Muslim community mobilizes to support victims of deadly Bronx fire

Special Muslim women gather to organize donated clothes and distribute them to victims of the fatal Bronx fire at Masjid Al-Rahama in the Bronx, New York. (Supplied)
1 / 3
Muslim women gather to organize donated clothes and distribute them to victims of the fatal Bronx fire at Masjid Al-Rahama in the Bronx, New York. (Supplied)
Special Front view of 333 East 181st Street in the Bronx, New York. (Supplied)
2 / 3
Front view of 333 East 181st Street in the Bronx, New York. (Supplied)
Special ags of donated clothes, organized by category, are seen at Masjid Al-Rahama in the Bronx, New York. (Supplied)
3 / 3
ags of donated clothes, organized by category, are seen at Masjid Al-Rahama in the Bronx, New York. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 15 January 2022

Muslim community mobilizes to support victims of deadly Bronx fire

Muslim community mobilizes to support victims of deadly Bronx fire
  • At least 17 Muslim Americans of West African origin died in the fire deemed to have been caused by a malfunctioning electric space heater
  • The victims have filed a class action lawsuit seeking $1 billion in compensation from the building owners, city and state officials

NEW YORK: Members of the Muslim community in the Bronx area of New York, where many Muslim-Americans died in an apartment building fire on Jan. 9, have mobilized their efforts to help residents with support and donations.

At least 17 Muslim-Americans of West African origin died in the fire, eight of whom were under the age of 18. Their Islamic funeral service will be held on Jan. 16 at the Islamic Cultural Center of the Bronx.

“The smoke alarms were going off, but nobody really took it seriously because they go off all the time, so nobody knows when it’s an actual emergency,” Bintou Kamara, 14, told Arab News.

Bintou, who studies at Harlem Prep High School, has lived at the building, 333 East 181st Street, with her family since an early age.




Front view of 333 East 181st Street in the Bronx, New York. (Supplied)

She and her family initially thought the fire was coming from an adjacent apartment building until they started hearing cries for help and sirens.

“We heard people yelling for help. We saw firefighters, so we realized it was our house,” Bintou said.

“We took a scarf and waved outside, yelling, ‘Help, help!’ It took them like an hour or two to get to us. We were on the 12th floor.”

Fire officials said that a malfunctioning electric space heater had started the fire.

“Sometimes the heat is on, other times it’s off. That’s why everybody in this building has a heater,” Bintou told Arab News.

“People don’t want to freeze. It’s winter. It’s cold. I have a heater in my room. My mom has a heater. Everybody has a heater. If the building just provided heat, if they were just doing what they were supposed to do, none of this would’ve happened.”

According to New York fire officials, the flames did not spread through the entire building. Instead, thick black smoke engulfed the stairways and seeped into apartments, blocking the only fire escape and causing several deaths and hospitalizations.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told local media that an apparent malfunction of the doors in front of the building and on the 15th floor caused the smoke to spread quickly throughout the building.

Nigro said that the apartment’s front door and a door on the 15th floor should have been self-closing and blunted the spread of smoke, but the doors stayed fully open. It was not clear if the doors failed mechanically or if they had been manually disabled.

But malfunctions within the apartment building were not uncommon, residents told Arab News. Fatoumatta Kamara, Bintou’s older sister, said that among the issues they faced were leaky sinks, peeling paint and pests.




The Kamara family apartment on the 12th floor of 333 East 181st Street in the Bronx, New York. Signs of struggle during the fire are seen. (Supplied)

“Usually, when you tell the landlord something, it’s either not fixed properly or it damages quickly or they don’t come until after a while, so you have to repeatedly continue to file for the same complaint on certain issues of the household,” Fatoumatta, a 19-year-old student at Fordham University, said. Eventually, after tiring of long waits, the family would make repairs themselves, she said.

Nearly a week after the fire, many families are still living in a hotel or with relatives, with little communication from the building’s landlord. Lawyers for the families of the victims filed a class-action lawsuit seeking $1 billion in compensation from the building owners and city and state officials.

Despite having several issues in the apartment where the fire took place, Bintou and Fatoumatta expressed fondness for the community they built over the years.

The 120-unit building is occupied by predominantly low-income communities of various backgrounds, some of whom are Muslim immigrants with West African roots. The building sits within a 15-mile radius of several mosques, which began mobilizing immediately to help the residents of the building.




