Qur’an burnt in Brazil mosque attack

Imam Ali Mosque in the Brazilian city of Ponta Grossa was invaded and desecrated by vandals on Nov. 26. (Social Media)
Imam Ali Mosque in the Brazilian city of Ponta Grossa was invaded and desecrated by vandals on Nov. 26. (Social Media)
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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.


Cambodia PM says Myanmar junta welcome at ASEAN if progress made

Cambodia PM says Myanmar junta welcome at ASEAN if progress made
Updated 9 sec ago

Cambodia PM says Myanmar junta welcome at ASEAN if progress made

Cambodia PM says Myanmar junta welcome at ASEAN if progress made
  • Min Aung Hlaing led a coup in Myanmar last year and ASEAN made a surprise move in barring the junta from important meetings
PHNOM PENH: Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday said he had invited Myanmar’s junta chief to a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), on the condition that progress is made on a peace plan he agreed to last year.
Hun Sen, the current ASEAN chair, said he would talk to military chief Min Aung Hlaing by video call on Wednesday, noting that since their face-to-face talks earlier this month, ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi had been sentenced and military aircraft had been deployed in operations.
Min Aung Hlaing led a coup in Myanmar last year and ASEAN made a surprise move in barring the junta from important meetings, over its failure to implement an agreed five-point ASEAN “consensus” on ceasing hostilities and allowing dialogue.
“He (Hun Sen) said that he had invited HE (His Excellency) Min Aung Hlaing to attend the ASEAN summit if there was progress in the implementation of the five points agreed unanimously,” said a statement on Hun Sen’s Facebook page, summarizing his call on Tuesday with Malaysia’s prime minister.
“But if not, he must send a non-political representative to ASEAN meetings.”
Cambodia has indicated it wants to engage not isolate the junta, but Hun Sen has been pressed this month by several ASEAN leaders including those of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, not to give way on the agreement.
Hun Sen’s Jan. 7 visit to Myanmar has been a thorny issue for some countries concerned it could have been interpreted as ASEAN recognition of the generals.
The ASEAN consensus which includes a halt on offensives, facilitating a humanitarian response and granting full access to a special ASEAN envoy to all parties in the conflict.

Hong Kong virus cluster in housing prompts partial lockdown

Hong Kong virus cluster in housing prompts partial lockdown
Updated 47 min 38 sec ago

Hong Kong virus cluster in housing prompts partial lockdown

Hong Kong virus cluster in housing prompts partial lockdown
  • The outbreak has also prompted the city of Shenzhen just across the border in mainland China to tighten rules on people arriving from Hong Kong

HONG KONG: Hong Kong expanded a partial lockdown and tightened pandemic restrictions Tuesday after more than 200 cases of COVID-19 were discovered at a public housing estate.
Hong Kong has already suspended many overseas flights and requires arrivals be quarantined, similar to mainland China’s “zero-tolerance” approach to the virus that has placed millions under lockdowns and mandates mask wearing, rigorous case tracing and mass testing.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said a second residential block at the Kwai Chung housing complex would be locked down for five days. The block where the virus was first discovered is already under lockdown, which will now be extended from five to seven days.
The measures aimed to “play safe protecting the residents as well as preventing the spread of the virus,” Lam told reporters.
Schools have been closed and restaurants cannot offer in-house dining after 6 p.m. in a return to previous measures to contain surges in cases. Compulsory testing has been ordered on people who reside in or visited buildings where the virus was detected.
The outbreak has also prompted the city of Shenzhen just across the border in mainland China to tighten rules on people arriving from Hong Kong. Starting from Wednesday, Hong Kong travelers will need to show a negative COVID-19 test result obtained over the previous 24 hours, undergo 14 days of quarantine at a government-designated location and seven further days of isolation at home.
Lam also criticized one of her senior Cabinet members, Home Affairs Secretary Casper Tsui, who was among several government officials suspended from duty and ordered into quarantine after they attended a birthday party where two guests later tested positive for coronavirus.
“The Secretary for Home Affairs is an official whom we will have to look into very deeply because of various aspects,” Lam said.
As with mainland China, Hong Kong’s tough anti-pandemic rules have helped keep case numbers relatively low, but are also taking a toll on the economy and public patience.
An international center of finance and trade, the city has a prominent expatriate population, some of whom are beginning to chafe at the travel controls and other restrictions.
A survey released this month by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong showed more than 40 percent of members surveyed were more likely to leave because of the restrictions.


