KABUL: Taliban authorities said on Thursday that Iranian forces had suffered at least nine casualties during clashes on the Afghanistan-Iran border after fuel smuggling attempts from the Iranian side.
Fighting between the two countries’ respective security forces broke out in Konjak, Nimroz province in southwestern Afghanistan on Wednesday at around midday, and continued until the late evening. Local authorities and witnesses said the Taliban seized three Iranian check posts.
In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the clashes were triggered by “a misunderstanding at the local level” and that “the situation is now under control with the understanding of both sides.”
The spokesperson for the governor of Nimroz, Salahudin Ayobi, told Arab News tensions had been resolved and the “misunderstanding” had been over fuel smuggling.
“The main issue of this misunderstanding was smuggling fuel to Afghanistan. During this battle at least nine Iranian border forces were killed and injured,” he said, adding that one Taliban fighter was wounded.
Iranian authorities did not confirm the numbers.
Nimroz governor spokesperson says clashes erupted over fuel smuggling from Iranian side.
Qiam Mawlawi, a Taliban commander in the Konjak district of Nimroz, said the clash was prompted by the Iranians.
“We responded to their misbehavior,” he said. “Currently the situation has turned back to normal, but we are on standby.”
While Iranian media reported the fighting started following a dispute among residents and denied the capture of border check posts, locals said Taliban forces had crossed the border into Iran.
“The Taliban were able to capture Borjak, Melak and Shah Balak check posts from Iranian forces, and heavy (gun)fire (took place) between both sides,” Abdul Satar, Konjak resident, told Arab News.
Sabrina Zory, a civil activist in Nimroz, said the clashes started when Taliban forces stopped a fuel tanker crossing through Borjak. “
After the fighting began, (the) Taliban entered Iranian soil, and the Taliban fighters were able to capture three (Iranian) check posts,” she said. “According to the reports from the local Taliban who participated in this cross-border fighting, five Iranian border police were killed.”
Iran was among the few countries to keep its embassy in Kabul open after the Western-backed administration collapsed in mid-August, leading to the Taliban seizing control of the country.
Tension on the border between the two, an active smuggling and human trafficking route, has been a long-standing issue.
Rabbi says hostage-taker grew ‘belligerent’ late in Texas synagogue standoff
Federal investigators believe Akram purchased the handgun used in the hostage taking in a private sale
Akram, a British citizen, was in lawful immigration status on a visa, according to a US official
Updated 17 January 2022
COLLEYVILLE, US: A rabbi who was among four people held hostage at a Texas synagogue said Sunday that their armed captor grew “increasingly belligerent and threatening” toward the end of the 10-hour standoff, which ended with an FBI SWAT team rushing into the building and the captor’s death.
Authorities identified the hostage-taker as a 44-year-old British national, Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed Saturday night after the last hostages ran out of Congregation Beth Israel around 9 p.m. The FBI said there was no indication that anyone else was involved, but it had not provided a possible motive as of Sunday afternoon.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker credited security training that his suburban Fort Worth congregation has received over the years for getting him and the other three hostages through the ordeal, which he described as traumatic.
“In the last hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening,” Cytron-Walker said in a statement. “Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself.”
President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror. Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream of the services and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to Al-Qaeda who was convicted of trying to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan.
Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia on Sunday, Biden said Akram allegedly purchased a weapon on the streets.
Federal investigators believe Akram purchased the handgun used in the hostage taking in a private sale, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Akram arrived in the US at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said.
Video from Dallas TV station WFAA showed people running out a door of the synagogue, and then a man holding a gun opening the same door just seconds later before he turned around and closed it. Moments later, several shots and then an explosion could be heard.
“Rest assured, we are focused,” Biden said. “The attorney general is focused and making sure that we deal with these kinds of acts.”
Akram was in lawful immigration status on a visa, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not intended to be public. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counter-terrorism police were liaising with US authorities about the incident.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said the hostage-taker was specifically focused on an issue not directly connected to the Jewish community. It wasn’t clear why Akram chose the synagogue, though the prison where Saddiqui is serving her sentence is in Fort Worth.
