Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city

Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city
Women react as students evacuate a building of the Perm university campus in Perm on Monday following a shooting. A student opened fire on campus killing at least 8 people in the 2nd mass shooting at an education facility this year. (AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2021

Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city

Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city
  • The attack , one of the worst in recent Russian history, has left Urals city of around one million people reeling from shock
  • School shootings are relatively unusual in Russia due to tight security at education facilities

PERM, Russia: Yuri Aydarov was about to start an algorithms class at his university in the central Russian city of Perm when he heard people running in the corridor.
Then he saw a gunman.
Aydarov, a lecturer at Perm State University, was one of the witnesses of a shooting spree in which an 18-year-old student killed six people and wounded nearly 30 on campus on Monday morning.
The attack — one of the worst in recent Russian history — has left the Urals city of around one million people reeling from shock.
Aydarov was able to protect his students by telling them to stay away from windows and forcing the auditorium doors shut with the help of a colleague.
He saw the black-clad shooter — identified as Timur Bekmansurov — walk by his auditorium through a window, saying he was wearing a “sort of helmet.”
“We stayed quiet,” Aydarov told AFP.
All 17 students and staff members who locked themselves in Aydarov’s auditorium survived.
Most of Bekmansurov’s victims — mostly aged between 18 and 25 — died in the corridor just outside.
After a day marred by chaos, staff and students at the university struggled to make sense of the violence.
Aydarov said that teachers from “around the world” who have survived similar ordeals have been reaching out to him on social media and it really “helps” him.
School shootings are relatively unusual in Russia due to tight security at education facilities and because it is difficult to buy firearms.
But the country has seen an increase in school attacks in recent years.
With lectures at the university canceled on Tuesday, students slowly emerged late from their dorms, traumatized by the mass shooting.
Holding back tears, they laid red carnations at a makeshift memorial at the gates of the university that they walk through every day.
Some recalled finding out there was an attacker in the building from social media, and not believing it before hearing shots.
Others were anxiously awaiting news from wounded classmates, with several of the most seriously injured airlifted some 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) west for further treatment in Moscow.
The deans of all of the city’s universities also laid flowers at the gates of the campus in a show of solidarity.
“We feel support from the whole of Russia and that really helps,” said politics lecturer Ksenia Punina.
The attacker lay in a hospital across town, heavily injured during his detention. He was reportedly on a ventilator and had his leg amputated.
In May, another teenage gunman killed nine people in a school in Kazan, which lies between Perm and Moscow.
“When this happened in Kazan, I thought this could never happen here in Perm, it’s always calm here,” said medicine student Maria Denisova.
In recent years, similar attacks also took place in Moscow-annexed Crimea and the far eastern city of Blagoveshchensk.
On the day of the Kazan attack, President Vladimir Putin called for a review of gun control laws.
But some in Perm said more should be done to prevent gun violence.
“If it’s so easy for a boy to get hold of (a gun), I think it should be stricter,” said 20-year-old Denisova.
The head of the chemistry department, Irina Moshevskaya, said violence was a “systemic problem in our society,” blaming it on popular online culture.
Just opposite the heavily guarded campus is a shop selling hunting guns. It was closed on the day after the attack.
Moshevskaya said that staff were able to lock students inside science labs, avoiding more deaths.
One chemistry lecturer “used her laptop bag to make sure her auditorium’s doors were tightly shut,” she said.
Some students complained that one lecturer had continued his class despite being told an active gunman was in the building.
On the other side of the city, dozens queued at a blood donation center, responding to calls on social media to help the victims.
Most people in Perm praised the quick response of everyone on the campus.
“From first-aid nurses to senior university staff, everyone rose to the occasion,” said engineering lecturer and former policeman Aleksei Repyakh.


