Scott C.

Stories by Scott C. Johnson

  • Inside The Caves

    More than 1,000 Al Qaeda fighters remain holed up in Afghanistan's Arma Mountains in well-stocked caves with neon tube lights, wood stoves and VCRs, according a man who says he has just returned from spending more than a week with the fighters.In a three-hour interview with NEWSWEEK, Abdul Rahman Beheshti says he provided the Al Qaeda troops with a satellite dish and receiving antenna, a radio, tea, sugar, candies, flour and fruit. He says that most of the fighters, who are living in caves around the village of Shah-i-Kot, are Afghans, but that the group includes many Chechens and Arabs, including a "tall Arab" with sunglasses. Beheshti said the man was not bin Laden, but was being treated deferentially by the others. "They were kissing his hand," Beheshti says.Beheshti arrived today in Gardez after leaving the caves. He says he was told to deliver a message to local officials working with American commanders in the region: Al Qaeda fighters won't surrender. "They want to either win...
  • Caught In The Crossfire

    Right now, we're waiting for the relative safety of daybreak. An American B-52 has dropped about four or five bombs on the nearby Shahikot mountains. They lit up the sky in a crazy glow of orange, yellow and purple, leaving a rose-colored halo around the snow. It was an incredible sight, but the demonstration of U.S. firepower bring us little comfort while we are trapped in this dangerous and exposed position outside the U.S. Special Forces military base near the eastern Afghan city of Gardez.Even by Afghanistan standards, this has been one of those days. Earlier on Monday, we traveled west from Gardez to Zormat, the town that is closest to the scene of the latest American-led offensive against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. The U.S. forces were suffering serious setbacks: at least seven Americans died when two helicopters took enemy fire. Their deaths came after American troops and their Afghan allies were forced to abandon a weekend ground assault on the Shahikot...
  • Karzai's Difficult Days

    Hamid Karzai has no army, virtually no tax revenues and very little real power. What the Afghan leader does have, apparently, is presence of mind. When Karzai flew back to Kabul from the eastern city of Jalalabad last week--his latest visit to the provinces to tamp down quarrelsome warlords--he was rushed by a mob of frustrated hajjis demanding a flight to Saudi Arabia. Thousands of Muslims who had paid $1,500 for the annual pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca had waited for days in freezing weather. Karzai calmly stood before them and declared, "If you want to kill me, I'm ready," according to one witness, Rahmed Khoda. The mob halted, and Karzai assuaged it with a promise that planes would arrive soon. ...
  • Karzai's Toughest Test

    In what could be the most serious threat yet to Afghanistan's new government, a warlord in the southern province of Paktia is refusing Afghan leader Hamid Karzai's entreaties to step down as governor. And he warns that the dispute could reignite an armed conflict that left some 50 fighters dead two weeks ago. ...
  • Mulla Omar Off The Record

    ;One of the major frustrations of the war on terrorism has been the continuing elusiveness of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the chief of the Taliban. America and its Afghan allies have repeatedly come close to killing or capturing the self-styled Amir-al-Mumineen--Leader of the Faithful. Just how close was spelled out in an interview with NEWSWEEK last week by Mullah Omar's longtime personal driver, Qari Saheb, who was in hiding in Pakistan. Saheb was with Omar at his compound in Kandahar last Oct. 7 when the first American bombs began to fall. According to Saheb, Omar initially spurned advisers who begged him to flee to safety. "Even if Bush shows up at my door, I will not leave," said Omar. His advisers told him that the Americans would use chemical weapons. Omar brandished a gas mask, but the aides warned him that the masks were good only for an hour. Knowing that the Americans would target his SUV, aides ushered Omar into a rickshaw. Pulled into the center of town, Omar shifted to a mud...
  • Trapped In Prison