Michael Finfer, the president of the congregation, said in a statement “there was a one in a million chance that the gunman picked our congregation.”
Authorities have declined to say who shot Akram, saying it was still under investigation.
Authorities said police were first called to the synagogue around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the surrounding neighborhood soon afterward.
Saturday’s services were being livestreamed on the synagogue’s Facebook page for a time. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could be heard ranting and talking about religion at times during the livestream, which didn’t show what was happening inside the synagogue.
Shortly before 2 p.m., the man said, “You got to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead.” Moments later, the feed cut out. A spokesperson for Meta Platforms Inc., the corporate successor to Facebook Inc., later confirmed that Facebook had removed the video.
Akram used his phone during the course of negotiations to communicate with people other than law enforcement, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Multiple people heard the hostage-taker refer to Siddiqui as his “sister” on the livestream. But John Floyd, board chair for the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations — the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group — said Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved.
“We want the assailant to know that his actions are wicked and directly undermine those of us who are seeking justice for Dr. Aafia,” said Floyd, who also is legal counsel for Mohammad Siddiqui.
Texas resident Victoria Francis, who said she watched about an hour of the livestream, said she heard the man rant against America and claim he had a bomb. Biden said there were apparently no explosives, despite the threats.
“He was just all over the map. He was pretty irritated and the more irritated he got, he’d make more threats, like ‘I’m the guy with the bomb. If you make a mistake, this is all on you.’ And he’d laugh at that,” Francis said. “He was clearly in extreme distress.”
Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 15 miles (23 kilometers) northeast of Fort Worth. By Sunday morning, the police perimeter around the synagogue had shrunk to half a block in either direction and FBI agents could be seen going in and out of the building. A sign saying “Love” — with the “o” replaced with a Star of David — was planted in a neighbor’s lawn.
Reached outside his home Sunday, Cytron-Walker declined to speak at length about the episode. “It’s a little overwhelming as your can imagine. It was not fun yesterday,” he told the AP.
Andrew Marc Paley, a Dallas rabbi who was called to the scene to help families and hostages upon their release, said Cytron-Walker acted as a calm and comforting presence. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m. That was around the time food was delivered to those inside the synagogue, but Paley said he did not know if it was part of the negotiations.
“He appeared a little unfazed, actually, but I don’t know if that was sort of shock or just the moment,” Paley said of the first hostage who was released.
Cytron-Walker said his congregation had received training from local authorities and the Secure Community Network, which was founded in 2004 by a coalition of Jewish organizations and describes itself as “the official safety and security organization” of the Jewish community in North America. Michael Masters, the CEO of the organization, said the congregation had provided security training in August and had not been previously aware of Akram.
The standoff led authorities to tighten security in other places, including New York City, where police said that they increased their presence “at key Jewish institutions” out of an abundance of caution.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter that “this event is a stark reminder that antisemitism is still alive and we must continue to fight it worldwide.”
Burkina attack kills around 10 civilians: security source
Burkina Faso has been struggling with jihadist attacks since 2015, when militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group began mounting cross-border raids from Mali
Updated 17 January 2022
OUAGADOUGOU: At least 10 civilians have been killed in an attack blamed on jihadists in northern Burkina Faso, an area in the grip of a six-year insurgency, security sources said Sunday.
“Unidentified armed individuals carried out an attack on the village of Namssiguian in Bam province” on Saturday, a security source told AFP, adding that the provisional death toll was around 10 dead civilians.
A local resident put the provisional death toll at nine and said that significant damage had been caused to shops and businesses in the village, which had been torched.
“The terrorists stayed in the village for several hours, where they looted and destroyed,” he said, adding that the assaillants had “sabotaged the telephone antennas beforehand, making all communication impossible.”
The security source warned that the toll could still rise as “families are still awaiting news about family members.”
Burkina Faso has been struggling with jihadist attacks since 2015, when militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group began mounting cross-border raids from Mali.
More than 2,000 people have died, according to a toll compiled by AFP.
The national emergency aid agency says that 1.5 million people, nearly two-thirds of them children, were internally displaced as of November 30.
The country’s security forces are poorly equipped to face a ruthless and highly mobile foe, adept at carrying out hit-and-run raids aboard motorbikes and pickup trucks.
