Media exaggerated my image: Preacher

Media exaggerated my image: Preacher
Updated 09 May 2014

Media exaggerated my image: Preacher

Media exaggerated my image: Preacher

NEW YORK: For years, the London imam Abu Hamza Al-Masri has been known as much for the distinctive metal hook he wore in place of his missing right hand as for his fiery sermons.
On Thursday, for what appeared to be the first time, Abu Hamza claimed he lost both hands and one eye in an accidental explosion in Pakistan two decades ago.
His account, which came as he testified in New York at his trial on terrorism charges, conflicted with media stories that he suffered the injuries while fighting the Soviets alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan.
The preacher said his image as a veteran of the Afghan war was exaggerated by the press.
“Unfortunately, the reputation is larger than the reality,” he told a jury in Manhattan federal court, in a baritone that carried across the room.
The British preacher told his US terror trial that he loved Osama Bin Laden but refused when invited to join Al-Qaeda at its inception.
Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, 56, better known in Britain as Abu Hamza Al-Masri has pleaded not guilty in New York to 11 kidnapping and terror counts that pre-date 9/11.
He is charged over the 1998 kidnapping in Yemen of 16 Westerners, conspiracy to set up a US training camp, providing material support to Al-Qaeda, assisting the Taleban and sending terror recruits to Afghanistan.
He denies all the charges, but on the stand for a second day said he “loved” bin Laden, the founder of Al-Qaeda shot dead by US troops in Pakistan in 2011.
“He’s a very famous man. Everyone loves him, including myself,” he told the Manhattan courtroom not far from where Al-Qaeda reduced the Twin Towers to rubble. He never met the Al-Qaeda founder and refused to join the terror group when invited, he said.
But he called him “Sheikh bin Laden” and in a video clip justified the 2000 Al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 personnel as a military operation.
For the first time, Abu Hamza announced that his blindness in one eye and amputated hands occurred not in Afghanistan as always thought, but in Pakistan.
He said the accident happened during an explosives experiment with the Pakistani army in August 1993.
The device was prepared by an Egyptian called Abu Khabab, he said, the same name as an expert alleged to have taught Western Al-Qaeda recruits in Afghanistan in 2000-01.
He said the army offered not to round up Arab former mujahideen in exchange for his silence.
“The army said look we’re not going to make any more arrests, just don’t embarrass us about what happened,” the preacher told the jury.
Asked if he fired a weapon in Afghanistan, he confessed: “I wish I had,” saying that instead he shot “a couple of bullets at the communist regime.”
After the 1980s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan he said he helped Arab veterans find jobs in Pakistan.
The army wanted those with tactics and explosives experience to help in other areas, Abu Hamza testified.
In 1993 he said he was designing a steel plate with a Pakistani engineer as part of a wider, unidentified project for which “others were designing explosives.”
The work took place in army-issue accommodation in the city of Lahore, where explosives were tested on empty land between two villas on the street, he said.
“I was surprised why the neighbors were not complaining or calling the police. They were all army families,” he said.
The Arab was lax with “health and safety,” he said, and prepared a small container of explosives to which “Commander Ilyas” added a detonator.
Abu Hamza said he picked up the device, which was getting hot, but couldn’t throw it in the bathroom as previously advised because someone was at the sink.
He said it exploded and he fell into a coma, spending a month in a military hospital in Lahore.
Previous reports said that he lost his arms in Afghanistan, but Abu Hamza said “all sorts of stories” had circulated about the reason for his injuries.
Despite often rambling and at times confused testimony, he elicited a few laughs from the court.
He testified to changing his name legally on his British passport in order to travel to Bosnia in the mid-1990s to provide cars and money to Muslim fighters.
Flying to Sarajevo would have been a “death sentence” for an Arab, he said, so he changed his name saying it was “very, very simple.”
“You pay 25 pounds ($42 today) and write out saying I want to be John Travolta and you become John Travolta,” he said to titters in the courtroom.
Of his time in Bosnia, he twice teared up with emotion.
Asked about the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, Judge Katherine Forrest called a short break as he started snuffling and bowing his head.
The conflict convinced him of the need to train even children in self-defense so that Muslims could live in dignity and not be trampled on by superpowers.
He faces life in prison if convicted.


Deadly floods, landslides hit Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh

Deadly floods, landslides hit Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh
Updated 9 min 11 sec ago

Deadly floods, landslides hit Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh

Deadly floods, landslides hit Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh
  • More than 2,000 families were evacuated from the hilly slopes of the Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar
  • Met office expert warns that the extreme weather-related incidents could continue for several days

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have evacuated nearly 10,000 Rohingya refugees from makeshift settlements in the Cox’s Bazar district, after at least six were killed by landslides and flash floods in the past four days, officials said on Thursday.

Cox’s Bazar, where more than 1 million Rohingya refugees live in 34 camps, is one of the most disaster-prone parts of Bangladesh. After days of torrential rain the refugees were moved from the cramped Balukhali camp, where many makeshift homes have been built on hilly slopes prone to landslides and mudslides.

“About 8,000 to 10,000 people from 2,000 families were relocated from their tents,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Shah Rezwan Hayat told Arab News.

