Pakistan’s contradictory crackdown on ‘Red Mosque’ extremism

Pakistan’s contradictory crackdown on ‘Red Mosque’ extremism
This photograph taken on July 7, 2017, shows Pakistani faithful offering Friday prayers at the Red Mosque in Islamabad commemorating the 10th anniversary of a military operation and the siege of the Red Mosque by Islamic extremists. Despite public humiliation and a stint in jail, the former leader of Pakistan's notorious Red Mosque is inspiring a new generation of extremists with his old rhetoric -- highlighting Islamabad's ambivalent attempts to bring religious hardliners to heel. (AFP)
Updated 28 September 2017

Pakistan’s contradictory crackdown on ‘Red Mosque’ extremism

Pakistan’s contradictory crackdown on ‘Red Mosque’ extremism

ISLAMABAD: Despite public humiliation and periods of house arrest, the former leader of Pakistan’s notorious Red Mosque is inspiring a new generation of extremists with his old rhetoric — highlighting Islamabad’s ambivalent attempts to bring religious hard-liners to heel.
Ten years after the military raid on his mosque made international headlines and shocked his country, Abdul Aziz remains influential, overseeing a network of seminaries as he calls for a “caliphate” to be established in Pakistan.
During his time at the helm of the Red Mosque, Aziz shot to prominence for his inflammatory sermons, advocating jihad against the West and a hard-line interpretation of Islam.
He spread this message among his thousands of students, mostly poor children from rural areas who are educated for free at madrassas affiliated with the mosque, sparking accusations of brainwashing from critics.
By 2007 things had reached a tipping point.
His armed followers had begun taking his message to the streets of the capital, vandalising CD and DVD stalls and kidnapping Chinese masseuses, with tensions quickly degenerating into murderous clashes.
When the regime of then-President Pervez Musharraf launched an assault on the mosque on July 10, 2007, the army found itself facing heavily armed jihadists.
The controversial operation was followed minute-by-minute on live television, with more than 100 people killed in the week-long effort to pacify the mosque and arrest its leaders.
The attack on the religious site sparked ferocious blowback from extremists across the country, marking the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) — an umbrella organization for homegrown militant groups targeting the Pakistani state.
In the following years Islamist violence increased dramatically, with thousands of Pakistanis killed, maimed, or forced to flee their homes as security deteriorated.
Aziz himself was arrested as he tried to flee the besieged mosque in a burqa, taken straight to a television studio and paraded in the garment — earning the nickname “Mullah Burqa.”
He faced two dozen indictments, including incitement to hatred, murder and kidnapping. But Aziz was released on bail in 2009.
“He was acquitted in all these cases, and the government has chosen not to file appeals,” said lawyer and civil rights activist Jibran Nasir.
“There is no willingness for prosecution against him.”
Despite brief stints under house arrest, Aziz now appears to be galvanizing the next generation with his fiery preaching — apparently without fear of repercussions.
“The curious thing is that the army has gone after the TTP but not Aziz,” said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a leading anti-extremist activist.
“There’s sympathy for his cause that’s greater than the fear of being attacked again.”
Aziz is known to boast of his relations with well known jihadists like Osama Bin Laden and has spoken sympathetically about the Daesh group. He has also condoned high-profile extremist attacks, like the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.
“The impunity enjoyed by Abdul Aziz and other radical clerics raises fear of the capital returning to a 2007-like situation,” said political commentator Zahid Hussain.
In 2014, a video of students from his madrassa voicing their support for Daesh did not earn him any condemnation.
“There should be a caliphate in the world including in Pakistan,” said Aziz in a televised interview around that time.
Aziz “is tolerated... because it would be like touching a hornet’s nest,” explains former general Talat Masood.
Given the sensitivity of the population to religious questions, intervening “would risk attracting sympathies.”
Authorities, however, appear to be keeping him on a tight leash for now.
Aziz is no longer welcome at the Red Mosque, which theoretically belongs to the state, and he has been placed on the Pakistan’s anti-terrorist list.
A rally planned by his supporters to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Red Mosque siege was banned by the courts.
In recent months, the authorities have blocked roads surrounding the mosque to prevent Aziz from holding rallies and have taken measures to stop him from preaching on Friday, even remotely by phone.
The Red Mosque’s new imam Maulana Aamir Sadeeq, an affable 30-year-old, said it was time to “forget the past” and “the extreme positions” of a decade ago.
“We must put a distance between terrorism and us,” said Sadeeq — who happens to be Aziz’s nephew.


