Mass prisoner deaths in Iraq point to executions

Mass prisoner deaths in Iraq point to executions
Updated 28 June 2014

Mass prisoner deaths in Iraq point to executions

Mass prisoner deaths in Iraq point to executions

BAGHDAD: It was supposed to be a routine job, police say. Move 69 prisoners from an outlying town to a jail in southern Baghdad. But before they arrived at their destination, every single prisoner had been killed.
The official account given hours after the killing on Monday by the governor of Hilla, 92km south of Baghdad, was that militants had attacked the convoy killing 10 prisoners and one policeman in the crossfire.
“The convoy protection force fiercely responded to the terrorist attack,” Governor Sadiq Madloul told reporters.
But a police captain, a second police officer and a senior local official from where the prisoners died in Hilla, all speaking on condition of anonymity while giving an account that differed from the official line, told Reuters no attack took place, and the police had executed the 69 men.
A third police source who would not contradict the account that the convoy had come under attack nevertheless confirmed that all 69 had been killed and said some had not died in the crossfire but were gunned down to prevent them from escaping.
The deaths in Hilla came less than a week after the killing of 52 prisoners in Baquba, a regional capital north of Baghdad.
The police account there also was that the prisoners had died in the crossfire during a battle with insurgents. But local Sunni officials including the mayor and the provincial governor, medical staff at the morgue and relatives of the dead all said the victims were gunned down in their jail cells.
Iraq’s government has long denied it summarily executes prisoners. Following a Reuters report on police executions in March, army spokesman Sa’ad Ma’an said: “If it happened, whoever committed it will be investigated, held accountable and sent to a military court.”
Ma’an and other Iraqi government spokesmen did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the latest killings outside Hilla.
Unlike the Iraqi government, Sunni insurgents from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant make no attempt to hide mass executions of prisoners: they proudly proclaim that Shi’ites are heretics who must die, and boast of the killings.
Days after they began sweeping through northern cities on June 10, they released videos showing their masked fighters machine gunning captive government soldiers lying in shallow graves. On Friday, Human Rights Watch said ISIL had executed at least 160 people in Tikrit this month.
But the reports that government forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki are also executing prisoners are becoming more regular as the conflict intensifies, calling into question Washington’s stepped-up military support for the Shi’ite premier.
Several police sources interviewed by Reuters said prisoners were being preemptively killed in Iraq to prevent militant groups from freeing them to rejoin the rebellion.
“We feed them and keep them healthy and if the ISIL managed to free them, they will immediately resume fighting us,” the police captain who acknowledged the executions in Hilla said.
“We have to defend ourselves by executing those criminals.”
The second Hilla police officer said summary executions were routinely carried out by army and police forces.
“First thing we do is to shoot them in foot and then take their confessions. Then we kill them and write in report they were killed in action,” he said, also on condition of anonymity.
The third police officer, who denied that the Hilla prisoners were executed, nevertheless said the reason some of the 69 had been shot was to prevent them from escaping. He said the convoy had been hit by a roadside bomb and came under fire.
“We are not an execution squad. What happened was that we were trying to transport high-profile, dangerous members of al Qaeda - most of them awaiting death sentences - to another secure detention centre south of Baghdad,” he said.
“The convoy came under attack by militants who set off two roadside bombs. Some of the prisoners wanted to use the attack to escape. We shot them dead as they were escaping.”
A senior local official in Hilla said the attack on the convoy had been staged to hide the execution.
“The police brought the bodies of 16 other terrorists they had executed earlier to the scene and laid weapons by their corpses to pretend they had attacked the convoy,” he said.
One of ISIL’s main aims is to free Sunni prisoners from government jails, and Iraqi police and troops who guard them come under frequent attack.
A year ago ISIL launched its biggest military operation in years, attacking two jails. Hundreds of convicts, including senior members of Al-Qaeda, were freed from Abu Ghraib jail on Baghdad’s western outskirts in the assault, which saw suicide bombers blast through the gates.
When militants took Mosul city on June 10 at the start of their present offensive, they freed as many as 1,000 prisoners from a jail.
The government’s harsh justice towards prisoners did not begin with this month’s ISIL advance, however.
In a Reuters investigation in March, a police officer, an army officer, a general and an Iraqi Special Forces member all said that in western Anbar province Iraqi troops had begun replying in kind to ISIL, carrying out extra-judicial executions, torture and humiliations of their enemy and posting images of the results online.
On June 4, a week before the assault on Mosul, the chief of police in Hilla held a news conference to display six captives, charged with a car bomb attack that killed 14 people. The prisoners confessed in front of cameras to having bombed Hilla hospital.
Hours later, Police Chief Major General Riad al-Hikani posted pictures of the bullet-riddled bodies of four of the suspects on his Facebook page.
He said they had been killed when unidentified assailants opened fire while they were being escorted to cells, but expressed no regret at the death of captives in his custody.
“Delighted that divine justice has been achieved against them,” Hikani wrote on Facebook.


