Remains of 4 Filipinos killed by Daesh found in Libyan cemetery

Remains of 4 Filipinos killed by Daesh found in Libyan cemetery
Libyan authorities point to the site at a cemetery where the four Filipinos and their two coworkers were buried. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 March 2021

Remains of 4 Filipinos killed by Daesh found in Libyan cemetery

Remains of 4 Filipinos killed by Daesh found in Libyan cemetery
  • Due to the unstable security situation in Libya, the embassy was unable to send a team to Derna to search for the OFWs

MANILA: The remains of four Filipino oil workers abducted and killed by Daesh in Libya have been located after a search lasting almost six years.

The discovery of the bodies in a Libyan cemetery will pave the way for their final journey back home to the Philippines, officials said.

“We found the gravesite of the four OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) kidnapped and killed by (Daesh) six years ago,” Elmer Cato, Philippine Embassy charge d’affaires and head of mission, told Arab News on Tuesday.

Philippine officials had been working with groups in Libya to locate and recover the remains of the four OFWs – Donato Santiago, Gregorio Titan, Roladan Blaza, and Wilson Eligue – after they, along with two co-workers from Austria and the Czech Republic, were abducted by Daesh militants who attacked the Ghani oilfield in southern Libya on March 6, 2015.

Santiago was from the city of Mandaluyong in Metro Manila, Titan and Blaza from Laguna, and Eligue from Bataan. The victims were employed by Austrian contractor Value Added Oilfield Services (VAOS).

Reports said that Daesh members had broken into the company compound, killing security guards, before kidnapping the foreign workers.

“On Monday – five days before the sixth year of their disappearance – we broke the news to their families in the Philippines that we had finally found them. They were buried in a cemetery in the eastern city of Derna,” Cato said.

Earlier, Cato had revealed that there had been no leads in the case until 2017 when authorities in Derna said that the abducted workers had been executed by retreating Daesh fighters. The news came after a video showing their execution was found on a laptop seized from the slain Daesh fighters in the coastal city of Derna.

However, the victims’ bodies could not be found.

A year later, in 2018, Cato said that the Philippines Embassy had been informed that the remains of the four Filipinos may have been among those recovered by the Libyan Red Crescent in various parts of Derna and later buried there.

But due to the unstable security situation in Libya, the embassy was unable to send a team to Derna to search for the OFWs. It was only in October last year that embassy officials were able to travel to Benghazi in the hope of locating the bodies.

On Monday, Cato and other embassy officials were taken by Libyan military authorities to the Dahr Ahmar Islamic Cemetery, 10 kilometers from Derna, where they said the four OFWs and their Austrian and Czech co-workers were buried.

The embassy interviewed Libyan Red Crescent volunteers who were part of the team that had retrieved and later buried the remains of the six, as well as another volunteer who oversees burials at the cemetery.

“The volunteers were convinced that the bodies they buried there belonged to the six kidnapped foreign oil workers,” an embassy statement said.

Cato added that the Office of Migrant Workers Affairs (OMWA) had been keeping the families of the four OFWs up to date with developments and was arranging for forensic experts to assist in identifying the remains and bring them home.

“Before I left for Tripoli in 2019, I met with the families of our four kababayan (countrymen) who had been waiting for four years for news about the fate of their loved ones. I promised them that I would do everything I could to find them.

“And when we did, with the help of Libyan authorities, I somehow felt relieved knowing that I did not bring those families down, that they will soon be able to find the closure they have been waiting for. After six long years, the families of our four kababayan will finally find closure. We are indebted to our Libyan friends for making this possible,” he said.

As of 2019, there were more than 2,000 Filipinos in Libya, although fighting between rival militias for control of Tripoli and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has prompted some to return.


London mosque provides iftar meals to key workers, needy during Ramadan

London mosque provides iftar meals to key workers, needy during Ramadan
Updated 23 min 45 sec ago

London mosque provides iftar meals to key workers, needy during Ramadan

London mosque provides iftar meals to key workers, needy during Ramadan
  • Hosting iftar in the mosque will be impossible during Ramadan 2021 due to coronavirus restrictions
  • The iftar initiative is funded through donations and each meal costs £3 ($4.12)

