500 Afghan refugees to be airlifted to Italy, says defense minister

In this handout image courtesy of the US Navy, Afghan evacuees disembark a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, Italy on August 22, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
In this handout image courtesy of the US Navy, Afghan evacuees disembark a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, Italy on August 22, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 29 November 2021

500 Afghan refugees to be airlifted to Italy, says defense minister

In this handout image courtesy of the US Navy, Afghan evacuees disembark a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, Italy on August 22, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Refugees will be relocated in cities nationwide
  • Italy completed troop withdrawal on June 30

ROME: A new Italian Air Force airlift is bringing 500 more Afghan refugees to Rome, Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini said on Monday in Parliament.

The refugees are Afghan citizens and family members who worked with the Italian armed forces while they were deployed in Afghanistan, mostly in Herat province. They have all so far been displaced in countries close to Afghanistan.

Guerini named the operation “Aquila Omnia-Bis.” At the end of it, nearly 5,000 Afghans will be taken to Italy.

He told parliamentarians: “Last summer's evacuation of Afghan citizens from Kabul was a very complex operation, but the incessant and silent work of the Italian armed forces has continued in the last few months too. Thanks to the collaboration between the defense, foreign affairs and interior ministries and the National Information Services we can say we are satisfied.”

Over 1,500 Italian military have been working on this airlift since it began in the second half of August.

A source in the Italian Defense Ministry told Arab News that, in the past few days, the first seven Afghan citizens of this second humanitarian airlift had reached Italy, including a woman in her final month of pregnancy. 

She was transferred to Grassi Hospital in Ostia, on the outskirts of Rome, immediately after landing at Rome Fiumicino. She gave birth to a girl.

After an isolation period in special facilities, all the refugees will be relocated in different cities nationwide.

More arrivals are expected in the coming days.

Italy completed its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan on June 30, ending a 20-year deployment.

According to the Italian Foreign Ministry, 50,000 Italian soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan in the period after the 9/11 attacks. Over that period, 53 soldiers died and 723 were injured.

Italy was one of the five countries most involved in Afghanistan along with the US, Turkey, Britain and Germany as part of the Resolute Support Mission.


Soldiers mutiny in Burkina Faso, govt dismisses talk of coup

Soldiers mutiny in Burkina Faso, govt dismisses talk of coup
Updated 23 January 2022

Soldiers mutiny in Burkina Faso, govt dismisses talk of coup

Soldiers mutiny in Burkina Faso, govt dismisses talk of coup
  • Mutineers demand resignations of top security officials

OUAGADOUGOU: Sustained gunfire rang out from military camps in Burkina Faso on Sunday as mutinying soldiers demanded more support for their fight against Islamist militants and protesters ransacked the headquarters of President Roch Kabore’s political party.

The government called for calm, denying speculation on social media that the army had seized power or detained Kabore.

A spokesperson for the mutineers said they were demanding “appropriate” resources and training for the army in its fight against militants linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh and the resignation of the army and intelligence chiefs.

Frustration in the West African gold-producing country has grown in recent months over deteriorating security.

The deaths of 49 military police in a militant attack in November prompted violent street protests calling for Kabore to step down.

Protesters in the streets of the capital Ouagadougou on Sunday urged the soldiers to go further, chanting “Free the country!”

The mutiny underlines the threat posed by growing insurgencies across West Africa’s Sahel region, a semi-arid strip of land beneath the Sahara Desert.

The militants have seized control of swathes of territory across Burkina Faso and its neighbors, Mali and Niger.

Heavy gunfire was first heard on Sunday at Ouagadougou’s Sangoule Lamizana camp, which houses a prison whose inmates include soldiers involved in a failed 2015 coup attempt.

Hundreds of people later came out in support of the mutineers.

At the Lamizana camp, where a crowd of about 100 sang the national anthem and chanted, the soldiers responded by firing into the air. It was not clear if this was meant to show support for the demonstrators or to disperse them.

In downtown Ouagadougou, near the Place de la Nation, police fired teargas to disperse around 300 protesters. Soldiers also fired into the air at an air base close to Ouagadougou International Airport.

The US Embassy also reported gunfire at three other military bases in Ouagadougou and at bases in the northern towns of Kaya and Ouahigouya.


Elephant deaths lift lid on Sri Lanka waste problem

Elephant deaths lift lid on Sri Lanka waste problem
Updated 23 January 2022

Elephant deaths lift lid on Sri Lanka waste problem

Elephant deaths lift lid on Sri Lanka waste problem
  • Open garbage dumps a growing hazard for wildlife — and humans, too

COLOMBO: Disturbing images of a herd of elephants grazing in a garbage pit in Ampara, in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, have been making the rounds ever since media reports suggested that many had died after ingesting plastic waste. 

The reports estimate at least 20 of the elephants that fed on the open dump had died in the past eight years.

While conservationists question the findings, saying ingestion of plastic is not directly linked to the animals’ deaths, the issue reveals a broader problem: Sri Lanka’s poorly regulated garbage disposal.

