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    Monday, December 28, 2009

    Reuters - Advocacy groups urge FTC to bar Google-AdMob deal

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    Advocacy groups urge FTC to bar Google-AdMob deal

    Monday, Dec 28, 2009 8:17PM UTC

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two advocacy groups asked U.S. antitrust regulators on Monday to block Google's purchase of AdMob, a provider of advertising services for mobile phones, on antitrust grounds and to address privacy issues raised by the deal.

    Consumer Watchdog, a consumer advocacy organization, and the Center for Digital Democracy, an advocate of open access to the Internet, said in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission that the proposed deal would "substantially lessen competition in the increasingly important mobile advertising market."

    The groups also said the deal created privacy concerns, which are not normally considered in antitrust analyses.

    "Google amasses a gold mine of data by tracking consumers' behavior as they use its search engine and other online services. Combining this information with information collected by AdMob would give Google a massive amount of consumer data to exploit for its benefit," said the emailed letter, which was addressed to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

    Google, the No. 1 online search engine, has said that the FTC requested additional information about the $750 million deal last week. In the absence of a second request, U.S. antitrust regulators normally approve deals within 30 days.

    If approved, Google's purchase of privately held AdMob would be its third most expensive purchase behind the $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick and the $1.65 billion purchase of YouTube.

    Google said in an e-mail statement that it was certain that mobile advertising would remain competitive despite the deal.

    "Google has a track record of providing strong privacy protections and tools, like the new Dashboard, for users to take control or opt out of data collection, and it will apply the same approach to privacy following this acquisition," it said in the statement.

    Google generates the majority of its revenue, which totaled roughly $22 billion in 2008, by selling ads that appear alongside its Internet search results.

    The FTC could not immediately confirm receipt of the letter.

    Google has experienced increasing regulatory scrutiny as it has grown. The U.S. Department of Justice in September asked a New York court to reject Google's settlement with book publishers and authors groups that would allow the company to sell digital copies of some books.

    (Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

    Reuters - Nigeria bomber's home town blames foreign schooling

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    Nigeria bomber's home town blames foreign schooling

    Sunday, Dec 27, 2009 9:26PM UTC

    By Sahabi Yahaya

    FUNTUA, Nigeria (Reuters) - For residents in his home town, it was Umar Abdulmutallab's foreign education, not his roots in Muslim northern Nigeria, that radicalized him and led him to try to blow up a U.S. passenger plane.

    The 23-year-old London-educated Nigerian was charged on Saturday in the United States with trying to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253 as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam on Christmas Day with almost 300 people on board.

    The son of a highly respected banker, Abdulmutallab's actions shocked Nigeria's wealthy elite and residents in his family's predominantly Muslim northern hometown of Funtua.

    "Everyone knew the Mutallabs and the father is honest, generous, helpful and above all a prominent banker. I cannot see why his son should be involved in this act," Funtua resident Ibrahim Bello, 65, said, close to the Mutallab family home.

    Like other elders from the community, Bello said Abdulmutallab's schooling abroad meant he had been brought up outside the customs of northern Nigeria, a region with a history of moderate Sufi Islam.

    "My only advice to the elite is to allow their children to mingle with the children of the masses so that he will have some of the traditional morals and values that (the elder) Mutallab himself enjoyed," Bello told Reuters.

    Behind him, a group of elderly men were listening to the local Hausa language services of the BBC and Voice of America radio stations, eager to hear the latest developments.

    FOREIGN SCHOOLING

    Abdulmutallab is from a privileged background in Africa's most populous nation, where most of an estimated 140 million people live on under $2 a day.

    His father, Umaru Mutallab, retired earlier this month as chairman of First Bank, the country's oldest, after a distinguished career in finance.

    Like many children from rich Nigerian homes, Abdulmutallab spent his formative years abroad. Information Minister Dora Akunyili said he had been living outside Nigeria "for a while" and only returned on the eve of the attack.

