NEOM CEO talks AI health care, flying taxis with WIRED Middle East

Nasr — who will be appearing on a magazine cover for the first time — shared new details about the use of AI-powered health-care systems and flying taxis. (Supplied/WIRED)
Nasr — who will be appearing on a magazine cover for the first time — shared new details about the use of AI-powered health-care systems and flying taxis. (Supplied/WIRED)
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Updated 20 April 2021

NEOM CEO talks AI health care, flying taxis with WIRED Middle East

Nasr — who will be appearing on a magazine cover for the first time — shared new details about the use of AI-powered health-care systems and flying taxis. (Supplied/WIRED)
  • Saudi Arabia’s Chief Executive of NEOM Nadhmi Al-Nasr has shared new details about the ambitious mega city project
  • The cover issue, which will be released this week, features interviews with key executives from NEOM

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Chief Executive of NEOM Nadhmi Al-Nasr has shared new details about the ambitious mega city project changing the landscape of tackling environmental challenges in urban planning.

“I dream of 200 or 300 years from today, when there is a NEOM model being developed worldwide that has helped reduce emissions, reduce the environmental challenge,” Nasr told WIRED Middle East in a rare media interview.

Nasr — who will be appearing on a magazine cover for the first time — shared new details about the use of AI-powered health-care systems and flying taxis, a press release shared with Arab News said.

The cover issue, which will be released this week, features interviews with key executives from NEOM who paint a picture of how urban planners are attempting to create a city that is expected to span centuries with the use of new technologies.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman first announced the project NEOM at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh 2017. The crown prince said that the 170-km coastal strip in the northwest of the country would be free of cars and streets, with zero carbon emissions.

The smart city will be powered entirely by clean energy, a major step in Saudi Arabia’s shift away from an oil-based economy.

The first phase of the $500 million project is scheduled for completion by 2025.


Houthis to force virginity test on abducted Yemeni model, says Amnesty International 

Houthis to force virginity test on abducted Yemeni model, says Amnesty International 
Updated 38 min 37 sec ago

Houthis to force virginity test on abducted Yemeni model, says Amnesty International 

Houthis to force virginity test on abducted Yemeni model, says Amnesty International 
  • Amnesty’s Lynn Maalouf: Yemen’s Houthi de facto authorities must immediately halt all plans to subject Entesar Al-Hammadi to forced virginity testing
  • Locals said the abduction was part of a moral crackdown on artists and actresses as well as spaces where there was mixing between women and men

AL-MUKALLA: A Yemeni model who was abducted by the Houthis is going to be subjected to a virginity test, Amnesty International said on Friday.

The rights group urged the militia to immediately halt its plans.

“Yemen’s Houthi de facto authorities must immediately halt all plans to subject Entesar Al-Hammadi to forced virginity testing,” Lynn Maalouf,  deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said. “She is being punished by the authorities for challenging the social norms of Yemen’s deeply patriarchal society which entrench discrimination against women.” 

The Houthis have banned media outlets in areas under their control and social media users from publishing or sharing information related to Al-Hammadi’s case.

They have also banned her lawyers from speaking to international news outlets.

“The Houthi de facto authorities have a deplorable track record of arbitrarily detaining people on baseless charges – to silence or punish critics, activists, journalists and members of religious minorities – as well as subjecting them to torture and other forms of ill-treatment,” Maalouf added.

Khaled Mohammed Al-Kamal, the model’s lawyer, said a Houthi prosecutor had ordered the ban on media coverage and banned him or any other person from speaking to the media.

“This is against the law,” he told Arab News. “But there is no problem if this will lead to her release.”

The 20-year old model and actress and two other actresses were on their way to a movie shoot on Feb. 20 when armed rebels abducted them and imprisoned them in Sanaa.

Their abduction provoked condemnation and drew media attention, with rights activists demanding that the militia be designated a terrorist organization.

Irritated by media coverage of the case, the Houthis dismissed a prosecutor who had ordered the model’s release, put Al-Hammadi into solitary confinement and pressured Al-Kamal into dropping the case.

But he vowed to keep defending her and called for her release, even on bail, saying she was always crying and had threatened a hunger strike to force the Houthis into freeing her.

“I am her lawyer and will keep defending her until the last moment,” he added. He said that other local lawyers had agreed to join him in defending the model.

The Houthis have not presented clear charges against Al-Hammadi, but locals said the abduction was part of a moral crackdown on artists and actresses as well as spaces where there was mixing between women and men.

Meanwhile, fighting intensified in the provinces of Marib, Jouf, Hodeidah and Taiz, days after the UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths announced that peace efforts to end the war were crumbling.

In Hodeidah, government forces clashed with the Houthis in Hays and in contested areas inside the city of Hodeidah, local media said on Friday.

The Joint Forces, three major military units on the country’s west coast, said that 68 Houthis were killed and 176 were wounded.

A truce under the Stockholm Agreement, signed in late 2018, has largely failed to stop hostilities in Hodeidah. Local rights groups that document war casualties said that hundreds of civilians have been killed due to landmines and shelling.