Muslim women gather to organize donated clothes and distribute them to victims of the fatal Bronx fire at Masjid Al-Rahama in the Bronx, New York. (Supplied)

Directly outside Masjid Ar-Rahman, a nearby mosque, several cars were double-parked late into Thursday night. Inside the mosque, volunteers huddled over hundreds of donated items — toiletries, snacks, and clothing for men, women and children — sorting them into different bags.

“After we sort through them, we have family members of people who live in the building come in to pick up any new items immediately, and we’ve also been sending some to the hotels,” Jenabu Simaha, 24, said.

Masjid Taqwa, another mosque in the area, collected monetary donations for the families, and Masjid Al-Fawzaan assigned a drop-off location for donations. Many of the items are new.

“What’s given us a lot of solace is the community,” Simaha said. “Not only the Muslim community but the Bronx community as well. We’ve been having so many different volunteers and community members within this area who’ve been coming in and providing support.”

 


Sudan gears up for mass protest against generals

Sudan gears up for mass protest against generals
Updated 30 June 2022

Sudan gears up for mass protest against generals

Sudan gears up for mass protest against generals
  • Sudan has been roiled by near-weekly protests as the country’s economic woes have deepened since army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan seized power last year

KHARTOUM: Activists in Sudan have called for mass rallies Thursday to demand the reversal of an October military coup that prompted foreign governments to slash aid, deepening a chronic economic crisis.
The protests come on the anniversary of a previous coup in 1989, which toppled the country’s last elected civilian government and ushered in three decades of iron-fisted rule by general Omar Al-Bashir.
They also come on the anniversary of 2019 protests demanding that the generals, who had ousted Bashir in a palace coup earlier that year, cede power to civilians.
Those protests led to the formation of the mixed civilian-military transitional government which was toppled in last year’s coup.
Security was tight in the capital Khartoum on Thursday despite the recent lifting of a state of emergency imposed after the coup.
An AFP correspondent said Internet and phone lines had been disrupted since the early hours, a measure the Sudanese authorities often impose to prevent mass gatherings.
Sudan has been roiled by near-weekly protests as the country’s economic woes have deepened since army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan seized power last year.
More than 100 people have been killed in protest-related violence, according to UN figures, as the military cracked down on the anti-coup movement.
“June 30 is our way to bring down the coup and block the path of any fake alternatives,” said the Forces for Freedom and Change, an alliance of civilian groups whose leaders were ousted in the coup.
Activists have called for “million-strong” rallies to mark the “earthquake of June 30.”
Small-scale demonstrations took place in the run-up to call for a huge turnout on Thursday.
UN special representative Volker Perthes called on the security forces to exercise restraint.
“Violence against protesters will not tolerated,” he said in a statement, adding that nobody should “give any opportunity to spoilers who want to escalate tensions in Sudan.”
The foreign ministry criticized the UN envoy’s comments, saying they were built on “assumptions” and “contradict his role as facilitator” in troubled talks on ending the political crisis.
Alongside the African Union and east African bloc IGAD, the United Nations has been attempting to broker talks between the generals and civilians, but they have been boycotted by all the main civilian factions.
The UN has warned that the deepening economic and political crisis threatens to push one third of the country’s population of more than 40 million toward life-threatening food shortages.


Russia pulls forces from Snake Island after ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port

Russia pulls forces from Snake Island after ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port
A ship carrying 7,000 tons of grain has sailed from Ukraine’s port of Berdyansk. (File/AFP)
Updated 37 min 25 sec ago

Russia pulls forces from Snake Island after ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port

Russia pulls forces from Snake Island after ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port
  • The Russian defense ministry said the withdrawal was a “goodwill gesture” to allow Kyiv to export agricultural products