More risks to pregnant women, their newborns from COVID-19 than known before — study

More risks to pregnant women, their newborns from COVID-19 than known before — study
Updated 37 min 52 sec ago

More risks to pregnant women, their newborns from COVID-19 than known before — study

More risks to pregnant women, their newborns from COVID-19 than known before — study
  • An infection of the new coronavirus in such newborns is associated with a three-fold risk of severe medical complications
  • The study was conducted in more than 2,100 pregnant women across 18 countries

Pregnant women infected with COVID-19 and their newborn children face higher risks of complications than was previously known, a study by British scientists showed on Friday.
An infection of the new coronavirus in such newborns is associated with a three-fold risk of severe medical complications, according to a study conducted by scientists at the University of Oxford. 
While pregnant women are at higher risk of complications such as premature birth, high blood pressure with organ failure risk, need for intensive care and possible death.
“Women with COVID-19 during pregnancy were over 50% more likely to experience pregnancy complications compared to pregnant women unaffected by COVID-19,” said Aris Papageorghiou, co-lead of the trial and a professor of fetal medicine at Oxford University.
The study was conducted in more than 2,100 pregnant women across 18 countries, where each woman affected by COVID-19 was compared to two non-infected women giving birth at the same time in the same hospital.
Findings from the study, published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, also showed a delivery by caesarean section may be associated with an increased risk of virus infection in newborns.
However, breastfeeding does not seem to heighten risks of babies contracting COVID-19 from their mothers, scientists said.


UK study finds significant drop in COVID-19 infections after one jab

UK study finds significant drop in COVID-19 infections after one jab
Updated 23 April 2021

UK study finds significant drop in COVID-19 infections after one jab

UK study finds significant drop in COVID-19 infections after one jab
  • Infections in adults of all ages fell by 65% after a first dose of AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine
  • More than 33 million people in Britain have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

LONDON: COVID-19 infections in adults of all ages fell by 65% after a first dose of AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine in UK research, which scientists said showed the real-world impact of the nation’s immunization campaign against the pandemic.
Crucially, the research was conducted at a time when a new and more infectious variant of the coronavirus, called B1.1.7, was dominant in Britain, but still found vaccination was just as effective in elderly people and those with underlying health conditions as it was in the young and healthy.
“These real-world findings are extremely promising,” health minister James Bethell said in a statement as the data were published. He said they showed Britain’s COVID-19 vaccination program — one of the world’s fastest — was having a “significant impact.”
The data come from two studies that are part of the COVID-19 Infection Survey — a collaboration between Oxford University, the government’s health department, and the Office of National Statistics. Both studies were published online as preprints on Friday and have not yet been peer-reviewed.
The researchers analyzed more than 1.6 million test results from nose and throat swabs taken from 373,402 study participants between Dec. 1, 2020 and April 3, 2021.
They found that 21 days after a single dose of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — with no second dose — rates of all new COVID-19 infections had dropped by 65%.
This included a drop in symptomatic infections by 74% and a drop in infections with no reported symptoms by 57%.
Reductions in overall infections and in symptomatic infections, were even greater after a second dose — 70% and 90% respectively — the study found, and were similar to effects in people who had previously had a COVID-19 infection.
The second study looked at levels of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus to see how they changed after one dose of either vaccine, and after two Pfizer doses.
Results showed that antibody responses to a single dose of either vaccine were slightly lower in older people, but high across all ages after two Pfizer doses.
More than 33 million people in Britain have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with more than 10 million having had two doses, official data showed on Wednesday.


Manhattan subway bomber sentenced to life in prison

Akayed Ullah, a Bangladeshi immigrant, was sentenced to life in a US prison on April 22 2021 for attempting to blow up himself and others in Times Square subway station, New York. (File/AFP)
Updated 23 April 2021

Manhattan subway bomber sentenced to life in prison

Akayed Ullah, a Bangladeshi immigrant, was sentenced to life in a US prison on April 22 2021 for attempting to blow up himself and others in Times Square subway station, New York. (File/AFP)
  • Akayed Ullah, 31, claimed he wanted to kill only himself and was not acting on behalf of Daesh
  • Ullah will serve a minimum of 35 years behind bars

