Russia says rebels probably used sarin

Russian scientific analysis indicates that a deadly projectile that hit a suburb of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on March 19 held the nerve agent sarin and was most likely fired by rebels, Russia’s U.N. envoy said Tuesday.

The strike in Khan al-Assal killed more than two dozen people. The government and the rebels have blamed each other for what they say was an attack involving chemical arms; both also deny using chemical arms.

Moscow’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said Russian experts visited the site and took samples that were then analyzed at a Russian lab certified by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The results “clearly indicate that the ordnance used in Khan al-Assal was not industrially manufactured and was filled with sarin,” Churkin said, adding, “There is every reason to believe that it was armed opposition fighters who used the chemical weapons.”

Churkin said he had informed U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the findings. Ban is to meet with Ake Sellstrom, the head of a U.N. team probing allegations of chemical weapon use in Syria, in New York this week.

— Reuters

Taliban, in protest, closes office in Qatar

The Afghan Taliban has closed its office in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, at least temporarily, to protest the removal of a sign identifying the movement as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, a diplomat and a Taliban official said Tuesday.

The office, which opened less than a month ago to facilitate peace talks with the U.S. and Afghan governments, has also come under pressure for using the white flag that was flown during the Taliban’s five-year rule of Afghanistan. Qatar removed the sign and flag last month after Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded they be taken down.

Also Tuesday, a roadside bomb planted by the Taliban hit a motorcycle-drawn cart carrying women and children in the western Afghan province of Herat, killing 17 people, officials said.

In the south, an Afghan soldier fired on NATO troops at the Kandahar airport, killing a service member, the alliance said. The facility is guarded by Slovak troops.

Kandahar government spokesman Javid Faisal said that the attacker was taken into custody but that a preliminary investigation indicated the shooting was an accident, not an insider attack.

— Associated Press

Probe underway in deadly train disaster

Investigators seeking the cause of the deadly train crash in the tiny Quebec town of Lac-Megantic were focusing Tuesday on the train’s brakes, the railway company’s regulations and whether Canada needs tougher train-transport standards.

Officials from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said more than a dozen investigators were examining every angle of the accident, in which a runaway train hauling 72 cars of crude oil plowed into the lakeside town and exploded.

About 50 people are either confirmed dead or are still missing, making the accident probably North America’s worst rail disaster since 1989.

— Reuters

Nigerian court jails 4 bombers for life: A Nigerian court sentenced four alleged Islamist extremists to life in prison for two bombings that killed 19 people last year, the country’s official news agency reported. The fate of four other men accused in the same trial was not immediately known. The eight are believed to belong to the Boko Haram Islamist group that is terrorizing northeastern Nigeria with attacks on schools and other civilian targets.

Colombia sends alleged drug kingpin to U.S.: Colombian officials said they have extradited Daniel Barrera, a major drug trafficking suspect, to the United States. Barrera, a.k.a. “El Loco,” was arrested in Venezuela in September and is wanted in two New York federal court districts and in Florida. Officials say he had cosmetic surgeries and tried to burn off his fingerprints with acid to mask his identity.

China frees filmmaker: Beijing-based video and photojournalist Du Bin said he has been conditionally released from detention after five weeks in which he was asked about his book on the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown and a film he made about labor camp abuses. Du said by phone that for the next 12 months, he is prohibited from leaving the city without informing authorities first.

— From news services