Thursday, April 28, 2011
Tooryalai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar Province, where the prison break occurred, announced that security forces had detained steadily mounting numbers of escaped detainees throughout the day. By day’s end, however, he conceded that while 71 people had been detained, the descriptions of only 41 men matched those of escapees.
The effort to reassure people with news of the captures failed to instill much confidence, and the most immediate effect of the jailbreak was a mounting sense among Afghans that government corruption, incompetence and complacency were as much to blame as the Taliban.
In comments on a Facebook page linked to an interview program on Tolo, a major television network here, viewers expressed anger and a complete lack of faith in the government.
“The escape of 500 Taliban from prison?” Jahanbakhash Ahmadi wrote. “This is impossible that it can happen without the help of the government.”
Another, Mard Arya, said: “Is it possible for prisoners to dig tunnels more than 100 meters long over five months and none of the prison officials knew about it? Don’t be ridiculous.”
It did not help that the prison escapes came after a month of security lapses, which have left people feeling insecure and distrustful of the government, even though assassinations and attacks in Kandahar have fallen sharply this year.
In early April, Kandahar security forces fired on crowds, killing nine people, during protests over the burning of the Koran by a pastor in the United States. On April 15, the security forces were unable to protect the Kandahar police chief (or were bribed not to), allowing a suicide bomber to enter the police headquarters and reach an area near his office where the bomber killed him and two other police officers.
Then, early Monday, despite the presence of dozens of prison guards and police officers, nearly 500 prisoners escaped, leaving many Kandahar civilians fearful that the escaped prisoners will soon launch attacks in Kandahar.
“We don’t know what the security forces are doing,” said Hajji Khairullah, a shopkeeper in central Kandahar. “If you look at the prison, it is fortified with berms and T-walls all around — you can’t imagine that an ant could get in there — but now we heard the huge and shocking news that hundreds of inmates have managed to escape through an underground tunnel.”
“This escape will affect the civilians,” he added. “I blame these security forces for not taking action. This is not the first time.”
The provincial governor, who has been critical of the security forces after each of the recent breaches, has seemed powerless to improve the situation, leaving people unsure whom to turn to.
“How do prisoners break locks in jail?” asked a Kandahari who has watched the security forces closely over the years, but asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. He was referring to prisoners’ ability to leave their cells in order to go to the cell with the tunnel entry.
“How can it be that no one noticed? What was the National Directorate of Security doing?” he said, referring to Afghanistan’s intelligence service. “Why weren’t they watching?”
A memorandum from the Justice Ministry to President Hamid Karzai’s senior aides appeared to confirm people’s fears that there was no one who could be trusted — a point the Taliban have been eager to make in carrying out their attacks.
“This is an information campaign by the Taliban; that’s the main point of these operations,” said a Western official, adding that the insurgents want to send the message that the Afghan government is weak.
The Justice Ministry’s memo raised questions about complicity by people working in the prison and the surrounding neighborhood where the tunnel emerged. The memorandum noted that digging such a long tunnel and emptying the soil could not have gone unnoticed by neighbors and security forces because “it takes a lot of time and a means of transportation to carry the soil away.”
Also noted in the memo was that the police supposedly searched the house where the tunnel began two and a half months ago, yet noted nothing suspicious.
Finally, the memo said: “Escape of all inmates through a tunnel in one room indicates cooperation and planning from inside the prison.”
The head of the team investigating the escape, Mohammed Tahir, further cemented the likelihood that there was complicity from a number of people. He described the tunnel as so carefully planned and sophisticated that it appeared that engineers must have been involved, not merely men with shovels.
“The tunnel was dug in a very professional way,” he said. “They have used an electrical system and a ventilation system and small shovels and pickaxes for digging and wheelbarrows for removing the soil.”
The conclusion reached by some Kandaharis was almost melancholy: the Taliban care more about their fighters than the government of Afghanistan does about its own people.
