Islamism still prime security threat to West: Blair

Islamism still prime security threat to West: Blair
Former UK prime minister Tony Blair warned on Monday that "radical Islam" remained a "first-order security threat" to the world despite two decades confronting the issue across the globe. (AFP)
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Updated 06 September 2021

Islamism still prime security threat to West: Blair

Islamism still prime security threat to West: Blair
  • British PM during 9/11 attacks calls for preparation to counter ‘bio-terror’
  • ‘Overwhelming political constraint on military interventions’ represents challenge for UK, Europe, NATO

LONDON: The West still faces the threat of large-scale terror attacks by radical Islamist groups, but this time using bio-terrorism, Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair has warned.

He made the comments in a speech marking two decades since the 9/11 terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in the US.

Blair, who was prime minister at the time of the attacks, said Islamist terror remains an acute threat but may arrive in a different form, one influenced by the events of the last two years.

“Despite the decline in terrorist attacks, Islamism, both the ideology and the violence, is a first-order security threat; and, unchecked, it will come to us, even if centered far from us, as 9/11 demonstrated,” he added.

“COVID-19 has taught us about deadly pathogens. Bio-terror possibilities may seem like the realm of science fiction, but we would be wise now to prepare for their potential use by non-state actors.”

In his speech, Blair appeared to contradict the views of US President Joe Biden by suggesting that nation-building must remain a key tool in the American foreign policy arsenal, saying drone strikes and special forces alone cannot defeat radical Islamism.

Biden recently declared that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has turned the page on the American era of nation-building.

Blair appeared to admit that nation-building in Afghanistan — which was seized unexpectedly quickly by the Taliban following the US troop withdrawal — was a failure, but said structural issues in the Afghan government and external actors, which he did not name, were responsible.

“Our ‘remaking’ didn’t fail because the people didn’t want the country ‘remade.’ For sure, we could have ‘remade’ better, but Afghans did not choose the Taliban takeover,” he added.

“The last opinion poll in 2019 showed them (the Taliban) with 4 percent support among the Afghan people. They conquered the country by violence not persuasion. The barrier to ‘nation-building’ is usually not the people, but poor institutional capacity and governance, including corruption, over many years; and most of all the challenge of trying to build whilst internal elements combined with external support are trying to destroy.”

He continued: “For me, one of the most alarming developments of recent times has been the sense that the West lacks the capacity to formulate strategy, that its short-term political imperatives have squeezed the space for long-term thinking.

“It is this sense more than anything else which gives our allies anxiety and our opponents a belief our time is over.”

For Europe, he said, the most pressing security issues could come from the Sahel — a vast region in Africa comprising Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and other countries — which has experienced a surge in extremist violence that regional governments have failed to stamp out.

“We do not have the capacity to help those countries govern their space or get on their feet,” Blair added. “Are we going to let the situation fester until finally we get waves of extremism and waves of migration coming from there, or are we going to deal with it?”

But despite the security threat, he said, there is “now an overwhelming political constraint on military interventions,” and this represents a challenge for Britain, Europe and NATO.

“If the enemy we’re fighting knows that the more casualties they inflict, the more our political will to fight erodes, then the incentive structure is plain.”


Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya
Updated 56 min 3 sec ago

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya
  • Both women were found dead in Kenya this week
  • Nearly half of women in Kenya experience gender-based violence over the course of their lifetimes

