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.


Tigray residents describe difficult life under siege

Tigray residents describe difficult life under siege
Updated 17 October 2021

Tigray residents describe difficult life under siege

Tigray residents describe difficult life under siege
  • In rural areas, life is even grimmer as thousands of people survive on wild cactus fruit or sell the meager aid they receive

NAIROBI: As food and the means to buy it dwindled in a city under siege, the young mother felt she could do no more. She killed herself, unable to feed her children.

In a Catholic church across town, flour and oil to make communion wafers will soon run out. And the flagship hospital in Mekele, the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, wrestles with whether to give patients the expired medications that remain. Its soap and bleach are gone.

A year of war and months of government-enforced deprivation have left the city of a half-million people with rapidly shrinking stocks of food, fuel, medicine and cash. In rural areas, life is even grimmer as thousands of people survive on wild cactus fruit or sell the meager aid they receive. Man-made famine, the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade, has begun.

Despite the severing of almost all communication with the outside world, The Associated Press drew on a dozen interviews with people inside Mekele, along with internal aid documents, for the most detailed picture yet of life under the Ethiopian government’s blockade of the Tigray region’s 6 million people.

Amid sputtering electricity supplies, Mekele is often lit by candles that many people can’t afford. Shops and streets are emptying, and cooking oil and baby formula are running out. People from rural areas and civil servants who have gone unpaid for months have swelled the ranks of beggars. People are thinner. Funeral announcements on the radio have increased.

“The coming weeks will make or break the situation here,” said Mengstu Hailu, vice president for research at Mekele University, where the mother who killed herself worked.

He told the AP about his colleague’s suicide last month as well as the deaths of two acquaintances from hunger and a death from lack of medication. “Are people going to die in the hundreds and thousands?”
he asked.

Pleas from the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and African nations for the warring sides to stop the fighting have failed, even as the US threatens new sanctions targeting individuals in Africa’s second-most populous nation.

Instead, a new offensive by Ethiopian and allied forces has begun in an attempt to crush the Tigray fighters who dominated the national government for nearly three decades before being sidelined by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Ethiopia is one of the top recipients of US humanitarian aid. The government in Addis Ababa, fearing the assistance will end up supporting Tigray forces, imposed the blockade in June after the fighters retook much of Tigray, then brought the war into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions. Hundreds of thousands are now displaced there, widening the humanitarian crisis.

After the AP last month reported the first starvation deaths under the blockade, and the UN humanitarian chief called Ethiopia a “stain on our conscience,” the government expelled seven UN officials, accusing them of falsely inflating the scale of the crisis. The expulsions were “unprecedented and disturbing,” the US said.

Just 14% of needed aid has entered Tigray since the blockade began, according to the UN, and no medicine at all.

“There is no other way to define what is happening to the people of Tigray than by ethnic cleansing,” InterAction, an alliance of international aid groups, said this month of the conflict marked by mass detentions, expulsions and gang-rapes.

“The Tigrayan population of 6 million face mass starvation now,” former UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock wrote in a separate statement.

In response to questions, the spokesperson for the Ethiopian prime minister’s office, Billene Seyoum, again blamed Tigray forces for aid disruptions and asserted “the government has worked relentlessly to ensure humanitarian aid reaches those in need.” She did not say when basic services would be allowed to Tigray.

At Tigray’s flagship Ayder referral hospital, Dr. Sintayehu Misgina, a surgeon and the vice chief medical director, watches in horror.

Patients sometimes go without food, and haven’t had meat, eggs or milk since June. Fuel to run ambulances has run out. A diesel generator powers equipment for emergency surgeries only when fuel is available.

“God have mercy for those who come when it’s off,” he said.

No help is in sight. A World Health Organization staffer told Sintayehu there was nothing left to give, even though a warehouse in neighbouring Afar was full of life-saving aid.

Scores of badly malnourished and ill children have come to the hospital in recent weeks. Not all have survived.

“There are no drugs,” said Mizan Wolde, the mother of a 5-year-old patient. Mehari Tesfa despaired for his 4-year-old daughter, who has a brain abscess and is wasting away.

“It’s been three months since she came here,” he said. “She was doing OK, then the medication ceased. She is now taking only oxygen, nothing else.”

