Sri Lankan defense secretary resigns over Easter Sunday bombings

Sri Lankan defense secretary resigns over Easter Sunday bombings
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Security personnel stand guard near St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo on April 24, 2019. All Catholic churches in Sri Lanka will remain closed until security improves. (AFP)
Sri Lankan defense secretary resigns over Easter Sunday bombings
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Security personnel stand guard near St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo on April 24, 2019. All Catholic churches in Sri Lanka will remain closed until security improves. (AFP)
Sri Lankan defense secretary resigns over Easter Sunday bombings
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Hundreds of people in Negombo, Sri Lanka, attend a mass burial on April 24, 2019 for some of the victims of a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday. (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)
Updated 25 April 2019

Sri Lankan defense secretary resigns over Easter Sunday bombings

Sri Lankan defense secretary resigns over Easter Sunday bombings
  • Sri Lankan police arrest three people, seize grenades and other weapons in Colombo raid
  • Authorities on Thursday revised the toll from Easter bombings down to 253, from the previous figure of 359

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando told Reuters on Thursday that he had resigned, taking responsibility for the suicide bomber attacks on the country last Sunday.
He said that while there had been no failure on his own part, he was taking responsibility for failures of some institutions he headed as the secretary of defense.
He said that security agencies were actively responding to intelligence they had about the possibility of attacks before they were launched.
“We were working on that. All those agencies were working on that,” he said.

Sri Lankan authorities on Thursday revised the toll from Easter bombings down to 253, from the previous figure of 359, explaining that some of the badly mutilated bodies had been double-counted.
The health ministry said medical examiners had completed all autopsies by late Thursday, and had concluded that several victims killed in the series of attacks had been counted more than once.
The official toll released by the police was reduced by 106 after the reconciliation of autopsy and DNA reports, the ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, several arrests have been made in the ongoing manhunt for the bombers.

Sri Lanka’s former navy chief said the father of two of the Easter suicide bombers has been arrested on suspicion of aiding his sons.

Jayanath Colombage, who now is a counter-terrorism expert at the Pathfinder Foundation, confirmed the arrest to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Sri Lankan police have also arrested three people, seized grenades and other weapons in a raid in Colombo.

All of Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches have been ordered to stay closed and suspend services until security improves after deadly Easter bombings, a senior priest said Thursday.

India has warned Sri Lanka of possible suicide bombings weeks before the attacks, based on “threatening” Daesh-influenced material seized from suspects in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, a source with knowledge of the investigation told AFP Thursday.

A major dispute has erupted in Sri Lanka over why security services did not act over the warnings. The Sri Lankan police chief issued an alert on April 11 but it did not reach a top minister.

Several warnings were made to Sri Lanka, all at least two weeks before the Easter Sunday attacks on three churches and three hotels in which 359 people died, the source said.

India’s evidence, which included videos, was initially seized in raids in 2018 in which seven men were detained in the city of Coimbatore, media reports said.

Earlier, an explosion occurred in a town east of Colombo also on Thursday but there were no casualties, a police spokesman said.

Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said police were investigating the blast on empty land behind the magistrate’s court in Pugoda.

“There was an explosion behind the court, we are investigating,” he said, adding it was not a controlled explosion like other blasts in recent days.

As mourners buried the remains of Christian worshippers killed by the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, hundreds of Muslim refugees fled Negombo on the country’s west coast where communal tensions have flared in recent days.
At least 359 people perished in the coordinated series of blasts targeting churches and hotels. Church leaders believe the final toll from the attack on St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo could be close to 200, almost certainly making Negombo the deadliest of the six near-simultaneous attacks.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Pakistani Muslims fled the multi-ethnic port an hour north of the capital, Colombo. Crammed into buses organized by community leaders and police, they left fearing for their safety after threats of revenge from locals.
“Because of the bomb blasts and explosions that have taken place here, the local Sri Lankan people have attacked our houses,” Adnan Ali, a Pakistani Muslim, told Reuters as he prepared to board a bus. “Right now we don’t know where we will go.”
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, yet despite Islamic State being a Sunni jihadist group, many of the Muslims fleeing Negombo belong to the Ahmadi community, who had been hounded out of Pakistan years ago after their sect was declared non-Muslim.
The fallout from Sunday’s attacks appears set to render them homeless once more.
Farah Jameel, a Pakistani Ahmadi, said she had been thrown out of her house by her landlord.
“She said ‘get out of here and go wherever you want to go, but don’t live here’,” she told Reuters, gathered with many others at the Ahmadiyya Mosque, waiting for buses to take them to a safe location.