NAIROBI: Cynthia Makokha was a 17-year-old student and volleyball player. Agnes Tirop was a 25-year-old rising athletics star, who finished fourth in the 5,000m race at the Tokyo Olympics and had won two World Championship bronze medals.
Both women were found dead in Kenya this week, and while their murders are not linked they have shone a spotlight on violence against women, which the government says has grown worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tirop was found in her bed at her home in the town of Iten, with multiple stab wounds to the neck. Police on Thursday arrested a man they described as her husband, whom they called “the main suspect.”
Makokha, who was a student at the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy in Nairobi, was raped, killed and then dumped in a river. She had been on her way to visit family in Western Kenya on Oct. 4 when she disappeared. Her body was found days later.
One suspect is in custody, Mumias East sub-county police commander Stephen Mwoni told Reuters.
Nearly half of women in Kenya experience gender-based violence over the course of their lifetimes, and a third of Kenyan girls experience some form of sexual violence before turning 18, according to the Gender Violence Recovery Center at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital.
“I’m scared,” said 17-year-old Latifah Shaban, who shared a bunk bed with Makokha. She said Makokha often woke up at 3am, cracked the hallway door open, and used that light to study. “I’ve heard a lot of rape cases. I’m just always scared about men… it’s worse,” she said.
The school’s dorms are only a few months old, created to help protect the girls, many of whom come from vulnerable living situations, administrators said.
“As much as we are trying to ensure that the girls are safe, outside they…. are not safe,” said Claris Akinyi, the school’s principal.
Tirop’s family told Kenya Television Network that she had separated from the man suspected of killing her because she suspected he had cheated on her when she was competing in Japan.
Police say that after Tirop’s murder, they found a new athletics trophy, still carefully wrapped, in her living room.
On social media, fellow athletes and politicians shared messages of condolence, as did sportswear manufacturer Adidas and the World Athletics governing body.
“Agnes was an incredible person, a record breaking athlete and a beloved member of our family,” Adidas posted https://twitter.com/adidasrunning/status/1448344158087827457?s=20 on Twitter.
At Makokha’s school, rows of seated girls passed around tissues to wipe their tears as they remembered their fellow student. One girl untied her sweatshirt from around the waist to cry into it; another clutched a poster saying: “STOP KILLING.”


Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts
Updated 15 October 2021

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts
  • Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled last week that parts of EU law are incompatible with the country's constitution
  • "I think it is time to talk more in depth with the Polish government on how to overcome the problems," German Chancellor said

BRUSSELS: The European Union should resolve its differences by talking to each other rather than through court decisions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, responding to a question on the dispute with Poland over the rule of law.
“We are all member states of the European Union, which means we have the duty always to try to find compromise — without giving up our principles, obviously,” Merkel told reporters after meeting Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in Brussels.
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled last week that parts of EU law are incompatible with the country’s constitution, undermining the central tenet of the European Union and fueling talk that Poland could one day quit the 27-nation bloc.
Poland’s right-wing populist government has clashed regularly over issues ranging from LGBT rights to judicial independence with the European Commission, triggering a series of European Court of Justice cases.
“I think it is time to talk more in depth with the Polish government on how to overcome the problems,” Merkel said. “It is certainly right that, from time to time, cases have to be decided by the European Court of Justice.”
The chancellor, who will leave office once a new German coalition is formed, said she was concerned by the number of cases ending up at the EU’s top court.
De Croo said he was on the same page as Merkel
“This could become a big issue, but we could prevent it becoming a big issue if we engage ... I think that just criticizing and finger-pointing from the outside is not going to lead us anywhere,” he said.


Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks, EU official says

Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks, EU official says
Updated 15 October 2021

Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks, EU official says

Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks, EU official says
  • EU political director Enrique Mora, the chief coordinator for the talks, was in Tehran on Thursday to meet members of Iran's nuclear negotiating team
  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has so far refused to resume indirect talks with the United States in Vienna

