Texas Muslims express support for hostages in synagogue assault

Texas Muslims express support for hostages in synagogue assault
An aerial view of police standing in front of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas. (AP)
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Updated 16 January 2022

Texas Muslims express support for hostages in synagogue assault

Texas Muslims express support for hostages in synagogue assault
  • Imams at nearby mosques condemned the violence and prayed for the safety of the synagogue's congregation
  • The FBI on Sunday identified the gunman killed as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram

CHICAGO: Leaders of the Muslim community in Texas and activists around the US expressed support for members of a synagogue in Colleyville which came under attack on Saturday, sparking a 10-hour hostage crisis.

A SWAT team breached the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue at around 9:30 p.m. in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, freeing all the hostages.

No members of the synagogue’s congregation were injured, but the gunman was killed, police said without releasing details. The rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, was reported to be among the four held hostage.

The FBI on Sunday identified the gunman who was killed as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram.

Imams at nearby mosques quickly responded with statements of support and prayers for the safety of the synagogue's congregation and condemnations of the violence.

“We are shocked and horrified at what is transpiring in the Colleyville synagogue,” said Imam Jawaid Alam, from the Islamic Center of Southlake, as word spread of the hostage crisis. “They are going through an appalling ordeal and we stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and we condemn these atrocious actions. We will provide our support and hope that this situation comes to a safe resolution as soon as possible. Ameen.”

The Secretary-General of the US Council of Muslim Organizations Oussama Jammal said that Muslims across the US stand in solidarity with “the Colleyville and broader American Jewish community,” and are “relieved” at their safe release.

“This heinous attack on a synagogue, a sacred and inviolable place of worship – and its congregants in the act of prayer – is utterly unacceptable. Whoever the attacker is and whatever his claimed motivations, there can be no excuse for this horrific crime. We praise God for their return to their loved ones,” Jammal said.

Police issued updates on Twitter as the hostage situation continued throughout Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Colleyville Police Spokesperson Sgt. Dara Nelson said a 911 call came in just before 11 a.m.

“Officers arrived on scene and observed an emergency situation that warranted evacuation of the surrounding areas and an external perimeter was established,” Nelson said. “The Colleyville Police Department is on scene along with the FBI's Dallas Field Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the North Tarrant Regional SWAT Team and other neighboring agencies.”

Nelson said a gunman was holding several hostages inside the synagogue and reported that at 5 p.m. the suspect released one male hostage uninjured. FBI crisis negotiators were in communication with the suspect, Nelson added.

The SWAT team entered the synagogue and freed all of the hostages and the suspect was killed.

US President Joe Biden issued a statement immediately after the hostages were released late Saturday night.

“Thanks to the courageous work of state, local and federal law enforcement, four Americans who were held hostage at a Texas synagogue will soon be home with their families. I am grateful to the tireless work of law enforcement at all levels who acted cooperatively and fearlessly to rescue the hostages. We are sending love and strength to the members of Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville, and the Jewish community,” he said.

“There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage taker. But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate—we will stand against antisemitism and against the rise of extremism in this country. That is who we are, and tonight, the men and women of law enforcement made us all proud.”

On Sunday, Biden said that the hostage taker had got his weapons off the street.

The hostage incident in Colleyville, Texas, “was an act of terror; it was an act of terror,” said Biden, who was in Philadelphia with first lady Jill Biden.

Pro-Palestinian activists also issued statements against the violence, including Jewish Voices for Peace. It said: “We are grateful to G-d that Rabbi Cytron-Walker and the congregants at Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas are free and safe. We send love to our fellow Jews everywhere who are breathing slightly easier, and recommit to the fight against antisemitism and Islamophobia.”

Britain's foreign office confirmed the death of a British man in Texas, when asked to respond to a Sky News report that the gunman was a British national. The foreign office did not explicitly say the dead Briton was the gunman.

British foreign minister Liz Truss on Sunday condemned the actions of the gunman, calling it an act of terrorism and anti-Semitism.

