Food and Drug Administration might actually have some information up on its Web site to help sort this all out for parents.

But nothing went up on the FDA’s Web site until Friday afternoon. For three days, the FDA had loads of information up about melamine in Chinese infant formula and in pet food from earlier incidents, but not a single syllable about this potentially deadly chemical in the formula we feed our babies right here in the United States.

“What’s up with that?” I asked FDA Spokeswoman Judy Leon, who was kind enough to answer her cell phone on Thanksgiving Day. “Is something wrong with my eyes? Is it there and I’m just not seeing it?”

No, said Leon, there was nothing wrong with my eyes. The site was indeed devoid of any information on the topic during those three days. “What can I tell you?” she said, sounding resigned. “I have nothing to say about that.”

Here are the basic facts about melamine in U.S. baby formula: the FDA has test results back on 74 samples of infant formula and so far it has found trace amounts of melamine in a sample of Nestle’s Good Start Supreme Infant Formula with Iron. They also found trace amounts of a related compound, cyanuric acid, in a sample of Enfamil LIPIL with Iron, made by Mead Johnson. In addition, Abott Laboratories found trace levels of melamine in a sample of its formula, Similac, according to the Associated Press.

Leon at the FDA says these low levels of melamine – monumentally lower than what was in the Chinese formula - pose “absolutely no risk” to babies. Pediatricians I’ve spoken with concur. “To have these tiny amounts in infant formula is of negligible concern,” says Dr. Harvey Karp, author of “The Happiest Baby on the Block” and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine. “The dictum in toxicology is that the dose makes the poison.”

Click here to read what the FDA posted on its site Friday:

For the FDA's test results on infant formula made in the US, click here:

Filed under: baby formula • Elizabeth Cohen • Medical News • melamine
November 29th, 2008
08:35 AM ET

The man who blew up America's closets

Andrew O’Hehir

For me and for anybody else who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s, the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone on Nov. 27, 1978, came as the second half of a traumatic double whammy - a regionally and culturally specific version of 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. As I remember it, I was standing in the hallway outside the journalism office at Berkeley High School, talking to a couple of friends on the paper. (I was the editor.) We may well have been talking about stories we were working on in the aftermath of the so-called Jonestown massacre, the mass murder-suicide of more than 900 people, including quite a few with connections to our city and our school, that had happened just nine days earlier in the Guyanese jungle.

Someone came into the hall and told us what had just happened a few miles away, on the other side of the bay. A black-and-white TV was dragged out of the closet, plugged in and kicked around for a while until we could find a station. One of my friends took out a pencil and wrote on the wall: "11/27/78: Milk and Moscone just GOT SHOT!!" I guess he was blogging without knowing it. That scribble stayed there unmolested until after we graduated.

Thirty years later, almost to the day, and after a bewildering number of fits and starts with various directors and actors, the story of pioneering gay politician Harvey Milk - a crucial strand, but not the only strand, in that chaotic autumn of 1978 - reaches us as a major feature film, with Sean Penn in the lead role and Gus Van Sant behind the camera. There are an awful lot of things to say about "Milk," and it's a film that, for anyone who knows the history of these events, will bump into a bunch of questions it isn't remotely equipped to answer.

"Milk" was never going to be just another movie, and in a season marked by the simultaneous election of our first black president and the enactment of a gay-marriage ban in California, it's in danger of becoming primarily a symbol or a statement, and not a movie at all. (For instance, there is an announced boycott of Cinemark theaters showing the film, because of the chain owner's purported anti-gay politics.) But let's say the simplest things first: This is an affectionately crafted, celebratory biopic about a sweet, shrewd, hard-assed, one-of-a-kind historical figure. And they can just FedEx the Oscar to Sean Penn's house right now, so that we don't have to listen to his acceptance speech.


Filed under: Andrew O'Hehir • Film
November 28th, 2008
08:57 PM ET

Trampled to death in a Wal-Mart stampede

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caption="A Wal-Mart employee at this Long Island location was killed in a rush early Friday morning."]
Gabriel Falcon
AC360 Writer

Jdimypai Damour began the day working part-time at a Wal-Mart mega-store in Valley Stream, New York. His job was to stand by the entrance doors - marked with a sign saying "BLITZ LINE STARTS HERE" - as the crush of early-morning holiday bargain-hunters began their frenzied Black Friday shopping.