LONDON: London’s busiest mosque will provide thousands of iftar meals to those in need and NHS workers at a local hospital this Ramadan. 
Every year, the East London Mosque & London Muslim Center hosts hundreds of people at sunset during the holy month of Ramadan for iftar. 
However, this will be impossible during Ramadan 2021 due to coronavirus restrictions, and instead the mosque will distribute iftar meals to front-line workers at the nearby Royal London Hospital and local people in need.
“One of the big things we do at the mosque every year is feed several hundred people who come and have iftar. However, government guidelines currently permit religious institutions to open for prayer only and therefore we can’t host the iftar,” Khizar Mohammad, the mosque’s media and communications manager, said.  
The iftar initiative is funded through donations and each meal costs £3 ($4.12).  
“We have an appeal every year and anyone who wants to feed the hungry will donate,” Mohammad said.
“Feeding people in Islam is a highly encouraged good deed whether it is your guest or the poor and needy. Many people donate to the iftar campaign and it is funded by them.”
Due to the large number of donations in 2020 and the mosque’s closure amid the national lockdown, the campaign funded iftar meals in Bangladesh as well.
“We had a lot of donations last year which enabled us to feed more people — not just locally but also internationally,” Mohammad added.
The meals vary, but there is always a meat and vegetarian option, and fruit, dates and a bottle of water or juice are included. 
“We like to mix the menu up because we have regular recipients who are from not so fortunate backgrounds and we don’t want to give them the same meal for 30 days in a row. Biryani is always on the menu at some point due to its popularity,” Mohammad said.
The mosque has been providing meals to front-line workers on a weekly basis during the pandemic.
“The Royal London Hospital is close by and we have been providing staff with meals throughout the lockdown as a gesture of thanks. During Ramadan, these meals will become daily rather than weekly,” Mohammad said.
“We usually load the meals up into our van, drive two minutes down the road, and give them to a member of staff at the hospital who will then take them to the right department.” 
The mosque also provides about 200 people in the London borough of Tower Hamlets with groceries, cooked meals and hygiene packs when needed. 
Those who find themselves in financial hardship during the pandemic can ask for an iftar meal from the mosque as part of the campaign.  
“As for providing meals to the vulnerable and those in need in the local area, they will usually phone in and request them. We have a list of around 200 people whom we provide with groceries, cooked meals or hygiene packs. People regardless of their faith can request to be added to the list or to have Ramadan iftars sent to them. Alternatively, they can collect the items themselves if that is more convenient,” Mohammad said.  
“If we raise enough money, we will also fund iftar in other countries that are less fortunate such as Yemen,” he added.


Bishop calls for adequate burial space for Muslims in Italy

Bishop calls for adequate burial space for Muslims in Italy
Updated 54 min 16 sec ago

Bishop calls for adequate burial space for Muslims in Italy

Bishop calls for adequate burial space for Muslims in Italy
  • Only 58 of country’s 8,000 municipalities have dedicated spaces for Muslims in cemeteries
  • Demand for burial space has increased dramatically due to coronavirus pandemic

ROME: The Catholic bishop of the city of Padua has called for Muslims in Italy to be given adequate burial space in cemeteries.

In a Ramadan message, Bishop Claudio Cipolla expressed his “deep sense of closeness” to the Muslim community, which is “living this important period of the spiritual year amid the hardship of the pandemic.”

He added: “Fraternally, I mourn the Muslim brothers and sisters who died this year. I am aware of the difficulties experienced by the community in finding adequate burial space in the cemeteries of our cities. I believe that concrete integration of people in Italy also comes through the experience of death.”

Only 58 of Italy’s 8,000 municipalities have dedicated spaces for Muslims in their cemeteries. Even when space is available, it is limited and often fails to meet demand, which increased dramatically in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As national and international travel was banned for months, the bodies of Muslims who died in Italy could not be transported back to where the deceased came from.

Cipolla praised the solidarity offered by Muslim communities during the pandemic, “concrete gestures that were made for those who live in hardship during the pandemic, no matter what religion they profess.”

He added that “prayer, fasting and almsgiving are a powerful antidote against selfishness,” and wished for Muslims to conclude Ramadan “with joy, in the possibility of being together in their prayer rooms.”

Bologna Archbishop Matteo Zuppi also conveyed a Ramadan message of brotherhood to Muslims in Italy.

“This pandemic we are all suffering from must increase the bonds of communion between us. We are really in the same boat,” he said.

“We all feel smaller and more fragile, and therefore we all are in need of support to encourage each other to carry on, in the light of love and solidarity.”