BRUSSELS/PARIS: Iran is not ready to return to talks with world powers over its nuclear program yet. Its new negotiating team wants to discuss the texts that will be put forward when it meets with the EU in Brussels in the next few weeks, a senior EU official said on Friday.
EU political director Enrique Mora, the chief coordinator for the talks, was in Tehran on Thursday to meet members of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, four months after discussions broke off between Iran and world powers.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has so far refused to resume indirect talks with the United States in Vienna on both sides returning to compliance with the deal, under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for economic sanctions relief.
Diplomats from France, Britain and Germany, who are party to the accord along with China and Russia, said ahead of Mora’s visit that it came at a critical time and things could not be deemed “business as usual” given escalating Iranian nuclear activities and the stalling of negotiations.
The United States said time was running short. “They are not yet ready for engaging in Vienna,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity, adding that he believed Tehran was “absolutely decided to go back to Vienna and to end the negotiations.” The Islamic Republic has repeatedly said it will return to the negotiations “soon,” but it has not given a clearer timeline. Western diplomats had hoped the Vienna talks might resume before the end of October.
However, after Mora’s visit, Iran’s foreign ministry said it would hold talks in the coming days with the EU in Brussels.
“They insisted that they don’t want talks for talks, they want talking with practical results and with a final agreement on how to bring JCPOA (the nuclear deal) back to life,” the official said.
Describing a meeting in Brussels as a “good idea,” the official said it would give both sides the opportunity to go through the texts on the table from June and clarify questions that Iran’s new negotiating team may have.
“I think we are just clarifying even more the situation for a final destination, which is going to be resuming in Vienna. I expect that soon,” he said.
France’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said negotiations should resume immediately on the basis of where they left off in June to reach a deal quickly.
“Iran must show a willingness through acts that it shares the same desire to come back to the negotiating table and conclude an agreement,” she told reporters.
Western diplomats have said they are concerned Tehran’s new negotiating team — under a president known as an anti-Western hard-liner, unlike his pragmatist predecessor — may make new demands beyond the scope of what had already been agreed. Since then-US President Donald Trump ditched the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran has been rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, refining it to higher levels of purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up the enrichment process.
President Joe Biden aims to restore the deal to restrain Iran’s nuclear program, but the sides have not agreed on which steps need to be taken and when.
Iran denied it wants to acquire nuclear weapons.


South Africa arrests 56 for taking Cabinet ministers hostage

South Africa arrests 56 for taking Cabinet ministers hostage
Updated 15 October 2021

South Africa arrests 56 for taking Cabinet ministers hostage

South Africa arrests 56 for taking Cabinet ministers hostage
  • The ministers were held hostage for three hours when a meeting with military veterans of the fight against apartheid ended in disagreement
  • Police tried to negotiate with the hostage-takers and when that failed they “resorted to a tactical approach and successfully rescued the hostages,”

CAPE TOWN, South Africa: South African police said Friday they have arrested 56 people who will likely face charges of kidnapping after two government Cabinet ministers and a deputy minister.
The ministers were held hostage for three hours when a meeting with military veterans of the fight against apartheid ended in disagreement.
Police were called to a hotel in the Centurion area near the capital Pretoria on Thursday night to rescue Defense and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise, her deputy minister Thabang Makwetla, and Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele, who had been meeting with veterans of various groups that were part of the armed struggle which started in the 1960s against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The meeting broke down quickly and the three government officials were prevented from leaving the room by some of the veterans, Gungubele said.
Police tried to negotiate with the hostage-takers and when that failed they “resorted to a tactical approach and successfully rescued the hostages,” the South African Police Services said. Police said no shots were fired in the operation, denying allegations by some veterans that they were shot at. Three of the people who were arrested were sent for medical checkups, police said. Of the 56 arrested, seven were women.
Gungubele said the meeting was an attempt to address the grievances of the veterans’ groups, who want, among other things, cash payouts and housing and medical benefits for their service during the fight for democracy in South Africa more than 25 years ago.
The veterans’ latest demand is that they should each be paid the equivalent of $270,000 and receive other benefits. The meeting was called off almost as soon as it started, Gungubele said.
“As we were leaving the meeting, proceeding to the doors, they (the veterans) closed the doors,” he said. “It is at that point when we realized that we’re held hostage. It’s a situation that was averted by the security forces, very effectively and successfully.”
In a statement, the South African government conceded its discussions with the veterans’ groups had been “difficult” but “there was no reason for this group to act in an unlawful manner.”
The military veterans’ groups say they’ve been ignored by the ruling African National Congress party in South Africa despite their role in helping to overthrow the apartheid government and end white minority rule, paving the way for the ANC to win the first democratic elections in 1994. The ANC has been in government since then.
But the veterans’ groups have faced criticism themselves, for allegedly being infiltrated by some who were not involved in the fight for democracy and for demanding rewards not available to ordinary South Africans who also fought against apartheid.
Numerous callers to a radio talk show on Friday said that it was popular uprisings like the Sharpeville protests of 1960 and the Soweto student demonstrations of 1976 that focused the world’s attention on the brutalities of the apartheid system and helped end it. They said it was often ordinary men, women and even children who defied security forces and put themselves in deadly danger to protest.


