Muslim community mobilizes to support victims of deadly Bronx fire

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)
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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)
Front view of 333 East 181st Street in the Bronx, New York. (Supplied)
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Front view of 333 East 181st Street in the Bronx, New York. (Supplied)
ags of donated clothes, organized by category, are seen at Masjid Al-Rahama in the Bronx, New York. (Supplied)
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ags of donated clothes, organized by category, are seen at Masjid Al-Rahama in the Bronx, New York. (Supplied)
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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.”

 


Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race

Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race
Updated 23 January 2022

Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race

Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race
  • The 85-year-old media mogul insisted he had the support in parliament to win -- something analysts doubted
  • Berlusconi said he was withdrawing in the spirit of "national responsibility” to avoid further controversy

ROME: Billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi withdrew from the race for Italy's presidency on Saturday, two days before voting starts, but repeated his opposition to Prime Minister Mario Draghi taking the job.
The 85-year-old media mogul, who is still embroiled in legal proceedings over his infamous "Bunga Bunga" sex parties, insisted he had the support in parliament to win -- something analysts doubted.
But in a statement issued to the media, he said he was withdrawing in the spirit of "national responsibility", to avoid further controversy.
Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief who has led Italy's coalition government for the past year, remains the favourite to be elected head of state next week.
The governing parties, which range from left to right, including Berlusconi's Forza Italia, have however yet to reach a deal -- and with voting secret, the result is notoriously hard to predict.
More than 1,000 MPs, senators and regional representatives will begin voting Monday, with several rounds -- each taking a day -- expected before a result.
Indicating he hopes to play the kingmaker, Berlusconi said he would work with his right-wing allies to agree a candidate that can summon a "broad consensus" -- but made clear it should not be Draghi.
He said the premier should stay to help implement structural reforms promised in return for almost 200 billion euros in European Union funds, on which Italy is relying for its post-virus recovery.
"I consider it necessary for the Draghi government to complete its work until the end of the legislature," in 2023, when the next general election is due, Berlusconi said.
Many analysts also worry Draghi's departure would spark a crisis in the government and that debt-laden Italy would slip behind on a tight schedule to implement reforms to the tax and justice systems and public administration.
However, others say Draghi would be better placed as president to ensure political stability and good relations with Brussels -- particularly should the far-right win the next general election.
While a largely ceremonial role, the president wields considerable power in times of political crises, from dissolving parliament to picking new prime ministers and denying mandates to fragile coalitions.
Berlusconi announced his decision at a virtual meeting with Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigration League party and Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy.
He noted the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, saying: "Today, Italy needs unity.... I will continue to serve my country in other ways."
Salvini praised his "generous" decision which he said enabled them to propose candidates "without any more vetoes from the left".
Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, said the withdrawal had exposed a split in the right over Berlusconi's candidacy, adding: "Now we need a high-level agreement over a shared name and a legislative pact."
In the first three rounds, the winning candidate must secure two-thirds of the vote. From the fourth round, they only need an absolute majority.


Families mourn Indian victims of Houthi strike on UAE

The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
Updated 22 January 2022

Families mourn Indian victims of Houthi strike on UAE

The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
  • Two Indian nationals were among three people killed in the attack near Abu Dhabi airport on Monday
  • Remains of Hardeep Singh, 22, and Hardev Singh, 34 were repatriated to India on Friday

NEW DELHI: Mourners in India’s northern state of Punjab on Saturday attended the funerals of two compatriots killed in a recent attack by Houthi rebels on the UAE.

Two Indians and a Pakistani were killed when the drone and missile strikes hit fuel trucks near Abu Dhabi airport on Monday, causing multiple explosions. Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed the attacks.

The remains of Hardeep Singh, 22, and Hardev Singh, 34, were repatriated to India on Friday.

Hardeep, who came from Baba Bakala village in Amritsar district, is survived by his wife and mother.

