Mosque attacks spark outrage, fuel concern over Islamophobia

People gather at a vigil to mourn for the victims of the Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand, at Washington Square Park in Manhattan, in New York City, New York, U.S. March 15, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 March 2019
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Mosque attacks spark outrage, fuel concern over Islamophobia

  • London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said the city’s Metropolitan Police force would be visible outside mosques
  • One man was arrested and charged with murder in what appeared to be a carefully planned racist attack

BRUSSELS: World leaders expressed condolences and condemnation Friday following the deadly attacks on mosques in New Zealand, while Muslim leaders said the mass shooting was evidence of a rising tide of violent Islamophobia.
In a tweet, US President Donald Trump sent “warmest sympathy and best wishes” to the people of New Zealand.
He wrote that “49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The US stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!“
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the attacks the “latest example of rising racism and Islamophobia.”
New Zealand police said at least 49 people were killed Friday at two mosques in the picturesque South Island city of Christchurch. More than 20 were seriously wounded in what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called a “terrorist attack.”
One man was arrested and charged with murder in what appeared to be a carefully planned racist attack. Police also defused explosive devices in a car. Two other people were being held in custody and police were trying to determine how they might be involved.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan echoed those sentiments.
“I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11 where Islam & 1.3 bn Muslims have collectively been blamed for any act of terror by a Muslim,” he tweeted.
The secretary-general of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Youssef Al-Othaimeen, said in a statement that the attack “served as a further warning on the obvious dangers of hate, intolerance, and Islamophobia.”
In France, home to western Europe’s largest Muslim community, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner ordered regional authorities to bolster security at mosques as a precaution.
London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said the city’s Metropolitan Police force would be visible outside mosques.
“London stands with the people of Christchurch in the face of this horrific terror attack,” he said. “London will always celebrate the diversity that some seek to destroy.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said New York City is providing extra security for Muslim community centers and mosques. He said he wants the city’s Muslims to know that New Yorkers “truly embrace” them and “have their backs.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians are appalled by the attack and said they remember all too well the sorrow after a Canadian man shot dead six Muslim men in a Quebec mosque in 2017.
“Far too often, Muslims suffer unimaginable loss and pain in the places where they should feel safest,” Trudeau said in a statement. “To move forward as a world, we need to recognize diversity as a source of strength, and not a threat.”
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo condemned the attacks, in which an Indonesian father and son were among those wounded. Indonesian Muslim leaders expressed anger at the shooting rampage while urging Muslims to show restraint.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said bigotry in Western countries contributed to the attacks on Muslims in New Zealand. In a Friday tweet, he also criticized the West for “defending demonization of Muslims as ‘freedom of expression.’”
Afghanistan’s Taliban movement also condemned the shooting rampage, calling it an “unforgivable crime.”
Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yusuf called on the New Zealand government to investigate “the root cause of such terrorism and hand a hefty punishment to the attackers.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the attacks a “brazen act of terror.” His office said on Twitter that Israel mourns the murder of innocent worshippers, condemns the assault and sends its condolences to bereaved families.
Jordan’s King Abdullah tweeted that “the heinous massacre against Muslims praying in peace in New Zealand is an appalling terrorist crime. It unites us against extremism, hatred and terrorism, which knows no religion.” Jordan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that one Jordanian was killed and five wounded in the attack.


