UK minister warns of growing chemical, biological attack threat

After the Salisbury attacks in Britain and widespread chemical strikes by President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, Britain’s defense secretary Wallace said terror groups are now seeking to use chemical and biological weapons. (AFP/File Photo)
After the Salisbury attacks in Britain and widespread chemical strikes by President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, Britain’s defense secretary Wallace said terror groups are now seeking to use chemical and biological weapons. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 09 February 2021

UK minister warns of growing chemical, biological attack threat

After the Salisbury attacks in Britain and widespread chemical strikes by President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, Britain’s defense secretary Wallace said terror groups are now seeking to use chemical and biological weapons. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Defense secretary: ‘It is unfortunately what happens in a sort of breakdown of world order where you see countries like Syria use it on its own people’
  • ‘There’s a growing threat from terror groups,’ ex-commander of UK military chemical, biological counterterror forces tells Arab News

LONDON: A “breakdown of world order” has led to a growing threat of chemical and biological attacks, Britain’s defense secretary has warned.

Ben Wallace told The Times that hostile states have been ignoring long-established codes of conduct regarding chemical and biological weapons such as nerve agents and lethal pathogens. 

After the Salisbury attacks in Britain and widespread chemical strikes by President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, Wallace said terror groups are now seeking to use such weapons.

Syrian chemical attacks include the use of sarin in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017 — which killed hundreds — and a chlorine strike on the city of Douma in April 2018, which was assessed to have killed dozens.

“Globally, I think there is a growing threat of chemical or biological (attacks),” said Wallace. “It depends on what is at hand for people using the internet. It is unfortunately what happens in a sort of breakdown of world order where you see countries like Syria use it on its own people.”

He warned that the internet has given a “turbo boost” to the spread of information regarding chemical and biological weapons, including their production and use. 

With many terrorist groups operating in Syria during the country’s war, fears are rising that they could develop their own chemical attack capabilities.

Chemical weapons specialists told Arab News that the conflict in Syria has revealed how these deadly instruments can be easily produced and deployed.

“There’s a growing threat from terror groups,” Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former commander of UK military chemical and biological counterterror forces, told Arab News.

“The threat is visible when you look at the Middle East and Syria. It doesn’t necessarily come from traditional weapons, as we’re seeing toxic industrial weapons like chlorine — which are very easy to get hold of — being used,” he added.

“Assad is still in power because he used chemical weapons. The world has seen how effectively it works.”

De Bretton-Gordon added that when he was an advisor to Kurdish forces during the fight against Daesh, they endured chemical attacks from the terror group.

On Wallace’s comments regarding concerns posed by the sharing of deadly information online, de Bretton-Gordon said: “The internet has put this into the domain of bad actors. For something that’s relatively easy to get hold of, chemical weapons can be tremendously effective.”

He added: “We’re also concerned about the biological threat. Experts like me had always focused on deadly pathogens like anthrax. I endured an anthrax attack in Iraq — which I detailed in my book ‘Chemical Warrior’ — which we knew was difficult to get hold of, and there were medical countermeasures. But as coronavirus has shown, even a mild pathogen can bring the world to its knees. Bad actors around the world will be looking at this, as they are with chemical weapons.” 

He warned: “Toxic industrial weapons are the most viable threat for non-state actors in Syria and beyond. Chlorine was the original chemical weapon, and it can be easily reproduced today.”

Philip Ingram, a former senior British military intelligence officer, told Arab News: “Terror organizations have been watching developments in Syria closely. With chemical and radiological substances going missing in war zones such as Syria, it’s possible that they’ve fallen into the hands of terrorists.”

He added: “The effect these agents have is disproportionate to the cost of acquiring them. That will appeal to smaller nations and terror groups influencing larger ‘enemies,’ increasing the likelihood of the use of chemical and radiological weapons.”


UK urged to reverse huge cuts to Yemen aid

UK urged to reverse huge cuts to Yemen aid
Updated 18 sec ago

UK urged to reverse huge cuts to Yemen aid

UK urged to reverse huge cuts to Yemen aid
  • Plea comes amid UN pledging conference to avert famine
  • Save the Children ‘beyond dismayed’ by reports of Britain’s decision

LONDON: Yemenis and major charities have urged the British government to reconsider reported cuts of up to 50 percent of its support for humanitarian efforts in the war-torn country.