According to commission, six refugees were killed when the worst landslide hit the camp on Tuesday.

“Our prime focus at this moment is to save the people’s lives,” Shamsuddouza Nayan, additional commissioner for refugees, relief and repatriation, told Arab News. “We are continuously monitoring the situation on ground. Thousands of Rohingyas who are vulnerable have been relocated to nearby learning centers and other safe places.”

While he expressed hope the situation would not worsen, as floodwater levels have started to fall, he added: “Everything depends on weather, which is unpredictable.”

Bangladesh Meteorological Department director Shamsuddin Ahmed was less optimistic, warning that extreme weather-related incidents could continue for several days. Intense rainfall, floods and landslides are an annual problem in the area due to its monsoon climate and its location on the Bay of Bengal.

“There is a clear low pressure on the Bay of Bengal, which is causing this adverse weather, and there are possibilities of heavy rainfall due to this monsoon low,” he said. “Some of the areas may go under water due to flash floods, and in some hilly regions there might be incidents of landslides.”

Some refugees said they had lost everything in the landslides.

“I lost all of my belongings as my tent went under the piles of mud,” Abdur Rahman, a father of three, told Arab News. “We could only save our lives from the devastating landslide.

“Now I have to start from zero with empty hands. I have no idea how I will manage the utensils and other household materials.”

Bibi Hajera said the extreme weather has heightened suffering of the refugees who were already struggling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and strict lockdowns.

“My five-year-old son, Mohammad Solaiman, has got a cold and fever,” she said. “Our six-member family has been evacuated to a learning center along with some other families. Now I am waiting for a doctor to get medicine for my son.”

Most of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh fled Rakhine state in Myanmar after a military crackdown in 2017 that the UN has said might amount to genocide.


Italian FM stresses concerns about Tunisia’s political situation

During questions in the Italian Senate attended by Arab News, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi. (AFP/File Photo)
During questions in the Italian Senate attended by Arab News, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 29 July 2021

Italian FM stresses concerns about Tunisia’s political situation

During questions in the Italian Senate attended by Arab News, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi
  • Italy will also send further medical aid to Tunisia to help combat COVID-19

ROME: Italy is “very concerned” about the political turmoil in Tunisia, and has urged Tunisian authorities to respect the constitution and “allow the legitimately elected parliament to carry out its duties.”

During questions in the Italian Senate attended by Arab News, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi and issued “an appeal to moderation, so that every initiative is taken to avoid clashes and violence there.”

“Jerandi assured me that the constitution will be respected, and confirmed that President Kais Saied is carrying out consultations to appoint a new prime minister shortly. Right after that, the Parliament will promptly restart its work,” he said. 

Referring to Saied’s dismissal of the prime minister and key cabinet members, and the 30-day suspension of parliament, Di Maio added: “The situation in Tunisia causes strongly concerns us. We are following with the utmost attention effects of the decisions taken by President Saied,”

The foreign minister stressed that in the hours following Saied's decision, “we immediately gave a strong (signal) to spark a coordinated action with our main European partners, as we believe that the EU can and should carry out a decisive role in this phase.”

Di Maio spoke on the phone with the EU High Representative Josepp Borrell on July 26, and with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian the following day. “We all decided to stay permanently in touch and to send a strong and unanimous appeal to the Tunisian institutions for responsibility and respect for democracy and the rule of law,” including allowing the legitimately elected parliament "to perform its duties.”

The latest developments came, he said, “at a very complicated moment for Tunisia, a country already gripped by a very serious economic crisis” which the COVID-19 pandemic has only made worse.

Di Maio also offered assurances that Italy will support Tunisia in its discussions with the International Monetary Fund over a new financial-aid program, which he described as “a fundamental step to allow the implementation of the necessary economic reforms.”

Italy will also send further medical aid to Tunisia to help combat COVID-19. On top of the five containers of medical supplies and donations for the purchase of oxygen generators for Tunisian hospitals already given to Tunis in the past weeks, Italy will soon donate vaccines, he explained.

“We will not fail to support a people we have always been friends with, as we are sharing a common destiny,” Di Maio said.


Former US general warns Taliban ‘will be back’ amid Afghan pullout

Former US general warns Taliban ‘will be back’ amid Afghan pullout
Updated 29 July 2021

Former US general warns Taliban ‘will be back’ amid Afghan pullout

Former US general warns Taliban ‘will be back’ amid Afghan pullout
  • David Petraeus, senior UK intelligence official raise concerns over return of violence and potential refugee crisis

LONDON: The withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan will not mark the end of Taliban violence and will result in a situation that must be “managed” to avoid full-scale conflict, senior US and UK military figures have warned.

Retired US Gen. David Petraeus and Sir John Scarlett, a senior UK intelligence official, questioned the withdrawal process and raised concerns over the resulting long-term implications in an interview with Wilson Center President, Director and CEO Mark Green.

It comes ahead of the September withdrawal deadline that came as a result of long-term negotiations, including the landmark Doha agreement last year.

But Petraeus warned that a withdrawal would not result in long-term peace: “The big lesson of the past 20 years is that if you withdraw and declare victory and go home, they will be back.

