Pentagon hesitated on sending Guard to US Capitol riot, general tells Senate probe

National Guard troops walk near the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2021 as security was bolstered after intelligence uncovered a
National Guard troops walk near the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2021 as security was bolstered after intelligence uncovered a "possible plot to breach the Capitol" on March 4. (AFP / Eric Baradat)
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Updated 04 March 2021

Pentagon hesitated on sending Guard to US Capitol riot, general tells Senate probe

Pentagon hesitated on sending Guard to US Capitol riot, general tells Senate probe
  • The hourslong delay cost the National Guard precious minutes in the early hours of the Jan. 6 rioting by Trump supporters
  • Security boosted again amid warnings of a “possible plot” by a militia group to breach the Capitol on March 4

WASHINGTON: Defense Department leaders placed unusual restrictions on the National Guard for the day of the Capitol riot and delayed sending help for hours despite an urgent plea from police for reinforcement, according to testimony Wednesday that added to the finger-pointing about the government response.
Maj. Gen. William Walker, commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard, told senators that the then-chief of the Capitol Police requested military support in a “voice cracking with emotion” in a 1:49 p.m. call as rioters began pushing toward the Capitol. Walker said he immediately relayed the request to the Army but did not learn until after 5 p.m. that the Defense Department had approved it. Guard troops who had been waiting on buses were then rushed to the Capitol, arriving in 18 minutes, Walker said.
The hourslong delay cost the National Guard precious minutes in the early hours of the Jan. 6 rioting, with Walker saying he could have gotten personnel into the building within 20 minutes of getting approval. As it stood, the support did not happen until the evening. The delay also stood in contrast to the swift authorization for National Guard support that Walker said was granted in response to the civil unrest that roiled Washington last June as an outgrowth of racial justice protests.
A senior Pentagon official who testified, Robert Salesses, said it took time for the Army to sort out what the National Guard was being asked to do and what its support might look like, especially since the Capitol Police days earlier had not asked for any help. Mindful of criticism that the response to the demonstrations last spring was heavy-handed, military officials were also concerned about the optics of a substantial National Guard presence at the Capitol, and that such visuals could inflame the rioters, Walker said.
“The Army senior leadership” expressed “that it would not be their best military advice to have uniformed Guardsmen on the Capitol,” Walker said.
The Senate hearing is the latest about the missed intelligence and botched efforts to quickly gather National Guard troops as a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters laid siege to the Capitol. Taken together, the hearings have spelled out the challenge law enforcement officials face in sorting through an ocean of unverified tips but also highlighted how police inadequately prepared for the Trump loyalists; that FBI warnings about the threat of violence did not reach top police officials; and that requests for aid were not promptly answered.
“We in the FBI want to bat 1,000, and we want to not have this ever happen again,” said Jill Sanborn, the bureau’s top counterterrorism official and one of the witnesses. “So we’re asking ourselves exactly the questions that you’re asking: Is there a place we could have collected more (intelligence)? Is there something we could have done?”
Meanwhile, the Capitol Police disclosed the existence of intelligence of a “possible plot” by a militia group to breach the Capitol on Thursday. The revelation, coming as the acting police chief was testifying before a House subcommittee, differed from an earlier advisory from the House sergeant-at-arms that said police had no indication that any such violence was planned.
Much of the focus at Wednesday’s Senate hearing was on communications between the National Guard and the Defense Department. Walker described an “unusual” directive that required Pentagon approval before deploying a specialized 40-member “quick reaction force” and before relocating personnel from one traffic intersection to another.
As chaos escalated on Jan. 6, then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund asked him for National Guard help in a frantic call and then again on a call with Army officials, who said they did not “think that it looked good” to have a military presence.
“The response to the request took too long, so I think there needs to be a study done to make sure that never happens again,” Walker said. “It shouldn’t take three hours to get a yes or no answer.”
That account was consistent with the recollection of Robert Contee, the acting chief of police for the Metropolitan Police Department, who told lawmakers last week that he was “stunned” by the delayed response. Contee said Sund pleaded with Army officials to deploy National Guard troops as the rioting escalated.
Walker’s testimony, however, conflicts a bit with timelines that were put out and discussed by senior military and defense leaders in the weeks after the riot.
According to the Defense Department, Walker was called at 3 p.m. by Army officials, and was told to prepare Guard troops to deploy. That call was designed to give the Guard notice of the impending deployment so they would have time to move troops from their traffic posts to the armory where they would get new orders, protective equipment and weapons.
The Pentagon said acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller gave verbal authorization for the Guard troops to deploy at about 4:30 p.m., and that at 5:02 p.m., 154 members of the D.C. Guard left the armory, heading to the Capitol.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, said during a break in the hearing that senators “certainly will have questions” for Miller and for former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.
“Whether that’s going to require testimony or not, I don’t know, but it’s definitely going to require an opportunity to ask them questions about their view, from their perspective, of why this decision-making process went so horribly wrong,” Blunt said.
Salesses, the senior Pentagon official, stressed that military officials were concerned about responding forcefully to civil disturbance in light of what happened last spring, “where we had helicopters flying above US citizens, we had spy planes flying over folks who were protesting.”
The Capitol Police had not previously requested National Guard help, and in letters to Walker, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser laid out the city’s request for help and made it clear there would be restrictions on the Guard members.
At last week’s hearing, officials in charge of Capitol security blamed one another as well as federal law enforcement for their own lack of preparation as hundreds of rioters descended on the building, easily breached the security perimeter and eventually broke into the Capitol. Five people died as a result of the rioting.
Thousands of National Guard troops are still patrolling the fenced-in Capitol, and multiple committees across Congress are investigating Jan. 6. The probes are largely focused on security missteps and the origins of the extremism that led hundreds of Trump supporters to break through the doors and windows of the Capitol, hunt for lawmakers and temporarily stop the counting of electoral votes.
Lawmakers have grilled law enforcement officials about missed intelligence ahead of the attack, including a report from an FBI field office in Virginia that warned of online posts foreshadowing a “war” in Washington. Sund has said he was unaware of the report at the time, even though the FBI had forwarded it to the department.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the report was disseminated through the FBI’s joint terrorism task force, discussed at a command post and posted on an Internet portal available to law enforcement agencies.
Though the information was raw and unverified, Wray said, it was specific and concerning enough that “the smartest thing to do, the most prudent thing to do, was just push it to the people who needed to get it.”


