Myanmar man accused of self-immolation in Australian bank

A fire damaged ATM (automated teller machine) is seen at the Commonwealth Bank Springvale in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, on Friday, after more than two dozen people were injured in a fire. (EPA)
Updated 19 November 2016
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Myanmar man accused of self-immolation in Australian bank

CANBERRA, Australia: A 21-year-old man accused of injuring 26 bystanders when he set himself on fire with gasoline in a bank branch in Australia’s second-largest city was identified on Saturday as a Myanmar asylum seeker who had been waiting three years to be accepted as a refugee.
The suspect, known by his friends as Noor, and five bystanders were taken to hospital with serious burns following the fire at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia branch in the Melbourne suburb of Springvale Friday morning, officials said.
Another 21 people ranging from children to elderly in their 80s were taken to hospitals with breathing problems.
Noor, who remained under police guard on Saturday, came to Australia by boat as a lone teen in 2013 and had been waiting to be granted a refugee visa ever since, said Pamela Curr, who recently retired from the non-government Asylum Seeker Resource Center outside Melbourne.
Curr did not know why Noor had allegedly decided to set himself alight. But she said the Immigration Department was threatening to make thousands of asylum seekers financially desperate by cutting their benefits if their refugee claims were rejected.
“The department is going to starve thousands of people out of the country, or so they think,” Curr said.
A member of Myanmar’s minority-Muslim Rohingya community in Melbourne, Habib Habib, said Noor speaks Rohingya, although he might not himself identify as Rohingya.
Noor had been struggling financially to help support his family in Myanmar with the government benefits he is paid every two weeks, Habib said. Asylum seekers are not legally allowed to work.
Habib had been told that Noor’s latest benefit had not been deposited into his bank account when it was due on Wednesday and that Noor had returned to the bank each day in the hope of making a withdrawal.
Noor’s friends had become concerned by the state of his mental health as years passed without his refugee claim being resolved.
“This system makes all of them crazy. They’re in legal limbo,” Habib said.
Police have yet to announce a motive for the fire, which was quickly extinguished.
Closed-circuit television footage showed Noor walking toward the bank carrying a plastic bottle of gasoline that he had bought from a nearby gas station moments before the blaze.
Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on Saturday declined to comment on Noor’s refugee claim.
“You’d have to lose your mind to do something so cruel,” Joyce told reporters.
Noor arrived in Australia shortly before July 19, 2013, when the government introduced a hard-line policy banning refugees who arrive by boat after that date from ever making Australia home. Since then, asylum seekers have been sent to Australia-run camps on the Pacific island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Two refugees on Nauru set themselves alight within a week early this year. The first was a 23-year-old Iranian man who died. A 21-year-old Somali woman survived after hospital treatment in Australia.
Noor was initially detained in an immigration camp on the Australian territory of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean before he was relocated to Melbourne on a bridging visa while awaiting the outcome of his refugee application, Curr said.


Trump paying tribute to Americans killed in Syrian attack

Updated 34 min 17 sec ago
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Trump paying tribute to Americans killed in Syrian attack

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Maryland: President Donald Trump was paying tribute Saturday to the four Americans killed in a suicide bomb attack in Syria this week as he set off to Dover Air Force Base for the return of their remains.
The trip was not listed on the president’s public schedule that was released Friday night, but he tweeted the news before his Saturday morning departure from the White House.
“Will be leaving for Dover to be with the families of 4 very special people who lost their lives in service to our Country!” he wrote.
The visit comes during a budget fight that has consumed Washington for the past month, shuttering parts of the federal government and leaving hundreds of thousands of workers without pay. Raising the stakes in his dispute with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the president on Thursday abruptly canceled her military flight, hours before she and a congressional delegation were to depart for Afghanistan on a previously undisclosed visit to US troops.
Trump planned an announcement later Saturday that was expected to outline a deal the White House hopes might pave the way for the shutdown’s end.
Daesh has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack in the northern Syrian town of Manbij that came about a month after Trump had declared that the militants had been defeated and that he was withdrawing US forces from the country.
The attack highlighted the threat still posed by Daesh despite Trump’s assertion and could complicate that withdrawal plan. Some of his senior advisers have disagreed with the decision and have offered an evolving timetable for the removal of the approximately 2,000 US troops.
The bombing, which also wounded three US troops, was the deadliest assault on US forces in Syria since they went into the country in 2015.
At least 16 people were killed, and the dead were said to have included a number of fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have fought alongside the Americans against Daesh.
The Pentagon has identified three of the four Americans killed:
— Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, who was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
— Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, of Pine Plains, New York, and based at Fort Meade, Maryland.
— civilian Scott A. Wirtz from St. Louis.
The Pentagon hasn’t identified the fourth casualty, a civilian contractor.
During a visit Thursday to the Defense Department, Trump cited the fallen when he expressed his “deepest condolences to the families of the brave American heroes who laid down their lives yesterday in selfless service to our nation.” He called them “great, great people. We will never forget their noble and immortal sacrifice.”
Trump has made one other visit to Dover during his presidency, soon after taking office. On Feb. 1, 2017, Trump honored the returning remains of a US Navy SEAL killed in a raid in Yemen. Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, a 36-year-old from Peoria, Illinois, was the first known US combat casualty since Trump became president.
Over the past month, Trump and others have appeared to adjust the Syria pullout timeline, and US officials have suggested it will likely take several months to safely withdraw American forces from Syria.
In a Dec. 19 tweet announcing the withdrawal, Trump had said, “We have defeated Daesh in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” referring to another acronym for Daesh. He said the troops would begin coming home “now.” That plan triggered immediate pushback from military leaders and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
In discussing the withdrawal decision, Trump has repeatedly spoken about how much he dislikes making calls and writing letters to the families of those killed while serving overseas.
“It’s time to get our soldiers out, and it’s time to get our young people out,” Trump said during a post-Christmas visit to Ayn Al-Asad Airbase in Iraq. “I don’t like sending those letters home to parents, saying that your young man or your young woman has been killed. ... We’ve been doing it long enough.”
A leading US voice on foreign policy, Sen. Lindsey Graham, said during a visit Saturday to Turkey that an American withdrawal from Syria that had not been thought through would lead to “chaos” and “an Iraq on steroids.” Graham, R-S.C., urged Trump not to get out without a plan and said the goal of destroying Daesh militants in Syria had not yet been accomplished.
Manbij is the main town on the westernmost edge of Syrian territory held by the US-backed Syrian Kurds, running along the border with Turkey. Mixed Kurdish-Arab Syrian forces liberated Manbij from Daesh in 2016 with help from the US-led coalition.
But Kurdish control of the town infuriated Turkey, which views the main US Kurdish ally, the YPG militia, as “terrorists” linked to Kurdish insurgents on its own soil.
Trump reinforced his withdrawal decision during a meeting with about a half-dozen GOP senators late Wednesday at the White House.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who was at the meeting, told reporters on a conference call that the president remained “steadfast” in his decision not to stay in Syria — or Afghanistan — “forever.” But the senator did not disclose the latest thinking on the withdrawal timeline.
Paul said Trump told the group, “We’re not going to continue the way we’ve done it.”