US expands China health alert amid illness reports

US State Department issued an expanded health alert for all of China. (Shutterstock)
Updated 08 June 2018
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US expands China health alert amid illness reports

  • US diplomats based in the country had experienced a mysterious malady that resembles a brain injury
  • The US government said that it had brought a group of people from that consulate back to the United States for further evaluation of their symptoms

BEIJING: The US State Department on Friday issued an expanded health alert for all of China amid reports some US diplomats based in the country had experienced a mysterious malady that resembles a brain injury and has already affected US personnel in Cuba.
A previous statement in May only mentioned the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou as the location for the health alert, though it was sent to US citizens throughout the country.
The State Department had confirmed earlier that one US employee assigned to the consulate in Guangzhou had “suffered a medical incident,” and that it had deployed a team to screen employees and family members there.
On Wednesday the US government said that it had brought a group of people from that consulate back to the United States for further evaluation of their symptoms, and reiterated that it was offering screening to anyone at the US embassy in Beijing or other consulates in China who requested it.
The United States also operates consulates in the mainland Chinese cities of Chengdu, Shanghai, Shenyang and Wuhan.
The updated statement, sent by email, changed the location of the health alert to “countrywide” from Guangzhou.
It warned of “unexplained physical symptoms or events, auditory or sensory phenomena,” and said symptoms of the ailment included dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, ear complaints and hearing loss, as well as difficulty sleeping.
China has said that it thoroughly investigated the initial case reported by the United States and found no reasons or clues to explain it.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday that as far as she was aware the Chinese government had not had any formal communication with US officials on any new cases.
China’s state-run Global Times tabloid called the situation at the consulate “very strange.”
“Practically all Chinese people do not believe that this country’s official organizations would carry out such sonic attacks against US diplomats. This does not fit with China’s basic concept and principles of diplomacy, and is inconceivable,” the Global Times said in an editorial.
It also said people found it hard to believe that another foreign country could carry out such an attack in China, escape China’s monitoring, and leave no trace.
Last year, 24 US government employees and family members in Cuba displayed the symptoms, which were similar to those related to concussion and mild traumatic brain injury, according to the State Department.
The illnesses among the American diplomats stationed in Havana heightened tension between the old Cold War foes.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement on Tuesday saying the department established a task force last month “to direct a multi-agency response to the unexplained health incidents.”


Dutch arrest suspected Syrian militant commander: prosecutor

Updated 21 May 2019
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Dutch arrest suspected Syrian militant commander: prosecutor

THE HAGUE: Dutch police on Tuesday arrested a Syrian asylum seeker suspected of committing war crimes as a commander of the Al-Nusra Front militant group, prosecutors said.
The 47-year-old man, identified only by his nom de guerre Abu Khuder, was detained in Kapelle in the southwestern Netherlands, the Dutch federal prosecutor said.
“The man is accused of participating in the armed struggle as a commander or a terrorist Jabhat Al-Nusra battalion,” the prosecutor said in a statement, using another name for the Al-Nusra front.
It said he was held “on suspicion of committing war crimes and terrorist crimes in Syria,” adding that he had fought in a battalion known as Ghuraba’a Mohassan (Strangers of Mohassan).
The arrested Syrian has lived in the Netherlands since 2014 and was granted a temporary asylum permit, the statement said.
Police searched the suspect’s house and recovered documents, a computer and a smartphone, it said, adding that he was due to appear in court on Friday.
He was arrested based on information provided by German police, where six homes belonging to suspected members of the same battalion were raided, it added.
German police “provided witness testimonies against the suspect,” the Dutch prosecutor said.
The Al-Nusra Front was allied to Al-Qaeda but renounced ties to the group. Under a new name, it now dominates the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which holds administrative control of the Syrian city of Idlib.
The arrest of the Syrian comes as the Netherlands grapples with the problem of what to do with home-grown radicals who went to fight in Syria.
At least 315 people left the Netherlands since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011 to join militant groups, according to Dutch media reports quoting official figures.
Around 85 have been killed in the fighting and 55 have returned.
The issue was highlighted in March when the Dutch husband of a British-born teenager who fled to join Daesh said he wanted her to live with him in the Netherlands along with their child.