Eswatini bans protests as African mediation begins

Eswatini bans protests as African mediation begins
Updated 9 sec ago

Eswatini bans protests as African mediation begins

Eswatini bans protests as African mediation begins
  • At least 30 health workers were treated for gunshot injuries, the nurses’ union said
  • At least 30 people have died since June in some of the worst unrest in the southern African country’s history

MANZINI, Eswatini: Africa’s last absolute monarchy Eswatini on Thursday banned protests as regional mediators landed in the kingdom amid rumbling pro-democracy demonstrations.
A demonstrator died in hospital on Thursday from gunshot wounds suffered the day before when security forces opened fire on a protest, according to unions.
At least 30 health workers were treated for gunshot injuries, the nurses’ union said.
Railways workers led new protests on Thursday in the kingdom formerly known as Swaziland.
“Due to the spate of violent cases during protests, I have stopped all city and town municipals from issuing permits to hold protests,” Public Works Minister Prince Simelane told a news conference.
Internet access was limited, with Facebook completely shut off for a second day.
“Images that are coming from Eswatini are very disturbing indeed, and we can see that the political temperature is very hot,” Jeff Radebe, head of the mediators sent to the country by the 16-nation Southern African Development Community, told South Africa’s public broadcaster.
The Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union said in a statement that nurses and other workers who had converged on a public park in Mbabane, “were met with unprecedented show of force by the police and the army.”
“They were brutally dispersed and scattered all over the capital. As they were running, they were shot with live ammunition.”
The 30 injured were among more than 80 reported hurt on Wednesday in pro-democracy protests that have flared nationwide.
Radebe said the kingdom’s “issues are very complex,” and the team was “going there with an open mind, ensuring that we hear all views, so that at the end of the day the people of Eswatini... come up with a lasting solution.”
The latest flare-up in demonstrations has run for more than two weeks, spearheaded by students, civil servants and transport workers.
King Mswati III is Africa’s last absolute monarch, who enjoys flaunting his wealth and showering his 15 wives with lavish gifts.
Yet he rules over one of the poorest countries in the world, where nearly two-thirds of the population lives in poverty and a quarter of adults have HIV.

In a statement, the Communist Party of Swaziland said the situation at the largest government hospital in Mbabane on Wednesday resembled a “war zone.”
Hospital floors were “drenched in blood,” said the party, adding that police “invaded the hospital, shooting even nurses as they attended to the injured, worsening the situation.”
The nurse’s union said security forces kept shooting at nurses into the evening, even as they were traveling to work night shifts at hospitals.
“Clearly these blood-thirsty imbeciles, brood of vipers are hell-bent to kill nurses and the nation in defense of an ailing government,” the union said, calling on members not to treat any injured soldiers or police.
Five high-school students arrested during protests were arraigned on terrorism charges on Thursday for their role in the democracy push. Prosecutors accused them of burning down a police post.
At least 30 people have died since June in some of the worst unrest in the southern African country’s history.
 


Biden says US would come to Taiwan’s defense if attacked

Biden says US would come to Taiwan’s defense if attacked
Updated 34 min 57 sec ago

Biden says US would come to Taiwan’s defense if attacked

Biden says US would come to Taiwan’s defense if attacked

BALTIMORE, Maryland: US President Joe Biden said on Thursday the US would come to Taiwan’s defense and had a commitment to defend the island China claims as its own territory.
“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Biden said at a CNN town hall when asked if the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense. 


Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline

Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline
Updated 22 October 2021

Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline

Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline
  • Law enforcement and intelligence cyber specialists were able to hack REvil's computer network infrastructure, obtaining control of at least some of their servers
  • One person familiar with the events said that a foreign partner of the US government carried out the hacking operation that penetrated REvil's computer architecture