“The prison break indicates how much the Taliban are loyal to each other,” said Abdul Naji, a businessman in Kandahar.
“It shows how much they are trying to free their men, even digging a several-hundred-meter-long tunnel despite heavy security forces in the area,” Mr. Naji said. “It is beyond imagination.”
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
The largest fossil spider uncovered to date once ensnared prey back in the age of dinosaurs, scientists find.
The spider, named Nephila jurassica, was discovered buried in ancient volcanic ash in Inner Mongolia, China. Tufts of hairlike fibers seen on its legs showed this 165-million-year-old arachnid to be the oldest known species of the largest web-weaving spiders alive today — the golden orb-weavers, or Nephila, which are big enough to catch birds and bats, and use silk that shines like gold in the sunlight.
The fossil was about as large as its modern relatives, with a body one inch (2.5 centimeters) wide and legs that reach up to 2.5 inches (6.3 cm) long. Golden orb-weavers nowadays are mainly tropical creatures, so the ancient environment of Nephila jurassica probably was similarly lush.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Monday, April 11, 2011
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Keuppia levante is one of several newly discovered fossil octopus species found in Lebanon that challenge previous assumptions about the origin and age of the Octopoda. Along with Keuppia hyperbolaris and Styletoctopus annae, this species is now the earliest unequivocal fossil for the group.
Truly remarkable anatomical details were observable due to the fine-grained Cenomanian limestones in which these species were entombed 180-95 million years ago. Octopods were previously thought to have arisen in mid-Cretaceous times. Thanks to characters observed in these newly discovered species, scientists now think octopods appeared significantly earlier, possibly even in Jurassic times.
Quentin Wheeler is director of the International Institute for Species Exploration, Arizona State University
Friday, April 1, 2011
Blanket Octopus is the common name used to describe four species of octopus belonging to the Tremoctopus genus. The four species are the Common Blanket Octopus, Gelatinous Blanket Octopus, Palmate Octopus, and Tremoctopus Robsoni. They are called so because of the transparent webbing connecting their dorsal and dorsolateral arms, which resembles a large a large flowing blanket.
The "blanket" is a defense mechanism, and a handy one too, as Blanket Octopuses do not have ink to ward off predators. Instead, the Blanket Octopus will unfurl its blanket, making it look significantly larger and intimidating, with the intention of scaring off whatever threatens it.
Males and females look as though their two different species! Female Blanket Octopuses may grow in excess of two meters in length, whereas males only reach a few centimeters. The males have a detachable arm in which sperm is stored. When it is time to mate, the male detaches its arm and lodges it into the female's mantle. The male dies shortly afterwards while the female goes on to carry over 100,000 eggs that she keeps attached to her until they are ready to hatch.
The most obvious difference between cephalopod eyes and human eyes is that cephalopods have horizontal pupils. Not only that, but because the eyes can rotate in a way that most vertebrate eyes cannot, and because cephalopods have a balance organ called a statocyst, they can always keep their pupils horizontal, no matter what position their body is in. This means their brains can always interpret visual information the same way, and not have to account for the position of the eye.
Cephalopod eyes can also see polarized light, allowing them to communicate by creating changing patterns on their skin that we humans can't see except with the help of special cameras.
The difference between cephalopod and vertebrate eyes partly stems from their very beginnings. While vertebrate eyes develop as an extension of the brain, cephalopod eyes started out as light-sensitive skin cells that folded inwards to form the structure they have now.
Both types of eyes developed retinas, corneas, irises and lenses, but the way those structures are arranged and used is different. The light-receptive cells in cephalopod eyes point directly outward into the light, while those of vertebrates point inward, instead catching light reflected off the back of the eye.
Vertebrate eye lenses are flexible and the can can be focused by special muscles that change the shape of the lens. Cephalopod eye lenses are inflexible and have their focus fixed on a relatively nearby point, but can be focused with muscles that move the entire lens closer to or father from the retina.