 Russia said Thursday it had pulled its forces from Ukraine’s Snake Island, calling it a “goodwill gesture” to allow Kyiv to export agricultural products.
“On June 30, as a gesture of goodwill, the Russian armed forces completed their tasks on Snake Island and withdrew a garrison stationed there,” the defense ministry said in a statement.
The announcement came after Ukraine had launched several raids on Russians forces on the Black Sea island.
The Russian defense ministry said the withdrawal was aimed at demonstrating the world that “Russia is not impeding UN efforts to organize a humanitarian corridor to ship agricultural products from Ukraine.”
Moscow added that the “ball is now in Ukraine’s court,” accusing the pro-Western country of having still not demined its Black Sea coast.
A ship carrying 7,000 tons of grain has sailed from Ukraine’s occupied port of Berdyansk, the region’s Moscow-appointed official had said earlier on Thursday, marking the first grain shipment since the start of hostilities.
“After numerous months of delay, the first merchant ship has left the Berdyansk commercial port, 7,000 tons of grain are heading toward friendly countries,” Evgeny Balitsky, the head of the pro-Russia administration, said on Telegram.
Russia’s Black Sea ships “are ensuring the security” of the journey he said, adding that the Ukrainian port had been de-mined.
Berdyansk is a port city in the region of Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine.
Ukraine has accused Russia and its allies of stealing its grain, contributing to a global food shortage caused by grain exports blocked in Ukrainian ports.
The southern Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia have been largely under Russia’s control since the first weeks of Moscow’s military intervention, and are now being forcefully integrated into Russia’s economy.


Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit
Updated 29 min 4 sec ago

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit
  • Putin: Russia will respond to NATO moves in Finland, Sweden
  • NATO brands Russia most ‘significant and direct threat’

MADRID/KYIV: Russia pressed on with its offensive in eastern Ukraine on Thursday after NATO branded Moscow the biggest “direct threat” to Western security and agreed plans to modernize Kyiv’s beleaguered armed forces.
Ukrainian authorities said they were trying to evacuate residents from the frontline eastern city of Lysychansk, the focus of Russia’s attacks where about 15,000 people remained under relentless shelling.
“Fighting is going on all the time. The Russians are constantly on the offensive. There is no let-up,” regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television.
“Absolutely everything is being shelled.”

Ukrainian emergency service personnel help an injured local resident after Russian shelling in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on June 29, 2022. (AP Photo/George Ivanchenko) 


In the southern Kherson region, Ukrainian forces were fighting back with artillery strikes of their own, Oleskiy Arestovych, adviser to the Ukrainian president, said in a video posted online.
At a summit on Wednesday dominated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the geopolitical upheaval it has caused, NATO invited Sweden and Finland to join and pledged a seven-fold increase from 2023 in combat forces on high alert along its eastern flank.
In reaction, President Vladimir Putin said Russia would respond in kind if NATO set up infrastructure in Finland and Sweden after they join the US-led military alliance.
Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying he could not rule out that tensions would emerge in Moscow’s relations with Helsinki and Stockholm over their joining NATO.
US President Joe Biden announced more land, sea and air force deployments across Europe from Spain in the west to Romania and Poland bordering Ukraine.
These included a permanent army headquarters with accompanying battalion in Poland — the first full-time US deployment on NATO’s eastern fringes.

“President Putin’s war against Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and has created the biggest security crisis in Europe since the Second World War,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference.
“NATO has responded with strength and unity,” he said.
Britain said it would provide another 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) of military support to Ukraine, including air defense systems, uncrewed aerial vehicles and new electronic warfare equipment.

’Fighting everywhere’
As the 30 national NATO leaders were meeting in Madrid, Russian forces intensified attacks in Ukraine, including missile strikes and shelling on the southern Mykolaiv region close to front lines and the Black Sea.
The mayor of Mykolaiv city said a Russian missile had killed at least five people in a residential building there, while Moscow said its forces had hit what it called a training base for foreign mercenaries in the region.
There was relentless fighting around the hilltop city of Lysychansk, which Russian forces are trying to encircle as they try to capture the industrialized eastern Donbas region on behalf of separatist proxies. Donbas comprises Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
A video clip aired on Russia’s RIA state news agency showed former US soldier Alexander Drueke, who was captured while fighting for Ukrainian forces.
“My combat experience here was that one mission on that one day,” said Drueke, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, referring to the day he was captured outside Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. “I didn’t fire a shot. I would hope that would play a factor in whatever sentence I do or don’t receive.”


President Volodymyr Zelensky once again told NATO that Ukrainian forces needed more weapons and money, and faster, to erode Russia’s huge edge in artillery and missile firepower, and said Moscow’s ambitions did not stop at Ukraine.
The Russian invasion that began on Feb. 24 has destroyed cities, killed thousands and sent millions fleeing. Russia says it is pursuing a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of dangerous nationalists. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of an unprovoked, imperial-style land grab.

The top US intelligence official Avril Haines said on Wednesday the most likely near term scenario is a grinding conflict in which Moscow makes only incremental gains, but no breakthrough on its goal of taking most of Ukraine.

