The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with word that Israeli helicopters firing missiles this morning killed Sheik Ahmed Yassin, founder and head of Hamas. He had been one of the Palestinians' most popular leaders, rivaling Yasser Arafat in popularity. At least two bodyguards were also killed and about 15 people wounded. USA Today leads with what in the business is called a "rowback": The paper quotes the top Pakistani intel official in the Afghan border area saying it's really just a "guess" that Ayman al-Zawahiri is holed up among the militants fighting there. The Washington Post leads with follow-up on the disputed elections in Taiwan, where thousands of protestors rallied against what they see as the president's illegitimate win. The head of the country's opposition party, who lost by about two-tenths of one percent, called for a recount and asked the U.S. to push for one as well.
Hamas had always insisted that Yassin was the head of Hamas' "political" division and that he wasn't involved in planning suicide bombings. Still, he often celebrated the attacks in sermons. And as an LAT analysis notes, perhaps more than any other Palestinian, Yassin is responsible for deification of suicide bombers. As the papers note, previous Israeli governments have held off going after Yassin for fear of what might follow.
According to Israeli papers, Hamas released a statement suggesting it will retaliate not only against Israel but also the U.S: "The Zionists didn't carry out their operation without getting the consent of the terrorist American Administration. And it must take responsibility for this crime."
USAT's lead on Zawhiri is a nice corrective, but it also just reiterates what was buried in Friday's papers: Nobody knows where he is. As the Post put it Friday, Pakistani officials had "no specific information on the whereabouts of Zawahiri." Why again did three papers lead with the impending capture "story"?
Everybody notes that Pakistani officials are now pushing for a cease-fire with militants fighting in the border area. The NYT says the "move was clearly prompted by the rising anger of local people." Over the weekend, the Pakistani army killed a family of 12. Pakistani officials also confirmed that at least 14 soldiers are being held hostage. Meanwhile, according to wire reports, militants didn't quiet down and fired rockets a Pakistani army base this morning; it's not clear if there were any casualties.
The papers all go inside with the latest attacks in Iraq: Two U.S. troops were killed in separate incidents, and at least four Iraqis were killed and 10 wounded when guerrillas fired rockets at an upscale neighborhood in Baghdad. The LAT calls it "a rare daytime bombardment of a civilian area."
The WP fronts word that Iraq's two largest militias—the Kurdish peshmerga and the Shiite Badr Brigade—have just about agreed to demobilize.
The NYT goes high with U.S. commanders complaining about the lax delivery of equipmen t to Iraqi security services."We are still short a significant amount of vehicles, radios and body armor to properly equip" them, said the head of the 82nd Airborne. "If we had the equipment for these brave young men, we would be much farther along."The LAT noticed this problem a few weeks ago.
The NYT fronts stats showing that federal welfare rolls have actually declined the past few years despite the recession.
The WP off-leads and others stuff the White House's former top counter-terrorism official saying that the administration made a strategic miscalculation both before and after 9/11 by focusing on Iraq rather than al-Qaida. Richard Clarke, who has served Reagan and every president since and has long been considered a hawk, has a book coming out. And he has stuck it to the White House. As he told 60 Minutes, he thinks Bush has "done terrible job on the war against terrorism."
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice defends the administration in a WP op-ed. Among other things, she writes that the plan to go after AQ was "the first major foreign-policy strategy document of the Bush administration."
Clarke disputesthat, saying his request for a meeting about terror threats was put off for months, and then when finally granted it was with second-tier officials, including Deputy SecDef Paul Wolfowitz. "I began by saying, 'We have to deal with bin Laden; we have to deal with al Qaeda,'" Clarke recalls. "Wolfowitz responded, ''No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.' And I said, 'Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the Untied States in eight years,' and I turned to the Deputy Director of [the] CIA and said, 'Isn't that right?' and he said, 'Yeah, that's right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States.' "
Clarke says Bush's decision to invade Iraq actually hurts the fight against AQ-types since it will create "more terrorists than we jail or shoot." Wrote Clarke, "It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting 'invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.' "