British Somalis met with hatred and abuse after murder of MP

British Somalis met with hatred and abuse after murder of MP
Young women at a Somali community gathering in London. (Wikimedia Commons)
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Updated 20 October 2021

British Somalis met with hatred and abuse after murder of MP

British Somalis met with hatred and abuse after murder of MP
  • A Somali community center in London has moved its activities online over backlash fears
  • Attacks on the community began almost as soon as the identity of the killer was revealed

LONDON: British Somalis have received heightened death threats and abuse following the murder of an MP at the hands of a British man of Somalian origin, community leaders have said.

Community centers for British Somalis have been forced to close and residents have received abuse and physical attacks such as throwing things after lone suspect Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was arrested after the murder of Sir David Amess.

Police are continuing to question him over the stabbing, which has been declared terrorism-related.

Kahiye Alim, director of the Council of Somali Organisations, told The Times newspaper that the attacks began almost as soon as Ali was identified as the alleged attacker.

“We’ve heard reports of people being verbally abused on the tube (London’s metro rail) and the street, being told to ‘go back home’ and called ‘terrorist,’” Alim said.

He continued: “Some of our members have received death threats by email and had things thrown at their windows. We are a very distinct and recognizable group and very much in the fabric of British high streets.”

One Somali community center in London has decided to close its doors and operate online until further notice.

Alim said he understood that Ali's connections with Somalia were “very little” and that he had “probably never been” to the country. He said he was part of a “lost” generation of British Somalis whose parents “live on the myth of return.”

The attacker was born in the UK after his father — who had worked closely with the Somalian government while in the East African country — came to Britain in 1996.

There are at least 100,000 British Somalis in the UK, with the majority based in London. They are predominantly Muslim.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has announced guidance to help British Somalis and the wider Muslim community deal with hatred and abuse following the attack.

Zara Mohammed, the MCB’s secretary-general, said mosques in and around Southend, where Sir David was an MP, were devastated by his murder and that he was regarded as “a member of their family.”

“This is a heinous crime and we utterly condemn it,” Mohammed told The Guardian. “Nobody in the local Muslim community could believe how anybody could brutally murder anyone, never mind Sir David, who was so engaged with them.”

She said there was now “apprehension for Muslim communities.”

The council is producing updated guidance on how to report hate crimes, which will be translated into Somali and shared on WhatsApp.


Ghislaine Maxwell ‘served up’ girls for sex to Epstein: prosecutors

Ghislaine Maxwell ‘served up’ girls for sex to Epstein: prosecutors
Updated 30 November 2021