Full solidarity
In a nod to the precipitous deterioration in relations with Russia since the invasion, a NATO communique called Russia the “most significant and direct threat to the allies’ security,” having previously classified it as a “strategic partner.”
NATO issued a new Strategic Concept document, its first since 2010, that said a “strong independent Ukraine is vital for the stability of the Euro-Atlantic area.”
To that end, NATO agreed a long-term financial and military aid package to modernize Ukraine’s largely Soviet-era military.
“We stand in full solidarity with the government and the people of Ukraine in the heroic defense of their country,” the communique said.
Stoltenberg said NATO had agreed to put 300,000 troops on high readiness from 2023, up from 40,000 now, under a new force model to protect an area stretching from the Baltic to the Black seas.
NATO’s invitation to Sweden and Finland to join the alliance marks one of the most momentous shifts in European security in decades as Helsinki and Stockholm drop a tradition of neutrality in response to Russia’s invasion.


R&B superstar R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case

R&B superstar R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case
Updated 30 June 2022

R&B superstar R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case

R&B superstar R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case
  • Several accusers testified that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage
  • Kelly was “devastated” by the sentence and saddened by what he had heard, says his lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean
  • District Judge Ann Donnelly: “The horrors your victims endured. No price was too high to pay for your happiness.”

NEW YORK: Disgraced R&B superstar R. Kelly was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison for using his fame to sexually abuse young fans, including some who were just children, in a systematic scheme that went on for decades.
Through tears and anger, several of Kelly’s accusers told a court in New York City, and the singer himself, that he had misled and preyed upon them.
“You made me do things that broke my spirit. I literally wished I would die because of how low you made me feel,” said one unnamed survivor, directly addressing Kelly, who kept his hands folded and his eyes downcast.
“Do you remember that?” she asked.
Kelly, 55, didn’t give a statement and showed no reaction on hearing his penalty, which also included a $100,000 fine. He has denied wrongdoing, and he plans to appeal his conviction.
The Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling songwriter was found guilty last year of racketeering and sex trafficking at a trial that gave voice to accusers who had previously wondered if their stories were being ignored because they were Black women.
Victims “are no longer the preyed-on individuals we once were,” another one of his accusers said at the sentencing.
“There wasn’t a day in my life, up until this moment, that I actually believed that the judicial system would come through for Black and brown girls,” she added outside court.
A third woman, sobbing and sniffling as she addressed the court, also said Kelly’s conviction renewed her faith in the legal system.
The woman said Kelly victimized her after she went to a concert when she was 17.
“I was afraid, naive and didn’t know how to handle the situation,” she said, so she didn’t speak up at the time.
“Silence,” she said, “is a very lonely place.”
Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, said he was “devastated” by the sentence and saddened by what he had heard.
“He’s a human being. He feels what other people are feeling. But that doesn’t mean that he can accept responsibility in the way that the government would like him to and other people would like him to. Because he disagrees with the characterizations that have been made about him,” she said.
The sentence caps a slow-motion fall for Kelly, who is known for work including the 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and the cult classic “Trapped in the Closet,” a multipart tale of sexual betrayal and intrigue.
He was adored by legions of fans and sold millions of albums even after allegations about his abuse of young girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s. He beat child pornography charges in Chicago in 2008, when a jury acquitted him.
Widespread outrage over Kelly’s sexual misconduct didn’t emerge until the #MeToo reckoning, reaching a crescendo after the release of the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.”
“I hope this sentencing serves as its own testimony that it doesn’t matter how powerful, rich or famous your abuser may be or how small they make you feel — justice only hears the truth,” Brooklyn US Attorney Breon Peace said Wednesday.
A Brooklyn federal court jury convicted the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, after hearing that he used his entourage of managers and aides to meet girls and keep them obedient, an operation that prosecutors said amounted to a criminal enterprise.
Several accusers testified that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage.
The accusers alleged they were ordered to sign nondisclosure forms and were subjected to threats and punishments such as violent spankings if they broke what one referred to as “Rob’s rules.”
Some said they believed the videotapes he shot of them having sex would be used against them if they exposed what was happening.
According to testimony, Kelly gave several accusers herpes without disclosing he had an STD, coerced a teenage boy to join him for sex with a naked girl who emerged from underneath a boxing ring in his garage, and shot a shaming video that showed one victim smearing feces on her face as punishment for breaking his rules.
“The horrors your victims endured,” US District Judge Ann Donnelly said as she sentenced him. “No price was too high to pay for your happiness.”
Lizzette Martinez was a 17-year-old aspiring singer when she met Kelly at a Florida mall. She was promised mentorship but quickly ended up “a sex slave,” she said Wednesday outside court.
Asked whether Kelly’s 30-year sentence was sufficient punishment, she paused before answering.
“I, personally, don’t think it’s enough,” she said, “but I’m pleased with it.”
At the trial, evidence also was presented about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15. Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a license falsely listing her age as 18; he was 27 at the time.
Aaliyah worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” She died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.
Kelly didn’t testify at his trial, but his then-lawyers portrayed his accusers as girlfriends and groupies who weren’t forced to do anything against their will and stayed with him because they enjoyed the perks of his lifestyle.
His current lawyers had argued he should get no more than 10 years in prison because he had a traumatic childhood “involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty, and violence.”
As an adult with “literacy deficiencies,” the star was “repeatedly defrauded and financially abused, often by the people he paid to protect him,” his lawyers said.
The Associated Press does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted or abused, unless they come forward publicly, as Martinez has. Several women who spoke at Kelly’s sentencing were identified only by first names or pseudonyms.
Kelly has been jailed without bail since in 2019. He still faces child pornography and obstruction-of-justice charges in Chicago, where a trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 15.
 


