UK ‘Dambusters’ set to smash Daesh clusters in Iraq

Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray, F-35 Integrated Test Force at NAS Patuxent River, makes the first ever F-35B Lightning II takeoff from HMS Queen Elizabeth. (Wikimedia Commons/Department of Defense/Kyle Heller)
Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray, F-35 Integrated Test Force at NAS Patuxent River, makes the first ever F-35B Lightning II takeoff from HMS Queen Elizabeth. (Wikimedia Commons/Department of Defense/Kyle Heller)
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Updated 03 May 2021

UK ‘Dambusters’ set to smash Daesh clusters in Iraq

Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray, F-35 Integrated Test Force at NAS Patuxent River, makes the first ever F-35B Lightning II takeoff from HMS Queen Elizabeth. (Wikimedia Commons/Department of Defense/Kyle Heller)
  • The Fighter group earned its name bombing German dams during the Second World War
  • Battle against Daesh not yet over despite extremist group’s military and territorial decline

LONDON: A squadron of jets known as the “Dambusters” for their role in targeting German dams during the Second World War will join the fight against Daesh in Iraq.

Britain’s Royal Air Force will send 617 Squadron — which flies the brand new F-35B jet — to a wider mission aimed at preventing the group “regaining a foothold in Iraq.”

The Ministry of Defence said the jets will target “remnants” of Daesh still holding out in Iraq.

Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said the “jets will pack a potent punch against Daesh and help prevent them from regaining a foothold in Iraq.

“This is a prime example of the UK armed forces stepping forward with our allies to confront persistent threats around the world.”

The mission will be conducted in cooperation with US armed forces, who have been working closely with the UK to confront Daesh since 2014.

A senior air force commander said he was in no doubt “violent extremism and the toxic ideology underpinning it is still rooted” in the region.

He added: “We’re going to conduct operations in support of the government of Iraq, fighting the remnants of Daesh in Iraq and Syria — and continuing to take the fight to them in their sanctuary where otherwise they would be threatening the streets of the UK and our allies.

“It’s something that air power has been doing very effectively now since 2014 and the Royal Air Force has played a considerable part in that success.

“Daesh is no longer the ground-holding force, the occupying force, that it was in 2015 and 2016.

“For the last two years we have been identifying pockets where they have dug in to strongholds in the mountains in remote areas, and have been helping the government of Iraq to clear out those remnants.”

Despite the group’s military and territorial decline, observers have noted that Daesh has not yet been completely eradicated, and has instead returned to its pre-caliphate clandestine terror tactics.

A report released February by Global Risks Insights warned that economic instability and sectarian tension in Iraq could provide fertile ground for the group’s resurgence, and that the ongoing conflict in Syria also represents a danger to the country’s stability.

“In early 2021, Iraq continues to see civil unrest over high unemployment, corruption, and the lack of basic services provided by the government,” said the report.

“Additionally, Iranian influence and the presence of proxy militias, which were initially intended to fight Daesh, are also creating tensions between Sunni and Shia groups in Iraq.”

It added: “The state remains highly fragile and susceptible to Daesh using the rapidly changing dynamics to re-establish a foothold.”


Sputnik V shows higher omicron-antibody levels than Pfizer in preliminary study

Sputnik V shows higher omicron-antibody levels than Pfizer in preliminary study
Updated 6 sec ago