British politician Sir David Amess dies after being stabbed multiple times

Conservative MP for Southend West, David Amess, posing for an official portrait photograph at the Houses of Parliament. (AFP/Richard Townshend/UK Parliament)
Conservative MP for Southend West, David Amess, posing for an official portrait photograph at the Houses of Parliament. (AFP/Richard Townshend/UK Parliament)
Updated 15 October 2021

British politician Sir David Amess dies after being stabbed multiple times

Conservative MP for Southend West, David Amess, posing for an official portrait photograph at the Houses of Parliament. (AFP/Richard Townshend/UK Parliament)
  • Police said a man had been arrested after a stabbing

LONDON: British Conservative lawmaker David Amess has died after being stabbed Friday during a meeting with constituents at a church in eastern England. A 25-year-old man has been arrested.

The Essex Police force said officers were called to reports of a stabbing in Leigh-on-Sea just after noon Friday. It said “a man was arrested and a knife recovered.”

“We are not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident and do not believe there is an ongoing threat to the wider public,” police said.

The force said later that a man injured in the stabbing had died. It did not release his name. The suspect is being being held on suspicion of murder, police said.

“He was treated by emergency services but, sadly, died at the scene,” police said.

“A 25-year-old man was quickly arrested after officers arrived at the scene on suspicion of murder and a knife was recovered.”

Sky News and others said Amess was attacked during a regular meeting with constituents at Belfairs Methodist Church in a residential area of Leigh-on-Sea, a seaside town east of London.

Aerial footage showed several ambulances and an air ambulance was waiting nearby to the church.

John Lamb, a local councilor, said Amess had not been taken to hospital more than two hours after the attack and the situation was “extremely serious.”

Amess, 69, had been a member of Parliament for Southend West, which includes Leigh-on-Sea, since 1997, but has been a lawmaker since 1983. He was a well-liked member of Parliament, best known for his ceaseless campaign to have Southend declared a city.

Politicians from across the political spectrum expressed shock at initial reports of the stabbing. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer tweeted that it was “Horrific and deeply shocking news. Thinking of David, his family and his staff.”

Former Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, tweeted: “Very alarming and worrying news reports coming from Leigh-on-Sea. My thoughts and prayers are with Sir David Amess and his family.”

Violence against British politicians is rare, but in June 2016 Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox was fatally stabbed and shot in her northern England constituency. A far-right extremist was convicted of her murder.

Cox’s widower, Brendan Cox, tweeted: “Attacking our elected representatives is an attack on democracy itself. There is no excuse, no justification. It is as cowardly as it gets.”

British lawmakers are protected by armed police when they are inside Parliament, but have no such protection in their constituencies. Amess published the times and locations of his open meetings with constituents on his website.

Two other British lawmakers have been attacked this century during their “surgeries,” regular meetings where constituents can present concerns and complaints.

Labour legislator Stephen Timms was stabbed in the stomach and injured in May 2010 by a female student radicalized by online sermons from an Al-Qaeda-linked preacher.

In 2000, Liberal Democrat lawmaker Nigel Jones and his aide Andrew Pennington were attacked by a man wielding a sword during such a meeting. Pennington was killed and Jones injured in the attack in Cheltenham, England.

* With AP and Reuters