On November 14, a force described as numbering several hundred men attacked a police base at Inata near the Malian border, killing 57 people, including 53 gendarmes.
On December 23, 41 people were killed when a convoy of traders was ambushed near Ouahigouya, also near the Malian frontier.
Taliban fighters pepper spray women protesters calling for rights
The Taliban authorities have blocked women public sector employees from returning to work, many secondary schools have still not reopened for girls, and public universities are shut
Updated 17 January 2022
KABUL: Taliban forces on Sunday fired pepper spray at a group of women protesters in Afghanistan’s capital demanding rights to work and education, three demonstrators told AFP.
Since seizing control of the country by force in August, the Taliban authorities have imposed creeping restrictions on Afghans, especially on women.
Around 20 women gathered in front of Kabul University, chanting “equality and justice” and carried banners that read “Women’s rights, human rights,” an AFP correspondent reported.
The protest however was later dispersed by the Taliban fighters who arrived at the scene in several vehicles, three women protesters told AFP.
“When we were near Kabul University three Taliban vehicles came, and fighters from one of the vehicles used pepper spray on us,” said a protester, who asked not to be named for security reasons.
“My right eye started to burn. I told one of them ‘shame on you’, and then he pointed his gun at me.”
Two other protesters said that one of the women had to be taken to hospital after the spray caused an allergic reaction to her eyes and face.
An AFP correspondent saw a fighter confiscate a mobile phone of a man who was filming the demonstration.
The hard-line Taliban group have banned unsanctioned protests and frequently intervened to forcefully break up rallies demanding rights for women.
The Taliban authorities have blocked women public sector employees from returning to work, many secondary schools have still not reopened for girls, and public universities are shut.
Long distance trips for women who are not accompanied by a close male relative have been banned.
The authorities have also issued guidelines that prevent television channels from broadcasting serials featuring women actors.
Meanwhile, many women are living in hiding, fearful of a regime notorious for human rights abuses during their first stint in power between 1996-2001, before being ousted by a US-led invasion.
Snow, ice blasts through south US with powerful winter storm
Tens of thousands of customers were without power in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida
Updated 17 January 2022
ATLANTA: A dangerous winter storm combining high winds and ice swept through parts of the US Southeast on Sunday, knocking out power, felling trees and fences and coating roads with a treacherous, frigid glaze.
Tens of thousands of customers were without power in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. Highway patrols were reporting hundreds of vehicle accidents, and a tornado ripped through a trailer park in Florida. More than 1,200 Sunday flights at Charlotte Douglas International were canceled – more than 90 percent of the airport’s Sunday schedule, according to the flight tracking service flightaware.com.
Winter Storm Izzy dumped as much as 10 inches of snow in some areas of western North Carolina as the system moved across the southeastern US, said Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
First Sgt. Christopher Knox, a spokesman for the North Carolina Highway Patrol, said that by midafternoon, the agency had responded to 300 car crashes and nearly 800 calls for service. Two people died Sunday when their car drove off the road and into trees in a median east of Raleigh. The driver and passenger, both 41-year-old South Carolina residents, were pronounced dead at the scene of the single-vehicle crash. Knox said investigators believe the car was driving too fast for the conditions, described as mixed winter precipitation.
Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary J. Eric Boyette said many roads in the central and western part of the state were covered with ice. He said the eastern part of the state was being hit with high winds and rain.
Kristen Baker Morrow’s 6-year-old son made snow angels after their home in Crouse, North Carolina, got four inches of snow Sunday morning, but she said they couldn’t stay outside long because of the uncomfortable wind chill.
“It took 30 to 45 minutes to get everything on for about 10 minutes in the snow, but it was definitely worth it for him, to get our pictures and make some memories,” said Morrow, a 35-year-old registered nurse.
More than 260,000 customers were without power by midafternoon Sunday, according to poweroutage.us. Especially hard hit was North Carolina, with 90,000 outages. The remaining outages were in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado with 118 mph winds (190 kph) struck southwest Florida. The weather service said the tornado was on the ground for almost two miles (3 kilometers) with a maximum path width of 125 yards (115 meters). Thirty mobile homes were destroyed and 51 had major damage. Three minor injuries were reported.