At least 18 dead after clash, fire at club in Indonesia’s West Papua

At least 18 dead after clash, fire at club in Indonesia’s West Papua
Updated 53 min 56 sec ago

At least 18 dead after clash, fire at club in Indonesia’s West Papua

At least 18 dead after clash, fire at club in Indonesia’s West Papua
  • Police said the conflict was between two ethnic groups
  • Rebels have recently escalated their fight, targeting road contractors, as well as schools and clinics they say have links to the military

SORONG: At least 18 people were killed during clashes between two groups at a night club in the town of Sorong in Indonesia’s West Papua province, police said Tuesday, with most dying after the venue caught fire.
“The clash broke out last night (Monday) at 11 pm. It was a prolonged conflict from a clash on Saturday,” Sorong police chief Ary Nyoto Setiawan said in a statement.
One victim was stabbed and 17 more died in the blaze at the Double O nightclub, officials said.
“We found 17 bodies in Double O. They were all found on the second floor. We have evacuated the bodies to Selebe Solu Hospital,” said Sorong Police’s health division head Edward Panjaitan.
Police said the clash did not involve locals in remote West Papua, where there is a long-running, low-level insurgency.
They were investigating the cause of the fire, which gutted the large red and white building. A burnt-out vehicle was seen lying on its side by the club’s blackened entrance as officers guarded the site.
“The club was burnt from the first floor. We tried to evacuate as many people as possible, but after the firefighters extinguished the fire this morning, we found some bodies there,” police chief Setiawan said.
Police said the conflict was between two ethnic groups.
“It actually started with a misunderstanding between two members of the respective groups,” Setiawan said.
“We tried to mediate between the groups, as we called their leaders before last night’s clash.”
Police have deployed forces in the town to prevent any further clashes, according to an AFP journalist.
Sorong, gateway to the coral-rich Raja Ampat islands, is the largest city in West Papua province and home to a major port.
It is relatively quiet compared to other regions of West Papua, which have seen clashes due to the ongoing insurgency between separatists and Indonesian security forces.
Rebels have recently escalated their fight, targeting road contractors, as well as schools and clinics they say have links to the military. Authorities have responded by reinforcing deployments of troops and police.
The province shares a border with independent Papua New Guinea on the island of New Guinea, just north of Australia.
A former Dutch colony, mineral-rich Papua declared independence in 1961 but neighboring Indonesia took control two years later, promising an independence referendum.
The subsequent vote in favor of staying part of Indonesia, approved by the UN at the time, was widely considered a sham.
Papua’s Melanesian population, predominantly Christian, share few cultural connections with the rest of Indonesia — the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.


23 Australians on ship delivering aid to Tonga have COVID-19

23 Australians on ship delivering aid to Tonga have COVID-19
Updated 25 January 2022

23 Australians on ship delivering aid to Tonga have COVID-19

23 Australians on ship delivering aid to Tonga have COVID-19
  • Australian government working with Tongan authorities to keep the ship at sea
  • Tonga has reported just a single case of COVID-19 and has avoided any outbreaks