    On the face of it, Jamal Udeen has a lot in common with American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh. Like Walker, Udeen--who grew up in Manchester, England--is a Western convert to Islam. Like Walker, Udeen's journey to Afghanistan ended in a dank prison awaiting an uncertain future. But unlike Walker, Udeen failed to win the trust of the country's Taliban rulers. In late September, they arrested him, put him in jail, and, he says, tortured him for weeks on end.Today, in spite of the Taliban's fall from power, Udeen is still in jail. A gaunt 33-year old with a short beard and feet callused over from walking barefoot for weeks, he sits in a special compound of the Kandahar Central Prison, unable to leave even though prison officials say he's technically a free man.Nor is he alone. Almost all of the 1,600 Afghan prisoners here were released after the Taliban lost control of Kandahar, together with about a dozen non-Afghans. But five foreigners, including Udeen, were kept back-...
  • First Person Global

    There may be better ways to get from Taloqan to Kabul, but they don't take you through the Salang Tunnel. And it would have been a shame to miss it. Built in the 1960s, a decade later it served as the backbone of the vast Soviet military presence, connecting Kabul and the north of the country. In the late 1990s, the Northern Alliance decided to dynamite both ends of the tunnel to deny it to advancing Taliban forces. No vehicles have passed through it since.Just a few weeks ago, this side of the Salang Pass was still controlled by the Taliban, and strictly off-limits to journalists. Now, the place is flooded with traffic, most of it on foot. After climbing over a massive pile of rubble and twisted shards of metal piping, we stopped to catch our breath (it would take a whole hour to get through the toughest part of the tunnel), and entered.The daylight just disappeared. In its place was an eerie sight: a wobbly flow of small yellow lights bobbing up and down as far as you could see,...
  • The Scene In Kandahar

    The fronts of the houses in Kandahar used to glow from the light of hanging lanterns. But these days, not many people are venturing out at night to see them. The Taliban may no longer control their spiritual home and final stronghold, but their recent departure has hardly sent Afghans out to celebrate in the streets. Many civilians who fled the fighting still haven't returned, shops are closed all over town--and residents are especially afraid of a return to the warlordism that so marked this city before the Taliban took power. "All these people do is fight with each other," says Abdul, a farmer from Helmand, about four hours drive east of Kandahar. "This is a chance for them to get power."Just days ago, Gov. Gul Agha and another local commander, Naqui Bullah, were still fighting for control of the city. Hamid Karzai, named as interim president of Afghanistan at the recent United Nations-brokered talks in Bonn, arrived over the weekend. And while locals say small groups of Taliban...
  • Escape From Taloqan

    It wasn’t hard to make the decision to head south. After yet another journalist covering Afghanistan was killed two days ago—this time in the Northern Alliance-controlled city of Taloqan—the rest of us stationed there packed up our bags and headed out.Ulf Stromberg, 42, a Swedish TV cameraman, lived in a house about five minutes down the road from me, near the center of the town. Sometime in the early hours of Tuesday morning, five robbers armed with Kalashnikovs broke into Stromberg’s house, took all the high-tech equipment they could find and then shot the Swede at point-blank range. He was the eighth journalist to die in this country since Nov. 11.Stromberg’s death probably didn’t increase the danger for the other journalists much at all, but it brought the latent threat home in a way that the other killings hadn’t. Stromberg, after all, had been killed “at home,” not on a road known to be dangerous, or after falling off an ambushed tank like some of our other colleagues. It made...
  • Tough Talk

    Call it an instant saga of heroism. Northern Alliance commander Gen. Mohammed Daoud insists that his forces took Taloqan--the northeastern Afghan town situated 120 miles east of Mazar-e Sharif--only after "continuous fighting" earlier this week. But locals here say the Taliban just retreated quietly, without any sort of organized resistance.Now Daoud claims Alliance forces have surrounded Kunduz, the only significant northern city still under Taliban control. The general says the troops are ready to take the city--and are holding back simply to spare civilian casualties.More likely, the U.S.-backed Alliance is worried about its own casualties. Like so many other reports in the battle for Afghanistan, the situation on the ground in Kunduz is tough to confirm. Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters are said to be preparing to make a stand while U.S. warplanes are reportedly bombing targets outside the city. Some scenarios, however, do seem more likely than others. One is that the battle for...
  • 'I Would Smash His Head In Again If I Could'

