Chatter: Yemen says it spoiled Al Qaeda's big surprise




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Plot foiled? Yemen claims to have uncovered — and thwarted — Al Qaeda's big plan: to blow up oil and gas pipelines and seize control of strategic port cities, in an elaborate series of attacks that, if they had succeeded, would have allowed the terrorist group to control the country's crucial energy infrastructure.

It's not clear whether this was the same security threat that prompted the US and British governments to order their citizens out of Yemen pronto — nor what risks remain. Given that Yemeni security forces have deployed tanks and hundreds of troops to guard government buildings and foreign embassies, it's fair to assume that some do. And not just from the bad guys: the US has already launched four drone strikes against suspected Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen in the past 10 days and ordinary Yemenis, stuck between a threat of terrorism and the dangers of drones, are watchfully scanning the skies for more. 

Talks failed. Egypt's interim government has announced that foreign mediators' attempts to negotiate a way out of its political crisis were unsuccessful. A statement from the Egyptian presidency — you know, the one installed after the military deposed the country's elected president — says that a 10-day diplomacy fest involving envoys from the Gulf, Europe and the US has ended without an agreement. And what's more, it blames the Muslim Brotherhood for its failure. 

The announcement comes the day after the two American envoys, undiplomatically but possibly accurately, described the events of the past month as a coup. Egypt's interim president called that "unacceptable interference." Now, observers fear, he's preparing some unacceptable interference of his own — with Brotherhood protesters camped out in Cairo demanding his predecessor's return. 


Airport on fire. All flights are cancelled until further notice at Kenya's main airport, Jomo Kenyatta International in Nairobi, after a huge fire left parts of its terminals gutted. Flames broke out early this morning in the arrivals hall and quickly spread throughout the building, for reasons that are still unclear.

The blaze has since been brought under control, with no injuries to passengers or staff. But the damage to the airport — one of Africa's busiest — is severe, and will likely cause serious disruption to travellers, and to the economy. 

Birds get the flu and now people do too. The first known case of the new strain of avian influenza spreading directly between two humans has been reported in China, in what scientists describe as a "worrying" development.

Up to now, anyone with the H7N9 virus was believed to have come into contact with an infected bird. Now researchers report that before a woman and her father both died from the illness, he had visited poultry markets — but she had only visited him in his sick bed. Despite the clearest indication yet that the virus is mutating, doctors say it's not yet time to panic: the disease still isn't very good at human-to-human transmission, they assure. Don't mind us if we decide to invest in industrial quantities of face masks before it gets any better.


It's lonely in space. And no spacebot knows that better than NASA's Curiosity rover, which has spent the past 12 months on its lonesome up there on Mars. In a pang of compassion, or misplaced projection, or just an eye for a stunt, NASA scientists marked the rover's one-year anniversary by having it "sing" Happy Birthday to itself via its vibrating sample analysis unit. 

Encore! Does it take requests? If so, for the next number we'd like Bowie's "Space Oddity." Major Tom can hear you, little rover, Major Tom can hear you loud and clear.