Egypt officials: Cairo apartment building collapses; 1 dead

Egypt officials: Cairo apartment building collapses; 1 dead
Updated 7 min 27 sec ago

Egypt officials: Cairo apartment building collapses; 1 dead

Egypt officials: Cairo apartment building collapses; 1 dead
  • The woman spent over 5 hours buried under rubble of the four-story building
  • Rescuers managed to locate and speak with the woman and passing her a bottle of water

CAIRO: An apartment building in the Egyptian capital of Cairo collapsed on Tuesday, killing a man while rescue workers hours later pulled his wife alive from under the rubble, officials said.
The woman spent more than five hours buried under the rubble of the four-story building in the city’s Waraq neighborhood, officials said. She was taken to hospital. No other residents were believed to be inside the building at the time of the collapse.
Earlier, the rescuers had managed to locate and speak with the woman — even passing her a bottle of water, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Prosecutors opened an investigation, the state-run MENA news agency reported.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the collapse but such incidents are common in Egypt, where shoddy construction is widespread in shantytowns, poor city neighborhoods and rural areas.
Last month, at least five women died when an apartment building collapsed in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. Another building in Cairo collapsed in March, leaving at least 25 dead.
With real estate at a premium in big cities such as Cairo and Alexandria, developers seeking bigger profits frequently violate planning permits. Extra floors often, for example, are sometimes added without proper government permits.
The government recently launched a crackdown on illegal construction across the country, jailing and fining violators, and in many cases demolishing the buildings.


Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet

Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet
Updated 52 min 45 sec ago

Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet

Lebanon’s new PM begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet
  • The government of Hassan Diab resigned following a deadly port explosion in Beirut last August

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new prime minister-designate Najib Mikati started consultations with leading political parties Tuesday with a view to forming a long-awaited government.
The billionaire politician, already twice a prime minister, was designated on Monday, days after Saad Hariri threw in the towel.
The government of Hassan Diab resigned following a deadly port explosion in Beirut last August and efforts to agree on a new lineup have proved fruitless.
The institutional vacuum is holding up a potential financial rescue plan for Lebanon, which defaulted on its debt last year and has since sunk into what the World Bank has described as one of the world’s worst crises since the mid-19th century.
On Tuesday, Mikati met with top political parties, including the powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement and the Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun.
Following their meeting, Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad said his party is ready to “seriously cooperate” with the new PM-designate.
“What is required is speedy cabinet formation and cooperation from all parties toward that end,” Raad told reporters.
FPM chief Gebran Bassil, accused by critics of repeatedly obstructing efforts to form a new government, said his party has decided “not to participate in the next cabinet, which means we will not get involved in the formation process.”
In an interview with the An-Nahar newspaper, Mikati vowed his lineup would be “purely technical” and tasked with bridging the gap to elections due next year.
Several lawmakers, including deputy speaker Elie Ferzli, on Tuesday, backed this push.
“The government will consist of specialists,” Ferzli said. “As for the nominating process, it will rest on Mikati and his agreements with the president.”
The designation of the 65-year-old Mikati, Lebanon’s richest man and to many a symbol of its corrupt oligarchy, was met with general skepticism.
A native of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city and one of its poorest, he was accused by a state prosecutor in 2019 of illicit enrichment, a charge he denies.
“How can I trust a thief who stole from me and my children and their future?” asked 57-year-old Beirut resident Mohammed Deeb, after Mikati’s designation.
“As long as this (political) class is still in power, nothing will change.”
On Sunday evening, dozens of protesters gathered outside Mikati’s Beirut home, accusing him of corruption and cronyism.
Lebanon’s former colonial ruler France and other Western governments stopped short of welcoming Mikati’s designation and simply urged him to swiftly deliver a competent lineup.
But Lebanon’s bickering politicians view Mikati as a consensus candidate, who may be capable of easing a political deadlock that has stymied efforts toward forming a government.
Mikati, the third politician in a year to attempt the job, promised his government would work on implementing a French roadmap conditioning a huge aid package on reform and transparency.
Tuesday’s meetings with the parliamentary blocs are the customary official step that follows a new prime minister’s designation but the high-stakes horse-trading has yet to begin.
In some of his first comments after his designation, Mikati addressed the shortages that have plunged the country into darkness and further crippled its crumbling economy.
Lebanon can no longer provide mains electricity to its citizens for more than a handful of hours a day nor can it afford to buy the fuel needed to power generators.
Almost none of the international community’s demands for a broad program of reforms have so far been met.
Further stalling the bankrupt state’s recapitalization has been the government’s failure to engage the International Monetary Fund and discuss a fully-fledged rescue plan.
Until then, the monetary institution is due to send around $900 million as part of its Special Drawing Rights (SDR) aid financing scheme to help Lebanon recover.
Experts have warned however that the amount would not be enough and risked being misused by a ruling class that offers no more guarantees of transparency than before.
According to the Al-Akhbar newspaper, Mikati wants to use the IMF money to build new plants aimed at stabilising Lebanon’s power supply.


Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day

Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day
Updated 53 min 42 sec ago

Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day

Iran hits new COVID-19 infection record for second straight day
  • The previous record of 31,814 infections had been set only a day earlier
  • The alarming spread of the variant prompted new anti-virus restrictions last week

TEHRAN: Iran recorded over 34,900 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, setting the nation’s single-day record for cases as vaccinations lag, public complacency deepens and the country’s outbreak spirals further out of control.
The previous record of 31,814 infections had been set only a day earlier, providing a sense of how quickly Iran’s latest surge, fueled by the contagious delta variant, is mounting. Health authorities recorded 357 COVID-19 fatalities on Tuesday, bringing the total death toll to 89,479 — the highest in the Middle East.
The alarming spread of the variant prompted new anti-virus restrictions last week. The government ordered the closure of state offices, public places and non-essential businesses in the capital of Tehran. But as with previous government measures, the lockdown looked very little like a lockdown at all. Tehran’s malls and markets were busy as usual and workers crowded offices and metro stations.
Iranian authorities have avoided imposing heavy-handed rules on a population that can little afford to bear them. The country, which has suffered the worst virus outbreak in the region, is reeling from a series of crises: tough US sanctions, global isolation, a heat wave, the worst blackouts in recent memory and ongoing protests over water shortages in the southwest.
Now, health officials warn that hospitals in the capital are overwhelmed with breathless COVID patients too numerous to handle. Fewer than 3 percent of Iranians have been fully vaccinated in the sanctions-hit country. Many front-line medical workers have been vaccinated with Iran’s locally produced shots or the Chinese state-backed Sinopharm vaccine that may be less effective than other inoculations.
Iran’s government announced that its homemade vaccine provides 85 percent protection from the coronavirus, without disclosing data or details. Iran also imports Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, as well as the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot through the United Nations-backed COVAX program.


UAE reports 1,539 additional COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths in past 24 hours

UAE reports 1,539 additional COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths in past 24 hours
Updated 27 July 2021

UAE reports 1,539 additional COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths in past 24 hours

UAE reports 1,539 additional COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths in past 24 hours
  • An additional 1,497 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19

DUBAI: The UAE reported on Tuesday 1,539 additional COVID-19 infections and two deaths overnight as total coronavirus cases in the country reached 674,724, including 1,929 fatalities related to the highly infection disease.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) also said that 296,686 COVID-19 tests were done over the past 24 hours, as the UAE expands testing capacities nationwide to ensure earlier detection of coronavirus cases so the necessary treatment of patients could undertaken.
MoHAP also noted that an additional 1,497 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 652,180.
Health officials earlier said the UAE has provided 16,524,169 COVID-19 vaccines doses, for a vaccine distribution rate of 167.07 doses per 100 people.
About 77.88 percent of the Emirates’ population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19, while 68.93 percent have been fully vaccinated.
Abu Dhabi from August 20 would allow only vaccinated people access to some public places including shopping centers, restaurants, cafes and all other retail outlets, which officials said was designed to safeguard public health and curb the spread of COVID-19.
In Dubai, hotels have been allowed to operate up to full occupancy while entertainment were allowed to increase capacity to 70 per cent.
Weddings are allowed to have guests of up to 100 people at venues and hotels, but all staff and guests must be vaccinated. Private gatherings have been limited to 30 guests.


EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia

EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia
Updated 27 July 2021

EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia

EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia
  • Borrell pointed to the “considerable support” given by the EU to help with a financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic

BRUSSELS: The European Union on Tuesday called for a speedy return to political stability in Tunisia after the country plunged into turmoil following the president’s ousting of the prime minister.
“The European Union is following developments in Tunisia with the greatest attention,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.
“We call for the restoration of institutional stability as soon as possible, and in particular for the resumption of parliamentary activity, respect for fundamental rights and an abstention from all forms of violence.”
Borrell insisted that “the preservation of democracy and the stability of the country are priorities,” and pointed to the “considerable support” given by the EU to help with a financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The young North African democracy, the cradle of the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago, was thrust into a constitutional crisis on Sunday after President Kais Saied dismissed premier Hichem Mechichi and ordered parliament closed for 30 days, a move the biggest political party Ennahdha decried as a “coup.”
Saied then sacked the defense minister and justice minister.
The crisis follows months of deadlock between the president, the premier and Ennahdha chief Rached Ghannouchi, which has crippled the Covid response, as deaths have surged to one of the world’s highest per capita rates.