Afghanistan to build $2 billion airport in Taliban-dominated province

Afghanistan to build $2 billion airport in Taliban-dominated province
The Afghan government is planning to open a new international airport in Logar province. (File/AFP)
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Updated 12 February 2021

Afghanistan to build $2 billion airport in Taliban-dominated province

Afghanistan to build $2 billion airport in Taliban-dominated province
  • Located 45 km south of Kabul, the airport is expected to become operational by 2024
  • It will be built near the Ainak Copper mine, an area where government forces routinely come under Taliban attack

KABUL: The Afghan government is planning to open a new international airport in a Taliban-dominated eastern province to transform the region into an air travel hub, the country’s aviation regulator said on Friday.
The project, estimated to cost $2 billion, was already planned in the 1970s by then-President Mohammad Daud Khan, whose killing in a coup in 1978 marked the beginning of Afghanistan’s civil war and foreign invasions that have consequently destroyed the country’s infrastructure.
To be constructed in Logar province, some 45 km south of Kabul, the airport is expected to become operational by 2024, Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Mohammad Naeem Salehi told Arab News on Friday.
“The airport will transform Afghanistan’s central zone into one of Afghanistan’s main aerial hubs and will connect it to the regional and world markets,” he said, adding that the project’s feasibility assessment was recently completed by an Italian company.
The new airport will be an alternative to the main international port in the heart of Kabul, which was built in the 1970s and cannot be expanded.
“The total cost of the airport will stand at $2 billion and will be covered by the government of Afghanistan,” Salehi said, adding: “It will be an international standard airport, used annually by 10 million passengers with a capacity of 100,000 tons of cargo.”
The airport will be built in the desert of Mohammad Agha district of Logar, near the Ainak Copper mine, an area where the Taliban have enjoyed a long presence and where government forces routinely come under attack.
The province is also the hometown of President Ashraf Ghani.
“We have enough security forces on the ground in the area for the protection of the project and in addition to this local people are cooperating on this,” Logar provincial council chief Hassibullah Stanekzai told Arab News.
“This is a national project on Afghanistan’s level and the Taliban will never hinder it,” he said.
While the Taliban could not be immediately reached for comment, analysts see challenges for the project to materialize.
“The building of an airport in Logar is a laudable project, but we have to note that Logar is a very volatile province,” analyst Tameem Bahiss told Arab News.
“With the deteriorating security situation in Logar and the corruption in Kabul, this project will be very challenging,” he said.
Former government adviser Torek Farhadi praised the project, but said it should not be a priority for Kabul as “securing access and securing the airport’s perimeter will be key to convincing international airlines to land there.”
He added: “In the long run, we hope for peace in Afghanistan so it can be completed as an international hub. Security right now doesn’t allow for that.”
Farhadi said that even top government officials cannot travel by car to Logar as the security situation is so dire.


Malaysia, Philippines capture 8 Abu Sayyaf militants in Sabah

Malaysia, Philippines capture 8 Abu Sayyaf militants in Sabah
Updated 10 May 2021

Malaysia, Philippines capture 8 Abu Sayyaf militants in Sabah

Malaysia, Philippines capture 8 Abu Sayyaf militants in Sabah
  • Arrests a result of ‘intensified intelligence operations’ and close cooperation with Malaysia’s security forces

MANILA: The Philippine military on Monday said that close cooperation with Malaysia’s security forces led to the arrest of two notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) sub-leaders involved in high-profile crimes.

The Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) identified the two arrested ASG sub-leaders as Sansibar Bensio and Mabar Binda, who led the kidnapping of several local and foreign nationals, including two European birdwatchers.

Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, Jr., Wesmincom commander, said that the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) responded to information provided by the Philippine military’s Joint Task — Force Sulu (JTF-Sulu) about the presence of the ASG militants in the area, after which a special police operation was launched.

At 3 a.m. on May 8, Bensio and Binda were arrested in Jalan Taman Sri Arjuna, Beaufort, Sabah, while six of their followers were also nabbed in the operation.