US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

Rescuers carry a man who was injured in an attack on a restaurant by Somali Islamist group al Shabaab in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, October 1, 2016. (REUTERS)
Updated 16 min 44 sec ago
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US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

  • The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians

WASHINGTON: There is credible evidence that US military airstrikes in Somalia have killed or wounded nearly two dozen civilians, an international human rights group said Tuesday, charging that the Pentagon is not adequately investigating potential casualties.
US Africa Command officials immediately disputed the allegations laid out in a report by Amnesty International, and insisted that the military has investigated 18 cases of possible civilian casualties since 2017 and found that none were credible.
The seemingly contradictory information underscores the complexities of military operations against the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab group in Somalia, involving airstrikes by several allied nations in hostile, remote locations that are difficult to access safely.
The report came the same day that a Somali intelligence official and two local residents said a US drone strike on Monday killed civilians.
The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians. The official was not authorized to talk with the media and did so on condition of anonymity.
Residents concurred with the official’s assessment.
Mohamed Siyad, an elder in Lanta Buro, a village near the farming town of Afgoye, Somalia, told The Associated Press that four civilians including employees of a telecom company were killed.
“They were known to us — they had nothing to do with Al-Shabab,” he said by phone.
Another resident, Abdiaziz Hajji, said that the drone destroyed the vehicle. “Bodies were burnt beyond recognition,” he said. “They were innocent civilians killed by Americans for no reason. They always get away with such horrible mistakes.”
In a rare move, US Africa Command on Tuesday mentioned those possible casualties in a press release about the strike and said officials will look into the incident. But, more broadly, US defense officials said casualty allegations in Somalia are questionable because Al-Shabab militants make false claims or force local citizens to do the same.
Amnesty International, however, said it analyzed satellite imagery and other data, and interviewed 65 witnesses and survivors of five specific airstrikes detailed in the report. The report concludes that there is “credible evidence” that the US was responsible for four of the airstrikes, and that it’s plausible the US conducted the fifth strike. It said 14 civilians were killed and eight injured in the strikes.
“Amnesty International’s research points to a failure by the US and Somali governments to adequately investigate allegations of civilian casualties resulting from US operations in Somalia,” the report said, adding that the US doesn’t have a good process for survivors or victims’ families to self-report losses.
US Africa Command said it looked at the five strikes and concluded there were no civilian casualties. In the fifth case the command said there were no US strikes in that area on that day.
The group’s report and Defense Department officials also agreed that the strikes usually take place in hostile areas controlled by Al-Shabab militants. And those conditions, the report said, “prevented Amnesty International organization from conducting on-site investigations and severely limited the organization’s ability to freely gather testimonial and physical evidence.”
US defense officials told reporters that American troops were on the ground at strike locations in a very limited number of cases. Even in those instances, they said, US troops ordered strikes to protect local Somali forces they were accompanying, and there was little opportunity to investigate possible civilian casualties at that moment.
Still, the rights group concluded that the US military’s insistence that there have been zero civilian deaths is wrong.
“The civilian death toll we’ve uncovered in just a handful of strikes suggests the shroud of secrecy surrounding the US role in Somalia’s war is actually a smoke screen for impunity,” said Brian Castner, a senior adviser at Amnesty International.
US officials countered that they have access to information not readily available to nonmilitary organizations, including observations from people on the ground at the site and post-strike intelligence gathering from various electronic systems. Those systems can include overhead surveillance and data collected through cyber operations and other intercepted communications and electronic signals.
The defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
They said the US rigorously assesses targets in advance to make sure no civilians will be hurt or killed.
The officials noted that Kenya and Ethiopia also conduct airstrikes in the region, but provided no details. There are 500 to 600 US troops in Somalia at any time.
The pace of US airstrikes in Somalia has escalated during the Trump administration, from 47 in all of 2018 to 28 already this year. So far more than 230 militants have been killed in 2019, compared to 338 killed in all of 2018.
In March 2017, President Donald Trump approved greater authorities for military operations against Al-Shabab, allowing increased strikes in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali forces.
Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who heads Africa Command, told reporters in a recent interview that Al-Shabab controls about 25 percent of the country and the key effort is to help the government regain control of its land.
“The intention is to keep the pressure on that network,” he said.
He said there are three categories of strikes: ones to target senior Al-Shabab leaders, ones to take out training camps or involve Daesh militants in the north, and ones aimed at helping the government increase security and regain control of the country. He said the last group involves the most strikes.