Verdict against terrorists

reveals fatal intelligence snafu

LONDON - A jury found five British Muslim men guilty yesterday of planning fertilizer-bomb attacks around London, ending a yearlong trial that linked the plotters with two of the four men who blew themselves up on London's transit system in July 2005.

According to the evidence, authorities had closely monitored meetings in 2004 between members of the two plots but never fully investigated the men who pulled off the transit attacks, which killed 56 people 18 months later. To ensure a fair trial, the judge had ordered the news media not to make the information public until after the verdict.

The revelation turned a victory for British authorities into a day of hand-wringing and recriminations over whether they had missed an opportunity to prevent the deadliest terrorist attack in the country's history.

The two 2005 suicide bombers, like four of the five men convicted yesterday, were British citizens of Pakistani origin. At least some of the men in both plots were trained at al Qaeda-linked military camps in Pakistan.

The judge, Sir Michael Astill sentenced the five convicted men to life imprisonment, saying, "You have betrayed the country that has given you every advantage in life."

Mexican druglords taking over

human-smuggling business

SASABE, Mexico - Mexican druglords are taking over the business of smuggling migrants into the United States, using them as human decoys to divert authorities from billions of dollars in cocaine shipments across the same border.

U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials told the Associated Press that drug traffickers, in response to a U.S. border crackdown, have seized control of the routes they once shared with human smugglers and in the process are transforming themselves into more diversified crime syndicates.

The drug gangs get protection money from the migrants and then effectively use them to clear the trail for the flow of drugs.

Gustavo Soto, a spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol in Tucson, Ariz., said smugglers are carrying drugs along paths once used primarily by migrants. New fences and National Guard troops have helped seal the usual drug routes, and vehicle barriers are forcing traffickers to send more drugs north on the backs of cartel foot soldiers, he said.

Will Castro be missing

as Cuba celebrates May Day?

HAVANA - Communist Cuba geared up yesterday for its traditional May Day march featuring hundreds of thousands of workers, but an appearance by recovering leader Fidel Castro at the event was uncertain.

The 80-year-old Castro for decades has attended the annual International Workers' Day march, but there was no official word whether the leader would be well enough to make it today.

"I can neither confirm nor deny," National Assembly President Alarcon told reporters who asked him if Castro would attend the parade. "I don't have the slightest idea."

Venezuela to formally cut ties

with World Bank, IMF

CARACAS - President Hugo Chavez announced yesterday that he will formally pull Venezuela out of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, a largely symbolic move because the nation has already paid off its debts to the lending institutions.

"We will no longer have to go to Washington nor to the IMF nor to the World Bank, not to anyone," said the leftist leader, who has long railed against the Washington-based lending institutions.

Chavez said he wanted to formalize Venezuela's exit from the two bodies "tonight and ask them to return what they owe us."

Guyanese villagers kill woman

they accused of being vampire

GEORGETOWN, Guyana - A crowd of Guyanese villagers lynched an elderly woman they accused of being an evil spirit who drinks the blood of human babies, police said yesterday.

Authorities in the South American country said the woman raised suspicions with unusual behavior and was set upon by villagers who apparently believed she was an "Old Higue" - the equivalent of a vampire in the local Obeah religion that blends folk magic and African rituals.

The woman, who has not been identified, was beaten to death and her remains were found on Saturday in a village 15 miles east of Georgetown, police said.

Police have arrested three people and are questioning others, Superintendent Balram Persaud said.

Some expressed surprise at the persistence of belief in Higues, a creature said to take the shape of an old woman who can shrink herself to enter victims' homes through a keyhole. *

-Daily News wire services