Across Tigray, the number of children hospitalized for severe acute malnutrition has surged, according to the UN children’s agency — 18,600 from February to August, compared to 8,900 in 2020. The UN says hospitals outside of Mekele have run out of nutrition supplies to treat them.


Afghans demand resumption of Pakistan flights at pre-Taliban fare

Afghans demand resumption of Pakistan flights at pre-Taliban fare
Updated 17 October 2021

Afghans demand resumption of Pakistan flights at pre-Taliban fare

Afghans demand resumption of Pakistan flights at pre-Taliban fare
  • Taliban order airline to adjust its ticket prices for Kabul-Islamabad flights
  • Travel to Pakistan crucial for many Afghans in need of lifesaving treatment that is unavailable in Afghanistan

KABUL: Afghan citizens and government officials said on Saturday they are hopeful Pakistan International Airlines would soon resume its Kabul operations at the cheaper fares it offered before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.

PIA resumed special flights from Kabul to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, after the Taliban seized power in mid-August, serving as a lifeline for many Afghans trying to flee the new regime and economic crisis or seek treatment in Pakistan, as they used to before.

But with most airlines no longer flying to Afghanistan, tickets for PIA flights have spiraled out of the reach of most Afghans, selling for as much as $2,500, according to travel agents in Kabul, compared with $120-$150 before the Taliban takeover.

Earlier this week, the Taliban Transportation Ministry issued a statement ordering the airline to “adjust the price of tickets for Kabul-Islamabad flights to the ticket standard set before the victory of the Islamic Emirate.” Otherwise, the ministry said, “they will not be permitted to run their operations from Kabul airport.”

Following the statement, PIA said it had suspended flights to Kabul over the “unprofessional attitude” of Taliban authorities.

“We hope PIA will understand and act according to the demand of Islamic Emirate Transport and Aviation Ministry,” Bilal Karimi, spokesman and member of the Taliban cultural commission, told Arab News on Saturday.

“What we are looking for is to provide the means to ordinary Afghans who want to go to Pakistan but who do not have the budget to do so.”

Ordinary Afghans are hopeful that flights will soon be available at affordable fares. For some, travel to Pakistan is necessary for lifesaving treatment that in many cases is unavailable in Afghanistan, where healthcare infrastructure is largely fragile and inadequate for more complex medical interventions.

Abdul Ali Hussaini arrived in Kabul last week to bring his injured brother to Pakistan for urgent surgery after a deadly Daesh attack in the northern city of Kunduz on Oct. 8.

“I brought my brother to Kabul after the attack occurred. He is in an emergency hospital. The doctors told me that for further treatment he should be transferred to Pakistan,” he told Arab News. “The suspension of flights and the high rate of tickets are a problem. We hope that flights resume and that we can buy tickets at a cheaper price.”

Ataullah, 35, arrived in Kabul from Helmand province to travel with his mother, a leukemia patient, for urgent treatment in Pakistan.

“I was asked $2,500 for each ticket,” he said. “I tried very hard to get my mother to Pakistan as soon as possible. I do not know what to do. I am hoping for a miracle.”

Mohammed Rashad from Kabul said he had received a scholarship from an Italian university but had been unable to travel due to PIA’s impossibly high flight prices.

“I have 15 days to go to Islamabad and, from there, travel to Italy,” the 26-year-old told Arab News. “I will miss this opportunity.”

Sayed, who works for a foreign agency in Afghanistan, wants to leave the country with his family and is now trying to reach Islamabad. Still, the blocking of PIA flights to Kabul has posed a serious challenge to him.

“One of the embassies operating in Islamabad has sent my family and me our visas. They asked me to come to Pakistan within a week,” he said. “The delay in my trip to Pakistan has now become a major problem for us and has multiplied my security fears here in Kabul.”

While PIA has earlier said its Afghanistan operations are “not very lucrative financially” as it faces “difficult circumstances” at Kabul airport, some Afghan experts say high demand has allowed the carrier to impose skyrocketing fares.  

“Demand for travel to Islamabad has increased,” Sayed Massoud, economics professor from Kabul University, told Arab News. “Everyone is trying to get to Islamabad as soon as possible and from there to another place. PIA is trying to monopolize flights to Islamabad to make more money.”

While PIA has not announced whether and when it is going to resume its Afghanistan flights, the airline’s representative in Kabul, Ahmad Salim Rohani, said he is hopeful it will soon return to its operations with more affordable fares.