Webb telescope: NASA to reveal deepest image ever taken of Universe

Webb telescope: NASA to reveal deepest image ever taken of Universe
Updated 30 June 2022

Webb telescope: NASA to reveal deepest image ever taken of Universe

Webb telescope: NASA to reveal deepest image ever taken of Universe
  • The James Webb Space Telescope will explore objects in the solar system and atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars

WASHINGTON: NASA administrator Bill Nelson said Wednesday the agency will reveal the “deepest image of our Universe that has ever been taken” on July 12, thanks to the newly operational James Webb Space Telescope.
“If you think about that, this is farther than humanity has ever looked before,” Nelson said during a press briefing at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the operations center for the $10 billion observatory that was launched in December last year and is now orbiting the Sun a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth.
A wonder of engineering, Webb is able to gaze further into the cosmos than any telescope before it, thanks to its enormous primary mirror and its instruments that focus on infrared, allowing it to peer through dust and gas.
“It’s going to explore objects in the solar system and atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars, giving us clues as to whether potentially their atmospheres are similar to our own,” added Nelson, speaking via phone while isolating with Covid.
“It may answer some questions that we have: Where do we come from? What more is out there? Who are we? And of course, it’s going to answer some questions that we don’t even know what the questions are.”
Webb’s infrared capabilities allow it to see deeper back in time to the Big Bang, which happened 13.8 billion years ago.
Because the Universe is expanding, light from the earliest stars shifts from the ultraviolet and visible wavelengths it was emitted in, to longer infrared wavelengths — which Webb is equipped to detect at an unprecedented resolution.
At present, the earliest cosmological observations date to within 330 million years of the Big Bang, but with Webb’s capacities, astronomers believe they will easily break the record.


In more good news, NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy revealed that, thanks to an efficient launch by NASA’s partner Arianespace, the telescope could stay operational for 20 years, double the lifespan that was originally envisaged.
“Not only will those 20 years allow us to go deeper into history, and time, but we will go deeper into science because we have the opportunity to learn and grow and make new observations,” she said.
NASA also intends to share Webb’s first spectroscopy of a faraway planet, known as an exoplanet, on July 12, said NASA’s top scientist Thomas Zurbuchen.
Spectroscopy is a tool to analyze the chemical and molecular composition of distant objects and a planetary spectrum can help characterize its atmosphere and other properties such as whether it has water and what its ground is like.
“Right from the beginning, we’ll look at these worlds out there that keep us awake at night as we look into the starry sky and wonder as we’re looking out there, is there life elsewhere?” said Zurbuchen.
Nestor Espinoza, as STSI astronomer, told AFP that previous exoplanet spectroscopies carried out using existing instruments were very limited compared to what Webb could do.
“It’s like being in a room that is very dark and you only have a little pinhole you can look through,” he said, of current technology. Now, with Webb, “You’ve opened a huge window, you can see all the little details.”