Biden warns Kabul airport attackers: ‘We will hunt you down’

Biden warns Kabul airport attackers: ‘We will hunt you down’
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the terror attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport, and the US service members and Afghan victims killed and wounded, in the East Room of the White House, Washington, DC on August 26, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 27 August 2021

Biden warns Kabul airport attackers: ‘We will hunt you down’

Biden warns Kabul airport attackers: ‘We will hunt you down’

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden, his voice breaking with emotion, vowed on Thursday the United States would hunt down those responsible for twin explosions at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan and said he had asked the Pentagon to develop plans to strike back at them.

Biden spoke hours after the blasts American troops and scores of civilians, the worst day of casualties for US forces there in a decade.

Daesh Khorasan (Daesh-K), an affiliate of militants who previously battled US forces in Syria and Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attack.

“We will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said in remarks at the White House.

He promised US evacuations would continue.

“We will not be deterred by terrorists, we will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuations,” he said.

Vice President Kamala Harris canceled her plan to campaign for California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall election on Sept. 14, on her way home from a trip to Asia, and will instead return to Washington, her staff said.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Biden was sticking to his Tuesday pullout target for withdrawing US forces, saying he was doing so on the advice of military advisers concerned about more attacks.

She said Biden was working to get out every American who wanted out by the deadline. “Our commitment to them does not end,” she said.

Biden said he had ordered US military commanders to develop operational plans to strike Daesh-K assets, leadership, and facilities. “We will find ways of our choosing, without large military operations, to get them,” he said.

He appeared to be fighting back tears and his voice cracked with emotion as he talked about the American “heroes” who died. He ordered flags at the White House and public buildings around the country to be lowered to half staff.

“It’s been a tough day,” he said.

The president said he had told the US military: “Whatever they need, if they need additional force, I will grant it.”

Biden defended his handling of his most serious foreign policy crisis, saying ultimately it is his responsibility, while assigning some blame to his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, for the 2020 agreement Trump negotiated with the Taliban.

He said he did not trust the Taliban but believed it was in the group’s interest to let the evacuations continue.

Psaki said the United States also had “an enormous amount of leverage” — including economic leverage — over the Taliban, which are subject to US and UN sanctions.

The Afghan government has also long relied on transfers of dollars from their central bank assets, many of which are held in the United States. An administration official said any such assets would not be made available to the Taliban.


Landmark modern slavery case could open route back to Britain for young Daesh recruits

The collapse of a terrorism trial involving a 16-year-old-girl could have widespread ramifications for Daesh recruits from the UK such as Shamima Begum, pictured. (Screenshot/ITV News)
The collapse of a terrorism trial involving a 16-year-old-girl could have widespread ramifications for Daesh recruits from the UK such as Shamima Begum, pictured. (Screenshot/ITV News)
Updated 28 January 2022

Landmark modern slavery case could open route back to Britain for young Daesh recruits

The collapse of a terrorism trial involving a 16-year-old-girl could have widespread ramifications for Daesh recruits from the UK such as Shamima Begum, pictured. (Screenshot/ITV News)
  • A 16-year-old girl successfully challenged terror charges by arguing she had been sexually exploited online
  • Daesh recruits such as Shamima Begum say they were groomed online before traveling to Syria as teenagers

LONDON: The collapse of a terrorism trial involving a 16-year-old-girl could help to revive Daesh recruit Shamima Begum’s own legal battle to be allowed to return to the UK.

The case against the teenage terror suspect, who is the youngest girl ever charged with terrorism in the UK and cannot be named for legal reasons, was dropped this month after she successfully argued she was a victim of modern slavery. It is the first time a terrorism prosecution in the UK has been halted due to a claim of sexual exploitation.

The decision could open the door for teenage Daesh recruits, such as Begum, to go free on the basis that they were groomed online, said Jonathan Hall QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

“Being both a victim of modern slavery and presenting a risk to the general public are not incompatible,” he said. “If fewer criminal cases are going to be possible, this begs the question whether there are sufficient non-criminal justice measures in place, in particular to deal with the terrorist risk presented by children.”