In Marib, Yemen’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that troops had clashed with the Houthis in Mashjah and Al-Kasara as the rebels advanced toward Marib city.

State media showed dozens of military vehicles and fighters heading to the battlefield to push back the Houthis.

Thousands of combatants have been killed since early February, when the Houthis resumed an offensive to seize control of Marib.


Prison ‘exacerbated’ risk London Bridge terrorist posed to public: Inquest

Usman Khan (L), 28, killed Saskia Jones, and Jack Merritt, in a knife attack in central London in 2019, just 11 months after he was released early from jail. (AP/Reuters/File Photos)
Usman Khan (L), 28, killed Saskia Jones, and Jack Merritt, in a knife attack in central London in 2019, just 11 months after he was released early from jail. (AP/Reuters/File Photos)
Updated 07 May 2021

Prison ‘exacerbated’ risk London Bridge terrorist posed to public: Inquest

Usman Khan (L), 28, killed Saskia Jones, and Jack Merritt, in a knife attack in central London in 2019, just 11 months after he was released early from jail. (AP/Reuters/File Photos)
  • Usman Khan, 28, killed 2 people in deadly knife attack in central London
  • 2019 attack among number of incidents that pushed UK to introduce stricter counter-terrorism measures in jails

LONDON: A psychologist warned that prison had made a terrorist more dangerous to the public than when he was first jailed, an inquest heard.

Usman Khan, 28, killed Saskia Jones, and Jack Merritt, in a knife attack in central London in 2019, just 11 months after he was released early from jail.

Khan had been imprisoned since 2010 for planning to bomb the London Stock Exchange and had associated with terrorists and radicalized other inmates while behind bars, the court investigating the deaths of Jones, 23, and Merritt, 25, was told.

Security officials believed Khan was a senior figure in an extremist gang while in jail. He had also been found in possession of terrorism and Daesh-related materials in his cell.

Ieva Cechaviciute, a psychologist who assessed Khan’s risk to the public while he was still in jail, said she had been “very worried” about his release.

The court was shown a report, produced by Cechaviciute, that warned seven months before his release that he continued to pose a threat to the public.

“Khan has made little progress while in prison, he doesn’t understand his own risk and being in prison has made him a greater risk than before by elevating his profile. He still refuses to accept responsibility for his crime,” minutes from a meeting said.

Imprisonment, Cechaviciute said, had “exacerbated” the risk that Khan posed, because of his violent and extremist behavior, as well as the “company he was keeping.”

“He didn’t have any convictions for violence, but he was becoming quite aggressive and there were assaults committed by him or him organizing them (inside jail). I saw that in addition to the offence he committed before, he could be violent himself,” she added.

Records showed that Khan had complied with deradicalization programs, and other staff have previously told the court that he appeared to have reformed while in jail and posed little threat to the public.

Cechaviciute and other psychologists had previously warned that his participation in these programs could have been “superficial.”

She told the court: “He was saying the right things, but it did not necessarily represent his behavior … it was quite clear to me that he has not disengaged with extremist ideology.

“It was strong in his head and the best we could hope for was him to desist from offending rather than disengaging from the ideology.”

Khan’s engagements with deradicalization programs, she added, were not “necessarily an indication of reduction in risk,” because he could be “trying to create a positive image of himself.”

Her report rated Khan as a medium risk for terrorist engagement, intent, and capability while inside prison — but predicted that it would rise to “high” when he was released.

Khan’s role in the deadly London Bridge terror attack caused controversy in the UK because of his recent release from prison after completing deradicalization programs.

Since the attack, the British government has introduced stricter counter-terrorism measures for known offenders.

The new Counterterrorism and Sentencing Act “completely ends the prospect of early release for anyone convicted of a serious terror offence” as well as significantly increases the amount of monitoring recently released terrorists are subjected to.

The inquest into the 2019 attack continues.


Greece to reopen beaches, museums after long lockdown

Greece to reopen beaches, museums after long lockdown
Updated 07 May 2021

Greece to reopen beaches, museums after long lockdown

Greece to reopen beaches, museums after long lockdown
  • Museums are to reopen on May 14, a day before Greece officially launches its travel season
  • Government began in early April to relax lockdown restrictions originally imposed in November

ATHENS: Greece will reopen private beaches on Saturday and museums next week, health officials said Friday as the tourism-dependent country gears up for a May 15 travel restart.
Museums are to reopen on May 14 — a day before Greece officially launches its travel season — followed by reduced-capacity outdoor cinemas on May 21 and theaters on May 28.
The government began in early April to relax lockdown restrictions originally imposed in November by reopening most retail shops except malls.
This was followed by high schools reopening a week later, and by outdoor restaurants and cafes on May 3.
However, tourism operators do not expect major travel arrivals before July.
Last month quarantine restrictions were lifted for vaccinated or tested travelers from the EU and a small number of other countries including Britain and the United States.
The third wave of the pandemic hit Greece hard with the majority of the country’s more than 10,000 virus deaths occurring over the last few months.
The country has recorded over 350,000 cases of coronavirus in a population of 10.8 million.
Over 3.4 million vaccinations have been carried out, and over a million people have received their second dose.