Damour never made it home alive. The 34-year-old man from Queens, New York was crushed to death, a victim of a massive stampede of people pouring into Wal-Mart. One detective described the scene to CNN, calling it “utter chaos as these men tried to open the door this morning.”

Police officers who arrived to tend to Damour reportedly couldn’t even break through the mob to get to Damour. As the man lay dying on the ground, men and women continued to trample over him, fixed on gifts and deals, seemingly ignoring his plight or refusing to help.

In a statement, Wal-Mart said, "We are saddened to report that a gentleman who was working for a temporary agency on our behalf died at the store and a few other customers were injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families at this difficult time."

A video camera caught pictures of the police trying to rescue Damour with CPR. Please be cautious: the video can be disturbing.

Damour's death is tragic. He was an innocent man. But was a crime committed? A law broken? Authorities investigating this disturbing story have not filed any charges at this point. One officer told the New York Times that Wal-Mart “could have done more.”

What do you think?

Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Gabe Falcon
November 28th, 2008
08:55 PM ET

Flash bang in Mumbai – Counter terrorist tactics

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caption="A commando in disguise give details of what went down in the Taj hotel when commandos went in."]
Ken Robinson
Security analyst & former military intelligence officer

Many reports from Mumbai cite gunfire and "grenade" explosions coming from the 5-Star Taj Mahal hotel, the scene of previous terrorist attacks.

It is very possible the gunfire and explosions are actually "room clearing" tactics used by Counter Terrorism forces as they clear rooms.

The tactic of choice is to use what's known as a Flash Bang Simulator, which creates a loud, explosive shock wave, enabling the CT forces to enter a room dynamically, gain a tactical advantage, and overwhelm anyone barracaded inside.

Filed under: India Attacked • Ken Robinson • Terrorism
November 28th, 2008
06:42 PM ET

Hunting for the Mumbai killers

Paul Cruickshank
NYU Center on Law and Security

Editor’s note: This article was published today in The Guardian of London. Don't miss Cruickshank on tonight's show.

India’s commercial and cultural capital has been witnessing a terrorist attack whose ambition and scope has led seasoned observers to call it “India’s 9/11″. But just who was responsible? Shortly after the attacks started, several Indian newspapers reported receiving messages from an unknown group calling itself “Deccan Mujahedeen” and claiming responsibility for the attacks. Could this unknown group be responsible? The answer is almost certainly no.

The nature of the attack – something akin to scores of heavily armed terrorists storming the Waldorf Astoria and Ritz Carlton in New York City and then going on a shooting rampage through Times Square and the Upper East side – suggests months of painstaking logistical and operational planning. Only an established militant group would have had the ability to carry out such an attack. The Deccan Mujahedeen is not such a group.

If capability and track record are anything to go by, it is likely that the attack was either carried out by Indian Mujahedeen, an indigenous Indian militant group or a Kashmiri militant group with ties to al-Qaida such as Lashkar e Toiba, or some combination of the two.

Indian Mujahedeen first emerged as a terrorist threat in India exactly a year ago when it launched attacks in the north of India. Since then it has carried out about a half dozen attacks across the country, most recently launching an attack on a market place in New Delhi in September. Its signature tactic has been to set off multiple explosive devices simultaneously in crowded public spaces such as market places and buses. Hundreds have died in these attacks. Indian Mujahedeen has not to date carried out the sort of brazen armed attack seen in Mumbai in the last days. But it does appear to have had some access in the past to RDX, a military high explosive, which has reportedly now been discovered in Mumbai. On September 23 Mumbai police arrested five suspected Indian Mujahideen leaders in the Mumbai area and found a quantity of RDX in their possession. Also found in their possession was a large amount of ammunition, including ammonium nitrate rods, detonators and sub machine guns.


Filed under: India Attacked • Paul Cruickshank • Terrorism
November 28th, 2008
05:55 PM ET

Inside the Oberoi: One survivor's story

Watch Canadian Jonathan Ehrlich describe his harrowing and narrow escape from the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai.

