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FTR #739 Turkish Taffy, Part 3

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Gamaa al Islamiya: Check out the "Moderate" in the middle

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MP3 Side 1 [2] | Side 2 [3]

Introduction: This broadcast concludes a long series of programs, enfolding coverage of the WikiLeaks phenomenon with the coups and uprisings in the Middle East. (This complicated, deep analysis is synopsized in FTR #737 [4].) Assessing Egypt, Libya and other countries affected by the “youthquake” in the Middle East, the broadcast analyzes the alleged “moderation” of the Islamist forces looming on the political horizon.

After reviewing the Al-Qaeda links [5] of the Libyan fighters [6] enjoying NATO  support, the program highlights the growing presence of Muslm Brotherhood terrorist outcroppings on the Egyptian political scene.

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Wael Ghonim: Is he an Islamist?

Brotherhood offshoot Gamaa al Islamiya [8] has been particularly visible in the wake of the Piggy-Back Coup, featuring convicted assassins [9] of Anwar Sadat recycled as “democrats.”

Other terrorist elements who may benefit from the turmoil include al-Qaeda-linked elements [10] in Yemen and Hezbollah [11].

A significant feature of the program concerns developments in Turkey. Billed as “moderates” and seen as a role model for emerging Islamist movements in the Middle East, the regime of Mr. Erdogan has seen the rise of the Gulen forces–again billed as “moderates.” Being investigated by the FBI [12] for activities, the Gulen elements have apparently forged links inside of the Turkish secret police.

Program Highlights Include: The opinion that Egyptian Islamists want a secular government that will fail, ushering them into power in the wake of popular disillusionment; Egyptian uprising figure Wael Ghonim’s founding [13] of an apparently Islamist website; Turkish security forces’ destruction of a book [14] revealing Gulen penetration of that country’s police and intelligence establishments; a WikiLeaks “disclosure” about Mossad links with Bahrain [15] and other Middle Eastern countries experiencing upheaval–a fact that may well polarize the populations of those countries and lead to war with Israel.

1. Turning to the subject of the Libyan conflict, the program reviews the fact that NATO fighters are helping forces aligned with al-Qaeda.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, Mr al-Hasidi admitted that he had recruited “around 25” men from the Derna area in eastern Libya to fight against coalition troops in Iraq. Some of them, he said, are “today are on the front lines in Adjabiya”.

Mr al-Hasidi insisted his fighters “are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists,” but added that the “members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader”.

His revelations came even as Idriss Deby Itno, Chad’s president, said al-Qaeda had managed to pillage military arsenals in the Libyan rebel zone and acquired arms, “including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries”.

Mr al-Hasidi admitted he had earlier fought against “the foreign invasion” in Afghanistan, before being “captured in 2002 in Peshwar, in Pakistan”. He was later handed over to the US, and then held in Libya before being released in 2008. . . .

“Libyan Rebel Commander Admits His Fighters Have al-Qaeda Links” by Praveen Swami, Nick Squires and Duncan Gardham; The Telegraph [UK]; 3/25/2011. [5]

2. More on the Libyan fighter/al Qaeda link:

America is now at war to protect a Libyan province that’s been an epicenter of anti-American jihad.

In recent years, at mosques throughout eastern Libya, radical imams have been “urging worshippers to support jihad in Iraq and elsewhere,” according to WikiLeaked cables. More troubling: The city of Derna, east of Benghazi, was a “wellspring” of suicide bombers that targeted U.S. troops in Iraq.

By imposing a no-fly zone over Eastern Libya, the U.S. and its coalition partners have effectively embraced the breakaway republic of Cyrenaica. As you can see on the map above, Libya is a mashup of three historically distinct provinces. As recently as the 1940s, Cyrenaica was an independent emirate, with its capital in Benghazi.

The emnity between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania runs deep. The Emir of Cyrenaica awkwardly cobbled together modern Libya and ruled as its monarch. This is the same king that Qaddafi deposed in his coup of 1969. And the Qaddafi regime has seen the former king’s homeland as a threat ever since, as this Wikileaked cable from our Tripoli embassy explains:

Eastern Libya had suffered … from a lack of investment and government resources, part of a campaign by the al-Qadhafi regime to keep the area poor and, theoretically, less likely to develop as a viable alternative locus of power to Tripoli.