    Was our road safe? We were moving through territory that supposedly had been captured by the Northern Alliance after a bloody nighttime skirmish with the Taliban earlier this week. But that route, in the hills around the northern Afghan village of Dasht-i-Qala, was also supposed to have been secure when a Taliban ambush left 10 soldiers and three foreign journalists dead last Sunday. And moving through the barren hills, it was increasingly clear that no one--not the army we were supposed to be following, nor the joyous civilians and soldiers celebrating the recent "victories" of the Northern Alliance--really knew what was going on. The hills where much of the fighting takes place here are filled with mines, and no one can say which of the half dozen or so dusty trails that lead across the empty plains are OK to travel.Driving from Khoja Bawaudin to the northeastern town of Taloqan--a seven-hour trip that covers a mere 50 miles or so--is an exercise in fatalism. Army posts stationed...
  • France: Chirac's Vacation Follies

    It's August. toute laFrance is on vacation. Time to kick back, relax and soak up some rays. Even picking up the newspaper requires a special effort this time of year.Especially if you're Jacques Chirac. The poor French president has been the butt of a merciless summer of political lampooning. And it's only gotten worse now that Chirac himself is en vacances. The media of all stripes and every political color are pitching in. None has been more biting than the investigative paper Le Canard Enchaine, which has been lighting into him week after week. One recent cartoon showed the president reclining forlornly in a beach chair, too weary to read the newspaper crumpled at his side. Another had him watching home movies of himself taken last summer in Mauritius, wishing he were there and not cooped up and bored, an unhappy prisoner of his official residence at Fort Bregancon on the French Riviera.Chirac's woes began a year ago when Paris Match glossed its pages with dish on his last...
  • Paris Is Burning

    The curfew begins each night at 11, but the streets of Colombes are unquiet. Police cars prowl through the sulfurous halos of the street lights and black shadows cast by soulless concrete housing projects. Here and there, the screens of mobile phones flash as hoodlums track the cops, watching where they aren't. "This part of the city has been lost," says Deputy Mayor Olivier Camps-Voqeur, as he wheels his Renault back toward the "safe" part of town and drops a visitor at the commuter train that will take him to Paris, only 10 miles away.The world of France's banlieues and cites--the grim ghettos on the fringes of the country's major towns--has never been more menacing to the society that for so long has ignored them. Outside Marseilles and Paris, gang wars rage and riot police are drawn into running battles. In Strasbourg, angry youths used to burn one or two cars a week. Now it's several a night. Beleaguered bus drivers are regularly assaulted. In the southeastern town of La Seyne...
  • Why Are These Two Heads Smiling?

    Jet fighters screech overhead as Ranier Hertrich ponders the strangeness of his situation in a dimly lit room at Le Bourget air show in Paris. He is co-CEO of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), the new all-European aerospace conglomerate, which makes him a partner in one of history's more interesting corporate marriages. Hertrich is German; his counterpart, Philippe Camus, is French. And they have been thrown together as co-CEOs in part because it would be too sensitive for a Frenchman or a German to preside alone over the first European armsmaker. "Can you imagine that Philippe Camus, for example, should sell the Eurofighter to the Germans?" Hertrich asks. "Or I would sell arms to [French Defense Minister] Alain Richard? Difficult to imagine. Maybe someday, but not now."This big business is a uniquely political creature. Founded a year ago, EADS brings together both civilian and military airline manufacturers of Germany, France, Britain, Spain and Italy in...
  • Entertainment:Bonjour, Garbage Tv

    Americans do it. the Dutch do it. Even Australians do it. So why shouldn't the French do it? Reality TV, that is. Ever since "Loft Story," the Gallic version of "Big Brother," premiered last month, it has become one of the most popular--and profitable--shows in French television history. Last week some 10 million viewers--nearly a 40 percent share of the audience--tuned in to watch a group of strangers eat, sleep, shower, quarrel and flirt together. The rules: 11 people go into a sealed apartment. One by one, they're voted out until two "winners" (a man and a woman) are left alone (except for the 26 cameras and 55 microphones, of course). Then they move into a plush, $450,000 Paris apartment. If they can tough it out together for six more months, the place is theirs. ...
  • Living La Vie En Rouge