Ghislaine Maxwell ‘served up’ girls for sex to Epstein: prosecutors

Ghislaine Maxwell ‘served up’ girls for sex to Epstein: prosecutors

NEW YORK: Ghislaine Maxwell set young girls up to be abused by “predator” Jeffrey Epstein, prosecutors said Monday as the sex trafficking trial of the British jet-set socialite and heiress began in New York.
Maxwell was the “lady of the house” in financier Epstein’s world who maintained “a culture of silence” over their years-long arrangement to sexually exploit girls under 18 years old, said attorney Lara Pomerantz as she presented the federal case in the first day of the trial.
Maxwell “made those girls feel seen. They made them feel special. But that was a cover,” Pomerantz told a jury.
In fact, she “served them up to be sexually abused,” Pomerantz said.
Two years after Epstein killed himself in jail before he went on trial for similar charges, Maxwell sat in the packed Manhattan courtroom facing six counts of enticing and transporting minors for sex.
Four unnamed women who allegedly suffered at the hands of the two are the key witnesses in the trial, which takes place under intense media attention.
Masked and wearing in a beige sweater and black slacks, the 59-year-old daughter of the late newspaper baron Robert Maxwell stared straight ahead during proceedings.
She faces the possibility of spending the rest of her life in prison if convicted.
Maxwell, whose sister Isabel was also inside the courtroom, has pleaded not guilty to all six counts.
Her attorneys have claimed she is being prosecuted only because US authorities were unable to bring Epstein himself to justice.
But Pomerantz said that during the period the charges against her cover, 1994-2004, she was Epstein’s “right-hand” partner, winning the trust of girls as young as 14 and then conditioning to give nude massages and then sex to Epstein.
Maxwell “knew exactly what Epstein was going to do to those children when she sent them in those massage rooms” in Epstein’s luxurious homes in New Mexico, Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, as well as her own London home, the prosecutor said.
Epstein was a multi-million-dollar money manager who befriended countless celebrities, including Britain’s Prince Andrew, and was accused of providing them with women, including minors.
The indictment says Maxwell took part in the abuse of the four unidentified women, wooing them with shopping and movie theater trips before coaxing them to engage in sex acts with Epstein before giving them money.
Two of the women say they were just 14 and 15 years old when they were sexually abused.
Epstein, who for years skirted charges with the help of flawed laws, powerful connections and sympathetic law enforcement, was arrested in July 2019.
But a month later he committed suicide while in prison.
Prosecutors vowed to go after anyone who helped him in the abuse of the girls, and arrested Maxwell in July 2020.
The trial is expected to stretch over six weeks, and Maxwell faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
The key witnesses will be the women who allegedly suffered in her and Epstein’s hands. They will be allowed to testify with their identities kep secret.
Due to the threat of Covid-19, and heightened fears of the new Omicron variant, plexiglass boxes with air filters have been set up for the witnesses and questioning attorneys.
Maxwell’s attorneys have indicated they will challenge the accusers’ credibility by referencing alleged previous substance abuse and erroneous memories of what happened.
Days before the trial, fake claims spread across social media, echoed by some prominent political conservatives, that the judge in the case had banned media coverage, ostensibly to protect Epstein’s powerful friends and associates.
While the trial proceedings are not being televised, reporters in fact were in the courtroom as well as watching the trial by video in a separate courthouse media room.


Finland’s secret school for children of Daesh fighters in Iraq

Finland’s secret school for children of Daesh fighters in Iraq
Updated 30 November 2021

Finland’s secret school for children of Daesh fighters in Iraq

Finland’s secret school for children of Daesh fighters in Iraq

HELSINKI: At home in the Finnish capital, Ilona Taimela scrolls through hundreds of WhatsApp chats with her former pupils — pictures of animals, maths sums and simple sentences in English and Finnish.
The teacher last year gave lessons to Finnish children imprisoned some 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles) away in Syria’s Al-Hol displacement camp — using only the messaging app.
Al-Hol is a sprawling tent
city housing around 60,000 people, mainly women and children displaced by the US-backed battle to expel the Daesh group from war-torn Syria.
Among them are thousands of children of foreign mothers who traveled to Syria to be the wives of Daesh fighters.
“Some of the children didn’t know what a building is, what a house is, because they’ve always been in a tent,” Taimela told AFP.
“There was so much that they needed to learn.”
Rights observers warn the camp’s children are under constant threat from violence, poor sanitation and fires.
“It’s a miserable place, it’s out of control,” said Jussi Tanner, Finland’s special envoy charged with ensuring the fundamental rights of the Finnish children in Al-Hol, including access to health care and schooling, and eventual repatriation.
Extremist propaganda “is free to roam with no counter-messaging,” he said.
Tanner had the idea of offering lessons by phone to Al-Hol’s Finnish children when schoolchildren everywhere moved to distance learning at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
With the help of Finland’s Lifelong Learning Foundation, officials engaged Taimela, a specialist in teaching Finnish kids abroad, and another teacher, to design and teach a curriculum.
With phones banned in the camp, the lessons would have to be in secret, and the politically sensitive project was also to be kept hidden from the Finnish public.
Tanner forwarded details about the voluntary classes to the mothers.
“That same day ... we got maybe eight children,” Taimela said.
Soon 23 of around 35 Finnish children in the camp had signed up.
“Good morning! Today is Thursday May 7, 2020. The first day of distance school!“
Taimela’s first message to the children included a smiling selfie.
“The sun is shining here in Finland. What kind of weather is it there?“
Soon Taimela and her colleague were exchanging hundreds of text and voice messages a day with the children, who were taught one or two subjects a day.
“The little ones would always get Finnish, and the older ones would get geography or history, and some of them also wanted to learn English.”
Sending photos used too much data, so the teachers relied on emojis, but soon realized there were no symbols for mathematical fractions or the ubiquitous Finnish blueberry.
“During the year the blueberry [emoji] arrived, so we were happy,” Taimela says, laughing.
Despite only knowing scant details about the children, Taimela said she and her colleague were “worried all the time about their welfare.”
“Especially when we heard that they were sick, or there was a storm and the tent had collapsed.”
Communication with some families would periodically stop.
“Some of them escaped the camp,” special envoy Jussi Tanner says, “so they were actually taking part in the school while on the run in northwestern Syria in an active conflict zone.”
Others were suddenly repatriated and left the group for good.
After months of lessons, the mother of one six-year-old revealed her daughter could now read.
“Not all six-year-olds in Finland can do that,” Taimela says, smiling. “It was a eureka moment.”
Daesh fighters declared a “caliphate” in large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, three years into Syria’s civil war.
Taimela says she feels “sadness rather than anger” toward the mothers who led their children into the conflict.
Many were vulnerable and believed the promises of militants that they would live in some “kind of paradise.”
But several military offensives whittled away at the brutal Daesh proto-state, until in 2019 Syrian Kurdish forces declared it defeated.
Reluctant Western nations have since brought home handfuls of their Daesh-linked nationals, mostly children.
Taimela had accepted that she would never know what happened to the repatriated children she had taught, but one day she was called to a reception center in Finland.
“It was an emotional few hours” meeting some of her pupils face to face for the first time, she said.
They “came very close” and Taimela read to them.
“I just wanted to know, ‘How is everything, what can I help with?’,” she said.
Finland’s foreign ministry has now repatriated 23 children and seven adults.
Tanner told AFP that only around 15 “harder-to-reach” individuals, of whom 10 are children, remain in camps in Syria.
The issue originally proved divisive in Finland, but opposition has “become much more muted.”
Taimela’s teaching drew to a natural close in mid-2021 and the ministry later made the project public.
She is now looking at how to use the innovative teaching model in other crisis zones or camps, and has received requests regarding Greece, Myanmar and Colombia.
“The Al-Hol teacher, that’s my label now,” Taimela smiles.
“But I’m proud of what we did.”


