Seoul on alert over possible Uzbek terrorists

Police patrol in downtown Seoul, South Korea, amid security concerns. (Shutterstock photo)
Updated 16 February 2019

Seoul on alert over possible Uzbek terrorists

  • South Korean diplomatic missions increases scrutiny of visa applicants
  • Uzbek nationals are not subject to visa exemptions in South Korea

SEOUL: South Korea is on high alert after a UN Security Council report warned hundreds of Uzbeks linked to terrorist networks could have entered the country.

The report on Daesh and Al-Qaeda stated members of the Katibat Imam Al-Bukhari and Katibat Al-Tawhid wal Jihad groups had requested entry to South Korea via Turkey. The militants chose the South due to the large Uzbek community already living there.

“Many ethnic Uzbeks request deportation from Turkey to the Republic of Korea, where the total number of Uzbeks is estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000,” the reports states. “Some Uzbek migrant workers in the Republic of Korea are reported to have been radicalized, and to be a source of financing for the travel of extremists to the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Seoul has asked South Korean diplomatic missions overseas to increase scrutiny of Uzbeks applying for South Korean visas.

“Upon receiving the UN report, we ordered the immigration office to tighten its screening of Uzbek travelers from Turkey,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement. 

“We also asked our embassy in Turkey and other diplomatic offices overseas to thoroughly examine the travel documents of Uzbek visa applicants while closely watching any unusual movements (regarding Uzbeks) here and abroad.”

Uzbek nationals are not subject to visa exemptions in South Korea, so they are required to apply at the South Korean Embassy in Uzbekistan. If they have permanent residence or long-term residency in another country, however, they can apply for a visa in a third country.

“We’ll limit issuing visas to Uzbek citizens confirmed to have visited banned countries, including Syria,” a ministry spokeswoman told Arab News. “In addition, we’ll try to block the entry of terror suspects while strengthening cooperation with foreign governments to stop any influx of terrorists to our nation.”

Terrorism is rare in South Korea, but fear and hatred toward terrorism prevail though the nation has a very small Muslim community of about 135,000, 0.3 percent of the population.

South Korea sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s at the request of the US. In 2004, a South Korean worker in Iraq was beheaded by militants who called for the withdrawal of South Korean troops from their country.

In 2007, 23 South Korean missionaries were abducted by members of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Two of the hostages were executed before a deal was reached for their return.

In 2015, an Indonesian was arrested by Korean police for suspected links to a terrorist group. The 32-year-old was suspected to have links to Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. In that same year, the National Intelligence Service revealed that 10 South Koreans had tried to contact Daesh.


New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

Updated 28 January 2020

New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

  • Indian government aims to offload entire stake in debt-ridden national carrier after failed 2018 sale attempt
  • Critics blame country’s struggling economy for decision to sell airline

NEW DELHI: Renewed government attempts to find a buyer for “debt trap” national carrier, Air India, have been slammed as “selling the family silver.”

Politicians from opposition and pro-government parties condemned the move by the Indian government to offload its entire stake in the flag-carrier airline, which comes more than a year after a failed bid to sell a controlling share.

A document released on Monday said that any bidder would have to absorb around $3.3 billion of debt along with other liabilities.

Speaking in New Delhi on Tuesday, Kapil Sibal, senior leader of India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, said: “When governments don’t have money this is what they do.

“The government of India has no money; growth is less than 5 percent and millions of rupees are outstanding under several social schemes. This is what they will do, sell all the valuable assets we have.”

Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress, the regional party ruling West Bengal, said in a video statement that “the government has decided to sell more family silver by selling 100 percent stake in Air India. You can well imagine how bad the economy (is).”

And on Twitter, Subramanian Swamy, parliamentarian from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said: “This deal is wholly anti-national, and I will (be) forced to go to court. We cannot sell our family silver.”

Monday’s document gave the deadline for submission of initial expressions of interest in purchasing the airline as March 17. In 2018, the Indian government tried to sell 76 percent of the carrier but got no takers.

To justify the latest sale attempt, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, said: “Despite infusing 30,500 crore rupees ($4.3 billion) in AI (Air India) since 2012, the airline has been running into losses year after year. Due to its accumulated debt of about 60,000 crore rupees, its financial position is very fragile.”

He described the company as being in a “debt trap” but added that it could be saved through privatization. “We have learnt lessons from the 2018 bid.”

Referring to critical comments from fellow BJP members, the minister said they were expressing their “personal opinion.”

Jitender Bhargava, former executive director of corporate communication at Air India, said the current offer would attract potential buyers.

“India is a growth market, so anybody would like to be part of it and take the advantage. The acquisition of Air India provides the fastest way to become a global carrier,” he told Arab News.

According to Bhargava, the move had nothing to do with the current state of the Indian economy. “All the important international carriers want to expand their footprints in India because of the potential of the Indian market. The government has taken a pragmatic view on the sale of the national carrier,” he said.

“Ownership of the airline does not matter, leadership matters. Once it came into the hands of the government, bureaucracy killed it,” added Bhargava, who authored “The Descent of Air India” chronicling the airline’s downfall. “Air India under the government’s ownership cannot run, cannot survive.”

He predicted that the carrier would become a marginal player if there was no change in ownership.

Air India has a fleet of 146 aircraft and employs around 21,000 people. It was founded by prominent industrialist J.R.D. Tata in 1932 and nationalized in 1953.