Deadly Manila resort blaze no doubt a 'Daesh attack’, expert tells Arab News

Deadly Manila resort blaze no doubt a 'Daesh attack’, expert tells Arab News
A man is comforted by his family as they await the body of their loved one at the Resorts World Manila complex. Inset: The suspected gunman in a CCTV picture. (Reuters, AP)
Updated 03 June 2017

Deadly Manila resort blaze no doubt a 'Daesh attack’, expert tells Arab News

Deadly Manila resort blaze no doubt a 'Daesh attack’, expert tells Arab News

JEDDAH: A masked gunman set fire to a gaming room at a casino in the Philippine capital on Friday, igniting a toxic blaze that killed 37 people.
Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Philippine government insisted it was not terror-related.
The victims suffocated inside one of the main gambling venues of the upscale Resorts World Manila, while dozens of other people were injured in a panicked crush to escape, police said.
The gunman committed suicide by setting himself on fire about five hours after storming the casino with an M4 assault rifle and a bottle of petrol that he used to start the fire, police chief Ronald Dela Rosa said.
Dela Rosa and other police officials said the assailant was not carrying out a terrorist attack as he did not shoot anyone. They said it appeared to be a bizarre robbery attempt by a “deranged” man.
“This is not an act of terror. There is no element of violence, threat or intimidation that leads to terrorism,” Dela Rosa told reporters.
Baker Atyani, a veteran journalist who has covered militant groups in the Philippines for two decades, said this was undoubtedly “a Daesh attack,” adding that it had issued an official statement claiming responsibility.
“They even named the attacker as Abul Kheir Al-Arkhebieli,” he told Arab News on Friday. “His aim was to inflict maximum damage and take as many lives as he could.”
The fact that he was able to kill 37 people indicates that he succeeded in his goal, said Atyani, adding that he would not classify the attack as an isolated incident.
“This was a well-planned, well-executed operation in the heart of the Philippine capital,” he said.
“If you see the CCTV footage and the images from the resort, it’s very clear that this man was heavily armed and well-equipped. He wasn’t some angry man with a gun who just barged into the hotel. This was a well-planned attack that was meant to cause maximum damage to human lives, and it did.”
This means Daesh has the wherewithal and a huge network of foot soldiers to move fast in Philippine cities and carry out such deadly attacks, Atyani said. “Before they were only confined to the south. No more.”
Local police chief Tomas Apolinario told AFP that 37 people died from inhaling smoke from a fire that spread quickly because of flammable carpet on the gaming room floors. Four of the victims were from Taiwan, according to the Taiwanese government.
The gunman initially disappeared into the chaos of smoke and running people, leading to a five-hour manhunt in the complex, which also includes a hotel and shops, said Dela Rosa.
He added that the assailant, who appeared to be a foreigner because he spoke English and looked Caucasian, was found just before dawn in a hotel room, having committed suicide.
“He lay down on the bed, covered himself with a thick blanket, apparently poured petrol on the blanket and burned himself,” Dela Rosa said.
Daesh’s Aamaq news agency carried a brief message in Arabic on Telegram, which said: “Daesh fighters carried out the attack in Manila in the Philippines on Thursday.”
In a later statement posted on Telegram from one of Daesh’s regular and authenticated accounts, the group provided the gunman’s nom de guerre and boasted of killing and injuring nearly 100 Christians during the rampage.
But Philippine officials were adamant it was not terror-related, and was the work of an individual.
“This particular situation in Manila is not related in any way to a terrorist attack,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters.
Dela Rosa said the man, acting alone, walked into one of the gaming rooms and fired the rifle at a large television screen, then poured gasoline onto a gambling table and set it alight.
Atyani said Daesh militants — who have their back to the wall in the southern city of Marawi, where Philippine security forces have been pounding their positions and hideouts for the last 11 days — have tried to open another front to ease the pressure on them in Marawi.
“In Marawi, the security forces have almost succeeded in flushing out the militants, and they now seem to have dispersed into the jungles,” he said.
The Marawi operation was launched to capture Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, who has been named by the Daesh leadership in Raqqa, Syria, as its emir in the Philippines. “He seems to have escaped from Marawi and is believed to be in Mindanao,” said Atyani.
“The attack in Manila can be seen, from the perspective of Daesh, as revenge for the Marawi operation.”
On why the Philippine government is refusing to acknowledge the presence of Daesh in the country, Atyani said there is an element of denial.
“Even during the early days of the operation in Marawi, they said there was no Daesh in the Philippines,” he said. “They have to admit now that Daesh is there in their midst.”
The other reason for Daesh to carry out this attack in Manila was to frighten tourists away and hurt the Philippine economy, he added.
“If the government officially accepts the presence of Daesh, then tourists will think twice before coming to the Philippines,” he said. “An attack in the heart of Manila on a resort is bad news for the tourism industry.”
— With input from AFP