Indonesia, Singapore sign key defense, extradition agreements

 Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their annual leaders' retreat at the Indonesian island of Bintan in Riau, Indonesia. (Reuters)
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their annual leaders' retreat at the Indonesian island of Bintan in Riau, Indonesia. (Reuters)
Updated 11 sec ago

Indonesia, Singapore sign key defense, extradition agreements

 Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their annual leaders' retreat at the Indonesian island of Bintan in Riau, Indonesia. (Reuters)
  • The agreements were signed during President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s annual leaders’ retreat
  • Lee said they represent a ‘major step forward’ in bilateral relations

JAKARTA: Indonesia and Singapore signed on Tuesday a series of agreements covering extradition, defense and airspace management in what is seen as a “major step forward” in relations between the two Southeast Asian neighbors.

The deals were signed by senior cabinet ministers following a meeting between President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Indonesia’s Bintan island as part of their annual leader’s retreat.

“Today, our bilateral relations take a major step forward,” Lee said during a joint press statement aired on Indonesia’s State Secretariat YouTube channel.

Both countries agreed to realign the boundary of their respective flight information regions while further strengthening cooperation and fostering closer interaction between their armed forces through a defense cooperation agreement.

“Going forward, we hope that the cooperation in law enforcement, aviation safety, as well as defense and security of the two countries will continue to be strengthened based on the principle of mutual benefit,” Widodo said.

Fitri Bintang, a researcher at the Center for Strategic International Studies in Jakarta, told Arab News that today’s milestones are “signs of maturing relations” between Indonesia and Singapore.

The two countries also inked an extradition agreement, under which they can grant the extradition of fugitives for a comprehensive list of offenses committed up to 18 years ago.

“The extradition treaty will enhance cooperation in combating crime and send a clear, positive signal to investors,” Lee said.

Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said in a statement that the extradition treaty will act as a deterrent for criminals in Indonesia and Singapore.

“If the two countries ratify the extradition treaty soon, then the law enforcement agencies of both countries can make use of this treaty to prevent and combat transnational crimes like corruption and terrorism,” he added.

Indonesia has already signed similar treaties with other countries in the region, including Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and China.

Indonesia and Singapore must now conclude their respective domestic processes to ratify and bring the agreements into force, which for these three agreements in particular, officials agreed must occur simultaneously.