The unnamed teenager, from Derbyshire, was found to be in possession of a bomb-making video and instructions for assembling a gun, after her mother alerted authorities about the girl’s “fixation” with Adolf Hitler.

She was charged with terror offenses but the case was dropped when the Home Office decided she was a victim of modern slavery after her lawyers argued she had been sexually exploited and groomed online by a US extremist.

That case could have widespread ramifications for Daesh recruits from the UK such as Begum. She traveled to Syria to join the terrorist group in 2015, when she was 15, and has for several years been fighting a legal battle to be allowed to return to the UK from the Kurdish-administered camp in northern Syria where she has been living since she was captured.

Before she went to Syria she had been in contact with Daesh members online. She married and gave birth to three children after arriving in the country, all of whom died.

Her citizenship was revoke by the British government on the grounds of national security. This prevented her from returning to the UK, where she had lived her entire life before going to Syria.

Referring to the dropping of the case against the 16-year-old this month, Begum’s lawyer said: “Shamima has been arguing this from the beginning. This just strengthens her case.”


Philippines reopening to vaccinated foreigners next month

A resident receives a BioNtech Pfizer Covid-19 jab as a booster, at a vaccination center in Quezon city on January 27, 2022, amidst rising covid-19 infections in the capital driven by Omicron variant. (AFP)
A resident receives a BioNtech Pfizer Covid-19 jab as a booster, at a vaccination center in Quezon city on January 27, 2022, amidst rising covid-19 infections in the capital driven by Omicron variant. (AFP)
Updated 28 January 2022

Philippines reopening to vaccinated foreigners next month

A resident receives a BioNtech Pfizer Covid-19 jab as a booster, at a vaccination center in Quezon city on January 27, 2022, amidst rising covid-19 infections in the capital driven by Omicron variant. (AFP)
  • Southeast Asian country had planned to reopen in December but suspended the decision over omicron fears
  • Government is also lifting mandatory quarantine for both returning Filipinos and foreign visitors

MANILA: The Philippines will start accepting fully vaccinated travelers from Feb. 10, the government announced on Friday, after closing its borders for nearly two years to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The Southeast Asian country had planned to reopen in December, but the decision was halted due to concerns over an outbreak of the new omicron variant of COVID-19.

Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles told reporters the government will suspend its risk classification list for countries starting Feb. 1, and vaccinated travelers from all 157 countries that have visa-free entry to the Philippines will be allowed entry.

“By Feb. 10, we will allow entry of fully vaccinated foreign nationals for business and tourism purposes as long as they come from countries belonging to the list as provided under Executive Order 408 or non-visa required countries,” Nograles said.

The government is also lifting its mandatory quarantine requirements for both returning Filipinos and foreign visitors as long as they are fully vaccinated and test negative for COVID-19.

Officials are hopeful that the reopening will help boost the recovery of the Philippine tourism industry and economy. “[This] will contribute significantly to job restoration, primarily in tourism-dependent communities and in the reopening of businesses that have earlier shut down during the pandemic,” Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said in a statement.

The Philippines follows in the footsteps of other countries in the region. Thailand will also resume its quarantine-free travel for vaccinated visitors in February, while Singapore and Malaysia have relaxed the border between their countries since November.

“We are confident that we will be able to keep pace with our ASEAN neighbors who have already made similar strides to reopen to foreign tourists,” Puyat added.

Home to white sand beaches, famous diving spots, lively entertainment, diverse cultural heritage and wildlife, the Philippine economy is dependent on tourism, which in 2019, generated 2.51 trillion pesos (about $50 billion), contributing nearly 13 percent to the country’s gross domestic product, according to Philippine Statistics Authority data.

As the pandemic hit the country in March 2020, most tourism destinations were forced to shut down, dealing a major blow to the sector as its revenues plummeted to 973 billion pesos, with foreign tourist arrivals slumping 82 percent and local travel almost 78 percent.