“Once the flights resume, we hope that tickets will return to lower prices,” he said.

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Gems add extra sparkle to Pakistani artist’s rare craft

Gems add extra sparkle to Pakistani artist’s rare craft
Updated 17 October 2021

Gems add extra sparkle to Pakistani artist’s rare craft

Gems add extra sparkle to Pakistani artist’s rare craft
  • Reki’s distinctive creations have attracted much attention on social media, and several pieces have already sold

QUETTA: When Barishna Reki was thinking of ideas for her senior thesis as she completed a fine arts degree in 2019, she wanted to work on a project that would one day help to transform her passion for painting into a financially viable career.

Reki, now 25, who hails from the remote town of Mashkail in southwestern Balochistan province and graduated from Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University two years ago, came up with the idea of using traditional Baloch jewelry to add an extra sparkle to her canvases.

The project that she submitted as part of her coursework has now become her life’s work. Reki’s creations, which combine painting and jewelry like a sumptuous, gilded embrace in a Gustav Klimt painting, have attracted much attention on social media.

What’s more, she has sold four pieces, one of them for 175,000 rupees ($1,000) to leading Pakistani actress Zeba Bakhtiar. Another creation is on sale for 275,000 rupees at a mall in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan.

Last year, Reki also set up her own shop, Charisma Studios, which has become a space of passion and business for other women artists from Balochistan who want to make a living out of their art.

In this impoverished province — Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province in terms of land area but its least populous and underdeveloped — this is no small achievement for a 25-year-old woman. Less than 10 percent women in the region currently own their own businesses, according to the Balochistan Women’s Business Association.

“I was creative since my childhood but I never intended to become an artist because my parents wanted me to be a doctor or an engineer,” she told Arab News.

Though Reki knew how hard the journey ahead would be and how few opportunities a career in art offered, she was not deterred.

“When I was doing my thesis, I resolved to do something different and creative for the people of Balochistan.”

Reki recently completed 15 pieces in different sizes, the largest 2.4 by 1.2 meters, using natural precious and semi-precious stones and ornamental buttons combined with watercolors and oil paints. Some pieces use old jewelry given by her mother. Others employ ornamental artificial pieces purchased from friends or local junkyards in Quetta.

“From the beginning I wanted to work on a massive scale,” Reki said. Her first mixed-media art piece was almost three meters tall and took three months to complete.

Aiman Islam, 28, a design consultant at Charisma Studio, said she saw Reki’s work on a social media website three months ago and was inspired to contact her.

“I had expertise in design consultancy and couldn’t get a proper job in Quetta, but now under Charisma Studio’s umbrella, I have been working on three projects which I hope will be beneficial for jobless artists in the province,” Islam said.

Amina Malik Mengal, 24, who trained in biochemistry, said she used to practice calligraphy at school but abandoned the idea of becoming a professional artist because of a lack of professional prospects.

“But after meeting Barishna Reki and getting to know about Charisma Studio, I am reviving my passion along with other artists,” Mengal said. “There are many versatile artists in Balochistan who are looking for assistance and appreciation.”

Muhaddisa Batool, 30, completed her graduation in fine arts in 2015 but never got an opportunity to pursue her passion. Through Charisma Studios, however, she had gotten two orders for pencil sketches, which she sold in September. “Now I am looking for more orders,” Batool said.

Reki said she was grateful and happy to be able to help struggling artists in Balochistan. In this spirit, she has published a book titled “Charismas” that she described as a self-help guide for young people in Balochistan who have lost hope due to a lack of creative opportunities.

Muhammad Asif Kasi, a painter and sculptor in Balochistan with more than 24 years’ experience, said Reki’s craft was “rare.”

“Instead of using more colors on canvas, Barishna has used jewelry, which is an exclusive idea,” Kasi said, adding that he hoped that Reki would keep pursuing her passion and inspire other women in Balochistan to do so as well.


Muslims in Southend, southeast England condemn ‘brutal’ murder of British politician

Muslims in Southend, southeast England condemn ‘brutal’ murder of British politician
Updated 16 October 2021

Muslims in Southend, southeast England condemn ‘brutal’ murder of British politician

Muslims in Southend, southeast England condemn ‘brutal’ murder of British politician
  • A statement issued by Southend mosques said that Sir David’s killing was “an indefensible atrocity”
  • The MP was praised for his “warmth, selflessness and kindness”

LONDON: The murder of MP Sir David Amess has been strongly condemned in a joint statement issued by all of Southend’s mosques as a “brutal and senseless killing.”