The ransomware group REvil was itself hacked and forced offline this week by a multi-country operation, according to three private sector cyber experts working with the United States and one former official.
Former partners and associates of the Russian-led criminal gang were responsible for a May cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline that led to widespread gas shortages on the US East Coast. REvil's direct victims include top meatpacker JBS. The crime group's "Happy Blog” website, which had been used to leak victim data and extort companies, is no longer available.
Officials said the Colonial attack used encryption software called DarkSide, which was developed by REvil associates.
VMWare head of cybersecurity strategy Tom Kellermann said law enforcement and intelligence personnel stopped the group from victimizing additional companies.
"The FBI, in conjunction with Cyber Command, the Secret Service and like-minded countries, have truly engaged in significant disruptive actions against these groups,” said Kellermann, an adviser to the US Secret Service on cybercrime investigations. “REvil was top of the list.”
A leadership figure known as "0_neday," who had helped restart the group's operations after an earlier shutdown, said REvil's servers had been hacked by an unnamed party.
"The server was compromised, and they were looking for me," 0_neday wrote on a cybercrime forum last weekend and first spotted by security firm Recorded Future. "Good luck, everyone; I'm off."
US government attempts to stop REvil, one of the worst of dozens of ransomware gangs that work with hackers to penetrate and paralyze companies around the world, accelerated after the group compromised US software management company Kaseya in July. 
That breach opened access to hundreds of Kaseya's customers all at once, leading to numerous emergency cyber incident response calls.

Decryption key
Following the attack on Kaseya, the FBI obtained a universal decryption key that allowed those infected via Kaseya to recover their files without paying a ransom.
But law enforcement officials initially withheld the key for weeks as it quietly pursued REvil's staff, the FBI later acknowledged. 
According to three people familiar with the matter, law enforcement and intelligence cyber specialists were able to hack REvil's computer network infrastructure, obtaining control of at least some of their servers.
After websites that the hacker group used to conduct business went offline in July, the main spokesman for the group, who calls himself "Unknown," vanished from the internet.
When gang member 0_neday and others restored those websites from a backup last month, he unknowingly restarted some internal systems that were already controlled by law enforcement.
“The REvil ransomware gang restored the infrastructure from the backups under the assumption that they had not been compromised,” said Oleg Skulkin, deputy head of the forensics lab at the Russian-led security company Group-IB. “Ironically, the gang's own favorite tactic of compromising the backups was turned against them.”
Reliable backups are one of the most important defenses against ransomware attacks, but they must be kept unconnected from the main networks or they too can be encrypted by extortionists such as REvil.
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council declined to comment on the operation specifically.
"Broadly speaking, we are undertaking a whole of government ransomware effort, including disruption of ransomware infrastructure and actors, working with the private sector to modernize our defenses, and building an international coalition to hold countries who harbor ransom actors accountable," the person said.
The FBI declined to comment.
One person familiar with the events said that a foreign partner of the US government carried out the hacking operation that penetrated REvil's computer architecture. A former US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the operation is still active.
The success stems from a determination by US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco that ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure should be treated as a national security issue akin to terrorism, Kellermann said.
In June, Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General John Carlin told Reuters the Justice Department was elevating investigations of ransomware attacks to a similar priority.
Such actions gave the Justice Department and other agencies a legal basis to get help from US intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense, Kellermann said.
"Before, you couldn't hack into these forums, and the military didn't want to have anything to do with it. Since then, the gloves have come off." 


India marks administering more than 1bn COVID-19 jabs

India marks administering more than 1bn COVID-19 jabs
Updated 22 October 2021

India marks administering more than 1bn COVID-19 jabs

India marks administering more than 1bn COVID-19 jabs
  • PM Narendra Modi hails achievement as ‘triumph of Indian science’