    By 10 o' clock most nights, the boulevard de Clichy, at the foot of Montmartre, is choked with tour buses heading for the Moulin Rouge. They come from as far away as Poland and Scandinavia, honking and edging their way through traffic before disgorging their wide-eyed passengers into the bright lights and blur of the evening. This is Pigalle, Paris's red-light district, which has fueled the imagination of artists and poets--and emptied the wallets of soldiers and sailors--for more than 200 years. Visitors to Paris tend to as-sociate the city' s fame with the Eiffel Tower. But its sexier, slinkier infamy lies in the streets and alleyways that make up Pigalle, where sex shops are aglow with more neon than a Las Vegas truck stop. ...
  • Old School, New Age

    Charles de Gaulle established ENA, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, in 1945 with characteristic flourish and an unerring instinct for la Grandeur. He staffed it with former members of the Resistance. Its campus stood majestically--symbolically--in the Rue des Sts-Peres, the Street of Our Fathers. The first graduating class was deified as "Veterans." His vision: to assemble the nation's best and brightest, groom them for power and send them into the world to assume their rightful stewardship of the glory that is France. Six of the 14 prime ministers of the Fifth Republic passed through its hallowed corridors, as have scores of ministers, diplomats and industry chief executives. Gaullist President Jacques Chirac is an enarque. So is his socialist prime minister and nine of the 27 ministers making up the current coalition government. Tycoons Jean-Marie Messier of Vivendi and Michel Bon of France Telecom proudly bear its mantle. If the practice of bureaucracy could ever be elevated...
  • The Body Snatchers

    It would have taken at least four grave robbers, police reckon, to move the heavy marble stone sealing the tomb labeled Enrico, and make off with the oak coffin and body inside. The crime took place somewhere around the Ides of March, in a small cemetery in northern Italy's wealthy lake district. The body was that of Enrico Cuccia, the man who was revered and reviled as the father of modern Italian capitalism. Cuccia, founder of Mediobanca, the Milan-based merchant bank that dominates Italian finance, died just last June at 92. The culprits tried to cover up the crime, closing up the tomb behind them. But Cuccia's elderly housekeeper, still on the family payroll, visited weekly to change the flowers and noticed that the tombstone had been cracked. Police and family members were summoned and found an empty chamber but few other clues. ...
  • Justice Delayed In Belgium

    No one knows when--or if--Marc Dutroux will ever stand trial for some of Europe's most notorious crimes against children. Five years have passed since police searched a house owned by the convicted car thief and child molester in Marcinelle, Belgium. Two abused and malnourished girls, 12 and 14, were rescued from a basement dungeon. At nearby houses, investigators found the corpses of four other kidnapped girls--two teenagers and two 8-year-olds, Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, who had apparently starved to death after eight months in captivity. Police confiscated hundreds of pornographic videos, many reportedly showing Dutroux abusing children. The suspect even led gendarmes to the spot where the 8-year-olds were buried. ...
  • A Continental Casualty

    ;Not a single case of foot-and-mouth disease has been confirmed on the Continent. Yet the slaughter has already begun. Last week France started killing 50,000 sheep that may, or may not, have come in contact with the virus. Sanitary "national defense" units were mobilized throughout the country to react immediately should a case be detected. In Calais, Eurotunnel officials forced cars arriving from Britain to drive through a disinfectant. In Portugal, British tourists were politely asked to take off their shoes for cleaning. Europe's farmers can be reassured in the short term by these measures, but if foot-and-mouth makes it to the Continent, it would be disastrous. And not just for farmers, but for one of the pillars of European unity: the common agricultural policy or CAP. ...
  • Like Father, Unlike Son

    For Jose Bove, the real action this week is taking place not on the snowy slopes of Davos but on the barren plains of southern Brazil, where he is attending an alternative summit in support of the world's small farmers. The French activist has made a career out of thwarting governments and multinational corporations that use genetically modified (GM) crops. In 1998, Bove helped destroy five tons of GM corn produced in the south of France by Novartis, the world's leading GM seed producer. Even after he was given an eight-month suspended sentence, Bove remained defiant. "The only regret I have is that I wasn't able to destroy more of it," he said during the trial.In 1999, Bove famously trashed a half-built McDonald's in southern France in protest of America's fast-food imperialism. Later that year he stood on the front lines of street protests at the World Trade Organization's meeting in Seattle. Over the past two years the mustached sheep farmer has steadily gained public attention...
  • How Safe Is Their Beef?

