7 more dead in Kabul airport mayhem as thousands try to flee Afghanistan

Afghan evacuees queue before boarding an Italian military aircraft during evacuation at Kabul's airport on August 22, 2021. (Italian Defense Force/Handout via REUTERS)
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Afghan evacuees queue before boarding an Italian military aircraft during evacuation at Kabul's airport on August 22, 2021. (Italian Defense Force/Handout via REUTERS)
 Taliban fighters search a vehicle at a checkpoint on a road in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
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Taliban fighters search a vehicle at a checkpoint on a road in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
People are shown onboard a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021. (Australian Defense Force via AFP)
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People are shown onboard a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021. (Australian Defense Force via AFP)
A US Air Force security forces raven maintains a security cordon around a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul. (File/AFP)
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A US Air Force security forces raven maintains a security cordon around a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 August 2021

7 more dead in Kabul airport mayhem as thousands try to flee Afghanistan

7 more dead in Kabul airport mayhem as thousands try to flee Afghanistan
  • Taliban blames US military for airport chaos
  • Family tell Arab News of ‘bullets raining down’

KABUL: At least seven Afghans died in a panicked crush of people trying to enter Kabul’s international airport, the British military said Sunday, as thousands were still trying to flee the country a week after the Taliban takeover.
The victims may have been trampled, suffocated or suffered heart attacks as Taliban fighters fired into the air to try to drive back the crowds. Soldiers covered several corpses in white clothing. 
The latest fatalities has brought the death toll from a week of chaos at Kabul airport to more than 20. 
Kabul’s airport, now one of the only routes out of the country, has seen days of chaos since the Taliban entered the capital on Aug. 15. Several Afghans plunged to their deaths after clinging to a US military cargo plane as it took off, some of the seven killed on Aug. 16.
Western troops in full combat gear tried to control the throngs on Sunday. As temperatures rose to 34C, they sprayed water over the crowd, handed out bottled water and removed people who were clearly ill. Other troops stood on concrete barriers, trying to calm the crowd. 

“The situation at Kabul airport remains extremely challenging and unpredictable,” a NATO official said.One family told Arab News of “bullets raining on the tarmac” as they tried to flee. Zarmina, her husband, and their eight-month-old son and five-year-old daughter spent two days trying to get into the airport before giving up and returning home.
“Bullets were landing left and right,” said Zarmina, who works for a Western organization and is eligible to be evacuated.  “They even used tear gas to scatter the crowd, but no use. The baby was screaming, some people got injured before our eyes, we thought to leave before being killed or injured.
“I am too exhausted to speak because of what we went through. It is not worth going this way unless they sort out the growing chaos. You might get killed here at the airport, which is the most violent place in Afghanistan now.”

US military blamed
The Taliban blame the chaotic evacuation on the US military, saying there’s no need for Afghans to fear them, even though their fighters shoot into the air and beat people with batons as they try to control the crowds outside the airport.“The US is responsible for what is going on at the airport,” Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi told Arab News. 
“When it cannot control the situation and the evacuation, why did it create hope for so many people? We have said these people will face no harm as we have announced an amnesty.”

“All Afghanistan is secure, but the airport, which is managed by the Americans, has anarchy,” Amir Khan Motaqi, a senior Taliban official, said Sunday. The US “should not embarrass itself to the world and should not give this mentality to our people that (the Taliban) are a kind of enemy.”
Speaking to an Iranian state television channel Saturday night in a video call, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem also blamed the deaths at the airport on the Americans.
“The Americans announced that ‘we would take you to America with us,’ and people gathered at Kabul airport,” Naeem said. “If it was announced right now in any country in the world, would people not go?”
 

Moderate image
The Taliban have sought to project a more moderate image than when they last ruled the country, from 1996 until the US-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks, which Al-Qaeda carried out while being sheltered by the Taliban. During their earlier rule, women were largely confined to their homes, television and music were banned, and public executions were held — all in accordance with the Taliban’s harsh version of Islamic rule.
This time, the Taliban are holding talks with Afghan officials from previous governments on a political transition and say they will restore peace and security after decades of war. Afghan officials familiar with the talks say the Taliban have said they will not announce a government until after the Aug. 31 deadline for the US troop withdrawal.
But they already face stirrings of resistance.

