Swedish police begin arson probe into Shiite mosque fire

Swedish police begin arson probe into Shiite mosque fire
Monday, Feb. 20, 2017, firefighters survey the scene in the suburb of Rinkeby outside Stockholm. (AP)
Updated 01 May 2017

Swedish police begin arson probe into Shiite mosque fire

Swedish police begin arson probe into Shiite mosque fire

STOCKHOLM: Swedish authorities began an investigation into possible arson on Monday after a fire damaged the facade and roof of a Shiite mosque on the outskirts of Stockholm overnight, a police statement said.
Nobody was injured in the fire in the Jarfalla suburb of the Swedish capital, it said.
“The scene of the fire has been sealed off in anticipation of forensic tests,” it added.
Swedish authorities are wary of possible reprisals after a man rammed a hijacked beer truck into a busy downtown pedestrian mall last month, killing five people. An Uzbek whose asylum request was rejected is being held as the main suspect.
Islamic State, a radical Sunni group that has targeted Shiites in several countries, claimed responsibility for a fire last year at a small Shiite mosque in Malmo in southern Sweden.
The main suspect in the case was accused on terrorism charges but has been acquitted.


UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis

UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis
Updated 10 min 35 sec ago

UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis

UN: Millions driven from homes in 2020 despite COVID-19 crisis
  • Cumulative total of displaced people has risen to 82.4 million – roughly the population of Germany
  • UNHCR said now 1 percent of all humanity is displaced, and there are twice as many forcibly displaced people than a decade ago

GENEVA: The UN refugee agency says war, violence, persecution and human rights violations caused nearly 3 million people to flee their homes last year, even though the COVID-19 crisis restricted movement worldwide as countries shut borders and ordered lockdowns.
In its latest Global Trends report released on Friday, UNHCR says the cumulative total of displaced people has risen to 82.4 million – roughly the population of Germany. It marks the ninth straight annual increase in the number of people forcibly displaced.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said conflict and the impact of climate change in places such as Mozambique, Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Africa’s broad Sahel area were among the leading sources of new movements of refugees and internally displaced people in 2020.
They added hundreds of thousands more people to the overall count, which has for years been dominated by the millions who have fled countries such as Syria and Afghanistan due to protracted wars or fighting.
“This is telling, in a year in which we were all locked down, confined, blocked in our homes, in our communities, in our cities,” said Grandi in an interview before the report’s release. “Almost 3 million people have had to actually leave all that behind because they had no other choice.”
UNHCR, which has its headquarters in Geneva, said that 99 of the more than 160 countries that closed their borders because of COVID-19 didn’t make exceptions for people seeking protection as refugees or asylum-seekers.
Grandi acknowledged the possibility that many internally displaced people who couldn’t leave their own countries will eventually want to flee abroad once borders start reopening, if the pandemic eases.
“A good example is the United States where already we have seen a surge in people arriving in recent months,” Grandi said, and referred to the US provision called Title 42 that let US authorities temporarily block people seeking asylum from entry for health reasons. “Title 42 will be lifted eventually – and I think this is the right thing to do – but this will have to be managed.”
Asked about US Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent trip to Central America, where she told would-be migrants to the US “do not come,” Grandi expressed hope that the remark was not reflective of overall US policy.
“I think that messaging indeed, as it was reported, is stark, and maybe shows only one part of the picture now,” Grandi said, adding that he had heard a “more complex response” from other officials in Washington when he was there recently.
Among recent hotspots, Grandi said hundreds of thousands of people were newly displaced in Mozambique and the Sahel last year, and up to 1 million in the Tigray conflict that started in October.
“I’m worried that if the international community is not able to stop these conflicts, we will continue to see the rise in the numbers,” he said.
The report said that at the end of last year there were 5.7 million Palestinians, 3.9 million Venezuelans and an additional 20.7 million refugees from various other countries displaced abroad. Another 48 million people were internally displaced in their own countries. Some 4.1 million more sought asylum.
Turkey, a neighbor of Syria, has taken in the most refugees in absolute numbers – 3.7 million – a figure more than twice that of the No. 2 host country, Colombia, which borders Venezuela. Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan was third.
UNHCR said now 1 percent of all humanity is displaced, and there are twice as many forcibly displaced people than a decade ago. Some 42 percent of them were aged under 18, and nearly 1 million babies were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020.
“Many of them may remain refugees for years to come,” it said.