Sputnik V shows higher omicron-antibody levels than Pfizer in preliminary study

Sputnik V shows higher omicron-antibody levels than Pfizer in preliminary study
MOSCOW: A small preliminary laboratory study has shown that levels of omicron-neutralising antibodies of people vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine did not decline as much as of those who had Pfizer shots.
The joint Russian-Italian study — funded by the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which markets Sputnik V abroad — compared the blood serum of people who had received the different vaccines.
Researchers said samples taken three to six months after the second dose of a vaccine have shown that the levels of antibodies in recipients of two doses of Sputnik V were more resistant to omicron than in those vaccinated with Pfizer.
It included 51 people vaccinated with Sputnik V and 17 after two shots of the Pfizer vaccine.
“Today the necessity of third booster vaccination is obvious,” the preliminary study published on Jan. 19 said.
The preliminary study, that will seek certification by peer review, showed that omicron-specific neutralizing antibodies were detected in the blood serum of 74.2 percent of the people vaccinated with Sputnik and in 56.9 percent of those vaccinated with Pfizer/BioNtech.
An earlier preliminary study by the Gamaleya Institute, the developer of Sputnik V, showed that a booster shot of Sputnik Light vaccine provided a stronger antibody response against omicron than the two-dose Sputnik V vaccine alone.
omicron has pushed COVID-19 case figures to record highs in parts of western Europe and the United States. But the variant has only now began to hit Russia, where the daily nationwide new infections spiked to 38,850 on Tuesday from 33,899 the day before.
Russia has so far officially recorded more than 1,600 cases of the variant and has mobilized its health system to tackle an increase in cases but authorities said they realized that there are many more cases related to omicron.

French parliament denounces China's Uyghur 'genocide'

French parliament denounces China's Uyghur 'genocide'
Updated 20 January 2022

French parliament denounces China's Uyghur 'genocide'

French parliament denounces China's Uyghur 'genocide'
  • The non-binding resolution was proposed by the opposition Socialists in the lower house of parliament
  • It reads that the National Assembly "officially recognises the violence perpetrated by the People's Republic of China against the Uyghurs as constituting crimes against humanity and genocide"

PARIS: France's parliament on Thursday denounced a "genocide" by China against its Uyghur Muslim population, in a resolution that risks straining ties between Paris and Beijing two weeks before the Winter Olympics.
The non-binding resolution, adopted with 169 votes in favour and just one against, was proposed by the opposition Socialists in the lower house of parliament but also backed by President Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party.
It reads that the National Assembly "officially recognises the violence perpetrated by the People's Republic of China against the Uyghurs as constituting crimes against humanity and genocide".
It also calls on the French government to undertake "the necessary measures within the international community and in its foreign policy towards the People's Republic of China" to protect the minority group in the Xinjiang region.
"China is a great power. We love the Chinese people. But we refuse to submit to propaganda from a regime that is banking on our cowardice and our avarice to perpetrate a genocide in plain sight," Socialist party chief Olivier Faure said.
He recounted testimony to parliament from Uyghur survivors who told of conditions inside internment camps where men and women were unable to lie down in cells, subjected to rape and torture, as well as forced organ transplants.
French MPs were also called to applaud Uyghurs refugees who had been invited to observe the parliamentary session.
The resolution follows a similar move in Britain in April last year which led to condemnation from China.
The Netherlands and Canadian parliaments both called Chinese treatment of the Uyghurs "genocide" in February 2021, while the US government also called it genocide under former president Donald Trump.
United States, Britain, Australia and Canada have announced diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which start on February 4.
China denies genocide or the existence of forced labour camps in Xinjiang and has accused Uyghurs testifying overseas about conditions inside the northwestern region of being paid liars.
The French parliamentary resolution comes at a time when the European Union is weighing how to respond to a Chinese blockade of Lithuania's exports, as well as Beijing's crushing of democratic freedoms in Hong Kong.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has sought to avoid being dragged into increasingly confrontational ties between China and the United States, was asked about the Uyghurs during an appearance before the European parliament on Wednesday.
"You were right to remind us of massacres, massive deportations and forced labour," he told campaigning MEP Raphael Glucksmann.
"France raises this in a very clear fashion in all of our bilateral talks (with Beijing)."
He said he was in favour of an EU regulation that would "ban the import of goods that result from forced labour."
Speaking in parliament on Thursday to represent the government, Trade Minister Franck Riester referred to "systematic violence" and "overwhelming testimonies" from Uyghurs, but said that terming their treatment genocide was a formal decision taken by international institutions.
Beijing has turned down repeated requests from the UN High Commission for Human Rights to visit the region to investigate.
Human rights groups say they have found evidence of mass detentions, forced labour, political indoctrination, torture and forced sterilisation in Xinjiang.
After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps, China later defended them as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.
The United States has slapped sanctions on a growing list of Chinese politicians and companies over the treatment of the Uyghurs, leading to tit-for-tat measures from Beijing.
China has also sanctioned European, British and US lawmakers, as well as academics who study Xinjiang and a London law firm.
The only French MP to vote against Thursday's resolution was Buon Tan from Macron's LREM, the chairman of a Franco-Chinese "friendship group".