Filed under: India Attacked • Jonathan Ehrlich • Terrorism
November 28th, 2008
04:43 PM ET

Mumbai witnesses text message reporter

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caption="Two of the hostages freed after police stormed the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai."]
Program note: See Sara Sidner's full report during special CNN coverage of the Mumbai attacks, tonight, 7-9p ET.

SARA SIDNER, CNN Correspondent: I'm just getting a text message from four Americans who have been inside this hotel from Chicago who we have been talking to throughout this 42 or 43-hour ordeal now. They have apparently been taken out. They have made it out and they are well.

The family is writing me, and they are very happy. And so, we should say that that group of four people who are calling and saying we're running out of water - sorry, they made it out and so the family is very happy.

CAROL COSTELLO, American Morning Contributor: Oh, you're so emotional about this. You've established a relationship with the family in Chicago then and have been texting them often, right?

SIDNER: Yes. Over the past few hours, I text them "are you OK," because I heard all of the loud bangs. As I was coming from my hotel, I had taken down for a few hours and was feeling quite guilty that I wasn't out here watching the situation. And when I got back, I got a text from one of their family members in Chicago saying we have gotten a text from them. They say they are out. They've been led out, and they are safe. Just a few moments ago, I got a text saying, "We are safe."

Read more about how Sara Sidner stayed in contact with the Mackoff family while they were trapped in the Taj Mahal hotel for 48 hours during the Mumbai attacks.

Filed under: India Attacked • Sara Sidner • Terrorism
November 28th, 2008
04:07 PM ET

Who attacked India, and why?

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caption="A commando during the operation at the Jewish center."]
Program note: See Peter Bergen's full report during special CNN coverage of the Mumbai attacks, tonight, 7-9p ET.
Peter Bergen
CNN National Security Analyst

It was an al Qaeda-influenced attack with western targets, British targets, American targets, Jewish targets, multiple coordinated attacks. In terms of who could have done this, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials that I've been speaking with recently, they don't think that this could be just simply a local indigenous group.

We have seen numerous terrorist attacks in India, of course, and in Bombay. But some of the attacks in Bombay - one of the counterterrorism officials I talked to pointed to the '93 attack in Bombay which killed 250 people, multiple attacks, was coordinated according to the U.S. government by a guy called Daoud Ebraham (ph). Now Daoud Ebraham (ph) is an Indian gangster with strong links to Pakistan.

He's believed to be living in Karachi right now, Karachi, Pakistan, the large port city where it is possible that the ship came from that delivered the terrorists, so that's one angle I'm sure investigators are going to be looking at. A significant Kashmir militant group conducted a similar operation to what we've seen in Bombay against the Indian Parliament back in December of 2001 where numerous gunmen was sent into the Parliament on a de facto suicide mission, shot up the Parliament. It nearly brought India and Pakistan to war in 2002, perhaps the intent again with these recent attacks to kind of inflame tensions between these two long-time rivals.


Filed under: al Qaeda • India Attacked • Peter Bergen • Terrorism
November 28th, 2008
04:03 PM ET

The economy rolls on – between the holiday and terrorism

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caption="Discount hunters hit a J.C. Penney store at 4 a.m. Friday at the Columbia Mall in Grand Forks, N.D."]
Andrew Torgin
CNN Business News Producer

Stocks were up again today – the Dow jumped another 102 points. They’re on their best winning streak since April, posting a fifth straight gain in a row.

Gas prices fell again, about a penny to a national average of $1.84 a gallon. That’s the 72nd consecutive decrease. AAA says the last time the national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was near the current price was January 21, 2005, when the average was $1.835. Seven states have regular unleaded gas prices of $2 and higher; 43 states have prices below $2.

Crude was down about $1 this morning, around $53 a barrel, as a gloomy outlook for global crude demand overshadowed hopes OPEC will announce a production at an informal meeting Saturday in Cairo. Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez on Wednesday called on OPEC to cut production by 1 million barrels a day.

We’ll be looking at what a potential production cut by OPEC may mean for oil and gasoline prices.


Filed under: Andrew Torgan • Economy
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