The plea comes as the UN is looking to raise some $3.85 billion from more than 100 governments and donors at a major virtual pledging conference on Monday to avert Yemen’s growing famine.

The British government has signaled that it is expected to cut its international aid budget as the country reckons with its biggest-ever recession amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK is expected to slash its current 0.7 percent of national income spending on foreign aid projects.

Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell told the BBC on Monday that cutting aid to Yemen would be “very serious indeed,” and would lead to the “slow, agonizing and obscene process of starving to death” for millions.

A Yemeni aid worker told The Guardian newspaper: “It is hard to describe how heartbreaking the situation in Yemen is right now … Children are dying every day here. It is not a moral decision to abandon Yemen.”

The country’s civil war kicked off in 2014 when Iran-backed Houthi militias seized the capital, leading the internationally recognized government to flee to neighboring Saudi Arabia.

“We are beyond dismayed by reports that the government intends to cut aid to Yemen by a staggering 50 percent. To slash food and medicine to these children as they stand on the brink of famine and a second COVID-19 wave risks many thousands of deaths,” said Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children UK.

“This is one of the first illustrations of the devastating real-life consequences of the UK’s decision to abandon its commitment to spend 0.7 percent of gross national income on aid, and we hope the government will urgently rethink this move in time to avoid tragic consequences for the world’s most vulnerable children.”


2 Americans wanted in Ghosn’s escape in Japanese custody

2 Americans wanted in Ghosn’s escape in Japanese custody
Updated 13 min 12 sec ago

2 Americans wanted in Ghosn’s escape in Japanese custody

2 Americans wanted in Ghosn’s escape in Japanese custody
  • American father and son helped former Nissan chairman escape Japan in a box
  • Michael and Peter Taylor, failed to convince US courts to block their extradition

BOSTON: An American father and son wanted by Japan for aiding former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn escape from the country in a box were handed over to Japanese custody Monday, ending their months-long battle to stay in the US
Michael Taylor and his son, Peter Taylor, failed to convince US officials and courts to block their extradition to Japan, where they will be tried on charges that they smuggled Ghosn out of the country in 2019 while the former auto titan was awaiting trial on financial misconduct charges.
The Massachusetts men, who have been locked up at a suburban Boston jail since their arrest in May, were handed over to Japanese officials early Monday, said one of their attorneys, Paul Kelly.
The Taylors’ lawyers had argued the accusations don’t fit under the law Japan wants to try them under and that they would be treated unfairly in Japan and subjected to “mental and physical torture.” They have accused Japan of pursuing the pair in an attempt to save face after the embarrassment of Ghosn’s escape.
Michael Taylor, a US Army Special Forces veteran and private security specialist who in the past was hired by parents to rescue abducted children, has never denied the allegations.
He gave an interview to Vanity Fair magazine for a story last year in which he described the mission in detail. When asked why he did it, he responded with the motto of the Special Forces: “De oppresso liber” or “to liberate the oppressed,” the magazine reported.
Michael Taylor refused to discuss the details of the case in an interview last month with The Associated Press because of the possibility that he will be tried in Japan. But he insisted that his son wasn’t involved and was not even in Japan when Ghosn left.
Ghosn, who became one of the auto industry’s most powerful executives by engineering a turnaround at the Japanese manufacturer, had been out on bail after his November 2018 arrest on charges that he underreported his future income and committed a breach of trust by diverting Nissan money for his personal gain.
Ghosn has denied the allegations and has said he fled to avoid “political persecution.”
Prosecutors have described it as one of the most “brazen and well-orchestrated escape acts in recent history.” Authorities say the Taylors were paid at least $1.3 million for their help.
On the day of the escape, Michael Taylor flew into Osaka on a chartered jet with another man, George-Antoine Zayek, carrying two large black boxes and pretending to be musicians with audio equipment, authorities said. Meanwhile, Ghosn, free on bail, headed to the Grand Hyatt in Tokyo and met up with Peter Taylor, who was already in Japan, authorities say.
The elder Taylor and Zayek met up with the two others at the Grand Hyatt and shortly after, they split up. Peter Taylor hopped on a flight to China while the others got on a bullet train and went back to another hotel near the airport, where Taylor and Zayek had booked a room. They all went in; only Ghosn’s rescuers were seen walking out.
Authorities say Ghosn was inside one of the big black boxes. At the airport, the boxes passed through a security checkpoint without being checked and were loaded onto a private jet headed for Turkey, officials said.
The Taylors had hired lawyers connected to former President Donald Trump, including ex-White House attorney Ty Cobb, in attempt to get Trump to block the extradition before he left office.
In his interview with the AP, Michael Taylor implored President Joe Biden to step in and said he felt betrayed that the US would try to turn him over to Japan after his service to the country. But the Biden administration declined to block the extradition.
Under Trump. the US State Department agreed in October to hand the men over to Japan. But a federal judge in Boston put their extradition on hold shortly after their lawyers filed an emergency petition. The judge rejected their petition in January and the Boston-based 1st Circuit Court of Appeals later denied their bid to put the extradition on hold while they appeal that ruling.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer last month denied a bid for more time for an appeal, clearing the way for the men to be handed over to Japan.