At least two dead, 22 wounded by bomb in Pakistan’s Lahore

At least two dead, 22 wounded by bomb in Pakistan’s Lahore
Updated 20 January 2022

At least two dead, 22 wounded by bomb in Pakistan’s Lahore

At least two dead, 22 wounded by bomb in Pakistan’s Lahore
  • The attack was claimed on Twitter by a spokesman for the Baloch Nationalist Army
  • Officials said a nine-year-old child was one of those killed

LAHORE: At least two people were killed and 22 wounded Thursday by a bomb blast in a busy shopping district of the Pakistani megacity of Lahore, police and officials said.
The attack was claimed on Twitter by a spokesman for the Baloch Nationalist Army, one of several ethnic separatist groups that have been waging an insurgency for years in southwest Pakistan.
“Initial investigations show that it was a time-controlled device on a motorbike which was the cause of the blast,” Rana Arif, spokesman for Lahore police, told AFP.
Thursday’s blast happened in old Lahore’s busy Anarkali shopping district, damaging several motorbikes and upturning market stalls.
Officials said a nine-year-old child was one of those killed.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed regret over the “loss of precious human lives,” a spokesman for his office said.
On Twitter, a spokesman for the Baloch Nationalist Army said it was responsible.
“This attack targeted bank employees. A detailed statement will be issued soon,” the tweet said.
Mineral-rich Balochistan, bordering Afghanistan and Iran, is the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces, but its roughly seven million inhabitants have long complained they do not receive a fair share of its gas and mineral wealth.
China is investing in the area under a $54-billion project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), upgrading infrastructure, power and transport links between its far-western Xinjiang region and Pakistan’s Gwadar port.
Baloch separatists previously claimed several attacks on CPEC projects, and thousands of Pakistani security personnel are deployed in the region to counter the violence.
Pakistan has suffered a string of blasts and attacks against police since December, when a truce between the government and Pakistan’s Taliban lapsed.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — a home-grown movement that shares common roots with the Afghan Taliban — has claimed responsibility for most recent attacks.
The TTP said earlier this week it was responsible for a deadly shootout in Islamabad on Monday night — a rare attack by the militants in the heavily guarded capital.
A police officer was killed and two others injured when two TTP gunmen opened fire from a motorbike on a police checkpoint.
Police said both attackers were killed, and Pakistan’s interior minister warned afterwards of the potential for further violence.
Pakistan’s government announced late last year it had entered a month-long truce with the TTP, facilitated by Afghanistan’s Taliban, but that expired on December 9 after peace talks failed to make progress.
The TTP has been blamed for hundreds of suicide bomb attacks and kidnappings across the country, and for a while held sway over vast tracts of the nation’s rugged tribal belt, imposing a radical version of Islamic law.
But after the 2014 massacre of nearly 150 children at a Peshawar school, the Pakistan military sent huge numbers of troops into TTP strongholds and crushed the movement, forcing its fighters to retreat to Afghanistan.


UK police arrest 2 men over Texas synagogue hostage-taking

UK police arrest 2 men over Texas synagogue hostage-taking
Updated 20 January 2022

UK police arrest 2 men over Texas synagogue hostage-taking

UK police arrest 2 men over Texas synagogue hostage-taking

LONDON: British police said Thursday they have arrested two people in connection with a hostage-taking at a synagogue in Texas.
Counter Terrorism Police North West said one man was arrested Thursday in Birmingham, central England, and another in the northern English city of Manchester. They are being held for questioning and have not yet been charged.
The force said it was continuing to support US authorities with their investigation into Saturday’s hostage incident. Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen, took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue in a 10-hour standoff that ended in his death. All four hostages were unharmed.
Police did not disclose details about the two people detained Thursday. British police do not release names and details of detainees until they are charged.
On Sunday, police arrested British teenagers in Manchester as part of the investigation. They were later released without charge.
Akram was from Blackburn, an industrial city in northwest England. His family said he had been “suffering from mental health issues.”
Akram entered the United States on a tourist visa about two weeks earlier and spent time in Dallas-area homeless shelters before the attack at Congregation Beth Israel, in the suburb of Colleyville.
The FBI has called the incident “a terrorism-related matter” targeting the Jewish community.
British media, including the Guardian and the BBC, have reported that Akram was investigated by the domestic intelligence service MI5 as a possible “terrorist threat” in 2020, but authorities concluded he posed no danger, and the investigation was closed.
The White House said Tuesday that Akram had been checked against US law enforcement databases before entering the country but raised no red flags.