JTF-Sulu commander, Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, said that the arrest of the suspects was a result of intensive intelligence build-up conducted by the 4th Marine Brigade under the command of Col. Hernanie Songano.

Gonzales said that Bensio was involved in the 2012 kidnapping of birdwatchers Lorenzo Vinciguerra, a Swiss national, and Ewold Horn, a Dutch national.

Vinciguerra was rescued after he managed to escape from his captors when government troops attacked the jungle camp where they were being held in 2014.

Horn, on the other hand, was kept hostage by the bandit group for seven years and was killed by one of his guards when he tried to escape during a clash between the group and soldiers in March 2019.

Meanwhile, Bensio and Binda were both part of the group that snatched three Indonesian fishermen in Lahad Datu, Sabah, on Sept. 23, 2019.

All three were rescued in separate operations conducted by the military a few months later.

Besides the foreign nationals, at least 10 Filipinos were kidnapped by the suspects.

Gonzales said that Bensio and Binda’s group were also involved in armed clashes with the military in Sulu, including the encounter in July 2011 at Sitio Tubig Magtuh, Barangay Panglayahan, Patikul town where a young Marine officer, 2Lt. Michael Baladad was beheaded.

Songano said: “These ASG personalities moved to Sabah around March this year.”

“We have been closely monitoring the activities of this Eastern Sulu kidnap-for-ransom group as it is highly possible that they intend to make Sabah their staging point for their kidnapping activities,” he said in a statement.

“They know that it will be very difficult for them to launch atrocities in Sulu due to the persistent military operations in the area,” he said.

Vinluas agreed, adding that intensified intelligence operations and the community’s support, along with the constant coordination between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the ESSCOM, contributed to the “successful neutralization” of the ASG sub-leaders and their cohorts.

“The arrest of suspects is a big blow to the ASG,” he said, commending JTF-Sulu and ESSCOM for the “aggressive measures taken to ensure that these terrorists will not be able to conduct horrendous activities anymore, particularly off the waters of Sabah.”

Gonzales warned the group against hampering peace in Sulu.

“Whether they seek refuge in nearby provinces or outside our area of operations, if they have caused atrocities or continue to spoil our peace initiatives here in Sulu — they will surely be made accountable and face the rule of law,” he said.


UK police issue terror warning as crowds return post-lockdown

UK police issue terror warning as crowds return post-lockdown
Updated 10 May 2021

UK police issue terror warning as crowds return post-lockdown

UK police issue terror warning as crowds return post-lockdown
  • 29 attacks have been foiled in the past 4 years
  • Metropolitan Police: ‘People are becoming increasingly radicalized online’

LONDON: British police have issued a fresh terror warning as potential targets become more crowded after COVID-19 measures continue to ease.

Metropolitan Police — London’s police force — has reminded Britons that terrorist capabilities have not weakened over the course of the pandemic.

Twenty-nine attacks have been foiled in the past four years — 18 Islamist, 10 extreme right-wing, and one described as left-wing, anarchist or single-issue terrorism (LASIT).

“During the pandemic and the various lockdowns we’ve seen, the terrorist intent and capability has remained unchanged and people are becoming increasingly radicalized online,” said Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist.

“What has been missing to date is the opportunity for some of those terrorists to transact whatever they might wish to do, because there have been far fewer crowded places,” he added.

“Terrorists haven’t stopped planning attacks or radicalizing vulnerable people online, and now we’re easing out of lockdown.”

Britain has not endured a terror attack since the Reading stabbing on June 20, 2020, when Libyan asylum seeker Khairi Saadallah fatally knifed three victims meeting in a park. He was handed a whole-life prison term in January.

The UK’s current terror threat level stands at substantial. Twist said terror police officers are dealing with a threat that is mostly “focused on crowded spaces and creating mass casualties.”

He added: “We haven’t seen a significant shift away from that. In lockdown, there are far fewer venues with a lot of people.”