Another cable reports that the disrespect is mutual:

Residents of eastern Libya … view the al-Qadhafa clan [Qaddafi’s tribe] as uneducated, uncouth interlopers from an inconsequential part of the country who have “stolen” the right to rule in Libya.

That’s the background. Flash forward to 2008: A West Point analysis of a cache of al Qaeda records discovered that nearly 20 percent of foreign fighters in Iraq were Libyans, and that on a per-capita basis Libya nearly doubled Saudi Arabia as the top source of foreign fighters.

The word “fighter” here is misleading. For the most part, Libyans didn’t go to Iraq to fight; they went to blow themselves up — along with American G.I.’s. (Among those whose “work” was detailed in the al Qaeda records, 85 percent of the Libyans were listed as suicide bombers.) Overwhelmingly, these militants came “from cities in North‐East Libya, an area long known for Jihadi‐linked militancy.” [UPDATE: West Point’s Combatting Terrorism Center refused to comment on its own report.]

A WikiLeaked cable from 2008 explained that Cyrenaicans were waging jihad against U.S. troops as “a last act of defiance against the Qadhafi regime.” After the U.S. normalized relations with Qaddaffi in 2006, Cyrenacians believed they no longer had any shot at toppling him:

Many easterners feared the U.S. would not allow Qadhafi’s regime to fall and therefore viewed direct confrontation with the GOL [Government of Libya] in the near-term as a fool’s errand…. Fighting against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq represented a way for frustrated young radicals to strike a blow against both Qadhafi and against his perceived American backers.

The epicenter of Libyan jihadism is the city of Derna — the hometown of more than half of Libya’s foreign fighters, according the West Point analysis. The city of 80,000 has a history of violent resistance to occupying powers — including Americans, who captured the city in the First Barbary War.

A surprisingly readable cable titled “Die Hard in Derna” makes clear that the city “takes great pride” in having sent so many of its sons to kill American soldiers in Iraq, quoting one resident as saying: “It’s jihad — it’s our duty, and you’re talking about people who don’t have much else to be proud of.”

“U.S. Bombs Libya, Helps . . . Jihadists?!”; Rolling Stone; 3/21/2011. [6]

3. In Yemen, the passing of the old order may weaken U.S. counter-terrorism capabilities.

Counterterrorism operations in Yemen have ground to a halt, allowing al-Qaida’s deadliest branch outside of Pakistan to operate more freely inside the country and to increase plotting for possible attacks against Europe and the United States, U.S. diplomats, intelligence analysts and counterterrorism officials say.

In the political tumult surrounding Yemen’s embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, many Yemeni troops have abandoned their posts or have been summoned to the capital, Sanaa, to help support the tottering government, the officials said. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s affiliate, has stepped in to fill this power vacuum, and Yemeni security forces have come under increased attacks in recent weeks. . . .

“Unrest in Yemen Is Seen as an Opening to a Branch of al-Qaida” by Eric Schmitt [New York Times]; San Jose Mercury News; 4/4/2011. [10]

4. The media darling of the Egyptian uprising–Google marketing executive Wael Ghonim–set up what appears to be an Islamist website (albeit a relatively “modern” one). A graduate of American University in Cairo (at which Muslim Brotherhood-linked elements embrace the economic theories of Ibn Khaldun [16]), Ghonim is alleged to have developed one of the most popular websites [17] in the Arab World.

Is Ghonim an Islamist? Is he Muslim Brotherhood?

We may be fairly confident that the driving elements behind what we have termed “the Piggy-Back Coup [18]” will doubtless assure us of the “moderate” nature of the site and its contents. An English version of the website (perhaps edited for Western consumption) is available here [19].

. . . 1998–2002 – Helped in the launch of one of the most visited websites in the Arab world (http://www.islamway.com [17]) . . .