Germany’s confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 11,869

Germany’s confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 11,869
Updated 5 min 58 sec ago

Germany’s confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 11,869

Germany’s confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 11,869
  • The reported death toll rose by 385 to 69,125

BERLIN: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 11,869 to 2,414,687, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Thursday. The reported death toll rose by 385 to 69,125, the tally showed.

‘Nation of one kidney’: Scarred by poverty, more Afghans turn to illicit organ trade

‘Nation of one kidney’: Scarred by poverty, more Afghans turn to illicit organ trade
Updated 25 February 2021

‘Nation of one kidney’: Scarred by poverty, more Afghans turn to illicit organ trade

‘Nation of one kidney’: Scarred by poverty, more Afghans turn to illicit organ trade
  • Herat residents and lawmakers accused the government of failing to provide jobs and alleviate them from poverty, leading to a rise in the illegal kidney trade

KABUL: When Fateh Shah and his two brothers sought to escape a debt trap a couple of years ago, he says they were left with two options: To either commit a crime to pay off their lenders or to sell their kidneys.

“We were fed up with their repeated harassment,” Shah, 35, told Arab News.

They fled to neighbouring Iran “with the help of a smuggler,” hoping to find a job there and send part of their earnings back home to pay off their debts in stages.

“But we got into more debt as we were deported soon after arriving in Iran ... The smuggler became our new lender, demanding money for the trip. It was a nightmare,” Shah said.

The three brothers finally decided to go under the knife, each earning 320,000 Afghans ($4,000) for selling one kidney.

“We had no other option … we could not take the humiliation, shouting and complaints of the lenders anymore. We either had to commit a crime to pay our hefty debts or sell our kidneys, and we decided to live with one kidney rather than stealing,” Shah said.

The Shah brothers are not alone. According to recent media reports, “confirmed figures” show that more than 1,000 kidneys have been traded in the past five years in Herat, one of Afghanistan’s largest provinces, which shares its border with Iran.

“Hundreds of people who have sold their kidneys live in Se Shanba Bazar village in Injil district in Herat,” the private TV channel Tolo News said in a report.

Shah says he learned about the illegal kidney trade in western Herat, where he, like many others, had settled after fleeing prolonged periods of drought, poverty and joblessness in the province of Badghis, in the northwest of the country.

So lucrative is the illegal kidney trade that two hospitals in Herat “offer transplantation services with the help of Iranian doctors,” according to the report, which added that children as young as seven and several women “were among those forced to sell their vital organs.”

The numbers shared by the Afghan authorities, who launched a probe into the trade soon after the report, are equally jarring.

“When the team visited the hospitals, it found that in one hospital 182 transplants had occurred … and 18 in another hospital,” said Dastagir Nazari, Health Ministry spokesperson.

He added that initial findings showed that the “transplantations had been going on in the two hospitals in Herat for at least two years.”

“But … we came to know that the number is much higher, especially in the Injil district, than in these hospitals,” Nazari said.

The alarming figures prompted authorities in Herat to conduct a more detailed investigation.

However, officials “found no document showing that trade has happened inside the hospitals” between donors and patients. Public health laws dictate that the “transplantation of a kidney can only happen when the donor is a relative of the patient, in need of the kidney,” with the illegal trading of organs punishable by law, Nazari said.

Experts blame the “health mafia” in Herat for the province’s dire straits.

“It is a reality that economic compulsions have put much pressure on our people, but the health mafia should not misuse the poverty of the people this way,” Waheed Qatali, the governor of Herat, posted on Facebook recently.

However, Herat residents and lawmakers accused the government of failing to provide jobs and alleviate them from poverty, leading to a rise in the illegal kidney trade.