Policeman killed, more than 80 students abducted in attack on Nigerian school

Policeman killed, more than 80 students abducted in attack on Nigerian school
Updated 8 min 54 sec ago

Policeman killed, more than 80 students abducted in attack on Nigerian school

Policeman killed, more than 80 students abducted in attack on Nigerian school
  • ‘They killed one of the (police officers), broke through the gate and went straight to the students’ classes’
  • A spokesman for the Kebbi state governor said they were conducting a tally of the missing

BAUCHI/KADUNA: Gunmen killed a police officer and kidnapped at least 80 students and five teachers from a school in the Nigerian state of Kebbi, police, residents and a teacher said.
The attack is the third mass kidnapping in three weeks in northwest Nigeria, which have authorities have attributed to armed bandits seeking ransom payments.
Usman Aliyu, a teacher at the school, said the gunmen took more than 80 students, most of them girls.
“They killed one of the (police officers), broke through the gate and went straight to the students’ classes,” he said.
Kebbi State police spokesman Nafiu Abubakar, said the gunmen killed one officer during an exchange and also shot a student, who was receiving medical treatment.
Police late on Thursday had not released the number of students missing, and a spokesman for the Kebbi state governor said they were conducting a tally of the missing.
The attack took place at a federal government college in the remote town of Birnin Yauri. Abubakar said security forces were searching a nearby forest for the abducted students and teachers.
Atiku Aboki, a resident who went to the school shortly after the gunfire stopped, said he saw a scene of panic and confusion as people searched for their children.
“When we got there we saw students crying, teachers crying, everyone is sympathizing with people,” he said by telephone.
“Everyone was confused. Then my brother called me (to say) that his two children have not been seen and (we) don’t know if they are among the kidnapped.”
Bandits seeking ransom have kidnapped more than 800 Nigerian students from their schools since December in a series of raids. Some have been freed while others remain missing.
The raids in the northwestern region are separate from Islamist insurgencies centered on the northeast, where the Boko Haram militant group made global headlines in 2014 when it abducted more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok.


1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US

1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US
Updated 18 June 2021

1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US

1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US
  • Authorities were combing through at least eight separate shooting scenes

SURPRISE, Arizona: One person was killed and 12 others injured in reported drive-by shootings over a 90-minute span Thursday in three cities west of Phoenix, authorities said.
A suspect was in custody, and authorities said a weapon was found in his vehicle. But it remained unclear if the man was responsible for all of the shootings.
The suspect’s name wasn’t immediately released. Authorities believe he acted alone, although a motive wasn’t immediately known.
“We don’t know the nexus, we don’t know what the motive was, we don’t have an idea of what this person was thinking when he went out and did this,” Peoria police spokesman Brandon Sheffert said at a news conference. “Obviously we want to figure this out because there’s a lot of scared people and people this affected.”
Police departments in Peoria, Surprise and Glendale were investigating the shootings in their cities, along with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the FBI.
Authorities were combing through at least eight separate shooting scenes, Sheffert said.
Four people suffered gunshot wounds, and one of those victims died, he said. That person was found dead in a vehicle along a Peoria freeway.
The other victims had a range of injuries such as shrapnel from broken glass or injuries related to a car crash, Sheffert said.
Officials at Banner Health said they received nine patients at three of their hospitals. But the extent of the victims’ injuries and their conditions were not immediately released.
Peoria police got the initial call about a shooting shortly after 11 a.m., and eight more incidents were reported in the following 90 minutes, Sheffert said.
Witnesses provided authorities with a description of the getaway vehicle, and the suspect was detained after a traffic stop in Surprise.


Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials
Updated 18 June 2021

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials
  • Bangavax is a new generation mRNA vaccine, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, but is expected to be cheaper
  • Bangladesh Medical Research Council requires Bangavax producer to first conduct trials on monkeys or chimpanzees

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have conditionally cleared the country’s first coronavirus vaccine for clinical trials, which the producer expects to complete in the next few months.

The vaccine, Bangavax, is a new generation mRNA vaccine that, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. Developed by Dhaka-based Globe Biotech Ltd. (GBL), the vaccine was approved for production by the country’s drug regulator in late December.

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) approved clinical trials of Bangavax under the condition that “before starting any human trial, the vaccine producing company needs to conduct an animal trial on monkeys or chimpanzees,” BMRC director Prof. Dr Ruhul Amin said.