“Wael Ghonim”; Wikipedia.org. [13]

5. The forces of Gamma al Islamiya–a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot that assassinated Anwar Sadat and executed the Luxor massacre of 1997–is joining the “moderation” dance in Egypt. (Gamma al Islamiya is also tied to Sheikh Rahman, convicted in connection with the first World Trade Center attack.)

Nageh Ibrahim once spoke of slaying infidels and creating an Islamic state that would stretch from the Nile Delta to the vast deserts of Egypt’s south. Today he lives in a high-rise with a view of the Mediterranean Sea and has the soothing voice of a man who could lead a 12-step program on rejecting radicalism.

Ibrahim’s group, Gamaa al Islamiya, plotted notorious attacks, including the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat and the massacre at an ancient Luxor temple that killed 62 people, mostly tourists, in 1997. He spent 24 years in jail reading the Koran and tempering the rage of his youth.

“We were young and we took extreme measures. But now we’re old men and our time in prison has made us wiser,” he said. “Al Qaeda and Islamic militancy have lost their glamour. Look at what has happened. The young saw that violence didn’t bring change to Egypt, a peaceful revolution did.”

Ibrahim is one of an increasing number of ultraconservative and moderate Islamists seeking a political voice in a new Egypt. Since the downfall in February of President Hosni Mubarak, who for three decades kept religion far from the center of power, the Islamist message is unshackled. The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition party, expects a strong showing in September’s parliamentary elections.

The secular reformers and twentysomething urbanites at the vanguard of the Jan. 25 revolution have found themselves eclipsed. They lack experience and grass-roots networks to compete with the Brotherhood and other religious groups that have quietly stoked their passions for this moment. In a sense, Mubarak’s obsession with both co-opting and crushing Islamists instilled in them the discipline and organization that now propels their political agendas. . . .

“Islamists in Egypt Seek Change through Politics” by Jeffrey Fleishman; Los Angeles Times; 4/2/2011. [8]

6. An article from the Asia Times highlights an interesting possibility–that Muslim Brotherhood in
Egypt (and elsewhere?) wants a secular government in place to fail, and thus prepare the way for an Islamist government.

There are already signs that women, Coptic Christians and other, previously oppressed/marginalized segments of Egyptian society are on the receiving end of violent repression.

In an ironic twist, the referendum and the declaration pitted the old enemies – the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) – against the liberal youth movement.

The liberals were particularly disappointed by the ICD, pointing out that the declaration includes 80% of the old constitution, including ”an outdated socialist quota” stipulating that half of the seats in the parliament are reserved for workers and farmers. A lot of ambiguity remained concerning when and by whom a more permanent constitution would be drafted, and what that would look like. ”Any modification or amendment of the current constitution will not achieve the aspirations of the people” said Ayman Nour, one of the leaders of the youth movement and former presidential candidate, in a recent interview with Asharq Al-Awsat.

At this point, the ICD was not a major surprise: the declaration followed, with some additions, the amendments considered at the referendum. Tension has been brewing for some time now, and another leader of the liberals, Mohamed ElBaradei, was physically attacked by Islamists during the voting. The ”25 January Revolutionary Youth Coalition,” including ElBaradei and Nour, largely voted ”No” in the polls, over concerns that the changes were insufficient and would not allow enough time for the opposition to organize for the elections.

The amendments, which opened the way for parliamentary and presidential elections this summer, benefited unfairly already established parties such as the NDP and the MB, the liberals claimed. The ”25 January,” on the other hand, considers itself a movement, and lacks grassroots party structures that are of vital importance in elections. It has threatened to organize a new ”million-man protest” on Friday, April 8, if broad demands, including tougher measures against former Mubarak regime officials, are not met.

Previously, I projected that the army and the Muslim Brotherhood may prop up a secular democratic government with hopes of using it as a scapegoat when the economy takes a turn to the worse, the political reforms stagnate, and disillusionment sets in. [1] Despite the spike in tensions, this is still a possibility, and it is important to note that the three main presidential candidates so far, Amr Moussa, Mohamed ElBaradei and Ayman Nour, are representatives of the liberal opposition. [Italics are mine–D.E] . . .