WELLINGTON: Nearly two dozen sailors on an Australian military ship going to deliver aid to Tonga have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Tuesday, raising fears they could bring COVID-19 to a Pacific nation that has so far managed to avoid any outbreaks.
Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said his government was working with Tongan authorities to keep the ship at sea and make sure there is no threat to Tonga’s 105,000 residents.
Tongan authorities have been wary that accepting international aid could usher in a bigger disaster than the huge eruption of an undersea volcano 10 days ago. The eruption triggered a tsunami that destroyed dozens of homes, and volcanic ash has tainted drinking water.
Since the pandemic began, Tonga has reported just a single case of COVID-19 and has avoided any outbreaks. It’s one of the few countries in the world currently completely virus free. About 61 percent of Tongans are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.
Australian officials said 23 crew members were infected on the HMAS Adelaide, which left Brisbane on Friday.
“They need the aid desperately, but they don’t want the risk of COVID,” Dutton told Sky News. “We will work through all of that as quickly as we can.”
It’s the second aid shipment from Australia in which at least one crew member tested positive. A C-17 Globemaster military transport plane was earlier turned around midflight after somebody was diagnosed.
Meanwhile, a cable company official said Tonga’s main island could have its Internet service restored within two weeks, although it may take much longer to repair the connection to the smaller islands.
The single undersea fiber-optic cable which connects the Pacific nation to the outside world was severed after the eruption and tsunami.
That left most people unable to connect with loved ones abroad. For days, people couldn’t get through on their phones, by email, or through social media.
Since then, Tonga’s Digicel has been able to restore international call services to some areas by using satellite connections. Some people have been able to send emails or get limited Internet connectivity.
Samieula Fonua, who chairs the board at Tonga Cable Ltd., the state-owned company which owns the fiber-optic cable, said a repair ship had left from Papua New Guinea and was due to stop over in Samoa by Monday to pick up supplies. It should then arrive in Tonga by Feb. 1.
Fonua said the CS Reliance had a crew of about 60 aboard, including engineers, divers and medical staff. He said its equipment included a robot which could assess the cable on the seabed.
Fonua said preliminary estimates indicated the break in the cable was located about 37 kilometers offshore from the main island of Tongatapu. He said that all going well, the crew should be able to repair the cable by Feb. 8, restoring the Internet to about 80 percent of Tonga’s customers.
The cable runs from Tonga to Fiji, a distance of about 800 kilometers, and was first commissioned in 2013 at a cost of about $16 million. It was financed through grants from the World Bank Group and Asian Development Bank, and increased Tonga’s Internet capacity fivefold.
But like many small Pacific countries, Tonga relies heavily on a single cable to stay connected and has little in the way of a back-up plan. Three years ago, a cable break believed to have been caused by a ship dragging its anchor also led to weeks of disruptions.
A second, domestic fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga’s smaller islands to the main island could prove much more difficult to repair. Fonua said that cable runs near the undersea volcano which erupted and may have been severely damaged. It might need extensive repairs or even a replacement, he said.
Fonua said the focus was on fixing the main international cable, and they could deal with the domestic connections “at a later time.”
He said Tongans had been somewhat understanding of the communication disruptions caused by the disaster, which killed three people, destroyed dozens of homes and tainted water supplies with volcanic ash.
“People are calm. Coming out of a total blackout, just being able to call outside and send an email has settled them a bit,” Fonua said. “By the time they start getting more frustrated, I’m hoping we’ll have the cable connected by then.”


UK to lift travel test requirements for the vaccinated

Passengers arrive at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in London, Aug. 2, 2021. (AP)
Passengers arrive at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in London, Aug. 2, 2021. (AP)
Updated 25 January 2022

UK to lift travel test requirements for the vaccinated

Passengers arrive at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in London, Aug. 2, 2021. (AP)
  • Testing requirements are being lifted for vaccinated adults and all children under 18

LONDON: The British government announced Monday that it is scrapping coronavirus travel testing requirements for the vaccinated, news hailed by the travel industry as a big step back to normality.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “to show that this country is open for business, open for travelers, you will see changes so that people arriving no longer have to take tests if they have been vaccinated, if they have been double vaccinated.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the change would take effect Feb. 11, coinciding with a midterm holiday break for many schoolchildren.
“Border testing of vaccinated travelers has outlived its usefulness,” Shapps said. “Today we are setting Britain free.”
Tourism and travel firms that have been hammered by pandemic restrictions welcomed the move, which makes the UK one of the most open countries in the world for international travel.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of airline industry body Airlines UK, said it was “a landmark day.”
“Nearly two years since the initial COVID restrictions were introduced, today’s announcement brings international travel toward near-normality for the fully vaccinated, and at last into line with hospitality and the domestic economy,” he said.
Johan Lundgren, chief executive of budget airline easyJet, said “testing for travel should now firmly become a thing of the past.”
“It is clear travel restrictions did not materially slow the spread of omicron in the UK and so it is important that there are no more knee-jerk reactions to future variants,” he said.
Currently, travelers who have had at least two vaccine doses must take a rapid coronavirus test within two days of arriving in the UK Those who are unvaccinated face stricter testing and quarantine rules.
Testing requirements are being lifted for vaccinated adults and all children under 18. Britain is also easing rules for the unvaccinated, who will have to take coronavirus tests before and after traveling to Britain but will no longer face quarantine.
Johnson’s Conservative government is also lifting mask mandates and other restrictions this week, and is relying on vaccinations and widespread testing to keep the virus in check.
The UK government sets public health policy for England. The other parts of the UK — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — set their own health rules, but said they would adopt the same rules as England for international travel.
Coronavirus cases in Britain soared in December, driven by the extremely transmissible omicron variant, though hospitalizations and deaths have remained well below previous pandemic peaks.
Britain has seen over 154,000 deaths in the pandemic, the second-worst toll in Europe after Russia.