“My thoughts are with the Jewish community and all those affected by the appalling act in Texas. We condemn this act of terrorism and anti-Semitism,” she wrote on Twitter.

“We stand with US in defending the rights and freedoms of our citizens against those who spread hate.”

The attack came as the US prepared to commemorate racial and religious tolerance on Monday, what would have been the 93rd birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis by James Earl Ray, a white segregationist and escaped felon.

US President Joe Biden says he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan

US President Joe Biden says he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan
Updated 5 sec ago

US President Joe Biden says he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan

US President Joe Biden says he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan
  • US President: China is flirting with danger in Taiwan by flying close to the island
TOKYO: US President Joe Biden said on Monday he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan and that the United States stands with other nations to make sure China cannot use force in Taiwan.
He added that China is flirting with danger in Taiwan by flying close to the island.

North Korea: Kim Jong Un attends large funeral amid COVID-19 worry

North Korea: Kim Jong Un attends large funeral amid COVID-19 worry
Updated 12 min 33 sec ago

North Korea: Kim Jong Un attends large funeral amid COVID-19 worry

North Korea: Kim Jong Un attends large funeral amid COVID-19 worry
  • Kim often arranges big funerals for late senior officials loyal to his ruling family
  • State media said Monday that 2.8 million people have fallen ill due to an unidentified fever

SEOUL: A huge number of North Koreans including leader Kim Jong Un attended a funeral for a top official, state media reported Monday, as the country maintained the much-disputed claim that its suspected coronavirus outbreak is subsiding.
Since admitting earlier this month to an outbreak of the highly contagious omicron variant, North Korea has only stated how many people have fevers daily and identified just a fraction of the cases as COVID-19. Its state media said Monday that 2.8 million people have fallen ill due to an unidentified fever but only 68 of them died since late April, an extremely low fatality rate if the illness is COVID-19 as suspected.
North Korea has limited testing capability for that many sick people, but some experts say it is also likely underreporting mortalities to protect Kim from political damage.
The official Korean Central News Agency said Kim attended the funeral Sunday of Hyon Chol Hae, a Korean People’s Army marshal who played a key role in grooming him as the country’s next leader before Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011.
In what was one of the country’s biggest state funerals since his father’s death, a bare-faced Kim Jong Un carried Hyon’s coffin with other top officials who wore masks before he threw earth to his grave with his hands at the national cemetery. Kim and hundreds of masked soldiers and officials also deeply bowed before Hyon’s grave, state TV footage showed.
State TV earlier showed thousands of other masked soldiers clad in olive-green uniforms gathered at a Pyongyang plaza taking off their hats and paying a silent tribute before a funeral limousine carrying Hyon’s body left for the cemetery. KCNA said “a great many” soldiers and citizens also turned out along streets to express their condolences.
Kim often arranges big funerals for late senior officials loyal to his ruling family and shows a human side in a possible bid to draw the support of the country’s ruling elite and boost internal unity.
KCNA quoted Kim as saying that “the name of Hyon Chol Hae would be always remembered along with the august name of Kim Jong Il.” He wept when he visited a mourning station established for Hyon last week.
During Sunday’s funeral, most people, except for Kim Jong Un and honor guards, wore masks. The Norths’ ongoing outbreak was likely caused by the April 25 military parade and related events that drew large crowds of people who wore no masks.
North Korea maintains a nationwide lockdown and other stringent rules to curb the virus outbreak. Region-to-region movement is banned, but key agricultural, economic and other industrial activities were continuing in an apparent effort to minimize harm to the country’s already moribund economy.
KCNA said Monday that 167,650 new fever cases had been detected in the past 24-hour period, a notable drop from the peak of about 390,000 reported about one week ago. It said one more person died and that the fever’s fatality rate was 0.002 percent.
“All the people of (North Korea) maintain the current favorable turn in the anti-epidemic campaign with maximum awareness, in response to the call of the party central committee for defending their precious life and future with confidence in sure victory and redoubled great efforts,” KCNA said.
Experts question the North’s tally, given North Korea’s 26 million people are mostly unvaccinated and about 40 percent are reportedly undernourished. The public health care system is almost broken and chronically short of medicine and supplies. In South Korea, where most of its 52 million people are fully vaccinated, the fatality rate of COVID-19 was 0.13 percent as of Monday.

