Don't tell King Abdullah how to run King Abdullah University

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah will apparently only put up with so much from his clerics. Sheikh Saad al-Shethry has been removed from the kingdom's highest council of religious scholars by royal decree, after he criticized a newly-opened multibillion-dollar university for being un-Islamic. Shethry had a particular problem with co-ed classes:

"Mixing is a great sin and a great evil," al-Shethri was quoted as saying. "When men mix with women, their hearts burn and they will be diverted from their main goal (which is) ... education."

Abdullah has acquired a reputation as an unlikely reformer after this year's Valentine's Day reforms, in which he sacked the head of the infamous religious police and appointed a woman to his cabinet for the first time. But as Saudi Arabia expert Toby Jones argued at the time, Abdullah is probably less interested in liberalizing Saudi society than he is eliminating threats to his family's power.

The firing of Shethry certainly seems to be an example. The university -- which is named after the king, of course --  is something of a legacy project for Abdullah. He has touted it as a "beacon of tolerance" and as part of his plan to make Saudi Arabia a center of technological innovation. His patience for unsolicited sharia advice from the peanut gallery is likely to be pretty low.

Scott Nelson/KAUST via Getty Images


French warn of "body bomb" threat for airplanes

Al Qaeda's newest suicide bombing tactic -- cellphone activated explosives hidden inside the bomber's rectum -- has French security officials worried:

French anti-terrorism chiefs are expected to recommend widening examinations already used to catch drug smugglers after President Sarkozy’s new domestic intelligence directorate (DCRI) learnt of an attack in Saudi Arabia in which the bomber detonated such a device in his rectum. 

Al-Qaeda gave video publicity to its new method tested by Abdullah Hassan al-Asiri, a 23-year-old terrorist, who blew himself apart at a meeting in Jeddah in late August with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi anti-terrorism chief. The Prince was slightly injured in the blast, but al-Asiri, who used a mobile telephone to trigger the bomb, was ripped into 70 pieces, the DCRI report said.

Such a blast, though limited in force, could be catastrophic in a pressurised airliner, say experts. Counter-measures would be draconian. As well as taking off shoes and handing in liquids, passengers could be subjected to X-ray screening or be required to hand in all electronic devices because they could be used as detonators, police commanders told Le Figaro newspaper.

Given that shoe removal has become an integral part of the "security theater" in U.S. airports since shoe-bomber Richard Reid's botched operation in 2002, one shudders to think where we're headed in response to the "keister bomber," as the Times calls him.

Normally I'm all for government transparency. But it seems like "body-bombing" is generally not a very effective tactic, since most of the explosion is absorbed by the bomber himself, but it could be very effective on a plane. Why exactly did French authorities choose to publicize this fact?