“We are still not able to fathom the tragedy that took place in the family,” his cousin Rajbir Singh told Arab News. “The wife came back from Canada yesterday, after she learnt about the incident. She is a student there and Hardeep had plans to shift to Canada.”

Hardeep was working in the UAE as a truck driver. He married last year and was his family's sole breadwinner. The other victim, Hardev, came from Bagha Purana village in Moga district. He spent 18 years in the UAE, working on construction sites in the oil and gas industry.

Hardev's brother Sukhdev, who also works in the UAE, said he could not believe his brother was gone until he saw the body.

“It's difficult to foresee an existence without him,” Sukhdev told Arab News. “He was a great support to me and because of Hardev I could go to UAE. He was the main earner and support to the elderly parents.”

Sukhdev thanked the UAE government for the support it had provided to the family so far. Indian authorities have condemned the Houthi attack on the UAE.

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Tuesday expressed “strong solidarity with UAE in face of such unacceptable acts” during a call with his Emirati counterpart.

T.S. Tirumurti, India's permanent representative to the UN, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that “such an attack on innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure is completely unacceptable.”

He said: “It is a blatant violation of international law. It is also against all civilized norms. It is important that the council stands united in sending a clear signal against such heinous acts of terror.”


Saudi diplomat murder: Pakistan seeks Tehran assistance to arrest suspects from Iran

A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 22 January 2022

Saudi diplomat murder: Pakistan seeks Tehran assistance to arrest suspects from Iran

A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
  • Hassan Al-Qahtani was killed by gunmen in Pakistan’s southern metropolis of Karachi in 2011
  • In November last year, Pakistani authorities established a special team to investigate the murder

KARACHI: Pakistani police have asked for assistance from authorities in Tehran in apprehending the suspected killers of a Saudi diplomat who are believed to be hiding in Iran, a counterterrorism official has said.

Hassan Al-Qahtani, an employee of the Saudi consulate in Pakistan’s southern metropolis of Karachi, was killed in 2011 when gunmen opened fire on his car in the city’s Defence Housing Authority neighborhood.

In November last year, Pakistani authorities established a special team to investigate the murder after previous probes yielded no result. Counter Terrorism Department Deputy Inspector-General Omar Shahid Hamid told Arab News at the time that the team was working on “fruitful leads” from the country’s intelligence.

Investigation materials seen by Arab News include a November request to Iranian authorities for assistance in the case against three suspects in Al-Qahtani’s murder — Ali Mustehsan, Raza Imam, and Syed Waqar Ahmed — over their “involvement in target killing and terrorism activities in Pakistan.”

A policeman is reflected in a window of the Saudi consulate employee's car in Karachi shattered by bullets on May 16, 2011. (Reuters/File Photo)

“We have written for mutual legal assistance from Iran,” a Counter Terrorism Department official told Arab News on Friday evening on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“We believe that all three accused are absconding in Iran, and we cannot arrest them without the assistance of their law enforcement.”

He said red notices for Mustehsan and Ahmed have already been issued, while police have called for the Federal Investigation Agency to initiate the process of issuing one for Imam as well.

Imam, alias Manzar, has a 1-million-rupee ($13,400) bounty on his head and has already been sentenced to death in two different cases, according to the Sindh police wanted list.

He is a member of the banned Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan militant organization.

Mustehsan, alias Syed Waseem Ahsan Naqvi, belongs to the same organization.


Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass

Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass
Updated 22 January 2022

Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass

Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass
  • Security police Sapo had expressed concern that neo-Nazi groups and opponents could face off at the demonstration in Stockholm
  • Around 9,000 people marched through streets of Stockholm chanting "No to Vaccine Passes, Yes to Freedom"