Libyan presidential hopefuls petition against PM’s candidacy

Libyan presidential hopefuls petition against PM’s candidacy
Updated 30 November 2021

Libyan presidential hopefuls petition against PM’s candidacy

Libyan presidential hopefuls petition against PM’s candidacy

TRIPOLI: Candidates for Libya’s presidential election have petitioned against the interim prime minister’s bid and a Tripoli court is to examine their request, media reports said Sunday.
Influential former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha was among several presidential hopefuls to have filed appeals against Premier Abdulhamid Dbeibeh’s candidacy, the reports said.
The Tripoli appeals court accepted their petitions and will examine them before giving a ruling.
If it rejects Dbeibeh’s bid, he will have 72 hours to appeal, according to the reports.
A source close to Bashagha told AFP the court would look specifically into complaints that Dbeibeh did not resign his post three months before submitting his candidacy, in accordance with Libya’s electoral law.
The December 24 polls come as part of a push to end a decade of violence in oil-rich Libya following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Libya’s electoral commission HNEC said earlier this month it had rejected the candidacy of Qaddafi’s son, Seif Al-Islam Qaddafi.
He was among 25 candidates rejected on legal grounds as well as based on information from officials, including the public prosecutor, it said.
For Seif Al-Islam, the HNEC pointed to articles of the electoral law stipulating that candidates “must not have been sentenced for a dishonorable crime” and must present a clean criminal record.
Seif Al-Islam is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes committed during the Libyan uprising.
He was also sentenced to death by a Tripoli court for crimes committed during the revolt that toppled his father, but later pardoned by a rival administration in eastern Libya.
A total of 98 candidates, including two women, had registered for the December polls, according to the HNEC.
Among the most notable hopefuls is Khalifa Haftar, leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army in control of the country’s east and parts of the south.
Dbeibeh, 62, had promised during talks with the UN that he would not stand in the presidential polls.


Qur’an burnt in Brazil mosque attack

Qur’an burnt in Brazil mosque attack
Updated 29 November 2021

Qur’an burnt in Brazil mosque attack

Qur’an burnt in Brazil mosque attack
  • The unknown criminals broke into the building’s hussainiya before the first morning prayer and dirtied the walls and some chairs
  • The mosque was founded more than 40 years ago by members of the Lebanese community in Ponta Grossa

LIMA: A mosque in the Brazilian city of Ponta Grossa was invaded and desecrated by vandals on Nov. 26. 