. . .
A government without a real power base is a disaster for democracy at a minimum, and most likely for the general well-being of society as well. The alternatives are not very good – or clear – either. Meanwhile, sectarian violence is soaring. Thirteen people were killed in clashes between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Cairo on March 9, an incident that came on the heels of several deadly attacks against Copts (who make up at least 10% of Egypt’s population) in the last months. More recently, on Sunday a group of terrorists attacked the Egypt-Israel natural gas pipeline for the second time in two months; the bomb they planted failed to explode.

Other worrisome internal developments include reports that women protesters were subjected to torture and humiliation by the army last month, including pseudo-scientific forced virginity tests. . .

“Egypt Moved by Deep Waters” by Victor Kotsev; Asian Times; 4/2/2011. [11]

7.  Among the newly-minted “moderates” defining the Egyptian political landscape is one of Sadat’s assassins!

Abboud al-Zomor — the former intelligence officer who supplied the bullets that killed President Anwar el-Sadat and is Egypt’s most notorious newly released prisoner — waxes enthusiastic about ending the violent jihad he once led.

”The ballot boxes will decide who will win at the end of the day,” Mr. Zomor said during an interview in his large family compound in this hamlet on Cairo’s western edge. ”There is no longer any need for me to use violence against those who gave us our freedom and allowed us to be part of political life.”

In its drive to create a perfect Islamic state, his Islamic Group and other groups like it were once synonymous with some of the bloodiest terrorist attacks in Egypt. But they are now leaping aboard the democracy bandwagon, alarming those who believe that religious radicals are seeking to put in place strict Islamic law through ballots.

The public approval of the constitutional amendments on March 19 provided an early example of Islamist political muscle, the victory achieved in no small part by framing the yes vote as a religious duty. But perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Islamist campaign was the energy invested by religious organizations that once damned the democratic process as a Western, infidel innovation masterminded to undermine God’s laws.

Mr. Zomor, 64, with his bushy gray beard and nearly 30 years in prison, has emerged as a high-profile spokesman for that sea change since he was released on March 12.

He and other Salafis, or Islamic fundamentalists, rhapsodize about founding political parties and forging alliances with the more mainstream Muslim Brotherhood to maximize the religious vote.

Several reasons lie behind this remarkable turnabout, according to senior religious sheiks, junior members and experts.

Foremost is the desire to protect, if not strengthen, the second amendment of Egypt’s Constitution, which enshrines Shariah, or Islamic law, as the main source of Egyptian law. The parliament to be elected in September will guide the drafting of a new constitution.

”If the constitution is a liberal one this will be catastrophic,” said Sheik Abdel Moneim el-Shahat, scoffing at new demands for minority rights during a night class he teaches at a recently reopened Salafi mosque in Alexandria. ”I think next they will tell us that Christians must lead Muslims in the prayers!”

Second, the Salafis arrived late to the revolution, with many clerics emphatically supporting President Hosni Mubarak and condemning the protesters.

Young Salafis rebelled — extremely rare for a group that reveres tradition and hierarchy.

”The majority of the Salafi youth were the people who actually said, ‘No, this is impossible, we have to be part of this, it is a just cause,’ ” said Sherif Abdel Naser, a 24-year-old Egyptian-American who now attends political classes three nights a week at Sheik Shahat’s cramped mosque.

The Salafi movement is inspired by the puritan Wahhabi school of Islam that dominates Saudi Arabia, whose grand mufti churned out a fatwa condemning the Arab uprisings as a Western conspiracy to destroy the Islamic world. But an array of philosophies exists under the Salafi umbrella, ranging from apolitical groups that merely proselytize on the benefits of being a good Muslim to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s No. 2, is an Egyptian Salafist.

Some Egyptians are convinced that the government released the likes of Mr. Zomor as a kind of bogeyman — to frighten the country about the possible downside of democracy. Mr. Zomor said Salafist violence was only a reaction to the repression of the Mubarak government, but he shocked many Egyptians by advocating punishments like amputating thieves’ hands.