    "We were shocked when we heard a report from one of the international radio stations that the son of Mutallab is involved in an act of terrorism in the United States," said Ahmed Ibrahim, one of Abdulmutallab's contemporaries.

    "But many of us did not know the children of the Mutallabs because they did not grow up here in Funtua," he said, sipping Coca-Cola under the shade of a tree.

    The Mutallab home in Funtua, more than 250 km (155 miles) north of the capital Abuja, is a single-story brown and white building behind big gates, larger than surrounding houses but not ostentatious.

    Abdulmutallab was educated at the British School in Lome, Togo -- a boarding school mostly serving expatriates and students from around West Africa -- before studying engineering at University College London (UCL), where he is believed to have lived in a multi-million dollar city-center apartment.

    One friend who knew him in London said he kept himself to himself and always wore a skullcap, rare among young Nigerian Muslims who usually wear such caps only on religious occasions.

    Nigeria's This Day newspaper said he had been given the nickname "Alfa" -- a local term for an Islamic scholar -- while at school in Togo, for his preaching to other students.

    He also made two trips to Yemen during his student days for short Arabic and Islamic courses, according to a family friend.

    PRECEDENTS

    If Abdulmutallab was radicalized outside Nigeria as many of his compatriots believe, his case would have precedents.

    Ahmed Saeed Omar Sheikh, or Sheikh Omar, who was sentenced to death in Pakistan in 2002 for the killing of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl and suspected of links to the September 11, 2001 attacks, came from a similarly privileged background.

    Born in Britain in the early 1970s, Omar was the son of a wholesale clothes merchant from Wanstead in northeast London who went to an expensive school but dropped out of one of Britain's top universities, the London School of Economics.

    Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north has seen bouts of religious unrest. But while some Western diplomats have expressed concern that its huge population and widespread poverty could attract foreign Islamic extremists, there has been no conclusive evidence of such a presence in the country.

    Clashes between security forces and a radical Islamic sect called Boko Haram -- which wanted a wider adoption of sharia (Islamic law) -- killed hundreds of people in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri in July.

    But Islamic jurisprudence in Nigeria is based on the moderate Maliki school of Sunni Islam and Boko Haram's ideology is dismissed by the country's Muslim leaders and most believers.

    Young Muslims who grew up in Funtua insist it was Abdulmutallab's life overseas, which they view as alien, not Nigerian Islam that gave rise to his extremist views.

    "We the children of the masses in this country, we don't know anything about terrorism because our parents are poor. They don't have the money to take us abroad," said 25-year old student and Funtua resident Usman Mati.

    (Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Robin Pomeroy)

    CNN - Al Qaeda claims responsibility for failed terror attack

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    Al Qaeda claims responsibility for failed terror attack


    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack on a plane about to land in the United States, saying it was in retaliation for alleged U.S. strikes on Yemeni soil.

    In the statement, published on radical Islamist Web sites, the group hailed the "brother" who carried out the "heroic attack." The group said it tested a "new kind of explosives" in the attack, and hailed the fact that the explosives "passed through security."

    The group threatened further attacks, saying, "since Americans support their leaders they should expect more from us."

    "We have prepared men who love to die," the statement dated Saturday said.

    In his first public comment since the Christmas Day incident, President Obama said he directed his national security team to "keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country."

    "We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland."

    A suspect, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, is being held for allegedly trying to blow up the flight carrying 300 passengers.

    Part of the explosive device was sewn into AbdulMutallab's underwear, a law enforcement official told CNN Monday.

    A preliminary FBI analysis found that the device AbdulMutallab allegedly carried aboard the flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit, Michigan, contained the explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate, known as PETN. The source could provide no details on the device.

    The amount of explosive involved was sufficient to blow a hole in the aircraft, a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN Sunday.

    Authorities have focused their investigation on how AbdulMutallab, 23, allegedly smuggled the explosives aboard the flight and who might have helped him.

