By Paul Cruickshank
The trial of three Birmingham men convicted Thursday of plotting to launch a "catastrophic" suicide bombing attack in the United Kingdom revealed that al Qaeda has developed a new strategy to target the West.
The new strategy involves a teacher-training approach in which a select few Western operatives are taught bombmaking and other aspects of terrorist tradecraft in the tribal areas of Pakistan and are then instructed to return back to the West to "spread the knowledge" to a larger body of Islamist extremists keen on launching attacks.
The new approach is a response to the growing toll of drone strikes which have made travel to the tribal areas increasingly perilous for Western recruits and significantly diminished al Qaeda's ability to orchestrate terrorist plots from the region.
The trial revealed that terrorist groups in Pakistan are actively dissuading Western militants from making the trip.
Two of those convicted Thursday - Irfan Naseer and Irfan Khalid - received 40 days of terrorist training in the tribal areas of Pakistan in the spring of 2011, mostly inside houses in the valleys of Waziristan.
From Barbara Starr
Debonair and dashing, super-spy James Bond has battled evil for half a century on the silver screen.
From Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, audiences have cheered on the six actors who've played Bond in the world's longest running multi-million dollar movie franchise, and this Sunday's Oscar ceremony will pay tribute to fifty years of Bond.
But it's the Bond villains who are taking center stage at Washington D.C.'s International Spy Museum, in an homage to Bond author Ian Fleming's bad guys.
In the "Exquisitely Evil" exhibit, visitors can see an assortment of memorabilia, including the rope used to beat James Bond in "Casino Royale," the tarantula that crawls up Bond's arm in "Dr. No" and the steel teeth used to attack the spy in "Moonraker."
But it's not just about movie props - it's a reflection of 50 years of the changing world of espionage, and the threats the U.S. and British intelligence services often dealt with in the real world.
"We didn't want to just put interesting props from the films on shelves and say, 'Come look at this.' We wanted to derive some meaning from what the Bond films have been about. Part of it was of course through the eyes of the villains, they reflected the anxieties and concerns of the times," said Peter Earnest, the museum director and a former CIA operative.
In the early years of the 1960s and '70s, the films' plots often reflected the Cold War clash of the superpowers. Villains like Ernst Stavro Blofeld sought to spark global confrontation. In later films, the plots evolved. "When Fleming wrote the books and when Eon Productions produced the films, they attempted to pick up on the things that were producing anxieties in society like genocide or nuclear proliferation or terrorism or drugs," Earnest said.
In the latest blockbuster hit "Skyfall," villain Raoul Silva's weapon is information; his method: cyber warfare.
"He has all the names of all the MI6 agents around the world and the pseudonyms they're using and the people they are employing," Earnest said reminds us.
But over the years, the villains have maintained certain trends - secret lairs, wacky aides and plots for world mayhem.
Aside from the tuxedos, the fast cars, the cool spy tools and the Bond girls, the films have been a kind of window into a secret world.
"For many people, this is the only impression they have. They may not be reading books or other information about real espionage or real intelligence, and therefore this fills in the blanks," Earnest explained.
"When Fleming started writing the stories and when the early films came there wasn't a lot of information out" about the world of secret agents, he added.
"Bond became people's impression of real intelligence and real espionage."
By Elise Labott
Iran has begun installing advanced new centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment site at Natanz that are capable of accelerating production of fuel for a nuclear weapon, a move that senior U.S. officials warned could jeopardize upcoming talks aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The disturbing revelation comes as the "P5 plus one" diplomatic bloc of countries is preparing to offer a package of incentives to Iran to close its underground facility at Fordow and ship out its stockpile of uranium already enriched to a high purity level of 20%.
"This can't help the talks," a senior US official said.
The P5 plus one bloc consists of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
From Saad Abedine
A car bomb targeting the headquarters of Syria's ruling party killed eight people in central Damascus on Thursday, according to state media and opposition activists.
The explosion burned 17 cars and damaged 40 more, Syrian state TV said.
Eight body bags were brought for charred remains of passengers who were in a taxi, according to state television.
Ambulances arrived to tend to the wounded.
The bomb detonated at a checkpoint manned by government soldiers in front of the Baath Socialist Party's main office, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It was unclear whether the driver blew up the car while sitting inside of it, or parked it beforehand and left before setting it off.