Turkey reopens consulate in northern Iraq

Turkey reopens consulate in northern Iraq
Updated 07 May 2021

Turkey reopens consulate in northern Iraq

Turkey reopens consulate in northern Iraq
  • Cooperation against Daesh will ‘likely need to be on terms dictated by Baghdad,’ analyst tells Arab News
  • Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu recently announced plans to set up a military base in Iraq’s northern Dohuk region

ANKARA: Turkey has reopened its consulate in Mosul, in northern Iraq. The consulate has been closed for the past seven years, since Daesh seized control of the city.

At that time, Daesh held 49 consulate staff — including then-Consul General Ozturk Yilmaz — hostage for over three months.

Ankara has announced several times in recent years that it intended to reopen its consulate in Mosul, a city that was once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey recently appointed a new ambassador to Iraq as part of its efforts to boost its relations with its neighbor, and Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu recently announced plans to set up a military base in Iraq’s northern Dohuk region, in addition to a number of military outposts that Turkey has held in the Kurdistan Region since the mid-Nineties.

The aim of the new base is to restrict the movement of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Dohuk lies on a strategic route to the Qandil Mountains, where the militants’ hideouts are based.

On April 14, a missile hit a Turkish military base in Bashiqa, near Mosul, killing a Turkish soldier. On the same day, Erbil International Airport, which hosts US coalition forces, was hit by an explosives-laden drone.

In late April, the Turkish army launched a new offensive against PKK bases in northern Iraq, and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar visited a military base in the Kurdistan Region.

However, that operation and Akar’s visit — which took place “without coordination or prior approval from authorities” — sparked anger from Baghdad. The Iraqi government sent a formal letter of protest to Turkey’s ambassador on May 3.

Nicholas A. Heras, senior analyst at the Newlines Institute in Washington, said Turkish military operations in areas south of the Kurdistan Region are problematic because Baghdad is strongly opposed to a larger and more active Turkish military footprint in Iraq.
“Baghdad might be open to intelligence cooperation with Ankara for counter-Daesh operations in areas around Mosul, but that cooperation would likely need to be on terms dictated by Baghdad,” Heras told Arab News.

To what extent Turkey’s expanded military presence in northern Iraq will enable it to launch its long-rumored operation against the PKK in Sinjar is still a matter of concern, considering the geopolitical dynamics of the region.

For Heras, any Turkish move against Sinjar would be a non-starter for Baghdad because there is a large People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF) presence in that area.

“Many PMF groups are powerful in Baghdad and are resolutely opposed to any moves by Turkey to expand its military reach in Iraq,” he said.

The PMF, an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia umbrella group which employs local PKK militias in its cadres, is active in northern Iraq and has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in recent times.

Ankara has repeatedly announced that it will not allow Sinjar to become a second Qandil — a stronghold for the PKK.

Turkey’s February 10 military operation against the PKK on Gare Mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan raised concerns that it was planning an operation in Sinjar, threatening the existence of Iran-backed groups in the area.

It is no secret that Iran strongly opposes Turkey’s military presence in Iraq and sees Turkey’s potential operation in Sinjar as opposing its own geopolitical interests.

Iran-backed militias are concerned by the growing rapprochement between Ankara and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) that controls the Sinjar area. Both parties have urged the PKK and Iran-backed militias to leave the region.

“The Iranians view Turkey, especially (Turkish President Reycep Tayyip) Erdogan, as a rival for influence in the Levant. There’s expanding Turkish influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria that the Iranians want to limit,” Heras said. “Whenever and wherever possible, the Iranians will try to position local forces, such as those in Sinjar, to box Ankara out of more influence in the Levant.”


Houthis passed up major opportunity by refusing to meet UN envoy: State Department

The Houthis refused to meet with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths (R) in Muscat. (AFP/File Photos)
The Houthis refused to meet with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths (R) in Muscat. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 07 May 2021

Houthis passed up major opportunity by refusing to meet UN envoy: State Department

The Houthis refused to meet with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths (R) in Muscat. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Department also charged the militia were worsening the humanitarian situation in Yemen

WASHINGTON: The US State Department said on Friday the Iran-backed Houthi group had passed up a “major opportunity” to demonstrate a commitment to peace by refusing to meet with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in Muscat.

In a statement, the department also charged that the militia were worsening the humanitarian situation in Yemen by continuing to attack Marib.

“Contradictory to their pronouncements regarding the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the Houthis worsen it by continuing to attack Marib and exacerbating dire conditions for already vulnerable, internally displaced Yemenis,” Friday’s statement read.

“There is a fair deal on the table that will bring immediate relief to Yemeni people. The Houthis passed up a major opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to peace and to make progress on this proposal by refusing to meet with UN Special Envoy Griffiths in Muscat—especially given the Republic of Yemen Government’s stated readiness to reach an agreement to end the conflict,” it added.

Lenderking recently met with officials from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and permanent members of the UN Security Council in the region to discuss the crisis.

Griffiths also said earlier this week that “we are not where we would like to be in reaching a deal.”

* With Reuters