“So instead, what you have to do, especially in cases where you can’t ‘win,’ where victory is not possible, you have to manage it. And the way to manage it is to get to the smallest, most affordable — in terms of blood and treasure — presence and capability that we can possibly design,” he said.

“We could have achieved the objective that we were staying in Afghanistan to accomplish, which is to prevent Al-Qaeda, and then more recently, Daesh, from establishing sanctuaries on Afghan soil under this very Islamist regime, the Taliban,” he continued.

Scarlett also questioned the withdrawal, arguing that a better option would have been to maintain a “modest” military presence in the war-torn country.

He said: “There was another path. There has been a modest troop presence there over the last year, but they weren’t actively engaged in fighting … they were actually providing support.

“And so it isn’t necessarily, ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ It’s whether or not we were willing to maintain a modest presence there to help continue to build capacity and manage risks.”

He added that the withdrawal — which also includes NATO allies — was primarily a US decision, and that questions remain over how it was reached.

Scarlett said: “In a way, it’s been expected, because it’s been the policy to withdraw as part of the negotiated agreement with the Taliban, under the previous administration, but there’s clearly — particularly in Afghanistan, but also really across Europe — quite a degree of surprise.

“There will be tens of thousands of refugees going into Pakistan and possibly into central Asian states. I’m afraid Pakistan will wonder about US sustainability and commitment in the medium-to longer-term.

“There’s obviously an issue of credibility here, not just for the US, but also for the allies,” he concluded.


Syrian refugee to set up charity using libel cash from far-right figure 

When Jamal Hijazi was 15 he was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates in a school in Huddersfield, UK. (Screenshot)
When Jamal Hijazi was 15 he was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates in a school in Huddersfield, UK. (Screenshot)
Updated 29 July 2021

Syrian refugee to set up charity using libel cash from far-right figure 

When Jamal Hijazi was 15 he was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates in a school in Huddersfield, UK. (Screenshot)
  • Jamal Hijazi, from Homs, was falsely accused of violence against female classmates by Tommy Robinson
  • Robinson rose to prominence as the founder of the Islamophobic English Defence League

LONDON: A teenaged Syrian refugee, who won £100,000 ($139,632) in damages from a British Islamophobe, has said he wants to use the money to establish a charity for young people. 

When Jamal Hijazi was 15 he was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates in a school in Huddersfield, UK. He was beaten, and pupils were seen pouring water over his face in an apparent effort to “waterboard” him. 

Following the attack, Tommy Robinson, a well known far-right figure in the UK whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, published two videos in which he falsely accused the refugee of attacking young English girls at his school and threatening to stab other pupils. 

Hijazi, who is originally from Homs, faced death threats and other serious disruptions to his life and education following those claims — which were viewed nearly a million times — and took Robinson to court for libel.

Robinson, who rose to prominence as the founder of Islamophobic far-right group the English Defence League, was ordered to pay Hijazi the damages, as well as foot his legal costs. 

Speaking for the first time since the case’s resolution on July 23, Hijazi, now 17, said: “I want to use this money to set up a charity to help young people of any race who go through problems at school or anywhere. 

“Not just bullying, but racism or any other problems that young people experience,” he told the i newspaper.

“I have been through a lot and I want other young people to have the support that I had and I want to help people.” 

He added that it “felt good” to have won the case but, when asked about Robinson, he said: “I don’t want to go into that.”

Asked about his future, Hijazi said he is now “a lot happier,” and that he hopes to take up an apprenticeship. 

Tasnime Akunjee, the teeanger’s lawyer, said it was disgusting that Robinson “thought it was in any way appropriate to add to the burden of a child who had been seriously bullied.”

He added: “This outcome shows there are limits to what society will tolerate and that when someone crosses the line, there will be support for the victim and that those responsible will be held to account. 

“For Jamal and his family, it is a great relief that the horrific lies which were told about Jamal have been resoundingly put to bed and his name has been cleared.”


Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources

Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources
Updated 29 July 2021

Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources

Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources
  • Rising caseloads in tourist destinations could help fuel a fourth wave when Germans come home from holiday
  • Rules are now also applied differently at airports and road crossings

BERLIN: All travelers arriving in Germany will be required from this weekend to demonstrate immunity from COVID-19 either from a vaccine or previous infection, or present a negative test result, government sources reported.
The plan reflects growing concern among Germany’s regional and national leaders that rising caseloads in tourist destinations could help fuel a fourth wave when Germans come home from holiday.
Germany now requires a negative test or proof of immunity only from those arriving from so-called “risk areas,” “high-incidence areas” and “virus-variant areas,” which in Europe now include Britain, Spain and the Netherlands.
Rules are now also applied differently at airports and road crossings, and regional leaders are keen to make them more consistent.
Germany saw 3,142 new infections on Thursday, according to its main disease fighting agency, the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases. Average daily new cases in Britain stand at almost 30,000.
After an initial slow start, Germany has swiftly implemented widespread vaccination, with 61.3 percent of the population receiving at least one shot, dramatically reducing the disease’s severity and lethality.