    In Germany, a country famous for hygiene and good order, the boast was frequently heard: "German beef is safe." But agricultural officials confirmed last week that two dairy cows of German origin had tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE), the ailment better known by the increasingly scary name, mad-cow disease. The Germans weren't alone. In France, where two people have already died from the brain-destroying human form of the disease, another infected cow was discovered. That brought the total of sick French cattle to 190 since the epidemic began. The French government decided to ban all animal feed made from the meat and bone meal of dead cattle, a suspected source of BSE. The Germans also took new precautions, but all over Europe, there was a rising sense of panic.Mad-cow disease was no longer just a British problem. A new case of BSE was found last week in Galicia, a farming region in northwestern Spain, where a second case was suspected. The two animals had...
  • The Shepherd's Lament

    On a chilly late-summer morning, Pascal Wick sits perfectly still atop a rock outcropping in the French Alps. In the dawn light, he is nearly indistinguishable from the boulders, scree and sage tufts on this angular hillside. His flock of 1,300 sheep graze quietly on the slopes below. Suddenly, a loud barking breaks the silence. Wick's guard dog--a white, 100-pound Pyrenean Patou called Chrome--is running toward a thicket of trees. Wick scans the slope with binoculars, then lowers them slowly. "It could have been a wolf," he says.Last July Wick discovered a wolf finishing off a freshly killed lamb in broad daylight. In a nearby valley, local residents recently sighted a lone wolf on the prowl. Young wolves from farther down the valley, out to establish their own packs, have started "prospecting" in the area, says Wick, looking to expand their range. Wick the shepherd sees that as a good sign. "I want to show that we can live together."Environmentalists agree, and according to polls,...
  • Mondavi In Languedoc

    In the Languedoc region of France, Thomas Duroux eyes the dark red soil at the base of a thicket of arbutus trees. "These trees, this earth," he says. "This is what you need for a great, great wine." At least that's what California winemaker Robert Mondavi is betting on. For the last two years Duroux, a scientist working for Mondavi, and David Pearson, the company's representative in France, have scoured hundreds of acres of land in this southern region looking for the perfect spot for Mondavi's most ambitious project to date. Within 10 years they hope to have a wine to rival the finest Bordeaux and Bourgogne on the market. "The stakes for Mondavi are huge here," Duroux says.The venture is a gamble, and not only because Languedoc has a poor reputation for producing good wine. French fears about globalization have made all big U.S. companies potential targets for protest. Last spring local environmentalists drummed out an American businessman bent on opening a racetrack in the region...
  • An Amazon In Paris

    Champagne glasses clinked merrily along the banks of the Seine as Jeff Bezos worked to make a splash that was huge, yet somehow low-key. The founder of Amazon.com knew it would be all too easy for the world's biggest, brashest bookseller to offend the French. After all, Paris had greeted even Mickey Mouse as an Ugly American. So Bezos planned the bash for Amazon's launch in France carefully. He rented 11 barges, but moored them respectfully in the shadow of the spanking-new national library. He toasted Paris as the most beautiful city in the world, promised to respect French culture and wooed the local Internet glitterati by doing the official countdown in carefully rehearsed French. Yet between toasts at the Aug. 31 party, Bezos did not downplay his ambition to make Amazon a place to shop for "anything--and when I say anything, I mean anything--on the Net at any time."Bezos has been the quintessentially aggressive American Netpreneur, losing money faster than he makes it in order...
  • An Amazon In Paris