The island generates about 7,000 tons of solid waste a day, most of which lands in unchecked open dumps. Landfill sites, banned in many countries, are often close to forest cover or water sources, and wild animals have begun to see them as sources of food.

“About 75 percent of the garbage dumps in the country are open dumps,” Pubudu Weerarathne, director of the Species Conservation Center at the University of Colombo, told Arab News.

“Animals get used to the taste of human food and begin to look for it more.”

He added: “In the case of elephants, this leads to raids and more conflict with humans. And then, of course, there is the more direct impact on their health as a result of ingesting waste.”

But it is not plastic waste that proves lethal for elephants, which are protected by their simple digestive systems. Cattle and deer often die a painful death as polythene stays in their bodies, leading to bowel obstruction.

The body of a wild elephant lies in an open landfill in Pallakkadu village in Ampara district, about 210 kilometers east of the capital Colombo, Sri Lanka.  (AP)

“Elephants are what we call ‘hindgut fermenters,’” Prof. Prithiviraj Fernando, an expert in research relating to elephants and human-elephant conflict, told Arab News.

“Their digestive systems are less complex than that of ruminants like cattle. As a result, plastics and polythene don’t get stuck in the digestive system, but pass through.”

Even though plastic waste is not the immediate cause of elephant deaths, landfills are no less hazardous for the animals. Some die from poisoning after eating fermented organic matter.

Dr. Tharaka Prasad, wildlife health director at the Department of Wildlife Conservation, said the process through which bacteria break down food refuse makes it dangerous for animals.

“Anaerobic digestion causes excretion of toxins into the food environment, which in turn can lead to a collapse of bowel movement, consequently causing partial paralysis of the gut, ending in death,” he said.

But the greatest danger for the animals comes as they encroach human settlements while feeding on landfills.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • In 2019, Sri Lanka recorded 407 elephant deaths due to conflict with humans — the highest in the world.
  • Most of Sri Lanka’s 7,000 tons of solid waste generated everyday lands in unchecked open dumps.

“More elephants die as a result of gunshot wounds, or hakka patas,” U.L. Taufeek, deputy director for elephants at the wildlife department, said, referring to small, improvised explosive devices in the shape of firecrackers that people use to scare animals away from villages.

There are about 5,000 elephants in the country, and the animals are a symbol of national and cultural pride. The Sri Lankan elephant, a subspecies of the Asian elephant, is classified as endangered.

Killing elephants is prohibited, but their deaths due to human-elephant conflict are commonplace. In 2019, 407 such deaths were reported in Sri Lanka — the highest rate in the world.

Elephants are not the only victims of ineffective waste management policies. In 2017, a landslide at the Meethotamulla dump in the capital Colombo killed 19 people.

Toxic landfill fires and pollution from the same dump, as well as in other parts of the country, have for years troubled local communities, with residents complaining of health complications.

“We have a huge waste management issue in this country,” Dr. Ajantha Perera, an environmentalist and campaigner for recycling, told Arab News.

The activist and academic, who contested the 2019 presidential election on the promise of addressing the country’s mounting garbage issue, said that national action plans and waste management policies have been in place for years.

“But until there is political will, there will be no change.”


Armenian president quits over lack of influence in ‘difficult times’

Armenian president quits over lack of influence in ‘difficult times’
Updated 23 January 2022

Armenian president quits over lack of influence in ‘difficult times’

Armenian president quits over lack of influence in ‘difficult times’
  • “This is not an emotionally-driven decision and it comes from a specific logic,” Sarkisian said
  • His role is largely ceremonial and executive power rests primarily with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan

YEREVAN: Armenian President Armen Sarkisian announced Sunday that he is resigning his largely symbolic position, citing the inability of his office to influence policy during times of national crisis.
“This is not an emotionally-driven decision and it comes from a specific logic,” Sarkisian said in a statement on his official website.
“The president does not have the necessary tools to influence the important processes of foreign and domestic policy in difficult times for the people and the country,” he said.
Sarkisian was at the center of a domestic political crisis last year that erupted in the wake of a war between Armenia and its long-standing rival Azerbaijan for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
His role is largely ceremonial and executive power rests primarily with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Sarkisian and Pashinyan had disagreed over a decision to remove the chief of the military’s general staff in the wake of the war and amid protests that brought thousands onto the streets of the Caucasus nation.
“I hope that eventually the constitutional changes will be implemented and the next president and presidential administration will be able to operate in a more balanced environment,” the statement added.
Sarkisian was born in 1953 in the capital Yerevan. He served as prime minister between 1996-1997, according to an official biography, before being elected president in March 2018.
Armenia’s economy has struggled since the Soviet collapse and money sent home by Armenians abroad has aided the construction of schools, churches and other infrastructure projects, including in Nagorno-Karabakh.


