Chatter: Syrian rebels 'shoot down' military helicopter




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Need to know:
A military helicopter came down
near the Syrian capital this morning – but did it crash, or was it shot? State TV reports only that the aircraft crashed over the eastern outskirts of Damascus; activists say that rebel fighters brought it down.

Rebels claim that air strikes have multiplied to the point where fighters and civilians are under near constant attack from regime aircraft. With no planes of their own, and little hope of foreign intervention to enforce a no-fly zone, rebels say they have no choice but to try and take out the army's air power from the ground – and that means attacking not just aircraft, but the civilian airports that serve them.

It's for civilians, of course, that the cost is highest. Opposition activists say the air strikes have turned parts of Damascus into a "disaster area." The international Friends of Syria group meets later today to discuss the crisis; its focus, however, will be on economic sanctions rather than direct aid.

Want to know:
The attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in Libya, in which the ambassador and three colleagues were killed, was terrorism – but it wasn't planned.

That's according to US counterterrorism chief Matthew Olsen, who told a Senate hearing yesterday that armed militants most likely just "seized on the opportunity presented as the events unfolded that evening." He suggested those militants may have had links to Al Qaeda.

Republican lawmakers have taken issue with Olsen's account, with Sen. Susan Collins telling the hearing: "I just don't think that people come to protests equipped with RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] and other heavy weapons." If the attack is found to have been premeditated – and investigators haven't ruled that out – it will raise some uncomfortable questions about why security wasn't higher at sensitive US missions.

Dull but important:
India is on strike today, as opposition parties and trade unions protest against the government's planned economic reforms.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's United Progressive Alliance government wants to revive India's stalling growth by raising diesel prices 14 percent and allowing foreign supermarket chains into the retail sector.

The measures have already prompted Singh's key ally to pull out of the ruling coalition, and with today's strike, shut down businesses, schools and public transport in cities nationwide. But for all the sound and fury, here's why analysts don't believe the controversy's enough to topple the government. 

Just because:
Not all publicity is good publicity. One of the actors who appeared in the reviled "Innocence of Muslims" movie is suing the film's producer for fraud and slander.

Cindy Lee Garcia claims she had no idea about the true nature of the movie; what she signed up for, she says, was a historical adventure movie, not an incitement to religious hatred. Filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is accused of adding in all the nasty stuff post-production, without the cast's knowledge or consent.

Now Garcia, like Nakoula, is more infamous than famous, and has received death threats for her perceived affront to Islam. Citing concern for her safety, she's also asking a judge to order YouTube to delete the movie's trailer. It's already blocked in parts of the Middle East; YouTube will be in court today to decide whether to go a step further and take it down.

Strange but true:
Britain has a surprise addition to its forces in Afghanistan, after a soldier unexpectedly gave birth at a base in Helmand province.

She's the first member of Britain's armed forces ever to give birth on the front line. That sort of thing isn't encouraged, for obvious reasons, but the servicewoman – a gunner with the Royal Artillery – didn't know she was pregnant until she was already in labor.

The Ministry of Defence made sure to specify that the baby, a boy, was conceived before the soldier arrived in Afghanistan in March. So no, before anyone says anything, Prince Harry was nowhere nearby at the time.