GBL has been waiting for the trial approval since January.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Amin said. “However, we are doing our best to facilitate the trials of Bangavax.”

Dr. Mohammed Mohiuddin, head of quality at GBL, said that while the company is now waiting for the BMRC’s written recommendations, it is preparing to start the trials.

“It will take us eight to nine months to complete the whole process,” he said. “Since we are using pure mRNA technology in Bangavax and no virus is used in this process, we are supposedly not required to make an animal trial.” He said that GBL was in touch with organizations abroad as there is no institution conducting animal trials in Bangladesh.

“To run an animal trial, some foreign companies are asking for a G2G — government to government contract. We hope the government should extend help to us in this case,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

As Bangavax is estimated to cost $10-$15, several dollars cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it may help Bangladesh with its immunization drive, in which only 2.6 percent of the country’s 166 million people has been vaccinated so far, mainly due to a shortage of COVID-19 jabs.

FASTFACT

Dr. Mohammed Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh ‘ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.’

GBL says it has the capacity to produce 10 million doses a month, and its lab tests on mice suggest that one dose would suffice.

“We are expecting that it will be a single dose vaccine as we found about 100 percent efficacy rate during lab trial on mice,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

Dr. Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh “ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.”

“They (GBL) should be provided with necessary administrative and financial support as and when required. But the highest level of precaution is a must at every stage of the trials,” he said.

“If we become successful in this endeavor, Bangladesh may consider exporting vaccine to other developing countries after meeting local demand.”


Pakistani artist employs rare Chinese technique to create portrait of Saudi crown prince

Pakistani artist employs rare Chinese technique to create portrait of Saudi crown prince
Updated 18 June 2021

Pakistani artist employs rare Chinese technique to create portrait of Saudi crown prince

Pakistani artist employs rare Chinese technique to create portrait of Saudi crown prince
  • Syed Abid Shah has for decades practiced straw painting, a Chinese folk art that dates back 2,000 years to Han dynasty
  • The laborious technique requires artists to trim, dye and polish dried wheat stalks and weave them into images on a canvas

PESHAWAR: Known for his calligraphy and Mughal imagery, a master craftsman from northwestern Pakistan has recently turned to an ancient technique rarely used in portraiture to create an image of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

For decades, Syed Abid Shah from Peshawar has been practicing and developing straw painting — a Chinese folk art that dates back at least 2,000 years to the Han dynasty. The laborious technique, which today has few practitioners, requires the artist to trim, dye and polish dried wheat stalks and then weave them into an image on a canvas.

Shah learned the art in Karachi at the age of 12 when he was introduced to a straw painter by an artistically inclined uncle.

After serving for two years as the artist’s apprentice, he started introducing innovations to the art, focusing mostly on architecture, Islamic ornaments or stories from the Mughal era. He did not venture into portraiture as the straw medium was rarely used for that.

But for the Saudi crown prince, Shah, now 60, says he has decided to create a detailed straw portrait.

“I had long wanted to sketch a Saudi royal, but it was only recently that I decided to draw the image of the prince who rose to fame across the world,” Shah told Arab News at his home in the village of Achar, on the outskirts of Peshawar.

It takes more than 3,000 straws and at least two weeks to create a 30-by-24-inch portrait of a human face. The straws are flattened, made smooth, cut into extremely tiny pieces and glued one by one to the canvas.

“I pray the prince accepts my gift,” Shah said.

Shah’s highest-profile work to date was making the family tree of Pakistani Religious Affairs Minister Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, commissioned by the official’s father in 2012. It was also his most expensive piece, selling for Rs50,000 ($320).

But such orders are rare. Shah normally sells small, 8-by-12-inch paintings on the footpaths of Peshawar’s bustling Saddar market.

“On a lucky day, I manage to sell four or five pieces, which earns the bread and butter for my family,” he said.

One painting costs about Rs450 and takes him six hours to complete. Preparing the straw takes at least three days.

While Shah says he always knew there would not be big money in straw painting, his 23-year-old son, Shah Fahad, has bigger dreams. He wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and one day open a gallery to display his father’s work, as well as his own.

Fahad has been patiently learning the craft for the past four years.

“It is a slow learning process,” he said, “but I am lucky to spend more time with my father.”

Related