In an example of fundamentalists now emerging into public light, the sons of Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheik who is serving a life sentence in the United States, convicted in a conspiracy to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993, recently addressed a conference at a five-star Cairo hotel, demanding that the United States release their ailing father. . . .

“Radicals’ Turn to Democracy Alarms Egypt” by Neil MacFarquhar; The New York Times; 4/2/2011. [9]

8. Some observers feel that the events in the Middle East will benefit Hezbollah [20].

As the surge of revolutionary fervor that has taken the greater Middle East by storm continues to spread, many observers are grappling with the political uncertainties the tumult has produced from Morocco to the Persian Gulf and beyond.

The popular uprisings that prompted the ouster of the dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt and threaten the panoply of authoritarian despots clinging to power in other countries have already had a profound effect on regional politics. Despite their highly fluid nature, it is not too early to assess the impact of these events on the position of prominent actors such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.The movement’s place amid the unfolding unrest bears special relevance, considering the open hostility that has characterized its relations with the recently toppled Hosni Mubarak regime and other governments threatened by the wave of protest. The popularity Hezbollah enjoys among a large segment of the very same people who have taken to the streets to demand political freedoms, rule of law, representative government and economic opportunities adds another dynamic worth closer examination.

Having weathered the massive Israeli assault during the July 2006 war and deftly outmaneuvering attempts by political opponents to undermine its position and blame it for the February 2005 assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, Hezbollah’s stock as a political party, social movement and paramilitary force in Lebanese and regional affairs continues to rise.

In characteristic fashion, Hezbollah has not been coy about articulating its positions on the uprisings that have shaken the foundations of power in the Middle East in various media outlets, particularly its own Beirut-based al-Manar satellite television network. [1]

Initially, however, Hezbollah adopted a cautious approach to the opposition activism that engulfed Tunisia and Egypt. Hezbollah was concerned that a show of support for the protests early on would tarnish their legitimacy and lend credence to allegations repeated by the embattled regimes that the protesters were acting at the behest of hostile foreign elements aiming to destabilize the region.

Hezbollah essentially opted to refrain from issuing an endorsement of the protests until the popular grassroots character of the rebellions entered into the discourse of global media coverage and analysis. Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah encapsulated this point in a statement broadcast during a February 7 event in Beirut organized to support the opposition in Egypt: “In case we announced solidarity earlier, they would have said that the revolution was motivated by Hezbollah or Hamas cells or even by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Then, this real, original and patriotic movement would be accused of serving a foreign agenda”.

Hezbollah has since expressed solidarity with what it sees as the assertion of the true will of the Arab and Muslim masses who strive for social, political, and economic justice in the face of illegitimate and corrupt autocracies that it claims are beholden to the United States and Israel. . . .

“Arab Revolts Hand It to Hezbollah” by Chris Zambelis; Asia Times; 4/5/2011. [21]

9. A measure of the moderation of the Turkish AK Party of Mr. Erdogan may be found in the Gulen schools.

The FBI and other U.S. federal agencies have been investigating whether a Turkish religious community operating hundreds of schools worldwide is involved in visa fraud to bring teachers from Turkey to the United States.

The claim was made in a broad analysis by the Philadelphia Enquirer on religious leader Fethullah Gülen, who the paper describes as “a major Islamic political figure in Turkey,” and the more than 120 charter schools in the United States that are linked to his movement.

“Religious scholars consider the Gülen strain of Islam moderate, and the investigation has no link to terrorism. Rather, it [the investigation] is focused on whether hundreds of Turkish teachers, administrators and other staffers employed under the ‘H1B visa program’ are misusing taxpayer money,” the newspaper wrote. H1B visas are meant to be reserved for workers with highly specialized skill sets.

The charter schools are funded with millions of taxpayer dollars, according to the daily. “Truebright [Science Academy in Pennsylvania] alone receives more than $3 million from the Philadelphia School District for its 348 pupils,” said the newspaper.

The Departments of Labor and Education are also involved in investigating the claims of kickbacks to the Muslim movement founded by Gülen, known as “Hizmet” (Service), according to the paper.