NEW YORK: A Bangladeshi man convicted of setting off a pipe bomb during rush hour in New York City’s busiest subway station, Times Square, was sentenced on Thursday to life plus 30 years in prison.
Akayed Ullah, 31, of Brooklyn, had claimed he wanted to kill only himself and was not acting on behalf of Daesh when he detonated his homemade bomb on Dec. 11, 2017.
No one died and four people were injured in the explosion, which led to the temporary closure of the station and the adjacent Port Authority Bus Terminal during the morning rush. Ullah was burned in what prosecutors called a “lone wolf” attack.
US Circuit Judge Richard Sullivan, who imposed the sentence, told Ullah he had committed a “truly barbaric and heinous crime” without regard for the humanity of those in his way.
“They were just people on the way to work, or school,” Sullivan said. “People who maybe had finished the night shift. ... To you, these people were expendable.”
Ullah, who is married and has a 3-year-old son, had faced a mandatory minimum 35-year term.
He told Sullivan he did not condone violence, and apologized to New York City, law enforcement and the United States.
“What I did on December 11, it was wrong,” Ullah said. “I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, I’m deeply sorry.”
Prosecutors said Ullah was angry with then-President Donald Trump and with US foreign policy in the Middle East, and that Daesh propaganda inspired him to kill, maim and terrorize as many commuters as possible.
“Akayed Ullah’s message of hatred clearly backfired,” US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.
At the time of the attack, Ullah had a green card, allowing him to live in the United States.
He lived with his mother, sister and two brothers in Brooklyn, while his wife and then-infant son lived in Bangladesh.
Ullah’s lawyer Amy Gallicchio, a federal public defender, called him a “deeply troubled soul” who had been attracted on the Internet to the “distorted and radical messages” of extremism.
“He is not an evil man,” Gallicchio said, a sentiment the judge also expressed. “He is not a monster.”
But federal prosecutor Rebekah Donaleski questioned why Ullah chose Times Square to set off the bomb if suicide was his goal.
The bomb materials had come from a nearby construction site where Ullah worked as an electrician.
“It is important to send a message that when you attack New York City, there will be no leniency,” Donaleski said.
Ullah was convicted in November 2018. Sullivan presided over Ullah’s case when he was a federal district judge.


Thousands gather to wish Chad’s slain president “a deserved rest“

Thousands gather to wish Chad’s slain president “a deserved rest“
Updated 23 April 2021

Thousands gather to wish Chad’s slain president “a deserved rest“

Thousands gather to wish Chad’s slain president “a deserved rest“
  • French President Emmanuel Macron, Guinean President Alpha Conde and several other African leaders were expected to attend the funeral
  • Deby ruled Chad for more than 30 years and was one of Africa’s wiliest political survivors

N’DJAMENA: Thousands of people gathered at the main square in Chad’s capital N’Djamena on Friday to pay their respects to the late President Idriss Deby, who was killed while leading his troops against a rebel offensive on Monday.
French President Emmanuel Macron, Guinean President Alpha Conde and several other African leaders were expected to attend the funeral, despite rebel warnings they should not attend for security reasons.
Deby ruled Chad for more than 30 years and was one of Africa’s wiliest political survivors, holding on to power despite rebellions that reached as far as his palace gates.
Although criticized by human rights groups for his repressive rule, he established himself as a key military ally of Western powers in the international fight against Islamist militants.
“He liberated our country from dictatorship and gave us the opportunity to participate fully in democracy,” said Emmanuel Gaba, a young resident of the capital.
His death was announced by the army on Tuesday, a day after election officials said he had won a sixth term in office. Most of the opposition boycotted the vote.
“He protected us for so long that today we have come to wish him eternal rest. A deserved rest,” said Hassan Adoum, who attended the ceremony.
On Thursday a car with mounted speakers drove around N’Djamena telling residents not to panic if they hear cannon fire as Deby would receive a 21-gun salute.


German COVID cases not rising as rapidly, still too high

German COVID cases not rising as rapidly, still too high
Updated 23 April 2021

German COVID cases not rising as rapidly, still too high

German COVID cases not rising as rapidly, still too high
  • The number of new infections was rising in particular among those aged between 30 and 59
BERLIN: The number of new coronavirus cases does not appear to be rising as rapidly, the vice president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases said on Friday, but warned that case numbers remained too high.
Lars Schaade told a weekly news conference that the number of new infections was rising in particular among those aged between 30 and 59 and said the virus was “not harmless” even for younger and healthier people.