Russia accuses West of plotting ‘provocations’ in Ukraine

Russia accuses West of plotting ‘provocations’ in Ukraine
Updated 20 January 2022

Russia accuses West of plotting ‘provocations’ in Ukraine

Russia accuses West of plotting ‘provocations’ in Ukraine
  • Concentration of an estimated 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine has fueled Western fears that Moscow is poised to attack its neighbor

MOSCOW: Russia accused the West on Thursday of plotting “provocations” in Ukraine even as it blames Moscow of planning aggressive military action in the neighboring country.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged that Ukrainian and Western claims of an imminent Russian attack on Ukraine were a “cover for staging large-scale provocations of their own, including those of military character.”
“They may have extremely tragic consequences for the regional and global security,” Zakharova said.
She pointed to the delivery of weapons to Ukraine by British military transport planes in recent days, claiming that Ukraine perceives Western military assistance as a “carte blanche for a military operation in Donbas.”
Donbas, located in eastern Ukraine, is under control of Russia-backed separatists who have fought Ukrainian forces for nearly eight years, a conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people.
Ukraine said earlier this week that it has taken the delivery of anti-tank missiles from the UK It has rejected Moscow’s claims that it plans an offensive to reclaim control of separatist-held areas in the country’s eastern industrial heartland.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s government, the US and its NATO allies have expressed intensifying concerns in recent weeks over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine.
The concentration of an estimated 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine has fueled Western fears that Moscow is poised to attack its neighbor. US President Joe Biden said Wednesday he thinks Russia will invade Ukraine and warned President Vladimir Putin that his country would pay a “dear price” in lives lost and a possible cutoff from the global banking system if it does.
Moscow has repeatedly denied having plans to launch an offensive. But it has sought a set of security guarantees from the West that would exclude NATO’s expansion to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations and the deployment of the alliance weapons there.
Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow’s demands in security talks last weeks, but kept the door open to possible further talks on arms control and confidence-building measures to reduce the potential for hostilities.
Amid the tensions, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ukraine Wednesday to reassure it of Western support. He traveled to Berlin on Thursday to meet with his British, French and German counterparts to discuss Ukraine and other security matters.
Blinken is set to deliver a speech on the Ukraine crisis later Thursday in the German capital before flying on to Geneva, Switzerland, where he will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is scheduled to arrive Thursday in Poland for two days of talks with his Polish counterpart. Poland, a European Union member state on Ukraine’s western border, has long supported Ukraine’s efforts to move closer to the democratic Western world.
Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said in a Thursday morning radio interview that Poland is offering its political and diplomatic support to Ukraine, but he would not say whether military aid would be extended amid the Russian troop buildup.
“We are aware of how serious the situation is, hence our diplomatic activity,” Przydacz said on Radio RMF FM from the southern Polish city of Wisla, where Zelenskyy will visit Poland’s President Andrzej Duda through Friday.
US President Joe Biden said Wednesday he thinks Russia will invade Ukraine, and he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia would pay a “dear price” in lives lost and a possible cutoff from the global banking system if it does.
The White House said Friday that US intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had already deployed operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine in a “false-flag operation” to create a pretext for possible invasion.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has dismissed the US claim as “total disinformation.”
In a move that further beefs up forces near Ukraine, Russia has sent an unspecified number of troops from the country’s far east to its ally Belarus, which shares a border with Ukraine, for major war games that run through Feb. 20. Ukrainian officials have said that Moscow could use Belarusian territory to launch a potential multi-pronged invasion.
Polish Defense Minister said that along with offering support for Ukraine, Poland is reinforcing its own military capabilities.
“A firm policy is the best argument to an aggressive Russian policy, which is not something new, and an appropriate reaction is important,” Blaszczak said.