Fourth executive jailed in Britain’s Iraq oil bribery case

Fourth executive jailed in Britain’s Iraq oil bribery case
Paul Bond was sentenced to nearly four years in jail at London's Southwark Crown Court. (File/AFP)
Updated 9 min 39 sec ago

Fourth executive jailed in Britain’s Iraq oil bribery case

Fourth executive jailed in Britain’s Iraq oil bribery case
  • Paul Bond, 68, will spend 3 and a half years in jail for helping to pay bribes of more than $900,000
  • Unaoil paid more than $17 million in bribes to secure contracts worth $1.7 billion for itself and its Western clients

LONDON: A former sales manager of Dutch energy services company SBM Offshore was sentenced on Monday to three-and-a-half years in jail after being convicted by a London jury of bribing public officials to win oil contracts in post-occupation Iraq.
Paul Bond, 68, was found guilty of two counts of bribery after a retrial at London’s Southwark Crown Court on Wednesday. His sentencing hearing was delayed after the judge developed COVID-19 symptoms and self-isolated.
Bond is the fourth executive convicted after a five-year Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into Monaco-based consultancy Unaoil, which uncovered bribes of more than $17 million to secure contracts worth $1.7 billion for Unaoil and its Western, blue-chip clients.
Bond had denied wrongdoing.
Prosecutors had said that Unaoil employees worked on behalf of SBM Offshore and with Bond to pay more than $900,000 in bribes to Iraqi public officials at Iraq’s South Oil Company and the Ministry of Oil to win a $55 million contract for offshore mooring buoys by skewing a competitive tender in their favor.
Basil Al Jarah, Unaoil’s former Iraq partner, was last year sentenced to three years and four months in jail after pleading guilty to five bribery counts in 2019. Unaoil’s former territory managers for Iraq — Ziad Akle and Stephen Whiteley — received five and three-year sentences respectively.
The SFO investigation originally centered on the prominent Ahsani family, which ran Unaoil. However, failed extradition attempts culminating in a clash in Italy with US prosecutors over the extradition of Saman Ahsani in 2018 scuppered the British agency’s attempts to pursue prosecution in Britain.
In October 2019 Saman Ahsani and his brother Cyrus pleaded guilty in the United States to being part of a 17-year scheme to pay millions of dollars in bribes to officials in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. Their father and Unaoil founder, Ata Ahsani, has not been prosecuted.
SBM Offshore, which has declined to comment, was fined $238 million by the US Department of Justice in 2017 under a deferred prosecution agreement.


French ex-president Sarkozy handed jail term for corruption

French ex-president Sarkozy handed jail term for corruption
Updated 5 min 22 sec ago

French ex-president Sarkozy handed jail term for corruption

French ex-president Sarkozy handed jail term for corruption
  • The jail sentence includes two years suspended and the remaining year can be served at home with an electronic bracelet
  • The conviction sets a new low-point in the tumultuous political career of the right-winger who remains a dominant political figure in France