“I have nothing now”
Sri Lanka’s government is in disarray over the failure to prevent the attacks, despite repeated warnings from intelligence sources.
Police have detained an unspecified number of people were detained in western Sri Lanka, the scene of anti-Muslim riots in 2014, in the wake of the attacks, and raids were carried out in neighborhoods around St. Sebastian’s Church.
Police played down the threats to the refugees, but said they have been inundated with calls from locals casting suspicion on Pakistanis in Negombo.
“We have to search houses if people suspect,” said Herath BSS El-Sisila Kumara, the officer in charge at Katara police station, where 35 of the Pakistanis that gathered at the mosque were taken into police custody for their own protection, before being sent to an undisclosed location.
“All the Pakistanis have been sent to safe houses,” he said. “Only they will decide when they come back.”
Two kilometers away, makeshift wooden crosses marked the new graves at the sandy cemetery of St. Sebastian’s Church, as the latest funerals on Wednesday took the number buried there to 40.
Channa Repunjaya, 49, was at home when he heard about the blast at St. Sebastian’s. His wife, Chandralata Dassanaike and nine-year-old daughter Meeranhi both died.
“I felt like committing suicide when I heard that they had died,” he told Reuters by the open graves. “I have nothing now.”
Meeranhi’s grandmother, with her head still bandaged after being wounded in the attack, was held by a relative as the first handfuls of earth were scattered upon her child-sized coffin.
Most of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people are Buddhist, but the Indian Ocean island’s population includes Muslim, Hindu and Christian minorities. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions.
There were signs of some religious communities pulling together following Sunday’s outrage.
Saffron- and scarlet-robed Buddhist monks from a nearby monastery handed out bottled water to mourners who gathered under a baking afternoon sun.
But the town, which has a long history of sheltering refugees – including those made homeless by a devastating tsunami in 2004 – may struggle to recover from Sunday’s violence, said Father Jude Thomas, one of dozens of Catholic priests who attended Wednesday’s burials.
“Muslims and Catholics lived side by side,” he said. “It was always a peaceful area, but now things have come to the surface we cannot control.” 

 


Italian FM stresses concerns about Tunisia’s political situation

During questions in the Italian Senate attended by Arab News, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi. (AFP/File Photo)
During questions in the Italian Senate attended by Arab News, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 54 min 20 sec ago

Italian FM stresses concerns about Tunisia’s political situation

During questions in the Italian Senate attended by Arab News, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi
  • Italy will also send further medical aid to Tunisia to help combat COVID-19

ROME: Italy is “very concerned” about the political turmoil in Tunisia, and has urged Tunisian authorities to respect the constitution and “allow the legitimately elected parliament to carry out its duties.”

During questions in the Italian Senate attended by Arab News, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told senators that he had spoken to Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi and issued “an appeal to moderation, so that every initiative is taken to avoid clashes and violence there.”

“Jerandi assured me that the constitution will be respected, and confirmed that President Kais Saied is carrying out consultations to appoint a new prime minister shortly. Right after that, the Parliament will promptly restart its work,” he said. 

Referring to Saied’s dismissal of the prime minister and key cabinet members, and the 30-day suspension of parliament, Di Maio added: “The situation in Tunisia causes strongly concerns us. We are following with the utmost attention effects of the decisions taken by President Saied,”

The foreign minister stressed that in the hours following Saied's decision, “we immediately gave a strong (signal) to spark a coordinated action with our main European partners, as we believe that the EU can and should carry out a decisive role in this phase.”

Di Maio spoke on the phone with the EU High Representative Josepp Borrell on July 26, and with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian the following day. “We all decided to stay permanently in touch and to send a strong and unanimous appeal to the Tunisian institutions for responsibility and respect for democracy and the rule of law,” including allowing the legitimately elected parliament "to perform its duties.”

The latest developments came, he said, “at a very complicated moment for Tunisia, a country already gripped by a very serious economic crisis” which the COVID-19 pandemic has only made worse.

Di Maio also offered assurances that Italy will support Tunisia in its discussions with the International Monetary Fund over a new financial-aid program, which he described as “a fundamental step to allow the implementation of the necessary economic reforms.”

Italy will also send further medical aid to Tunisia to help combat COVID-19. On top of the five containers of medical supplies and donations for the purchase of oxygen generators for Tunisian hospitals already given to Tunis in the past weeks, Italy will soon donate vaccines, he explained.

“We will not fail to support a people we have always been friends with, as we are sharing a common destiny,” Di Maio said.