London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi

London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi
Updated 55 min 6 sec ago

London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi

London stabbing victim named as Yasmin Chkaifi
  • Yasmin Chkaifi was stabbed to death Monday
  • Her ex-partner who stabbed her was also killed when a passing car struck him

LONDON: Police had named a woman who died Monday as a result of a brutal stabbing on the streets of London as Yasmin Chkaifi.

Mother-of-one Chkaifi died alongside her ex-partner, Leon McCaskre, 41, who was hit by a car.

Police have said McCaskre stabbed Chkaifi to death and was then hit by a car, killing him.

There are reports that the car hit McCaskre in an attempt to stop the attack on Chkaifi.

Police confirmed they were both from Maida Vale, London, and had previously been in a relationship.

A 26-year-old man arrested at the scene was arrested by police on suspicion of murder, but is said to be cooperating with authorities and has been released on bail.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Rawlinson, of the force’s Specialist Crime Command, said: “We are gaining a clearer idea of what happened at the scene thanks to information supplied by the public and by reviewing CCTV.

“Firstly, it is apparent that members of the public bravely tried to intervene to stop the attack and their actions were very courageous.

“We are speaking to the families of those concerned and doing all we can to support them at this terrible time.

“We can now confirm that both the deceased were previously known to each other and there are no outstanding suspects.

“A man, who was the driver of a car, has been arrested and bailed for a very serious offense and we must carry out a full investigation, looking at all the circumstances.”


Saudi-funded campus in Pakistan’s Kashmir helps close gender gap in science

Photo taken on Jan. 14, 2022 shows an exterior view of King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
Photo taken on Jan. 14, 2022 shows an exterior view of King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
Updated 25 January 2022

Saudi-funded campus in Pakistan’s Kashmir helps close gender gap in science

Photo taken on Jan. 14, 2022 shows an exterior view of King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
  • The campus, hosting mainly science departments, started classes in September 2020
  • It was completed with funding from the Saudi Development Fund worth $51 million

MUZAFFARABAD: A Saudi-funded campus of the biggest university in Pakistan-administered Kashmir is fostering science education in the region and encouraging female enrollment into the male-dominated field, as nearly half of its students are women — higher than the global average.

The multimillion-dollar King Abdullah Campus in Chhatar Kalas, 22 km from the regional capital Muzaffarabad, was financed by Saudi Arabia, which has funded several development projects in the region, helping it return to normalcy after a devastating earthquake in 2005 destroyed most of its infrastructure, including the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Built on nearly 100 hectares, the campus was completed in late 2019 and started classes in September 2020.

“King Abdullah Campus was completed with financial help from the Saudi Development Fund worth 9 billion rupees ($51 million),” Raja Abdul Qayyum Khan, director of the campus, told Arab News.

The campus now hosts most of the university’s 9,000 students and is home to its science departments, including physics, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, and geology, which see a high rate of female enrollment.

Globally, only 35 percent of STEM students in higher education are women, according to UNESCO data. At King Abdullah Campus, however, women constitute 47 percent of all students.

“Out of a total 5,440 students enrolled at King Abdullah Campus, there are 2,877 males and 2,563 females. That speaks volumes about girls’ participation,” Khan said. “We would like to see that ratio further increase.”

After the earthquake destruction, many students at the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir had to travel far to other campuses — some even to Islamabad — to attend courses.

With social norms and safety concerns limiting women’s mobility across Pakistan, traveling alone tens of kilometers from home was nearly impossible for them.

“The establishment of King Abdullah Campus at Chhattar Kalas has given me, and many other girls, an advantage,” 19-year-old mathematics student Samar Qayum told Arab News, explaining that traveling long distances was a major burden for them.

“The number of female students would have gone down in this region,” she said, “but this facility has made life easier for girls.”

Boys, too, are happy.

Physics student Waqar Younis said the establishment of the campus allowed him to save on transportation and accommodation, as those were major costs for the students.

“The establishment of King Abdullah Campus has greatly benefited me,” he said.

In the near future, the campus is likely to become even more attractive as $8.5 million computer science labs should be ready this year.

The nine labs will be equipped with 600 computers, allowing for the study of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“We are hopeful that by this year in August we may get the equipment,” Dr. Rabia Riaz, head of the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology, told Arab News.

“This sort of equipment and building structure is not only unavailable in Azad Kashmir but also in all of Pakistan.”

