Australian wildfires spare observatory, uncover bush drug lab

Updated 14 January 2013
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Australian wildfires spare observatory, uncover bush drug lab

CANBERRA: Raging wildfires destroyed at least another 28 homes and licked at Australia’s leading optical space observatory on Monday, officials said, but spared giant telescopes that have mapped far-away galaxies and discovered new planets.
Less fortunate were a father and son who police arrested after a fire was lit deliberately to destroy illegal drug laboratories they were alleged to be running in dense bushland. Police were closing in on the drug labs when the fire was lit.
More than 140 fires are burning across vast areas in the north and west of New South Wales state (NSW), Australia’s most populated state, and in the island state of Tasmania despite cooler weather giving firefighters some respite.
A searing heat-wave had fueled the fires over the past week. Only one person, an elderly firefighter working alone in Tasmania, has died so far in the fires.
The biggest blaze, with a perimeter of 100 km (60 miles), destroyed around 40,000 hectares (100,000 acres) of bushland and 28 homes around the Warrambungle National Park in NSW.
That fire also forced the evacuation of the Siding Springs Observatory, which houses 15 major telescopes.
Cameras inside the mountain-top observatory showed large flames and thick smoke sweeping over it. There appeared to be little damage to telescopes and dishes but scientists have been unable to visit the site yet to assess any damage.
“We do not yet know what impact the extreme heat of the ash might have on the telescopes themselves,” said Erik Lithander, acting vice chancellor of the Australian National University, which operates the observatory.
The fire damaged five buildings at the observatory, including accommodation for visiting astronomers, but Lithander said scientists were confident the telescopes would still work.
Siding Springs is home to the 4-meter (13 ft) Anglo-Australian Telescope, which has surveyed 200,000 galaxies and was instrumental in confirming the existence of dark energy.
That discovery led to Australian Brian Schmidt sharing the 2011 Nobel Prize for physics.
The observatory has also helped find more than 30 new planets over the past decade and is being used to map the southern sky.
In Sydney, police arrested two men late on Sunday over a fire that broke out in the Blue Mountains National Park west of the city last week. The fire destroyed more than 50 hectares of bushland in the Blue Mountains, a popular tourist destination.
Police said they had been aware of the illegal, outdoor drug labs but were forced to postpone a raid due to the extreme fire danger in the area last week.
“The two sites ... were only accessible by foot and required police to trek through tick, leech and snake-infested scrubland to reach them,” NSW police said in a statement on Monday.
Police said a father and son had been charged with “the large commercial manufacture of a prohibited drug” and contaminating a water catchment area. The younger man was also charged with lighting the fire.


Rao Anwar found ‘responsible’ of Naqeeb Mehsud’s murder

Updated 22 April 2018
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Rao Anwar found ‘responsible’ of Naqeeb Mehsud’s murder

  • Suspended police superintendent responsible for death of Naqeeb Mehsud, an aspiring Pashtun model, in fake police encounter in Karachi
  • The suspended officer has challenged the constitution of JIT sans representatives of intelligence agencies, armed forces

KARACHI: Rao Anwar, who was remanded in custody on Saturday, has been found responsible for the murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud, an aspiring Pashtun model from the country’s tribal region.

Mehsud was killed in a fake police encounter on Jan. 12 this year.

“Rao Anwar has been found guilty,” a senior official who is part of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing Anwar, told Arab News.

The apex court on March 24 had formed a JIT headed by Aftab Ahmed Pathan, Additional IG Sindh, to probe the incident. The JIT comprised  Waliullah Dal, Additional IG Special Branch; Azad Ahmed Khan, DIG South; Zulfiqar Larik, DIG East; and Dr. Rizwan Ahmed, SSP Central Karachi.

The official, who requested anonymity, told Arab News that the JIT report will be produced in the court once signed by all of its members.
Anwar was presented today before the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Karachi on Saturday which sent him on judicial remand to prison till May 2, prosecutor Zafar Solangi told Arab News.

When asked for a comment upon his appearance at the ATC, Anwar said: “I have challenged the JIT and I don’t accept its findings.”
He further claimed: “I have not recorded any statement before this JIT.”

On April 5, Anwar filed a petition praying for the inclusion of representatives of “the intelligence agencies, armed forces and civil armed forces.”

Anwar claimed that the inclusion of the members from intelligence agencies and armed forces was required by law.

The police officer was brought to the court amid tight security arrangements, where he was produced along with 11 other accused.

Investigation officer, SSP Dr. Rizwan Ahmed, who is also part of the JIT probing the incident, told the court that investigations are underway and the JIT’s report will be presented before the court once it was finalized. He sought a week for the submission of the report.
Anwar was given into 30-day police custody upon the last court hearing.

Anwar, who is accused of killing Mehsud in a fake police encounter, claims that the slain Pashtun model was an active member of banned terrorist outfits Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Al Qaeda, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). However, the evident subsequently began to pile up against the police team involved in his killing.

Following the incident, a formal inquiry was launched against Anwar. As pressure mounted on him, he decided to go underground and even made a botched attempt to fly out of Pakistan.

He also wrote a few letters to the Supreme Court after the top court began a suo motu hearing of Naqeebullah’s murder, telling the judges that the system was heavily stacked against him and he was not hopeful of getting any justice in the case.

In response, the country’s top court decided to grant him some relief, asking him to surrender himself and let the law take its course.
The court was also willing to reconstitute a joint investigation team to look into Naqeebullah’s killing since the absconding police officer had voiced concern over its composition.

Authorities froze Anwar’s accounts after his repeated non-appearance before the court.

In a surprise move last month, the absconding police officer came to the court in a white car. He was clad in a black dress and wore a medical mask to cover his face.

Anwar’s lawyer told the chief justice that his client had “surrendered” and wanted protective bail. However, the Supreme Court turned down the request and ordered the law enforcement authorities to lock up the former SSP.