The unknown criminals broke into the building’s hussainiya before the first morning prayer and dirtied the walls and some chairs, destroyed masbahas, and set fire to five volumes of the Holy Qur’an.

When the Iran-born Sheikh Mahmoud Shamsi left his house — which is in the same development as the mosque — for the first prayer, he smelled smoke, but thought it came from the street.

“Two hours later, when I got into my car, I realized that someone had stolen its radio player. That’s when I went to the hussainiya and saw that everything was messed up,” Shamsi told Arab News.

According to Sleiman Zabad, the president of the Imam Ali Mosque, the criminals set fire to a central table in the hussainiya, on top of which there was a volume of the Qur’an and a painting with a sacred verse.

“He certainly saw it as a kind of (Christian) altar and decided to destroy it. That’s why I think his intention was to desecrate the mosque, and his motivation was religious intolerance,” Zabad affirmed.

The mosque’s kitchen was also broken into, with the walls dirtied by the unknown assailants. Sheikh Shamsi said that another four volumes of the Qur’an were taken out of a wardrobe and burned.

“I think the person wanted to burn more things but heard when I went to the mosque for the morning prayer and ran away,” the sheikh added.

The mosque was founded more than 40 years ago by members of the Lebanese community in Ponta Grossa, a city in the Southern Brazilian State of Paraná. Now, more recent immigrants and refugees from Pakistan, Tunisia, Syria, and sub-Saharan countries also attend the mosque for prayers. It congregates about 400 people, both Sunni and Shi’a.

A few years ago, unknown invaders broke into the mosque and destroyed a few chandeliers. Nobody was arrested after the break-in.

According to Zabad, there is no atmosphere of religious intolerance in the city, and Muslims are totally integrated into the local society.

“On social media, however, people sometimes attack us,” he said.

The vandals have not yet been identified. The mosque’s security cameras were not working so the police still do not have images of the suspects.

Zabad said that there is expensive electronic equipment in the hussainiya but nothing was taken. Sheikh Shamsi said there was money inside his car, which also was not stolen.

Numerous civic and religious organizations have manifested their repudiation of the attack and expressed support to the Muslim community.

Rio de Janeiro’s Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance issued a statement on Saturday affirming that the invaders “not only wanted to attack the mosque’s building and the sacred symbols of our Muslim brothers but they wanted to attack mainly the Muslim community’s morals and psychology, given that the attack was carried out on Friday (the Muslim sacred day) and attained Islam’s holy book.”

Ivanir dos Santos, one of the committee’s founding members, told Arab News: “It’s a shameful episode of religious intolerance and disrespect to the Muslims. We hope that the police authorities will investigate and discover who the perpetrators are. And we hope that they will be held legally accountable for that vile act of intolerance and Islamophobia.”

According to Carlos Menezes, who heads Rio de Janeiro’s Islamic center and is also a member of the committee, the rise in cases of religious intolerance in Brazil over the past few years was a signal that sooner or later something like the recent mosque invasion would happen to the Muslim community.

“Brazil has always been a tolerant country, but we have been noticing a growing number of occurrences of that kind lately, especially against African Brazilian religions,” Menezes told Arab News.

He added that hate speech on the Internet has become more common in Brazilian cities where there are larger Islamic communities. The attack in Ponta Grossa somehow materialized that menace.

“Unfortunately, the current Brazilian president has been stimulating intolerance in society. Intolerant people feel free now to manifest their opinions,” he added.

Since the presidential campaign in 2018, President Jair Bolsonaro has been backed by large evangelical protestant segments. Members of his administration on several occasions have emphasized that Brazil is a Christian country, causing embarrassment among non-Christians.

Menezes said that since the Taliban resumed control in Afghanistan, Islamophobic verbal aggressions on social media have been growing.

“Now that the first physical attack occurred, other people may feel stimulated to do the same,” said Menezes, who also directs the Shi’a Human Rights Observatory, which monitors hate speech.

But the strong reaction of several Brazilian religious organizations to the aggression brings hope that the nation will not tolerate new acts of hate, Menezes added.