“The government here is good in giving hollow slogans to people. It cannot stop this process because people have no alternative,” said Rafiq Shahir, a prominent figure in Herat.

He added that poverty was prevalent in many parts of Afghanistan despite the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign aid since the Taliban’s ouster in a US-led invasion in 2001 because “authorities live a luxurious life.”

Dr. Nawrooz Haqmal, an Afghan health expert based in the UK, agreed, saying that “people had no choice but to break the law”, which prohibits the illegal sale of kidneys.

“The sad reality has been reported for years wherein the private health sector has been involved in illegal businesses,” he told Arab News.

“Also, the silence of the leadership of the public ministry about the details of this illegal business has created confusion about the law enforcement in the capital of one the major cities,” he added.

Ordinary Afghans were still able to joke about the issue, with a satirical TV program featuring Herat’s illegal kidney trade as its main topic last week.

Impersonating President Ashraf Ghani, who has repeatedly vowed to improve the livelihood of the Afghans since assuming office more than six years ago, one artist said: “The people of Herat are wise to sell their kidneys to boost their economy. Afghans were very rich, and each possesses a treasure in their bodies for selling.”

“Hope to see you, the nation of Afghanistan, soon with one kidney,” he added.

Mob attacks Iran governor’s office after border shootings

Mob attacks Iran governor’s office after border shootings
Updated 25 February 2021

Mob attacks Iran governor’s office after border shootings

Mob attacks Iran governor’s office after border shootings
  • Iranian official accuses Pakistani forces of opening fire at fuel smugglers at border

KARACHI: At least one Pakistani was wounded after Iranian forces opened fire on smugglers in an area on the border of Iran and Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province, a local Pakistani official said on Wednesday.

The Associated Press reported that the shooting at the border left at least two dead and six wounded. It quoted Iranian officials as saying forces had shot at several fuel smugglers on the Pakistani side of the border near Saravan the day before.

Mohammad Hadi Marashi, deputy governor of the Sistan and Baluchestan province, also accused Pakistani forces of opening fire at a gathering of fuel smugglers trying to cross back into Iran, killing one and wounding four.

Pakistan has set aside nearly $20 million to fence its 900-km border with Iran, frequently used for trade and by minority Shia Muslims who travel from Pakistan to Iran for religious pilgrimages. But the border is also the entry point for cross-border militancy and for an illegal fuel trade that authorities have struggled to crack down on for decades.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that the shooting was part of a move by Iranian authorities against smugglers of Iranian petrol. “No Pakistani (has) died … only one person from Kharan (was) injured with a leg bullet, who is stable now,” Abdul Razzaq Sasoli, deputy commissioner of Panjgur, a Pakistani district bordering Balochistan, told Arab News, denying reports that a Pakistani had been killed in the incidents.

A border official said on condition of anonymity that one Pakistan had been killed in the shooting incident. Arab News could not verify that claim from Pakistan’s Foreign Office or the Baluchistan home minister, Mir Ziaullah Langove, who did not respond to repeated attempts for comment.

Sanaullah Baloch, a Pakistani lawmaker and leader of the Baluchistan National Party, said that the number of the deceased and injured was much higher than reported.

“We have reports that several dead and injured have been brought to Panjgur and other districts of Baluchistan,” Baloch said. “I demand a trilateral commission comprising members of the Iranian and Pakistani foreign ministries and Baloch representatives and elders to probe this unfortunate incident and dig out the reasons for why fire was opened on innocent people.”

Iran has not officially confirmed or denied the incident yet.

An angry mob stormed a district governor’s office in southeastern Iran on Tuesday, footage widely circulating on social media showed, a day after shootings at the border.

Violent clashes had also erupted Monday at a police station in Saravan. Iranian border guards opened fire at fuel smugglers trying to storm the station, wounding several, AP reported.

UK police arrest six after protest at factory linked to Israeli arms firm

UK police arrest six after protest at factory linked to Israeli arms firm
Updated 25 February 2021

UK police arrest six after protest at factory linked to Israeli arms firm

UK police arrest six after protest at factory linked to Israeli arms firm
  • Three men and three women have been detained and remain in police custody
  • Police said there had been ‘substantial damages’ to the building during the protest

LONDON: Police in the UK are holding six protesters arrested after they scaled the roof of a factory that Palestinian activists claim manufactures Israeli arms.
Protest organizers, Palestine Action group, said its members had been held more than 24 hours after the protest at the UAV Engines plant in the West Midlands of England, which is owned by Israeli company Elbit Systems UK.
Police said there had been “substantial damages” to the building during the protest on Tuesday.