Former US general warns Taliban ‘will be back’ amid Afghan pullout

Former US general warns Taliban ‘will be back’ amid Afghan pullout
Updated 29 July 2021

Former US general warns Taliban ‘will be back’ amid Afghan pullout

Former US general warns Taliban ‘will be back’ amid Afghan pullout
  • David Petraeus, senior UK intelligence official raise concerns over return of violence and potential refugee crisis

LONDON: The withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan will not mark the end of Taliban violence and will result in a situation that must be “managed” to avoid full-scale conflict, senior US and UK military figures have warned.

Retired US Gen. David Petraeus and Sir John Scarlett, a senior UK intelligence official, questioned the withdrawal process and raised concerns over the resulting long-term implications in an interview with Wilson Center President, Director and CEO Mark Green.

It comes ahead of the September withdrawal deadline that came as a result of long-term negotiations, including the landmark Doha agreement last year.

But Petraeus warned that a withdrawal would not result in long-term peace: “The big lesson of the past 20 years is that if you withdraw and declare victory and go home, they will be back.

“So instead, what you have to do, especially in cases where you can’t ‘win,’ where victory is not possible, you have to manage it. And the way to manage it is to get to the smallest, most affordable — in terms of blood and treasure — presence and capability that we can possibly design,” he said.

“We could have achieved the objective that we were staying in Afghanistan to accomplish, which is to prevent Al-Qaeda, and then more recently, Daesh, from establishing sanctuaries on Afghan soil under this very Islamist regime, the Taliban,” he continued.

Scarlett also questioned the withdrawal, arguing that a better option would have been to maintain a “modest” military presence in the war-torn country.

He said: “There was another path. There has been a modest troop presence there over the last year, but they weren’t actively engaged in fighting … they were actually providing support.

“And so it isn’t necessarily, ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ It’s whether or not we were willing to maintain a modest presence there to help continue to build capacity and manage risks.”

He added that the withdrawal — which also includes NATO allies — was primarily a US decision, and that questions remain over how it was reached.

Scarlett said: “In a way, it’s been expected, because it’s been the policy to withdraw as part of the negotiated agreement with the Taliban, under the previous administration, but there’s clearly — particularly in Afghanistan, but also really across Europe — quite a degree of surprise.

“There will be tens of thousands of refugees going into Pakistan and possibly into central Asian states. I’m afraid Pakistan will wonder about US sustainability and commitment in the medium-to longer-term.

“There’s obviously an issue of credibility here, not just for the US, but also for the allies,” he concluded.


Syrian refugee to set up charity using libel cash from far-right figure 

When Jamal Hijazi was 15 he was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates in a school in Huddersfield, UK. (Screenshot)
When Jamal Hijazi was 15 he was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates in a school in Huddersfield, UK. (Screenshot)
Updated 29 July 2021

Syrian refugee to set up charity using libel cash from far-right figure 

When Jamal Hijazi was 15 he was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates in a school in Huddersfield, UK. (Screenshot)
  • Jamal Hijazi, from Homs, was falsely accused of violence against female classmates by Tommy Robinson
  • Robinson rose to prominence as the founder of the Islamophobic English Defence League

LONDON: A teenaged Syrian refugee, who won £100,000 ($139,632) in damages from a British Islamophobe, has said he wants to use the money to establish a charity for young people. 

When Jamal Hijazi was 15 he was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates in a school in Huddersfield, UK. He was beaten, and pupils were seen pouring water over his face in an apparent effort to “waterboard” him. 

Following the attack, Tommy Robinson, a well known far-right figure in the UK whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, published two videos in which he falsely accused the refugee of attacking young English girls at his school and threatening to stab other pupils. 

Hijazi, who is originally from Homs, faced death threats and other serious disruptions to his life and education following those claims — which were viewed nearly a million times — and took Robinson to court for libel.

Robinson, who rose to prominence as the founder of Islamophobic far-right group the English Defence League, was ordered to pay Hijazi the damages, as well as foot his legal costs. 

Speaking for the first time since the case’s resolution on July 23, Hijazi, now 17, said: “I want to use this money to set up a charity to help young people of any race who go through problems at school or anywhere. 

“Not just bullying, but racism or any other problems that young people experience,” he told the i newspaper.

“I have been through a lot and I want other young people to have the support that I had and I want to help people.” 

He added that it “felt good” to have won the case but, when asked about Robinson, he said: “I don’t want to go into that.”

Asked about his future, Hijazi said he is now “a lot happier,” and that he hopes to take up an apprenticeship. 

Tasnime Akunjee, the teeanger’s lawyer, said it was disgusting that Robinson “thought it was in any way appropriate to add to the burden of a child who had been seriously bullied.”

He added: “This outcome shows there are limits to what society will tolerate and that when someone crosses the line, there will be support for the victim and that those responsible will be held to account. 