The statement said that Sir David’s killing was “an indefensible atrocity” committed in the name of “blind hatred, and we look forward to the perpetrator being brought to justice.”

Veteran Conservative MP David Amess, 69, was talking with constituents at a church in the small town of Leigh-on-Sea, east of London, when he was stabbed to death on Friday.

Police said they arrested a 25-year-old suspect and were investigating “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.”

The fatal stabbing has “been declared as a terrorist incident, with the investigation being led by Counter Terrorism Policing,” the police said in a statement.

The MP was described as a “tremendous force for good and pillar of support for our community” by the Joint Secretary of Essex Jamme Masjid Ruhul Shamsuddin.

“This was senseless violence against a truly wonderful man. It’s an honour to say I’ve known him my whole life. I’ve lost not just a community leader, but a family friend and mentor, Shamsuddin said. 

The Imam of UKIM Southend Mosque Iftikhar Ul Haq and its president, Dr Arshad Ghori, praised Sir David for being “always reachable“ and for his “great compassion for communities.”

They added: “He will be greatly missed by us at UKIM Southend Mosque and the community in Southend. We strongly condemn this brutal murder and hope the perpetrator be swiftly brought to justice.”

The statement paid tribute to Sir David’s “warmth, selflessness and kindness,” adding that he had joined the local Muslim community as it celebrated its achievements over the years. 

“He graced us with his presence at the opening of the Essex Jamme Masjid in 2008 and 2014. He took part in the launch of Southend-on-Sea’s first Muslim Scout group,” it added.

“He shared in our happiness, by attending our weddings and functions and he was there for us in our times of need. We will all miss him dearly.”


6 combatants, 2 workers killed in fresh violence in Kashmir

6 combatants, 2 workers killed in fresh violence in Kashmir
Updated 16 October 2021

6 combatants, 2 workers killed in fresh violence in Kashmir

6 combatants, 2 workers killed in fresh violence in Kashmir
  • Police blamed militants fighting against Indian rule for the Saturday attacks in the region’s main city and a village in southern Kashmir
  • Following the spate of killings last week, authorities have detained over 1,000 people in a sweeping crackdown across the Kashmir Valley

SRINAGAR, India: Assailants fatally shot two non-local workers in two targeted attacks in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Saturday night, police said, days after five people were killed in a similar fashion in the disputed region.
The killing comes hours after police said government forces killed four suspected militants in the last 24 hours and claimed three of them were involved in last week’s killings of three members of minority communities.
Police blamed militants fighting against Indian rule for the Saturday attacks in the region’s main city and a village in southern Kashmir and called the killings “terror attacks.”
In a first incident in Srinagar, police said militants fired at a Hindu street vendor from India’s eastern state of Bihar. He died on the spot, police said.
An hour later, a Muslim worker from northern Uttar Pradesh state was shot and critically wounded in southern Litter village of Pulwama district. Police said he later died at a hospital.
Last week, assailants fatally shot three Hindus, a Sikh woman and a local Muslim taxi driver in the region in a sudden rise in violence against civilians that both pro- and anti-India Kashmiri politicians widely condemned.
Also Saturday, two militants were killed in a gunfight with government forces in southern Pampore area, police said. Another two rebels were killed in two separate gunbattles with Indian troops in Srinagar and southern Pulwama district on Friday.
Police said three among the slain rebels were involved in the killings of prominent local Hindu chemist and two schoolteachers of Hindu and Sikh faiths.
Following the spate of killings last week, authorities have detained over 1,000 people in a sweeping crackdown across the Kashmir Valley.
Meanwhile, the Indian army said the death toll in a gunfight with rebels that raged on Thursday in a forested area of southern Mendhar town climbed to four as troops Saturday recovered the bodies of two soldiers missing in action.
On Monday, five Indian soldiers were killed in the deadliest gunbattle with militants this year in contiguous forested area of Surankote town.
Lt. Col. Devender Anand, an Indian army spokesman, said troops continued with search operations in both the areas.
India and Pakistan claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety.
Rebels in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India insists the Kashmir militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.