 

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Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine
Updated 25 January 2022

Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine
  • The companies plan to study the safety and tolerability of the shots in the more than 1,400 people who will be enrolled in the trial

NEW YORK: Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE said on Tuesday they started a clinical trial to test a new version of their vaccine specifically designed to target the COVID-19 omicron variant, which has eluded some of the protection provided by the original two-dose vaccine regimen.
The companies plan to test the immune response generated by the omicron-based vaccine both as a three-shot regimen in unvaccinated people and as a booster shot for people who already received two doses of their original vaccine.
They are also testing a fourth dose of the current vaccine against a fourth dose of the omicron-based vaccine in people who received their third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine three to six months earlier.
The companies plan to study the safety and tolerability of the shots in the more than 1,400 people who will be enrolled in the trial.
“While current research and real-world data show that boosters continue to provide a high level of protection against severe disease and hospitalization with omicron, we recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address omicron and new variants in the future,” Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development, Kathrin Jansen, said in a statement.
Pfizer has said that a two-dose regimen of the original vaccine may not be sufficient to protect against infection from the omicron variant, and that protection against hospitalizations and deaths may be waning.
Still, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a third dose of an mRNA vaccine like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has provided 90 percent protection against hospitalization due to COVID-19.
Some countries have already started offering additional booster doses, but a recent study from Israel showed that while a fourth dose of an mRNA vaccine boosted antibodies, the level was not high enough to prevent infection by the omicron variant.
BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin told Reuters in November that regulators would not likely require testing of an omicron-based vaccine on humans because it and Pfizer had already created versions of their established vaccine to target the earlier Alpha and Delta variants, with clinical trials continuing.
However, the debate appears to have shifted as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said in a statement on Friday that international regulators now preferred clinical studies to be carried out before approval of a new vaccine.
These studies should show that neutralising antibodies in the blood of participants are superior to those elicited by current vaccines. Another desired feature of an upgraded vaccine would be for it to also protect against other variants of concern, the EMA said.
The omicron variant has replaced the Delta variant as the dominant lineage in many parts of the world and omicron itself is now splitting into different subforms, one of which, BA2, is causing particular concern.


UK imam appointed to define Islamophobia has had ‘no meaningful engagement’ from ministers

UK imam appointed to define Islamophobia has had ‘no meaningful engagement’ from ministers
Updated 25 January 2022

UK imam appointed to define Islamophobia has had ‘no meaningful engagement’ from ministers

UK imam appointed to define Islamophobia has had ‘no meaningful engagement’ from ministers
  • Qari Asim, appointed in 2019, criticizes ‘lack of political will’ to define the term
  • ‘From the community’s perspective it’s hugely disappointing and undermines trust and confidence in the government’

LONDON: An imam appointed by the UK government to draw up a definition of Islamophobia has said he has received no “meaningful engagement” from ministers in years.

Qari Asim, who was appointed to lead an official process to define the term in 2019, told The Independent that letters sent to ministers as recently as last month have received no reply.

His intervention came as the government has become embroiled in a controversy surrounding Islamophobia after former Minister Nusrat Ghani said she was fired because her “Muslimness” made colleagues uncomfortable.

Asim said those allegations “once again demonstrate the importance of having a definition of Islamophobia.”

He added that he had been given no office, money, staff or terms of reference to assist him in drawing up a definition of Islamophobia.

“Other than an announcement and conversations (with ministers), there hasn’t been any progress, and that shows a lack of political will to define Islamophobia,” he said.

“I’m perplexed over the reasons for lack of engagement when the government time and again say they have zero tolerance to anti-Muslim hatred.”

Asim, an imam at Makkah Mosque in the English city of Leeds, said several letters sent to successive communities secretaries have gone unanswered, some as recently as November and December 2021, addressed to Michael Gove.

Gove committed to “the importance of countering anti-Muslim hatred” in Parliament in November, alluding to Asim’s efforts and a working group set up to tackle anti-Muslim hatred. A letter sent by Asim following up on those assertions went unanswered.

“I have set out my plan on how I thought a broad-based consensus can be achieved, but there has been a lack of meaningful engagement,” he said.

“Initially I didn’t pursue it during the first year of the pandemic, because I wanted to give the government the space to deal with that, but from the community’s perspective it’s hugely disappointing and undermines trust and confidence in the government. Something needs to happen.”

Asim said the government needs to recognize that Islamophobia is a “real issue” and move forward on defining it.

“Some people don’t like the term Islamophobia because they think that it’s more about protecting the faith itself, but it’s not the case,” he added.

“The faith has been critiqued since its inception — this is about protecting people and deterring those who target people because of their faith.”