NEW DELHI: India on Thursday hailed administering 1 billion coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine doses as a milestone in its fight against the Delta variant of the virus that caused a deadly surge earlier this year.
The country started its immunization drive in January with two Indian-made vaccines — Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and locally developed Covaxin produced by the Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech — and plans to fully vaccinate 944 million of its adult population by the year’s end.
COVID-19 cases have recently fallen sharply in India since a devastating second wave of infections between March and May claimed the lives of more than 450,000 people, when the highly transmissible Delta variant, first detected in India a year ago, was infecting hundreds of thousands daily.
While only 30 percent have so far been fully vaccinated with two vaccine doses, the 1 billion mark was welcomed by the government as a “triumph.”
In a tweet on Thursday, as he marked the occasion with a visit to a government hospital in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “India scripts history. We are witnessing the triumph of Indian science, enterprise, and the collective spirit of 130 crore (1.3 billion) Indians. Congrats India on crossing 100 crore vaccinations.”
The PM also expressed his “gratitude to our doctors, nurses, and all those who worked to achieve this feat.”
Dr. Vinod Kumar Paul, the man in charge of India’s vaccination drive, described the 1 billion jabs mark as “an achievement” and highlighted the consistency in the vaccination drive. “It’s remarkable to reach the 1 billion dose mark for any nation, an achievement in just over nine months since the vaccination program started in India,” he said in a tweet.
To mark the achievement, the government was holding a series of cultural events throughout the country.
However, some health experts warned that only fully vaccinated people were protected from COVID-19.
Prof. Rama Baru, from Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Center of Social Medicine and Community in New Delhi, told Arab News: “The completion of two doses for protection from the virus has not yet been achieved. And coverage of the second dose is very poor in relatively poor states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
“If you look at the age-related data, we still have 18-plus population in several rural areas like Uttar and Bihar who have not got the first shot yet.
“Besides the vaccination drive the focus should also have been on the drastic improvement of the public health infrastructure. After the second wave you would have expected the government to enhance its investment in the public health service, but in fact that has not happened,” she said.


Duterte thanks Saudi Arabia for hospitality, support for Filipinos

Duterte thanks Saudi Arabia for hospitality, support for Filipinos
Updated 22 October 2021

Duterte thanks Saudi Arabia for hospitality, support for Filipinos

Duterte thanks Saudi Arabia for hospitality, support for Filipinos

MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte thanked Saudi Arabia for its hospitality toward Filipinos in the Kingdom, as he welcomed the new Saudi ambassador to Manila.
The new Saudi envoy, Hisham bin Sultan Al-Qahtani, presented his credentials to the Philippine president on Wednesday.
“I thank the Saudi Arabian government for the hospitality extended to the almost a million Filipinos in the Kingdom, including the free COVID-19 vaccination offered by your government,” Duterte told the envoy during a livestreamed ceremony at the presidential palace, Malacanang.
He also expressed his gratitude to Saudi authorities for repatriating hundreds of overseas Filipino workers stranded in the Kingdom by the coronavirus disease pandemic.
“The repatriation of the 645 distressed Filipinos in June shows the continuing partnership between our countries in upholding the welfare of OFWs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am hopeful that Your Excellency will continue to strengthen this most important pillar of our bilateral relations,” Duterte said.
He added he was also looking forward to expanding cooperation with Saudi Arabia, particularly in trade and investment during Al-Qahtani’s tenure.
“We hope to improve the bilateral trade and investment exchanges as well as the transportation and travel cooperation between the Philippines and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during your tenure,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has been providing aid to the Philippines to help it fight the pandemic and also to rebuild Marawi City, and Duterte conveyed his appreciation for the support.
“I convey my appreciation for the pledge of support for our efforts against COVID-19 and in the rehabilitation of Marawi City,” he said.
Marawi, a predominantly Muslim lakeside town on the island of Mindanao, was taken by pro-Daesh militants in May 2017 and suffered widespread damage during five months of fighting as government forces tried to regain control. The conflict between government forces and the militants left at least 1,200 people dead, while the once-bustling city was flattened, displacing more than 100,000 residents.
As he presented his credentials, the Saudi envoy vowed to take Philippine-Saudi ties to a new height.
“During my term, I would exert my efforts to expand and deepen friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation, enhance the mutual understanding and friendship between the governments and the peoples, and bring the relations of the Philippines and Saudi Arabia to a new height,” Al-Qahtani told Duterte.
Al-Qahtani’s appointment comes as Manila and Riyadh celebrate 52 years of diplomatic relations on Sunday.
Aside from Al-Qahtani, Duterte also received the credentials of the new ambassadors of the UK, UAE, Italy, Sweden, Israel, and Malta.