February 18, 2013

Seven foreigners kidnapped in Nigeria. Car bombs hit Shiite areas of Baghdad killing dozens. I'm Ray Kouguell reporting from Washington.

Seven foreign construction workers were kidnapped and one Nigerian guard was killed during an attack on a police station, a prison and an international construction company in northern Nigeria's Bauchi State. Heather Murdock reports.

No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. Boko Haram, a northern Nigerian Islamist militant group, is known for targeting prisons and police stations.

But some locals say they believe the perpetrators were motivated by money, not extremism.

Bauchi State police spokesperson Hassan Muhammed Auyo: "The investigation is ongoing to track where the fleeing suspects or the victims are. Police are making a frantic effort to ensure that we get there and ensure them, God willing."

Boko Haram is a shadowy militant group that has been blamed for more than 3,000 deaths since it began its insurgency in 2009.

Heather Murdock for VOA news, Abuja.

A number of car bombs exploded in predominantly Shiite districts of Baghdad, killing about 30 people and wounding around 100 others.

Sunday's attacks struck a series of outdoor markets in and around Iraqi capital. There is no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings.

International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is urging Syria's government and the opposition to meet on UN premises to discuss a political solution to the two-year rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad. Speaking Sunday in Cairo, Mr Brahimi said a UN-hosted dialog between the Syrian opposition and an acceptable government delegation would help Syria to start emerging from what he called its "dark tunnel."

Bahrain's Interior Ministry says it's dismantled an alleged terrorist cell following widespread clashes in the Gulf nation during protests marking the second anniversary of an Arab Spring-inspired uprising.

The ministry says it arrested eight members of a suspected terrorist network who received training and financial support from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.

Israel's Mossad spy agency is at the center of a scandal that's testing relations with Australia. VOA's Robert Berger has details.

Australia is demanding information from Israel on the mysterious death of an alleged Mossad spy who held dual Australian Israeli citizenship. The man known as prisoner X reportedly committed suicide in an Israeli prison two years ago. Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has ordered an investigation into the case and his department will issue a report.

The case has caused an uproar in Australia and Israel. Questions have been asked as to how someone could commit suicide while under 24-hour surveillance at a high security prison.

Robert Berger for VOA news, Jerusalem.

Australian media reports prisoner X hanged himself while in solitary confinement after Israel accused him of treason.

Conservative Cypriot leader Nico Anastasiades will have to face leftist rival Stavros Malas in a run-off vote next week after failing to win a sufficient majority in a first round of the presidential poll.

Final results Sunday showed that Anastasiades won about 45 percent of the vote, almost 20 points ahead of Malas. The independent, Giorgos Lillikas, was close third with about 25 percent.

Cyprus has been caught in a financial crisis aggravated by the situation in neighboring Greece.

A Tibetan man died after setting himself ablaze in what is the latest in a series of self-immolation protests against Chinese rule in Tibet. Witnesses told VOA's Tibetan Service, the 49-year-old man set himself on fire Sunday evening outside of a cinema in northwest Gansu province.

The governor of Pakistan's Baluchistan province is lashing out at the country's security forces for failing to prevent Saturday's bombing that killed at least 80 people and wounded more than 100.

Provincial Governor Zulfiqar Magsi says even though Pakistan's security forces have a free had to deal with extremist groups, they have been unable to pre-empt attacks such as Saturday's, which was in a crowded market area.

A huge crowd filled St Peter's Square at the Vatican to hear Pope Benedict give his weekly Sunday prayer. He asked the thousands there to pray for him and the pope who'll succeed him. Pope Benedict will step down February 28.

On Saturday, the Vatican said it's considering holding the conclave to elect a new pope earlier than scheduled. Cardinals were planning to meet beginning on March 15 to choose a new pope.

I'm Ray Kouguell, VOA news. There is more on the Internet at voanews.com.