Terror attack on US forces in Kabul criticized by Congresswoman McCollum

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Updated 27 August 2021

Terror attack on US forces in Kabul criticized by Congresswoman McCollum

Terror attack on US forces in Kabul criticized by Congresswoman McCollum
  • Atrocity delayed US president’s meeting with Israeli prime minister 

CHICAGO: The Taliban shared information with the US that a terrorist attack targeting its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan was “imminent” and may explain why they were trying to prevent people from fleeing to the evacuation center at Kabul International Airport, US Congresswoman Betty McCollum told Arab News in an exclusive interview on Thursday.

The chairwoman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee said the Afghan government misled both President Joe Biden and Congress in assuring they would be able to maintain control during a pullout.

Islamic State-Khorasan, founded in 2015 in eastern Afghanistan, is being blamed for what the US Defense Department said were two terrorist attacks. 

 

“Some in the Taliban have been helpful in securing safe passage and protecting those faiths. And it was a shared intelligence, by not only us but what we were hearing from our allies but also from the Taliban that they knew this attack was imminent,” McCollum told Arab News.

“That’s why they were trying to keep American citizens ... and why the Taliban were telling people not to come to the airport. Some of it was their own selfishness wanting to keep Afghans there. Some of it was actually not wanting to have casualties and then being seen that they couldn’t control Kabul.”

McCollum, who has represented Minnesota’s 4th Congressional District since 2000, said initial reports blamed IS-K.

 

“We will find out who committed these atrocities against those people who were at the airport seeking safety for themselves and their families. The intel that we were hearing about the most is that it was not the Taliban. It was either a rogue group or it was ISIS-K ... The Taliban and ISIS-K do not like each other,” McCollum said. “But, what a show-stopper for ISIS-K, right? They could basically get two things done at once. They could attack the Taliban and they attack the US government and NATO at the same time. But we will know who perpetrated this.”

McCollum expressed concerns about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, initiated by former President Donald Trump, saying not enough attention was paid to the instability and inadequacies of the Afghan government.

 

“The Trump administration decided, well, maybe it is time that we can figure out a way to pull out of Afghanistan because we were not seeing any meaningful progress. Maybe we could support the status quo. His failure was not including the government of Afghanistan. Many of us spoke out about that. That’s what President Biden inherited. But he also inherited President Trump withdrawing so many troops that we just had a hollow number left going into the fighting season,” McCollum said.

“But what Afghanistan assured President Biden is that they would hold their own. They would slow them down. They would organize. And please, please do not start sending off alarm bells and we would lose our best and brightest to keep this country going, you know, to show no faith in our government. And there was consensus that this might fail, this Afghan government might fail. But there was consensus that it might be six months to a year, some people were saying two years, but at most the intelligence said maybe six months and that would give us time to do something.”

McCollum said she suspected the Taliban were using the US as hostages to provide security around the airport in the face of expected attacks from IS-K.

“But as we saw, the Afghan government fled (from) its own people and, with that, the military laid down its arms for the most part and just walked away,” McCollum said. “And so now, we have people at the airport. And we are basically hostages for the Taliban to provide security around the airport, are we not?”

McCollum said that although the Taliban may have changed, “we are not going to take them at their word.”

She agreed that the decision by former US President George W. Bush, to expand the war against Al-Qaeda to Iraq, had undermined the ability to stabilize Afghanistan and weakened efforts there.

“It was a huge mistake. And that is why many of us not only did we believe there were not weapons of mass destruction, but we knew we would take our eye off of (Afghanistan),” McCollum said, noting that not enough was done to strengthen Afghanistan’s society and infrastructure.

“But once we went into Iraq, NATO forces were pulled there. We were pulled there. That was the big object that everybody ran to, and Afghanistan was just put off to the corner. Unfortunately, when the Bush administration for the eight years they were in charge, they did not do that kind of developmental aid in Afghanistan, and then was not focused on it because they got themselves involved in Iraq.”

The attacks in Kabul forced the White House to delay meetings planned between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

McCollum, who supports a two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, has spoken out against Israeli abuses and said the proposed compromise was being undermined by the Israeli government’s actions.

 

“Human rights and universal rights, and that includes Palestinians and the rights of children, need to be protected. I am hoping that discussion focuses on that, laser focuses on it, that the settlement expansions have to stop and the rights of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens not be given second class citizens,” McCollum said.

“There is a lot on the table but I also am going to keep working on my bill to stop the detention of Palestinian children in military detention facilities and the billions of dollars of aid. We just give cash, actually, to the country of Israel. That (will) have a receipt and an accounting for it so taxpayers’ dollars know that not one dime is going for the destruction of homes and not one penny goes to imprison a child.”

McCollum is the sponsor of legislation that would link Israeli accountability and violent actions against Palestinian children and families to US aid.

“I support a two-state solution but we need to get back to where that becomes a reality and not just a dream. I am watching that dream get smaller and smaller, as people are here at home and all over the world and especially the Palestinians. If we are going to talk about the two-state solution, we have to be firm and honest about what that two-state solution needs to look like, and it is not the status quo for the establishment of settlements.”

McCollum’s full interview will be broadcast Sept. 1 during The Ray Hanania Radio Show, which is on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Washington D.C. on WDMV AM 700. The show is also streamed live at Facebook.com/ArabNews.


HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO
Updated 6 sec ago

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO
JOHANNESBURG: HIV infection rates in Africa have decreased markedly, but the continent is still behind set targets, with efforts slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
“Africa has made significant progress against HIV over the past decade, reducing new infections by 43 percent and nearly halving AIDS-related deaths,” the WHO Africa office said in a statement.
But it warned that Africa was not likely to meet a target to end AIDS as a public health threat by the turn of the decade as Covid has undermined the fight in many countries.
“Covid-19 has made the fight against HIV all the more challenging, but one virus must not win out over another. We must tackle Covid-19 and HIV in parallel,” WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said.
Covid has also slowed HIV screening rates because of restrictions of movements.
UNAIDS last week warned that HIV infection rates were not decreasing fast enough to reach the goal of eradicating AIDS by 2030.
According to data released at the annual International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (ICASA) currently being held in South Africa’s port city of Durban, only nine African countries are on track to meet the target in the next four years.
The countries are Botswana, Cape Verde, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
“This scorecard is a wake-up call for African governments to stay focused on ending AIDS,” Moeti said.
South Africa, the country with the world’s highest HIV prevalence at 20.4 percent, is hosting the week-long annual meeting bringing together scientists, politicians and activists.

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
Updated 07 December 2021

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.