The protesters drenched the building in red paint using fire extinguishers, and smashed windows. They were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and related offenses.
“Three men and three women have been detained and remain in police custody after officers brought the demonstration to a safe and peaceful conclusion at around 4:45 p.m. (on Tuesday),” Staffordshire police said in a statement reported by the Press Association.
The protest was the fourth in six months targeting the building. The organizers said they have targeted all 10 of their sites, including four arms factories, over 50 times since they launched the campaign.

“This is part of a series of actions targeting Elbit Systems and we are not planning to stop until they are shut down for good,” Huda Ammori, co-founder of the UK-based Palestine Action told Arab News.
“Elbit Systems is Israel’s largest privately-owned arms company, making a killing from Israel’s attacks on Palestinian people and it’s biggest single customer is the Israeli Ministry of Defense,” Palestine Action says on its website.
Staffordshire police did not provide further details on the custody status of the protesters when contacted by Arab News.
Earlier this month, Palestine Action, along with Extinction Rebellion --  a global environmental movement, held a protest at the Elbit factory in Oldham, only days after the UK signed a £102 million investment deal with Elbit Systems to deliver a detect and destroy system for the British Army. 

Pakistani PM urges Sri Lanka to join China corridor

Pakistani PM urges Sri Lanka to join China corridor
Updated 24 February 2021

Pakistani PM urges Sri Lanka to join China corridor

Pakistani PM urges Sri Lanka to join China corridor
  • Khan woos business leaders with promise of ‘religious tourism’

COLOMBO: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday opened Pakistan’s doors to “religious tourism” from Sri Lanka, inviting business leaders to visit the historically rich Gandharan region in the northwest of the country where a 40-foot statue of sleeping Buddha was recently unearthed.

He also sought their participation in Islamabad’s multibillion-dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project with Beijing.

“Pakistan has probably the most undiscovered religious tourism. For people in Sri Lanka, what is of great interest is the Gandhara Buddhist civilization. We have discovered various new sites for tourists to visit Pakistan,” Khan told delegates at the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference in Colombo.

The event was attended by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunwardena, and a host of officials.

Khan added that the Buddhist civilization was “discovered in the north of Islamabad,” the capital of Pakistan, and that “the findings will be of interest to Sri Lankan tourists who go to historical places.”

“Pakistan will do its best to restore Sri Lanka’s tourist industry,” he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, during talks with Rajapaksa, Khan said that both countries were “on the same page” on the need to alleviate poverty in their respective nations.

“We both agreed that poverty is due to food inflation, and this problem could be solved by bridging the gap between the producer and the consumer,” he said, citing the example of China, which had “successfully uplifted more than 700 million people.”

“Successful trading relations will help alleviate poverty. Pakistan is part of the One Belt and Road initiative of China, and CPEC is one of its flagship programs, and it means connectivity, and it will help enhance Sri Lanka’s connectivity right up to Central Asia,” he said.

China has pledged more than $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan as part of CPEC, central to Beijing’s wider Belt and Road Initiative, for the development of land and sea trade routes in Asia and beyond.

Khan also underlined the “exceptional quality” of Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations which are “marked by trust, understanding and mutual support,” before inviting Rajapaksa to visit Pakistan at the “earliest convenience.”

The Pakistani leader also stressed the importance of building a “robust economic partnership characterized by enhanced bilateral trade, investments, and commercial cooperation.”

Sri Lanka’s business leaders agreed.

“The first-ever investment forum with 39 Pakistani business magnates will pave the way for development in trade and investments,” Bandula Dissananayake, secretary-general of the Sri Lanka National Chamber of Commerce, told Arab News.

On Monday, both prime ministers witnessed several economically important agreements between Sri Lanka and Pakistan for development in tourism cooperation, investment, technology and education.

Pakistan’s exports to Sri Lanka grew from $97 million in 2004 to $355 million in 2018, while Sri Lanka’s exports to Pakistan grew from $47 million in 2004 to $105 million in 2018, almost double over the same period.

However, the two-way trade totals only $460 million, despite the potential to garner more than $2 billion.