One of the first religious institutions to express its repudiation of the attack was the Israeli Federation of Paraná State. The organization manifested its “deep solidarity to Sheikh Mahmoud Shamsi and his congregation” and said that such acts are “inadmissible.”

“My parents are Lebanese and I was born here in Brazil. It’s a country which welcomes everybody,” Sleiman Zabad said.

“That kind of thing can never happen again. Not only to Muslims but to nobody. I will be equally sad if someone attacks the Bible,” he concluded.


After Channel boat disaster, Iraqi families fear worst

After Channel boat disaster, Iraqi families fear worst
Updated 30 November 2021

After Channel boat disaster, Iraqi families fear worst

After Channel boat disaster, Iraqi families fear worst
  • Fate of migrants difficult to know, as the investigation is yet to reveal the identities of the recovered victims

QADRAWA, IRAQ: The last time 20-year-old Mohamed spoke with his father, who lives in Iraqi Kurdistan, he told him that he was about to cross the English Channel.
That was on November 23. The next day, France announced the sinking of a boat in the busy waterway, killing at least 27 people, in a disaster that has made global headlines.
The family now fears the very worst.
“Our last contact was on the eve of the tragedy,” says the father, Qader Abdallah, 49, sitting in his living room in Qadrawa, a small village in Kurdistan, northern Iraq.
“He told us that he was going to go to Britain. He sent us a message on (Facebook) Messenger.
“We told him it was dangerous, that there were risks with this crossing. He tried to reassure us by telling us there had been many crossings ... and that there had been no problems.”
Since then, several families in Qadrawa have desperately waited for news on their family members. Were they onboard the ill-fated boat? Did they arrive in Britain?
It is difficult to know, as the investigation is yet to reveal the identities of the recovered victims, their nationalities or the cause of the capsize.
Immigration ministers from France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands met in the French port of Calais on Sunday and promised to strengthen “operational cooperation” on tackling people smugglers.
France said EU border agency Frontex would deploy a plane to help fight migrant trafficking in the Channel from December 1.
Mohamed flew to Turkey a month ago from the Kurdish region’s Irbil airport.
He made his way illegally to Italy, then to France. He wanted to join his two brothers, who have been living in Britain for two years.
“Our family had agreed that he should go to Europe,” Abdallah admitted. “All young people try to go to Europe to find a better future.”
In the autonomous region of Kurdistan, he said, “living conditions are difficult.”
“The young people have demonstrated because of the deteriorating economic situation that prevents them from finding a job,” he said about recent protests by university students.
Last Wednesday’s tragedy was the worst to date in the English Channel, which is now crossed daily by migrants trying to reach the English coast, usually in flimsy boats.
The crossings have multiplied since 2018 following restrictions at the port of Calais and in the Eurotunnel, which irregular migrants had traversed by hiding in vehicles.
Another father in the Kurdish region, Abu Zaniar, said he too had lost track of his 20-year-old son.
“On November 23 we spoke, but since then there has been no information on his fate,” he said.
A month ago, the young man had left by plane for Turkey, from where he was able to travel illegally to Italy, then France.
“We made an agreement with a smuggler to take him to Britain in exchange for $3,300,” the father said.
During the interview with AFP, the father tried once again to reach the smuggler by phone, but to no avail. The phone was turned off.
The father then called the traffickers’ relatives, telling them: “He had promised us to get Zaniar safely to England.”
“If my son survived this time, I will send him back to Europe,” said Abu Zaniar. “No life is possible in the Kurdistan region; graduates here can’t find work.”
Two years ago, his son had tried to reach Western Europe via Bulgaria, where he was arrested, mistreated in prison, and then deported to Iraq.
According to rescuers, those shipwrecked in the Channel were crammed into a soft-bottomed inflatable boat about 10 meters (32 feet) long.
Only one Iraqi and one Somali were saved.
Could the Iraqi be a man named Mohamed Khaled? His mother, Cheleir Ahmed, thinks so, saying she has received a phone call from her son.
The 22-year-old had gone to Belarus two months ago, before reaching France with the help of smugglers.
“His health is very bad because he stayed in the water for a long time,” his mother said.
“He informed me that he and an African migrant had survived.”
She said her son told her there had been 32 people on the boat, including children and entire families, almost all of whom would have drowned.