STOCKHOLM: Thousands of protesters demonstrated in Sweden's two biggest cities on Saturday against the use of vaccine passes, in marches that unfolded calmly after police had warned of possible clashes.
Security police Sapo had expressed concern that neo-Nazi groups and opponents could face off at the demonstration in Stockholm.
Around 9,000 people marched through the streets of the capital Stockholm to the Sergels Torg square chanting "No to Vaccine Passes, Yes to Freedom", in a protest organised by a group calling itself the Freedom Movement.
One of the marchers, 30-year-old Julia Johansson, said vaccine passes "discriminate against a lot of people".
"We have to be able to decide ourselves what we want to do with our own bodies," she told AFP.
Aida Begovic, 35, agreed, saying they "force people to get medical procedures they don't want."
"No matter how much you say (vaccination) isn't a requirement, it is if you lose rights in society over it."
The Scandinavian country introduced vaccine passes on December 1.
They have been mandatory since January 12 for indoor events of more than 50 people, as the country battles an unprecedented surge of infections with around 40,000 cases reported per day in the past week.
More than 83 percent of Swedes over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated.
Some of the demonstrators wore the markings of violent extremist groups such as the neo-Nazi group NMR, and covered their faces to prevent identification.
Some also set off red flares that lit the sky a smoky red, but police said no clashes were reported.
A number of vaccination centres in the city had closed early on Saturday as a precaution.
In Sweden's second-biggest city Gothenburg, another demonstration gathered around 1,500 people.
Sweden made headlines in the early days of the pandemic when it, unlike most other countries, did not introduce any form of lockdown or school closures.
Instead, it adopted a softer approach, recommending social distancing, homeworking and only limited use of facemasks.
It did however ban visits to elderly care homes, limit public gatherings and restrict opening hours at bars and restaurants.
Sweden's death toll -- around 15,600 of the 10.3 million population -- is around the European average, but is significantly higher than in neighbouring Norway, Finland and Denmark.


UK drafting plan to detain male migrants found at sea

UK drafting plan to detain male migrants found at sea
Updated 22 January 2022

UK drafting plan to detain male migrants found at sea

UK drafting plan to detain male migrants found at sea
  • Strategy aims to bypass international laws safeguarding asylum seekers
  •  Official: Ministers ‘absolutely convinced that tough deterrents are the way’

LONDON: Male migrants who try to cross the English Channel will be detained under a new UK government proposal, The Times reported on Saturday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson tasked Home Secretary Priti Patel with drawing up new plans in the latest effort to deter Channel migrant crossings.
Under the plan, male migrants would be housed in immigration detention centers after being intercepted at sea or discovered on UK territory.
Government officials believe that the plan will deter migrants from making the hazardous journey across the Channel. 

Last year, a record 28,381 people successfully made the trip, many in small dinghies. That figure could double this year, according to government statistics.
Patel and the French government have claimed that about 70 percent of all migrants who cross the Channel are single men aged under 40.
Due to international laws, migrants who are intercepted in the Channel cannot be lawfully detained, as opposed to those who reach Britain, who are often temporarily housed in hotels.
Most migrants who cross the Channel are doing so lawfully because they are intercepted before reaching the UK coast. Only a fraction land on beaches, which is illegal under British law.
But the new government plans look to enable UK authorities to detain and subsequently deport or imprison migrants intercepted at sea.

Individuals will face a maximum prison sentence of four years under the new law. A government source said: “We’re working through what powers of detention are needed.”
Another official said: “Ministers are convinced this is the way to create a deterrent. Their thinking is ‘you make it worse and worse, more draconian and it’ll stop people coming.’ They’re absolutely convinced that tough deterrents are the way to fix it.”
The plan is part of a wider strategy to use the Royal Navy, as well as a relocation policy to third countries, in order to combat Channel crossings.
However, MPs from Johnson’s Conservative Party have questioned the new proposal. Senior MP Tim Loughton said: “The fear is that it’s substituting the current accommodation bill of a Holiday Inn with the higher bill of a prison facility or a secure facility.”
There are also concerns that detained migrants could claim other rights under the Human Rights Act and the UN Refugee Convention, making it difficult for the government to execute its strategy.
But Patel’s plan aims to classify migrants who enter the UK illegally, or who arrive through a “safe” third country — including France — as “inadmissible.”