    "We're ascertaining why it was that he was not flagged in a more specific way when he purchased his ticket, given the information that we think was available, allegedly was available," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told CNN's "American Morning" Monday.

    AbdulMutallab, a Nigerian who had a multiple-entry visa to the United States, had been added to a watch list of 550,000 potential terrorist threats after the information provided by his father was forwarded to the National Counter-Terrorism Center, a senior administration official said. But "the info on him was not deemed specific enough to pull his visa or put him on a no-fly list," the official said.

    "Now, we are going to be looking at that process and how those lists are created, maintained, updated, exchanged and the like, because clearly this individual should not have been able to board this plane carrying that material," Napolitano said.

    Napolitano told CNN on Sunday there was no indication that the failed attack was part of any larger international terrorist plot.

    Tighter security measures in the wake of the incident triggered long lines at security checkpoints at airports in the United States and abroad. Obama has ordered a review of security procedures. Both the House and Senate plan to hold hearings on the incident.

    Do you feel safe in the skies?

    AbdulMutallab's family said Monday it had told authorities about his "out of character" behavior and hoped that authorities would intervene.

    The 23-year-old suspect was studying abroad when he "disappeared" and stopped communicating with his family members, they said Monday in a statement. His father, Umaru AbdulMutallab, contacted Nigerian security agencies two months ago and foreign security agencies six weeks ago, the statement said.

    "We were hopeful that they would find and return him home," the family said. "It was while we were waiting for the outcome of their investigation that we arose to the shocking news of that day."

    The suspect's family said his behavior prompted it to seek help.

    "The disappearance and cessation of communication which got his mother and father concerned to report to the security agencies are completely out of character and a very recent development, as before then, from very early childhood, Farouk, to the best of parental monitoring, had never shown any attitude, conduct or association that would give concern," his family said.

    The father of the suspect contacted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria with concerns his son had "become radicalized" and was planning something, a senior U.S. administration official said.

    "After his father contacted the embassy recently, we coded his visa file so that, had he attempted to renew his visa months from now, it would have triggered an in-depth review of his application," a U.S. official said.

    The embassy -- which has law enforcement, security and intelligence representatives on staff -- reported the father's concern to other agencies, the official said.

    Passengers on the Christmas Day flight described a chaotic scene that began with a popping sound as the plane was making its final approach, followed by flames erupting at AbdulMutallab's seat.

    The suspect was moved Sunday from a hospital where he was treated for his burns to an undisclosed location in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

    He is charged with attempting to destroy the plane and placing a destructive device on the aircraft.

    AbdulMutallab's trip originated in Lagos, Nigeria. There, he did not check in a bag as he flew on a KLM flight to Amsterdam, said Harold Demuren, director-general of Nigeria's Civil Aviation Authority.

    Demuren said the suspect underwent regular screening -- walking through a metal detector and having his shoulder bag scanned through an X-ray machine.

    He then underwent "secondary screening" at the boarding gate for the KLM flight, according to officials of the Dutch airline.

    In Amsterdam, AbdulMutallab boarded the Northwest Airlines flight to the United States.

    The Netherlands' national coordinator for counterterrorism told CNN that AbdulMutallab had gone through "normal security procedures" in Amsterdam before boarding the flight to Detroit.

    Over the weekend in Britain, where the suspect studied engineering at a London university, police searched AbdulMutallab's last known address.

    Scotland Yard detectives on Sunday interviewed Michael Rimmer, a former high-school teacher who described AbdulMutallab as a "very devout" Muslim who had once expressed sympathy for Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency during a classroom discussion.

    But Rimmer, who taught AbdulMutallab at a school in the west African nation of Togo, said it was not clear whether the then-teenager was simply playing devil's advocate during the class.

    A federal security bulletin obtained by CNN said AbdulMutallab claimed the explosive device used Friday "was acquired in Yemen along with instructions as to when it should be used."

    Yemeni authorities said they will take immediate action once the attempted bombing suspect's alleged link to the country is officially identified.

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