False terror alert sparks panic on London's Oxford Street

Armed police walk along Oxford Street, London. (Reuters)
Updated 24 November 2017

False terror alert sparks panic on London's Oxford Street

LONDON: A false terror alert caused panic on one of London's busiest shopping streets on Friday, with shoppers seen running for cover after reports of gunfire.

The Metropolitan Police said officers were called just after 4:30 p.m. after "a number of reports of shots fired on Oxford Street and underground at Oxford Circus tube station." 

Shoppers were seen fleeing the scene and at least one woman was injured. 

Police said they responded to the reports of gunfire "as if the incident is terrorist related."

Armed officers swooped on the area but the British Transport Police said no evidence of gunfire was found.

“The area was searched swiftly,” it said. “We have not located any trace of suspects, evidence of shots fired or casualties.”

Shop workers in the area told Arab News that hundreds of people rushed into stores seeking cover as the incident unfolded, perhaps wary of the five terror attacks that have hit the UK this year.

Harry Haley, an employee at Urban Outfitters near Oxford Circus station, was on the shop door at the time. “Just before 5pm I saw people sprinting away from the tube station. Tons of people came into the store and rushed towards the back where the lifts are,” he told Arab News.

"It was quite frightening but we’ve been prepared for this kind of thing. We closed the door, calmed people down and asked them to go upstairs.” 

Nitin Bhuhdia, store director at Mango on Oxford Steet, said: “I saw people running in panic, nobody knew what was going on at the time.

“We evacuated the store and then started letting people back in to keep them safe because some couldn’t find anywhere sheltered to go to. They sort of found refuge in our store.”

Oxford Circus station is at the crossroads of the UK capital’s best-known shopping streets, Oxford Street and Regent Street. The area was buzzing on "Black Friday," known for hefty discounts offered to shoppers.

John Taylor, store manager at the Russell & Bromley store on Oxford Street, told Arab News that customers were evacuated from the shop during the incident. 

He said that people in London had been on "alert" since the March terror attack on the British Parliament.

"Obviously today (Black Friday), being one of the busiest days of the year, we were expecting something like this to happen,” he told Arab News.

"It’s not something that’s news to us unfortunately, you just try to get on with life."

Thailand immigrant crackdown eyes ‘dark-skinned people’

This photo taken on October 18, 2018 shows Thai immigration bureau chief and police Major General Surachate Hakparn speaking to foreigners held for investigation in Bangkok's Patpong district during a police operation called "X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner". (AFP)
Updated 23 min 39 sec ago

Thailand immigrant crackdown eyes ‘dark-skinned people’

  • Thailand’s reputation as a place to disappear and reinvent yourself combined with lax visa rules can be a headache for law enforcement
  • Thailand is not a party to the UN convention recognizing refugees and made headlines in 2015 for deporting more than 100 Uighurs back to China

BANGKOK: Allegedly aimed at busting visa abusers and illegal migrants, a Thai police operation called “X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner” has raised questions about racial profiling and fears for asylum-seekers caught in its web.
Tens of millions of tourists come to Thailand each year for the cheap living and postcard-perfect beaches, with some seeking out the seedier thrills of a bustling sex industry.
But as weak law enforcement, porous borders and corruption help make the country a hub for transnational crime, Thai authorities are intensifying Operation X-Ray — a program that started about a year ago — with more than 1,000 people arrested in recent weeks, most for overstaying their visa.
Although the vast majority caught in the dragnet are migrants from nearby countries, the racial overtones of the campaign have sparked concerns about profiling based on skin color.
“Our job is to classify who are the good dark-skinned people and who are the ones likely to commit crimes,” said immigration bureau chief Surachate Hakparn.
He told AFP that the operation was aimed at weeding out visa overstayers and nabbing criminals — especially “romance scammers” who lure lonely locals online to defraud them of cash.
He insisted that the romance scammers are often Nigerian or Ugandan.

At the start of one night time operation witnessed by AFP in Bangkok’s rowdy Nana district earlier this month, about 75 Thai police officers stood in rows at a briefing.
“The suspicious targets are the dark-skinned people,” shouted an officer. “First, we search their bodies, then we search their passports.”
Soon they began stopping suspects, including three people from Mali who were tested for drugs on the spot.
By 11:55 pm, almost 30 individuals — about half of whom were black — had been rounded up.
Only one was Caucasian, a Frenchman caught smoking marijuana.
Surachate’s staff said details on the breakdown of nationalities was “confidential.”
But in the first two weeks of October, police arrested a Korean citizen wanted by Interpol for sexual assault, and busted a team of four Nigerians and 16 Thais allegedly involved in romance scams, according to authorities.
They also found a Laos national who had overstayed his visa by more than 11 years.

Thailand’s reputation as a place to disappear and reinvent yourself combined with lax visa rules can be a headache for law enforcement.
The junta that seized power in 2014 justified its power grab by promising stability amid street protests and political upheaval.
But rights groups warn that refugees and asylum seekers who transit through Bangkok en route to a third country for resettlement are also being ensnared in the latest police operation as they lack legal protections.
According to rough estimates from the non-profit Fortify Rights, there are about 100 adults and 30 children who fit this description, mainly from Pakistan but also from Syria and Somalia.
“Thailand’s immigration crackdown has swept up refugees and asylum seekers, sent young children into horrid, prison-like conditions, and appears to have clear aspects of racial profiling against South Asians and Africans,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Thailand is not a party to the UN convention recognizing refugees and made headlines in 2015 for deporting more than 100 Uighurs back to China.
More than 70 Pakistani Christians were rounded up and detained this month by police under charges of illegal entry and overstay even though they were assumed to be in transit and escaping religious persecution in their Muslim-majority homeland.
But the authorities remain unapologetic.
According to immigration chief Surachate’s count, Thailand is home to more than 6,000 people who ought to have left the country already.
“In order to clean house, we need to bring in the good people and deport the bad people so that the country will have sustained stability,” he said.