The number of anti-terrorist hotline reports has dropped significantly, with terror arrests falling to their lowest level in a decade over the past year.

Twist said Islamist terrorism remains Britain’s biggest threat, but warned that concerns over far-right extremism continue to grow.

Some 55 percent of the 185 terror arrests in 2020 were believed to be jihadists, with 23 percent far right and 22 percent filling the LASIT or unclassified groups.

Twist said top security officials are concerned that COVID-19 has created an environment where “extremists find it easier to identify, target and potentially radicalize vulnerable people.”

He added that the pandemic’s effect on economic inequality and the growth of conspiracy theories has given fuel to extremists, who prey on people in vulnerable positions.

In light of the added risk, police have asked hospitality venues and reopening businesses to carry out risk assessments on indoor areas and outdoor spaces.


New scheme fast-tracks refugee nurses into English hospitals

New scheme fast-tracks refugee nurses into English hospitals
Updated 10 May 2021

New scheme fast-tracks refugee nurses into English hospitals

New scheme fast-tracks refugee nurses into English hospitals
  • First 14 refugees include people who fled from Lebanon, Iran, Sudan, Myanmar
  • Britain’s National Health Service suffers from chronic shortage of nursing staff

LONDON: Nurses from refugee backgrounds are being recruited to work in English hospitals on a fast-track scheme to help the country against COVID-19.

The first-of-its-kind scheme, piloted in St. John’s Hospital in Liverpool, provides a four-week training course to bring refugee nurses up to speed with British practices, before introducing them to the workforce.

Under current rules, nurses who have fled their homeland and arrived in the UK are not allowed to practice their craft while their application for refugee status is being processed — this can sometimes take months or years.

The new course helps nurses who have arrived in the UK to re-enter the workforce, and props up the number of nurses working for the National Health Service (NHS).

Run in partnership with charity Refuaid, the first 14 refugees include people who have fled Lebanon, Iran, Sudan, Myanmar and elsewhere.

Walid Jarad, 31, a Palestinian from Lebanon, had worked as a nurse in an intensive care unit for six years, but had been unable to work for the last year while applying for asylum in Britain.

“I have so much experience in exactly the area that was needed,” he told the BBC. “I’ve worked with so many isolated patients in intensive care respiratory units. My experience is completely relevant and I just couldn’t use it.”

Having completed the four-week course, he said it felt “totally amazing” to be back doing the job he loves.

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said: “I am delighted to welcome these healthcare workers into the NHS, and incredibly proud of the work they have done over recent weeks and months to prepare for the challenge.”

The NHS suffers from a chronic shortage of nursing staff — a situation that became particularly acute during the height of the pandemic.

The vacancy rate for registered nurses exceeded 10 percent in June, and registered nurses accounted for 45 percent of all vacancies in NHS hospitals in England.

May said: “While the NHS will provide a safe and secure place to work, the public and patients will benefit from the skills and expertise these individuals can bring, and I hope this pilot cohort will build the way for hundreds more refugees to become part of our NHS family.”


British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma

British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma
Updated 10 May 2021

British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma

British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma
  • Marriam Ahmad told she might not wake up after contracting COVID-19
  • She woke up naturally less than a day after giving birth

LONDON: A British Muslim woman said she is “grateful” for safely having a baby after she was placed in a coma due to complications from contracting COVID-19, describing it as a “miracle.”

Marriam Ahmad, 27, from the Welsh city of Newport, went into hospital in January after testing positive for the disease. 

Ahmad, who was 29 weeks pregnant at the time and suffers from asthma, did not expect to be in hospital long, but her condition deteriorated quickly.

“All of a sudden, my oxygen mask was on a much higher setting — I couldn’t hear properly,” she told the BBC. “It was very loud. I had someone washing my face, looking after me. I was very weak.”

As her condition worsened, she was told that her baby would have to be delivered prematurely by Caesarean section. A few hours later, a decision was made to place her in an induced coma.