Edward Murray, 81, told the Naples Daily News in southwest Florida that he was inside his mobile home Sunday morning when a tornado picked it up and tossed it on top of his neighbor’s home.
“That’s my house that’s turned upside down,” he told the newspaper. “The tornado took me off my feet, blew me toward the east wall and buried me under the sink, refrigerator, kitchen chairs and everything else.”
Murray and his daughter, Cokie, escaped unharmed, crawling from the wreckage.
“I was so happy when I saw the sky,” Murray told the newspaper. “I said to the devil, ‘It’s not going to be today’.”
Virginia State Police said traffic came to a standstill Sunday afternoon on Interstate 81 in Roanoke County after a tractor-trailer jackknifed and the cab of the truck disconnected from the trailer in the northbound lanes. Two additional accidents occurred in the traffic backup, one with minor injuries. The Virginia Department of Transportation said a detour was being set up. “Please stay off the roads if possible. Begging again! Hazardous conditions,” read a tweet from VDOT’s Salem office.
From midnight to 12:45 p.m., Virginia state troopers responded to 142 traffic crashes and 162 disabled vehicles. No traffic fatalities were reported.
The West Virginia Department of Homeland Security tweeted photos of snow-covered roads in the southern part of the state and advised residents to “keep calm and hunker down.” The agency says the storm is moving north and most areas of the state are expected to have accumulations of at least 4 inches (10 centimeters), with up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) possible in the mountains.
In Tennessee, there were multiple reports of abandoned and wrecked cars on snow-covered roads.
The storm system could cause hazardous driving conditions over a large portion of the eastern US through Monday as the wet roadways refreeze in southern states and the storm turns and moves northward through the Mid-Atlantic states and New England.
While not a record-breaking storm in terms of snowfall, the large system could impact a dozen or more states.
“It’s a very expansive storm,” Hurley said. “A lot of real estate is going to get four to eight inches of snow and a lot more are also going to get to get some of that ice accumulation.”
New York City was expected to be spared from most, if not all, of the snowfall, but Long Island and Connecticut coastal areas were expecting gale conditions. Upstate New York was projected to get hit with up to a foot of snow to go along with high winds.
Six to 13 inches (15 to 33 centimeters) of snow was expected in parts of east-central Ohio and western Pennsylvania from Sunday afternoon.
Frigid temperatures lingered across New England on Sunday, with wind chills in northern Vermont reported at -27 Fahrenheit (-33 Celsius). In Boston, where a cold emergency was declared on Saturday, wind chills remained below zero (-17 C) even as the region started the thaw.
Ahead of election, Macron banks on rosy French economy, new jobs
Updated 17 January 2022
PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron will on Monday tout 21 new foreign investment projects in France and a booming economy as proof his economic reforms have been bearing fruit less than three months before a presidential election in which he is expected to run.
During a visit to Alsace in the east, Macron will announce a 300-million-euro ($342 million) industrial project by German chemical giant BASF, one of 21 new projects worth 4 billion euros and 10,000 jobs as part of a drive to attract foreign investors, his office said.
As the presidential race heats up, his aides are keen to shift the debate away from immigration and law-and-order issues and put the spotlight on the economy, which has been recovering strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is the result of all the reforms that were carried out since the start of the mandate,” a presidential aide told reporters.
“Three months before an election, we could have expected investors to be in wait-and-see mode because of the uncertainty of an election. Instead, we see very strong confidence from foreign investors in the president’s economic policy,” he said.
Since 2017, Macron has pushed through a cocktail of supply-side economic reforms meant to boost businesses’ competitiveness, cut taxes on investors and loosen strict labor market rules.
Critics say he has acted as “president of the rich” who wants to do away with France’s cherished social safety nets and has cut welfare benefits for some of the poorest.
But three months ahead of the April election, indicators show the French economy is booming, with growth expected to have hit 6.7 percent in 2021 and France having returned closer to pre-pandemic levels than any G7 peer bar the United States.
Macron supporters also received an unexpected boost from economist Paul Krugman on Friday.