UK solicitor general: Treat far-right extremists the same as Islamists

UK solicitor general: Treat far-right extremists the same as Islamists
Updated 23 January 2022

UK solicitor general: Treat far-right extremists the same as Islamists

UK solicitor general: Treat far-right extremists the same as Islamists
  • Alex Chalk QC calls for “no hierarchy” in tackling militants after resentencing of neo-Nazi
  • UK police warn far-right radicalization on the rise, taking up more resources and higher proportion of live investigations

LONDON: The UK’s solicitor general has called for far-right and Islamist extremists to be punished equally, saying there should be “no hierarchy” when it comes to dealing with terrorists.

Alex Chalk QC was speaking after the Court of Appeal in London overturned an “unduly lenient” sentence handed down to a convicted neo-Nazi, Ben John, who as part of his punishment had been told to read novels by 18th-century writers, including Jane Austen, instead of extremist material. John was resentenced to two years in prison.

The solicitor general argued for the 22-year-old to receive a harsher sentence, telling the Independent: “Those who reach for terrorism to advance their warped worldview, whether that’s extreme right-wing terrorism or Islamist terrorism, or whether it’s anarchic terrorism, need to understand that the authorities will intervene and they should expect a robust penalty.”

UK police arrest twice as many people for suspected involvement in far-right activity as they do people of Asian ethnicity. 

In December 2021, Dean Haydon, the UK’s senior national coordinator for counterterrorism policing, told the Independent the far-right makes up around 13 percent of live terror cases.

Since March 2017, authorities have stopped 12 far-right plots, in addition to 18 planned by Islamists.

John was part of an increasing number of cases where police intervene early before attacks or escalation can be planned. He was convicted of possessing a document containing instructions on how to make explosives.

The far-right extremist previously had been referred to the UK’s counter-extremist Prevent program twice, but was found to have white supremacist, antisemitic and satanic material, including propaganda from the neo-Nazi terrorist groups National Action and Atomwaffen Division.

Chalk told the Independent: “We thought that, given all the circumstances — the nature of the terrorism manual he was in possession of, plus the failure to respond to respond to efforts to de-radicalize him through Prevent — meant that a suspended sentence didn’t meet the justice of the case and was insufficient to protect the public.”

He added: “Possession of these materials is not a minor offense, it’s a serious offense and rightly so. The point is that if somebody harbors an extremist mindset then those materials, if ready to hand, can be the very tool they need to perpetrate the atrocity. That’s why it’s so serious — it’s that unholy alliance of the terrorist manual and the warped worldview that can lead to really significant and dangerous outcomes. That’s why we make no apology for taking a robust approach.”

At John’s first trial, he was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence, and Judge Timothy Spencer QC asked him: “Have you ever read Dickens? Austen? Well, start now. Start with ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ Shakespeare? Try ‘Twelfth Night.’ Dickens, start with ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and, if you have time, think about Hardy and think about Trollope.”

At the subsequent resentencing, Lord Justice Holroyde said the issue with the original sentence was not the instruction to read works of British literature in place of radicalizing material, but that the original suspended sentence was unlawful, and should have been custodial. 

“It was certainly a very lenient sentence, but we are not persuaded that in the circumstances in this case, the length of the term of imprisonment was itself unduly lenient. It is because the term was unlawful that we conclude it was unduly lenient,” he said.

Nick Lowles, CEO of pressure group Hope Not Hate, welcomed the new sentence.

“While prison often fails to rehabilitate and isn’t always the answer, (Spencer’s) baffling suggestion that Ben John read classic literature reduced the serious offenses he committed to a parody. The far right represents the fastest-growing threat of violence in Britain today.”


Daesh ‘Beatle’ on trial demands strict jury screening

Daesh ‘Beatle’ on trial demands strict jury screening
Updated 23 January 2022

Daesh ‘Beatle’ on trial demands strict jury screening

Daesh ‘Beatle’ on trial demands strict jury screening
  • El Shafee Elsheikh facing life imprisonment over kidnapping, beheading of hostages
  • He also wants victims of terrorism banned from the jury in his trial

LONDON: A UK terrorist and member of the so-called Daesh group “The Beatles” facing trial in the US has demanded that anti-Muslim jurors and US service members be screened out of the legal process.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, also wants victims of terrorism banned from the jury in his trial.

He was charged with eight counts linked to the kidnapping and beheading in Syria of Western hostages, including four Americans and two UK aid workers.

His case — one of the highest-profile Daesh cases in the world — has been postponed until March due to the pandemic.

The four-man terror group was fronted by Mohammed Emwazi, 27, also known as Jihadi John. He was killed by a US drone strike in Syria in 2015.

Elsheikh’s lawyers are using questioning to screen out jurors.

One question asks: “Have you, a close member of your family, or close friend had any experience which would cause you to be biased against a defendant who is Muslim, Syrian, Kurd, or a person of Arab descent?”

Another asks: “Have you or a close member of your family ever served in a combat or militarized zone in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan or other areas overseas?”

If found guilty, Elsheikh will likely face life imprisonment in ADX Florence, a Colorado maximum security prison which also houses Abu Hamza, a radical imam from London.

Alexanda Kotey, 38, another member of “The Beatles,” has pleaded guilty to the same charges.