She was warned that her baby might not be strong enough to survive, and that she might not wake up from the coma.

“It just happened so quickly. It was within about five minutes, they told me ‘you’re going on a ventilator, you’re having a c-section, the baby’s going to come out, you’ll be unconscious, you might not make it. Say goodbye’,” Ahmad said.

“I facetimed my parents and I was crying. It was only like a two-minute phone call — my mum was like ‘what are you talking about?’ I was lonely and I was scared. I didn’t even speak to my husband or my son.”

Her husband, who was looking after their 1-year-old son Yusuf, was called by a doctor to inform him of developments. Their baby was born on Jan. 18, 2021, weighing just 1.17 kg.

Surprisingly, Ahmad woke from her coma naturally less than a day later — but was unable to see her baby due to their conditions and COVID-19 restrictions. For the next few days, nurses brought Ahmad photos and videos of her baby.

“I had no idea what happened. I woke up — obviously I could see there was nothing in my stomach anymore and I was in a lot of pain,” she said, adding that staff members became deeply invested in her baby’s wellbeing. 

Ahmad and her husband decided to name their daughter Khadija. “In the Islamic faith, Khadija is a very strong, independent woman,” she said.

“From my point of view, my Khadija was very strong. She didn’t have issues, for someone being preterm at 29 weeks. They were telling me all the complications. She didn’t have any of those. It was a miracle.”

Khadija spent eight weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit before she was allowed home. After three and a half months, she weighed nearly 4 kg.

“I am just so grateful — that she’s still alive, that I am still alive,” Ahmad said. “Even though it was such a horrific, traumatic experience, I just found myself being even more grateful for the little things. Just spending time with family.”


UK to introduce checks to prevent terrorists hiring vans

UK to introduce checks to prevent terrorists hiring vans
Updated 10 May 2021

UK to introduce checks to prevent terrorists hiring vans

UK to introduce checks to prevent terrorists hiring vans
  • ‘Shocking’ that additional checks took so long, expert tells Arab News
  • Vehicles used to target bystanders in 2017 London attacks

LONDON: Van owners in Britain will be told to carry out routine checks on people hiring their trucks to prevent vehicle-based terror attacks. 

The guidance, brought in by the British Standards Institution, will expect owners to check references and employment history for evidence of criminal links. 

Vehicles will also be expected to be checked regularly to spot any signs of tampering in a way that could be evidence of preparation for criminal or terrorist acts.

European cities endured multiple incidents of terrorists using vehicles to run over innocent bystanders, such as the Westminster Bridge and London Bridge attacks in March and June 2017, respectively.

The previous summer, a truck rammed into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in the French city of Nice. Eighty-six people were killed and hundreds more injured.

Architectural changes have been made to reduce the risk of attacks, with bollards and barriers put in place on bridges and major pedestrian areas in Britain. 

Officials are also aiming to reduce the risk of trucks being used for human trafficking by organized crime gangs.

“This is a long-awaited implementation of recommendations that came out from lessons learned from the Nice attack in 2016, and the London Bridge and Westminster attacks of 2017, recognizing the ease with which terrorists had access to vehicles and the devastating impact they could have. The London Bridge attackers had tried and failed to source a larger vehicle,” former senior British military intelligence officer Philip Ingram told Arab News.

“Daesh and Al-Qaeda channels on encrypted platforms such as Telegram actively encourage the procurement and use of large vehicles for terror purposes,” he added.

“In 2017, Rumiyah, a terror magazine aimed at English-language speakers, talked of the use of vehicles, including trucks, as weapons. It’s shocking that it has taken almost four years to bring in additional checks for hiring larger vehicles.”

Transport Minister Robert Courts said the guidelines will “go a long way to help us in our fight against terrorism and organized crime.”

He added: “Terror attacks and organized crime involving commercial vehicles have had tragic and devastating effects in recent years, with every life lost leaving an unimaginable void in the lives of so many.”