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In Baghlan province, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Kabul, fighters calling themselves the “People’s Uprising” claimed to have seized three districts in the Andarab Valley, nestled in the towering Hindu Kush mountains.
Khair Mohammad Khairkhwa, the former provincial head of intelligence, and Abdul Ahmad Dadgar, another leader in the uprising, said Taliban fighters had burned down homes and kidnapped children. Two other officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, made similar allegations. The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the nearby Panjshir province — the only one yet to fall under Taliban control — a group of militia leaders and officials from the ousted government have pledged to defend it against the Taliban, who circulated video showing their fighters heading toward the region.
The province is a stronghold of the Northern Alliance fighters who joined with the US to topple the Taliban in 2001, and Ahmad Massoud, the son of a famous Northern Alliance commander assassinated days before the 9/11 attacks, has appeared in videos from there.
But it appears unlikely a few thousand guerrilla fighters will soon succeed where the Afghan national security forces failed despite 20 years of Western aid, assistance and training.
“If Taliban warlords launch an assault, they will of course face staunch resistance from us,” Massoud said in an interview with the Al-Arabiya news network. But he also expressed openness to dialogue with the Taliban.

Continuing evacuation
The US Embassy, which has relocated to the military side of the airport, has told American citizens and others not to come to the airport until they receive precise instructions.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN that 3,900 people had been airlifted out of Kabul on US military flights in the past 24 hours, up from 1,600 the previous day. That’s in addition to about 3,900 people airlifted on non-US military flights over the past 24 hours. It remains far below the 5,000 to 9,000 that the military says it has the capacity to airlift daily.
Britain said it had airlifted more than 5,000 people, including 1,000 in the last 14 hours.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, requesting 18 aircraft from US carriers to assist in transporting Afghan refugees after they are evacuated to other countries. The voluntary program, born in the wake of the Berlin airlift, adds to the military’s capabilities during crises.
President Joe Biden has vowed to bring home all Americans from Afghanistan and to evacuate Afghans who aided the US war effort. US military helicopters have been used to collect 169 Americans from outside the airport. Tens of thousands of Americans and others are still hoping to fly out.
In Riyadh, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation said it would seek to help achieve peace in Afghanistan and to facilitate evacuation operations.
During an emergency meeting called by Saudi Arabia, Secretary-General Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen called on the Taliban to respect international humanitarian law and the right to life and security.


 


Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
Updated 57 min 16 sec ago

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
  • A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown
  • Details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces

VIENNA: Unvaccinated individuals will continue to stay in lockdown even after Austria lifts its wider coronavirus measure for the general public on Sunday, Chancellor Karl Nehammer confirmed on Tuesday, a day after he took office.
Austria’s two-week-old lockdown aimed to counter a surge in daily COVID-19 infections to record levels, with restaurants, bars, theaters, museums and non-essential shops shut to all but take-away business. Hotels are closed to tourists.
A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown, barring them from roughly the same places that are now shut, and allowed to leave home only for the same few reasons as the public now, such as going to work.
“The lockdown for the unvaccinated is staying,” Nehammer told a news conference, while confirming that the wider curbs would be lifted on Sunday as planned.
However, details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces.
“For all the unvaccinated who are suffering from the fact they are staying in lockdown, there is a clear offer: you can come out of it if you seize the chance to get vaccinated,” Nehammer said, adding that his aim was to encourage as many as possible to get their first dose of vaccine.
Asked if restaurants and hotels would re-open at the weekend, Nehammer said that had already been agreed with provincial governors and the aim was to re-open businesses as broadly as possible.
The question that remained was what safety measures and curbs needed to be adopted, he added.


Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
Updated 07 December 2021

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
  • Move follows government ban on all arrivals to combat spread of omicron variant
  • Irish carrier is largest airline in Europe, which is facing severe COVID-19 outbreak

LONDON: Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has canceled all flights to Morocco until February 2022.

The move follows a total ban by the Moroccan government on flights arriving in the North African country until Dec. 13 to combat the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

It is not yet clear whether the ban will extend beyond the initial December deadline.

Other countries, including Japan and Israel, have also implemented stringent flight bans in an attempt to prevent the spread of the new variant.

Irish carrier Ryanair usually flies thousands of flights a day across Europe and beyond. The continent’s COVID-19 outbreak is far worse than many other places in the world, including Morocco, which recorded just 90 cases in the last 24 hours compared with 50,000 in Britain.