Gülen, who has been living in the United States since 1999, is a Turkish religious leader whose movement is considered one of the strongest fronts in the civilian struggle for power in Turkey, especially because of its influence over state structures in the country.

Worldwide, the Gülen movement is known mostly for the schools it has established in Turkey and in more than 80 countries.

Federal officials declined to comment on the nationwide inquiry, which is being coordinated by prosecutors in Pennsylvania’s Middle District in Scranton, the Philadelphia Enquirer wrote. A former leader of the parents’ group at a Gülen-founded charter school in State College, Pennsylvania, confirmed that federal authorities had interviewed her.

Although many have posited links between the Gülen movement and the charity schools around the world, followers deny the links.

The newspaper wrote that Bekir Aksoy, who acts as Gülen’s spokesman, said last Friday that he knew nothing about charter schools or an investigation. . . .

“FBI Investigating Gulen Schools in US”; Hurriyet Daily News; 3/21/2011. [12]

10. A Turkish journalist was arrested for exposing the extent of the Gulen organization’s penetration of the Turkish police. Of particular significance, here, is the fact that Ahmet Sik, whose book was erased by the Turkish police, had opposed the Ergenekon plot–an alleged plot by Turkish military and security forces to stage a coup against the Islamist forces of Erdogan. (Some observers have suggested that Ergenekon was actually cooked up by the Erdogan forces to discredit the heirs to Turkish secularism and Kamal Attaturk.

Istanbul police raided a printing house Wednesday evening in search of computer files containing an unpublished book by an arrested suspect in the Ergenekon coup-plot case and erased the digital draft.

The printing house, İthaki, was the publisher that owned the rights to “İmamın Ordusu” (The Army of the Imam), an unpublished book by journalist Ahmet Şık, who was arrested two weeks ago. The book was found in digital form on a computer at the office of the dissident online news portal OdaTV; Şık has stated he did not know how it got there, calling the staff of the website people he would not stand together with in any case.

Şık’s arrest has been criticized in legal circles since the evidence against him was not revealed to his lawyers.

His unpublished book deals with the alleged organization founded within the Turkish police by the Fethullah Gülen religious community. This fact has led to suspicions that Şık was arrested due to the book’s contents, rather than his involvement in the alleged Ergenekon gang, which he has worked as a journalist to expose. . . .

“Turkish Police Raid Printing House, Erase Unpublished Book; Hurriyet Daily News; 3/24/2011. [14]

11. The program concludes with a look at another of the “disclosures” being generated by WikiLeaks (WHERE are they coming from?). As the Piggy-Back Coup was gaining momentum, an item concerning Mossad connections with various embattled Middle East governments surfaced.

As with many (most?) of the WikiLeaks “leaks,” this could be reasonably surmised by an intelligent observer. Nonetheless, this seems primed to stir up pro-Islamist and anti-Semitic sentiments among the Arab population of those countries.

Wikileaks  founder Julian Assange released additional classified documents about Israel and the Middle East: Britain’s Guardian newspaper stated that the sensitive documents expose, among other things, Israeli criticism of the man who is the de facto head of state in Egypt, Hussein Tantawi Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The diplomatic cables were transferred to Yedioth Ahronoth and some have been published on Friday.

One of the documents leaked to the Wikileaks site and published in the Guardian, addresses alleged relations between Israel’s security services and Bahrain.

In a cable describing a meeting between the US ambassador to the emirate and King Hamad in 2005, the US diplomat noted that the king admitted “that Bahrain already has contacts with Israel at the intelligence/security level (ie with Mossad) and indicated that Bahrain will be willing to move forward in other areas.”

In another cable, a US document from November 2009 newly released by Assange, Israeli security sources claim that Tantawi is an “obstacle” in efforts to foil smuggling from Sinai to the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, the document noted that Israel praised the actions of the man who was director of the General Intelligence Directorate at the time, Omar Suleiman, who now acts as Egypt’s vice president. Israeli security sources stated that he supports smuggling prevention. . . .

“Bahrain’s Secret Mossad Ties Revealed?”; ynetnews.com; 4/8/2011. [15]