“For Jamal and his family, it is a great relief that the horrific lies which were told about Jamal have been resoundingly put to bed and his name has been cleared.”


Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources

Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources
Updated 29 July 2021

Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources

Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources
  • Rising caseloads in tourist destinations could help fuel a fourth wave when Germans come home from holiday
  • Rules are now also applied differently at airports and road crossings

BERLIN: All travelers arriving in Germany will be required from this weekend to demonstrate immunity from COVID-19 either from a vaccine or previous infection, or present a negative test result, government sources reported.
The plan reflects growing concern among Germany’s regional and national leaders that rising caseloads in tourist destinations could help fuel a fourth wave when Germans come home from holiday.
Germany now requires a negative test or proof of immunity only from those arriving from so-called “risk areas,” “high-incidence areas” and “virus-variant areas,” which in Europe now include Britain, Spain and the Netherlands.
Rules are now also applied differently at airports and road crossings, and regional leaders are keen to make them more consistent.
Germany saw 3,142 new infections on Thursday, according to its main disease fighting agency, the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases. Average daily new cases in Britain stand at almost 30,000.
After an initial slow start, Germany has swiftly implemented widespread vaccination, with 61.3 percent of the population receiving at least one shot, dramatically reducing the disease’s severity and lethality.


Lawyers warn Danish Syria policy could set ‘dangerous precedent’ for refugees

Lawyers warn Danish Syria policy could set ‘dangerous precedent’ for refugees
Updated 29 July 2021

Lawyers warn Danish Syria policy could set ‘dangerous precedent’ for refugees

Lawyers warn Danish Syria policy could set ‘dangerous precedent’ for refugees
  • More than 1,200 Syrians, mostly women and the elderly, set to be affected after parts of Damascus marked safe for return
  • Denmark does not recognize Assad regime on account of human rights abuses

LONDON: Lawyers taking the Danish government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over its efforts to deport Syrian refugees warn that the move will set a “dangerous precedent.”
Denmark recently began rejecting temporary residency status renewal applications from many Syrians in the country after it determined that security in parts of Syria had “improved significantly,” including the capital Damascus.
This comes despite the government in Copenhagen having no diplomatic ties to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad over ongoing human rights abuses, which would lead to many proposed deportees being left indefinitely in detention centers.
About 1,200 of the 35,000 Syrians living in Denmark are set to be affected by the change in policy, as the Scandinavian nation, previously considered one of the world’s most tolerant and open societies, feels the political impact of a rise in support for the far-right Danish People’s Party.
A similar policy in 2018 revoking the status of hundreds of Somalis in Denmark led to many leaving or disappearing altogether, with the Danish Refugee Council saying they had moved to other countries without official status.
Lawyers from London-based international human rights chambers Guernica 37 said in a note: “The situation in Denmark is deeply concerning. While the risk of direct conflict-related violence may have diminished in some parts of Syria, the risk of political violence remains as great as ever, and refugees returning from Europe are being targeted by regime security forces.
“If the Danish government’s efforts to forcibly return refugees to Syria is successful, it will set a dangerous precedent, which several other European states are likely to follow.”
Guernica 37 is part of a group including 150 Danish law firms pushing back against the new policy.
Carl Buckley, the lead barrister from the chambers, said: “The ECHR is a slow-moving system, but we would make an application asking the court to consider interim measures, which would involve ordering Denmark to stop revoking residencies until a substantive complaint has been considered and ruled upon.”
Jens Rye-Andersen, a Danish immigration lawyer, said that he believed public opinion was on the side of refugees and that he believed the government would change its stance before the case reached the ECHR.
“There have been a lot of changes in the asylum system in the last two years and clearly it’s not working very well. Experts who compiled the initial report the government used to show the security situation in Syria has improved are saying that their work has been misquoted. So I think the government doesn’t have a choice except to reconsider.”
As a result of the Syrian regime’s policy of conscripting young men to serve in its armed forces or punishing others for desertion, the majority of those set to lose their residency status are women or the elderly — with several refugees saying it could end up splitting families.
Ghalia, a 27 year old who arrived in 2015, had her residency permit revoked in March. She told The Guardian newspaper: “I feel nothing but fear about going into the immigration center by myself, but I can’t return to Syria … it is like they believe we have a choice but if I go back, I will be arrested.
“I have no control over my life and I feel like I haven’t done anything to deserve this.”
Faeza, a 25-year-old nurse who had her residency revoked in January, said: “I was interviewed for eight hours. I was asked over and over why hadn’t I returned to Syria? I said because it wasn’t safe.” The ruling was overturned in July, but she added: “I am now worried (in case it happens again). As Syrian refugees, we are subject to unjust decisions.”