One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
Updated 07 December 2021

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
  • Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary

SANARY-SUR-MER,France: French rescue workers on Tuesday recovered a man’s body from the rubble of a residential building destroyed overnight in a suspected gas explosion, and were scrambling to find two other people still missing after extracting a woman and a baby alive.
The woman and baby as well as three others were injured in the blast in the Mediterranean coastal city of Sanary-sur-Mer, which was heard from as far as eight kilometers (five miles) away.
“It’s very likely that the victim is the father of the baby,” Houda Vernhet, director of the government’s regional authority for the Var region, told AFP.
He was unconscious when located and declared dead after rescue workers spent more than two hours removing him from the unsteady wreckage of the three-story building.
The two people still missing “are a mother, an elderly woman, and her son” who lived on the ground floor, Vernhet said.
“For now, we haven’t yet found any signs of life from the rubble, but we didn’t hear the baby right away, either,” said Col. Eric Grohin, director of the fire service for the Var department.
Authorities said rescue workers smelled gas when they arrived at the site.
“The causes aren’t known for now. There was smell of gas, but we can’t say anything more while the police inquiry is underway,” the regional authorities said in a statement.
Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary, a city of around 15,000 people southeast of Marseille.


Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
Updated 07 December 2021

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
  • Among the billionaire's collection were items from Egypt, Turkey and Iraq

NEW YORK: Billionaire hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt has agreed to turn over $70 million worth of stolen antiquities and will be subject to an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities, the Manhattan district attorney announced Monday.
In return, Steinhardt, a philanthropist who is chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and co-founder of Birthright Israel, an organization that sends young Jews on free trips to Israel, will not face criminal charges for acquiring pieces that were illegally smuggled out of 11 countries including Iraq, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Syria and Turkey, prosecutors said.
“For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a news release. “His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries, as reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb raiders he relied upon to expand his collection."
Steinhardt said in a prepared statement issued by his attorneys that he was "pleased that the District Attorney’s years-long investigation has concluded without any charges, and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries.”
Attorneys Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr. said that many of the dealers from whom Steinhardt bought the items “made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance.”
According to prosecutors, while complaining about a subpoena requesting documentation for an antiquity in May 2017, Steinhardt pointed to a small chest from Greece and said to an investigator, “You see this piece? There’s no provenance for it. If I see a piece and I like it, then I buy it.”
Many of the pieces Steinhardt acquired were removed from their countries of origin during times of war or civil unrest, prosecutors said.
Steinhardt, who turns 81 on Tuesday, founded the hedge fund Steinhardt Partners in 1967 and closed it in 1995. He came out of retirement in 2004 to head Wisdom Tree Investments.
New York University named its Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development after Steinhardt in recognition of two $10 million donations.
Manhattan prosecutors began investigating Steinhardt's collection of ancient artifacts in 2017 and raided his office and his Manhattan home in 2018, seizing several artworks that investigators said had been looted.
The items surrendered by Steinhardt include a stag’s head in the form of a ceremonial vessel for libations, dating from to 400 B.C., which prosecutors say appeared without provenance on the international market after rampant looting in Milas, Turkey. The stag's head is valued at $3.5 million, the district attorney said.
There was also the chest for human remains from the Greek Island of Crete, called a larnax and dating from around 1300 B.C., which prosecutors said was purchased from a known antiquities trafficker.


Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters

Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters
Updated 07 December 2021

Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters

Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters
  • Thousands of pleas for help via email were unread between Aug. 21 and Aug. 25
  • ‘These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as ‘please save my children’

LONDON: Britain’s Foreign Office abandoned many of the nation’s allies in Afghanistan and left them to the mercy of the Taliban during the fall of the capital, Kabul, because of a dysfunctional and arbitrary evacuation effort, a whistleblower alleged Tuesday.
In devastating evidence to a parliamentary committee, Raphael Marshall said thousands of pleas for help via email were unread between Aug. 21 and Aug. 25. The former Foreign Office employee estimated that only 5 percent of Afghan nationals who applied to flee under one UK program received help. At one point, he was the only person monitoring the inbox.
“There were usually over 5,000 unread emails in the inbox at any given moment, including many unread emails dating from early in August,” he wrote to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. “These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as ‘please save my children’.”
Former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who was moved from the Foreign Office to become Justice Secretary after his handling of the crisis, defended his actions.
“Some of the criticism seems rather dislocated from the facts on the ground, the operational pressures that with the takeover of the Taliban, unexpected around the world...” he told the BBC. “I do think that not enough recognition has been given to quite how difficult it was.”
The Taliban stormed across Afghanistan in late summer, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the US and its allies melted away. The Taliban took over Kabul on Aug. 15.
Many who had worked for Western powers or the government worried that the country could descend into chaos or the Taliban could carry out revenge attacks against them.
Many also feared the Taliban would reimpose the harsh interpretation of Islamic law that they relied on when they ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. At the time, women had to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative whenever they went outside. The Taliban banned music, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.