    Champagne glasses clinked merrily along the banks of the Seine as Jeff Bezos worked to make a splash that was huge, yet somehow low key. The founder of Amazon.com knew it would be all too easy for the world's biggest, brashest bookseller to offend the French. After all, Paris had greeted even Mickey Mouse as an Ugly American. So Bezos planned the bash for Amazon's launch in France carefully. He rented 11 barges, but moored them respectfully in the shadow of the spanking-new national library. He toasted Paris as the most beautiful city in the world, promised to respect French culture and wooed the local Internet glitterati by doing the official countdown in carefully rehearsed French. Yet between toasts at the party last Thursday night, Bezos did not downplay his ambition to make Amazon a place to shop for "anything--and when I say anything, I mean anything--on the Net at any time."Bezos has been the quintessentially aggressive American Netpreneur, losing money faster than he makes...
  • French Courts Tackle Nazism On The Net

    Last week two lower-level French courts issued path-breaking decisions on the question of how--and whether--to regulate Internet content. But the paths lead in different directions.In Paris, Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez sided with the League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, which filed a complaint against Yahoo for posting Nazi memorabilia on its auction site. It didn't matter that the site's French version had filtered out the 1,000 or so objects on sale, which included a $50 replica of a Zyklon-B gas can; French users could still visit the U.S. site. Citing a French law banning anything that "incites racial hatred," Gomez fined Yahoo $3,000 for "offend[ing] the collective memory of [France]." He told the company to block access to the U.S. auctions by July 24.Look for Yahoo to appeal the verdict. "The question is whether a French judge can adjudicate on the content of an American site, run by an American company and subject to American law, just because French users have access to it...
  • Tale Of The Wayward Son

    Ahmed Ressam was arrested last December at the U.S.-Canadian border with enough explosives hidden in the trunk of his rental car to blow up a small building--or a large monument. The capture of the 32-year-old Algerian raised fears of a vast terrorist conspiracy against targets inside the United States just as millennium celebrations were getting under way. Other arrests followed in Montreal, Vermont and Brooklyn, N.Y. Investigators pursued leads in Jordan and Pakistan. Some reports linked Ressam to Osama bin Laden, America's most-wanted terrorist, and to notorious guerrillas of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in Algeria. In all this, Ressam often has been portrayed by investigators as a small fish. But he is the one figure against whom there's solid evidence: the alleged bomb ingredients in his trunk.Ressam's trial in Los Angeles this summer should reveal just how sinister a figure he really is. He's facing a battery of charges, including conspiring to bring explosives into the...
  • The Kids Are A Lot Better Than All Right

    Jeremie Berge hasn't slept at home in five days. At 2 in the morning on a Saturday the 19-year-old is still at school, staring into a matrix of 3-D images on his computer screen. His shoes lie tossed in a corner among Kit-Kat wrappers and empty Coke cans. He hasn't shaved, and his eyes are red. With techno music blasting out of his computer speakers, he leans back in his chair and grins. "Look," he says, "this isn't the Hilton. We're here to work, not to sleep." At least his school--EPITA, or Ecole Pour l'Informatique et les Techniques Avancé him a choice. It stays open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.Ambitious French kids have always worked hard. Just not this hard. Back in the 20th century, go-getters studied diligently to win admission to one of the country's Grandes Ecoles--where they could network with others who had made the grade. The elite got careers in government or state-owned companies; everyone else struggled for a job in a market that wasn't...
  • Blown To The Future

    Europeans have never experienced anything quite like their latest bout of killer weather. The passage of last week's unprecedented tandem storms, Martin and Lothar, left more than 100 people dead from drowning, avalanches and other weather-related causes, including a French farmer who was buried alive by wind-tossed bales of hay. In France alone there were at least 83 dead and nine other victims who remained missing late last week. Winds exceeding 200 kilometers per hour broke all existing records in Paris. Baffled meteorologists reported that the force of the winter gales scarcely dissipated as the system swept relentlessly inland from the North Atlantic, spreading a trail of destruction across Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Romania. "There were no models for how this storm behaved," says Patrick Galois of Meteo France, the national weather service. "We've never seen this kind of violence before."Nearly two thirds of France was declared a disaster zone. The...