Somalia's president signs law extending his term, 15 killed in attack

Somalia's president signs law extending his term, 15 killed in attack
Updated 56 min 47 sec ago

Somalia's president signs law extending his term, 15 killed in attack

Somalia's president signs law extending his term, 15 killed in attack
  • 14 people died when the minibus they were travelling in ran over a landmine on the outskirts of Mogadishu
  • President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's four-year term expired in February and his successor was meant to be chosen by a new crop of legislators

MOGADISHU: Somalia's president has signed a disputed law extending his mandate for two years, the state news agency reported, setting the Horn of Africa nation on a collision course with donors who strongly oppose the move.
Somalia, with only limited central government since 1991, is trying to rebuild with international help but the path back to stability has been obstructed by a political crisis caused by a failure to hold elections that were due in February.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's four-year term expired in February and his successor was meant to be chosen by a new crop of legislators. Uncertainty deepened after opponents accused Mohamed of packing regional and national election boards with his own supporters.
On Monday, the lower house of parliament passed legislation to extend Mohamed's tenure by up to two years, the state news agency reported, citing Information Minister Osman Dubbe, and Mohamed signed the bill late on Tuesday.
But the decision was swiftly rejected by the upper chamber of the Mogadishu parliament, sowing confusion that could abet further attacks by extremist Al-Shabaab militants, who have been trying for years to topple the government.
On Wednesday, fourteen people died and four others were wounded when the minibus they were travelling in ran over a landmine on the outskirts of Somalia's capital Mogadishu.
"We have confirmed that 14 people died and four others were wounded after a minibus travelling along the road between Mogadishu and Balcad ran over a landmine," said Andikarim Mohamed, a government official from the south-central Hirshabelle region.
The accident took place about 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of Mogadishu, in what Mohamed called a "horrible and evil act".
Somali military commander Abshir Mohamed, who works in the area, blamed the incident on the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab militants who carry out regular attacks in the country.
"The terrorists are indiscriminately targeting everybody. They planted the mine that had killed those innocent civilians who we were going about their businesses travelling," he told state media.
Somalia's main donors said they would not support any extension of the presidency's term.
"(This) resolution undermines peace, security, and stability in Somalia and beyond," international partners including the United Nations said in a joint statement. Other major backers including the United States also bemoaned the decision.
"The United States is deeply disappointed by the Federal Government of Somalia's decision to approve a legislative bill that extends the mandates of the president and parliament by two years," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
"It will compel the United States to re-evaluate our bilateral relations with the (government) to include diplomatic engagement and assistance, and to consider all available tools, including sanctions and visa restrictions."
A statement on Tuesday by Britain's Minister for Africa James Duddridge also warned of unspecified consequences.
"In the absence of consensus leading to inclusive and credible elections being held without further delay, the international community’s relationship with Somalia’s leadership will change," he said.


Italy arrests Turkish human trafficker

Italy arrests Turkish human trafficker
Updated 14 April 2021

Italy arrests Turkish human trafficker

Italy arrests Turkish human trafficker
  • Greek court had sentenced man, 33, to 25 years jail over illegal immigration operations
  • Border police caught wanted suspect as he was boarding direct flight to Turkey

ROME: Italian border police have arrested a 33-year-old Turkish citizen wanted in Europe after being sentenced by a Greek court to 25 years in prison for human trafficking.

The man, who has not been named by police, was caught at Orio al Serio airport in the northern Italian province of Bergamo as he was about to board a direct flight to Turkey.

He is charged with human trafficking and facilitating the illegal entrance of migrants.

Greek judicial authorities had issued a European arrest warrant for the man after he was convicted and sentenced for human trafficking between Turkey and Greece in 2014. He is now being held in a Bergamo jail.

He had previously been arrested in Italy in 2015 after a court in the Calabrian city of Crotone accused him of being involved in aiding clandestine and irregular immigration to Italy.

On that occasion, he had been stopped in Italian territorial waters on a 30-meter twin-mast sailing boat flying a US flag with 124 foreigners of various nationalities onboard, including many women and unaccompanied children, who said they had departed from Turkey five days earlier.

The boat had been towing a rubber dinghy which authorities said would have been used by the traffickers to transfer the migrants to land.


NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says

NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says
Updated 14 April 2021

NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says

NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says
  • NATO foreign and defense ministers will discuss their plans later on Wednesday via video conference

BRUSSELS: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that it was time for NATO allies to withdraw from Afghanistan and that the alliance would work on an adaptation phase, after Washington announced plans to end America’s longest war after two decades.
“I am here to work closely with our allies, with the (NATO) secretary-general, on the principle that we have established from the start: In together, adapt together and out together,” Blinken said in a televised statement at NATO headquarters.
NATO foreign and defense ministers will discuss their plans later on Wednesday via video conference.