 


Japan’s Hayashi strongly condemns Houthis, pledges cooperation with UAE

Japan’s foreign minister Hayashi Yoshimasa. (Supplied)
Japan’s foreign minister Hayashi Yoshimasa. (Supplied)
Updated 28 January 2022

Japan’s Hayashi strongly condemns Houthis, pledges cooperation with UAE

Japan’s foreign minister Hayashi Yoshimasa. (Supplied)
  • Foreign minister Hayashi Yoshimasa expressed his condolences to those who lost their lives and their bereaved families

TOKYO: Japan’s foreign minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, in a telephone talk on Friday Jan. 28 with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), strongly condemned the series of recent attacks against Abu Dhabi which were claimed by the Houthis.

With regards to the Houthis’ attacks on January 17 which resulted in casualties, minister Hayashi expressed his condolences to those who lost their lives and their bereaved families, and prayed for the swift recovery of those who were injured in the incident, the foreign ministry in Tokyo said on Friday evening.

During the talks, minister Hayashi expressed Japan’s commitment to continue to actively contribute to the stability of the Middle East region in coordination with the UAE and other countries concerned.

The two ministers confirmed that they will continue to further promote their bilateral cooperation in various fields, as 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and the UAE.

* This article originally appeared on arabnews.jp. Read it here.


Le Pen’s campaign hit by niece calling rival far-right Zemmour a better candidate

Le Pen’s campaign hit by niece calling rival far-right Zemmour a better candidate
Updated 28 January 2022

Le Pen’s campaign hit by niece calling rival far-right Zemmour a better candidate

Le Pen’s campaign hit by niece calling rival far-right Zemmour a better candidate
  • Marechal told Le Parisien and Le Figaro in separate interviews that she considers her aunt's far-right rival Zemmour had adopted a better strategy
  • "Unlike Marine Le Pen, Zemmour still has ample room to rise further (in polls)," Marechal told Le Figaro newspaper

PARIS: Marine Le Pen’s niece Marion Marechal, a popular figure among far-right French voters, on Friday said Eric Zemmour was a better presidential candidate, piling woes onto a campaign already troubled by the defection of two EU lawmakers.
Le Pen ranks second or third in opinion polls that show a tussle among right and far-right candidates to win a second-round runoff spot against President Emmanuel Macron in the April elections. Macron himself is leading polls and seen as likely to secure the other spot.
Marechal, a 32-year old former lawmaker, told Le Parisien and Le Figaro in separate interviews that she considers her aunt’s far-right rival Zemmour had adopted a better strategy, even though he is currently running fourth in opinion polls.
“Unlike Marine Le Pen, Zemmour still has ample room to rise further (in polls),” Marechal told Le Figaro newspaper.
She said that because he was new to politics and was seeking to bridge gaps between parties, Zemmour was better placed to get wide-ranging support than Le Pen’s party, which other parties, including on the mainstream right, often shun.
Her comments went to the heart of a debate that could re-define France’s right and far-right for years to come.
Marechal, once a rising star in the Le Pen family’s National Rally party, quit politics five years ago.
She said on Friday she wanted to return but hadn’t quite decided yet whether to rally with Zemmour’s campaign for fear it would revive feuds that had torn the Le Pen family and the party apart for years.
But the divisions she said she wanted to avoid creating were immediately clear with her aunt’s reaction.
“It’s brutal, it’s violent, it’s tough for me,” a visibly moved Le Pen told CNews, adding it was “painful” on a person level and “incomprehensible” politically.
The 53-year-old veteran politician noted that polls showed her and not Zemmour as likely to reach the second round in April, in a repeat of the 2017 match that Macron won.
While the National Front — rebranded National Rally — has dominated the French far-right for decades, first led by Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie and then by her since 2011, it has always failed to reach power beyond a few municipalities.


Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount

Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount
Updated 28 January 2022

Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount

Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount
  • US President Joe Biden warned Ukraine’s leader a day earlier that there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could take military action
  • “There won’t be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation, we don’t want a war,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said

MOSCOW: Russia’s top diplomat said Friday that Moscow will not start a war in Ukraine but warned that it wouldn’t allow the West to trample on its security interests, amid fears it is planning to invade its neighbor.
US President Joe Biden warned Ukraine’s leader a day earlier that there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could take military action against the former Soviet state in February.
“There won’t be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation, we don’t want a war,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a live interview with Russian radio stations. “But we won’t let our interests be rudely trampled on and ignored.”
Tensions have soared in recent weeks, and the United States and its NATO allies warily eyed a buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine, worrying that Moscow was preparing to attack. Russia has repeatedly denied having any such plans, but has demanded that NATO promise Ukraine will never be allowed to join and that the alliance roll back deployments of troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe.
The US and NATO formally rejected those demands this week, though Washington outlined areas where discussions are possible, offering hope that there could be a way to avoid war.
Russia’s official response to those proposals will come from President Vladimir Putin, but the Kremlin has said there was “little ground for optimism.”
Lavrov echoed noted that grim note Friday.
“While they say they won’t change their positions, we won’t change ours,” he said. “I don’t see any room for compromise here.”
Putin opened the weekly meeting of his Security Council on Friday, saying only that it would address foreign policy issues. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Russian leader may also discuss his reaction to the US rejection with French President Emmanuel Macron during their video call the same day.
Lavrov noted that the US suggested the two sides could talk about limits on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, restrictions on military drills and rules to prevent accidents between warships and aircraft. He said that Russia proposed discussing those issues years ago — but Washington and its allies never took them up on it until now.
While he described the US offers as reasonable, he emphasized that Russia’s main concerns are to stop both NATO’s expansion and the deployment of the alliance weapons near Russia’s borders. He noted that international agreements say that the security of one nation must not come at the expense of others’ — and that he would send letters to ask his Western counterparts to address that obligation.
“It will be hard for them to wiggle out from answering why they aren’t fulfilling the obligations sealed by their leaders not to strengthen their security at the expense of others,” he said.
As tensions build, Washington warned Moscow of devastating sanctions if it invades Ukraine, including penalties targeting top Russian officials and key economic sectors. Several senior US officials also said Thursday that Germany would not allow a newly constructed pipeline — which is meant to bring gas directly from Russia — to begin operations if Russia invades Ukraine.
Asked about possible sanctions, Lavrov said that Moscow had warned Washington that their introduction would amount to a complete severing of ties.
While Moscow and the West are mulling their next steps, NATO said it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region, and the US ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert for potential deployment to Europe.
Russia has launched a series of military drills involving motorized infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, and dozens of warships in the Black Sea and the Arctic. Russian troops have also headed to Belarus for sweeping joint drills, raising Western fears that Moscow could stage an attack on Ukraine from the north. The Ukrainian capital is just 75 kilometers (50 miles) from the border with Belarus.
Despite the alarming rhetoric, Ukrainian officials have repeatedly tried to project calm.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told parliament Friday that the total number of Russian troops near Ukraine — about 130,000 — is comparable to Moscow’s military buildup in the spring of 2021, when Moscow eventually pulled its forces back after massive military exercises.
“We haven’t observed any events or actions of military character that significantly differ from what was going on last spring,” with the exception of the deployment to Belarus, Reznikov said.
But that has so far not reassured many in the West. Biden warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Thursday’s call that the US believed there was a high degree of likelihood that Russia could invade when the ground freezes and Russian forces could attack Ukrainian territory from north of Kyiv, according to two people familiar with the conversation who were not authorized to comment publicly.
While concerns rise about an invasion, Ukraine is already beset by conflict. Following the 2014 ouster of a Kremlin-friendly president in Kyiv, Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed an insurgency in the country’s eastern industrial heartland. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels has killed over 14,000 people, and efforts to reach a settlement have stalled.