PARIS: Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was found guilty of corruption on Monday and handed a three-year prison sentence, in a ruling that deals a major blow to any lingering political ambitions.
The jail sentence includes two years suspended and the remaining year can be served at home with an electronic bracelet, the court ruled, meaning Sarkozy will not end up behind bars over this case.
The judge found the 66-year-old had formed a “corruption pact” with his former lawyer and friend Thierry Herzog in order to convince a judge, Gilbert Azibert, to obtain and share information about a legal investigation.
“The facts for which Nicolas Sarkozy is guilty are particularly serious having been committed by a former president who was the guarantor of the independence of the judiciary,” the judgment read.
Sarkozy, a one-term president from 2007-2012, announced an appeal several hours after the verdict, with his lawyer calling the findings “extremely severe” and “totally unfounded and unjustified.”
The conviction sets a new low-point in the tumultuous political career of the right-winger who remains a dominant political figure in France, admired by fans for his tough talk on crime and immigration.
It is also likely to undermine any attempted comeback to frontline politics — an ambition he has denied, but which has been promoted by many supporters ahead of 2022’s presidential election.
Wearing a dark suit and tie, Sarkozy showed no emotion as the sentence was read out and he left court without commenting to waiting journalists.
“What a senseless witchhunt, my love Nicolas Sarkozy,” his wife, former supermodel and singer Carla Bruni, posted on Instagram, next to a picture of the couple embracing. “The fight goes on, the truth will come out. #injustice.”
Only one other modern French president, Sarkozy’s political mentor Jacques Chirac, has been convicted of corruption.
Chirac, who did not attend proceedings in 2011 due to ill health, received a two-year suspended sentence over the creation of ghost jobs at the Paris city hall to fund his party when he was mayor.
The verdict on Monday was based on extensive wiretaps of private conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer in 2014 during which they discussed helping a judge, Gilbert Azibert, obtain a desirable job in Monaco.
In return the judge delivered information about a judicial investigation into Sarkozy’s dealings with billionaire L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt amid allegations that she had handed over envelopes stuffed with cash for campaign financing.
Sarkozy was eventually cleared over his dealings with Bettencourt and has maintained his innocence throughout.
He told the court during his latest trial he had “never committed the slightest act of corruption.”
While reading out her sentence, judge Christine Mee said Sarkozy had “used his status as a former president... in order to favor a magistrate to serve his personal interests.”
On March 17, the ex-president is scheduled to face a second trial over accusations of fraudulently overspending in his failed 2012 re-election bid.
He has also been charged over allegations he received millions of euros from Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi for his 2007 election campaign.
And in January, prosecutors opened another probe into alleged influence-peddling by Sarkozy over his advisory activities in Russia.
The guilty verdict on Monday is a further blow to Sarkozy’s center-right allies in the Republicans party who are struggling to coalesce around a single candidate ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Polls currently show centrist President Emmanuel Macron edging the election, followed by far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
“The severity of the punishment is absolutely out of proportion,” the head of the Republicans party, Christian Jacob, complained on Twitter.
He took aim at the specialized financial crimes prosecutors’ office which pursued Sarkozy, as well as his closest political ally while in power, former prime minister Francois Fillon.
Fillon, whose 2017 bid for the presidency was torpedoed by corruption charges, was convicted in June last year of creating a fake parliamentary job for his wife.
Political scientist Pascal Perrineau said that Sarkozy had been happy to let speculation about another tilt at the presidency in 2022 take off because it helped rehabilitate his image.
“Now it will be a lot more complicated,” he said.
On social media, some users shared previous comments from the pugnacious son of a Hungarian immigrant known for his tough-on-crime rhetoric.
In 2015, Sarkozy spoke out against arrangements that make it possible to convert short prison sentences into non-custodial punishments, which he will benefit from if he fails with his appeal.
“I want there to be no arrangements for sentences of more than six months,” he said.


Queen's husband Prince Philip to have heart tests: palace

Queen's husband Prince Philip to have heart tests: palace
Updated 01 March 2021

Queen's husband Prince Philip to have heart tests: palace

Queen's husband Prince Philip to have heart tests: palace

LONDON: Britain's Prince Philip, the 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth, was transferred to a different hospital in central London on Monday to have tests for a pre-existing heart condition as well as receive treatment for an infection.
"The Duke remains comfortable and is responding to treatment but is expected to remain in hospital until at least the end of the week," Buckingham Palace said in a statement.