Beijing urges millions to keep working from home amid COVID-19 outbreak menace

Beijing urges millions to keep working from home amid COVID-19 outbreak menace
Updated 41 min 39 sec ago

Beijing urges millions to keep working from home amid COVID-19 outbreak menace

Beijing urges millions to keep working from home amid COVID-19 outbreak menace
  • The Chinese capital on Monday reported 99 new cases were detected on May 22, up from 61 the previous day

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: Beijing authorities extended work-from-home guidance for many of its 22 million residents to stem a persistent COVID-19 outbreak, while Shanghai deployed more testing and curbs to hold on to its hard-won ‘zero COVID’ status after two months of lockdown.
On Monday, the Chinese capital reported 99 new cases were detected on May 22, up from 61 the previous day — the largest daily tally so far during a month-old outbreak that has consistently seen dozens of new infections every day.
In Shanghai fewer than 600 daily cases were reported for May 22, with none outside quarantined areas, as there has been the case for much of the past week.
Analysts at Gavekal Dragonomics estimated last week that fewer than 5 percent of Chinese cities were reporting infections, down from a quarter in late March, in a COVID-19 outbreak that has cast a pall over growth in the world’s no. 2 economy. But vigilance, and concern, remains acute in Shanghai and the capital.
While there were no new announcements of areas being closed in Beijing, five of the city’s 16 districts advised residents to work from home and avoid gatherings. Those who have to go to work should have a negative result on a PCR test taken within 48 hours, and must not deviate from their home-to-work commute.
“The city’s epidemic prevention and control is at a critical moment,” Beijing’s Tongzhou district posted on its WeChat account late on Sunday, asking residents who work in five other districts to do their jobs from home this week.
“One step forward and victory is in sight. One step back, and previous efforts would be wasted.”
Beijing had already curtailed public transport, asked some shopping malls and other stores and venues to close and sealed buildings where new cases were detected.
In one large residential compound not under isolation orders, shelves have been set up for deliveries at the entrance, according to residents, fueling concern that preparation was in place for tougher controls on movement.
The curbs in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere in China are leaving behind significant economic damage and disruption to global supply chains and international trade.
The highly-transmissible omicron variant of the virus first discovered in the city of Wuhan in late 2019 has proven hard to defeat even with strict measures that starkly contrast the resumption of normal life elsewhere in the world.
“We’ve been massively hit,” said a convenience store owner surnamed Sun, whose shop in Beijing has only been allowed to operate during daytime rather than its usual 24/7 hours.
“Even during the Wuhan outbreak we could stay open the whole time.”
In Shanghai, which reopened more than 250 bus routes and a small part of its sprawling subway system on Sunday, many towns and districts announced more mass testing for the coming days and asked residents not to leave their compounds.
The commercial hub of 25 million has allowed more people to leave their homes for brief periods over the past week, but it generally plans to keep most restrictions in place this month, before a lifting its two-month-old lockdown from June 1.
However, while more people are being allowed outside, several residents in various areas of Shanghai said they had been told of new infections in their vicinity that required new curbs on movement.
One resident in Hongkou district, which has not reported any new community-level cases since May 7, said he was told last week not to leave his flat, having been allowed to move within his compound previously.
Hongkou was among six districts which have announced some tightening of curbs in recent days to “consolidate” the results of their efforts so far.
But such moves made some people fear the virus was making a comeback.
The top comment on a post by state agency Xinhua on China’s Twitter-like Weibo post on Shanghai’s latest numbers read: “This can’t be accurate, zero COVID cases at community level? Our compound had one new case yesterday.”
Asked to comment, the Shanghai government said that all cases found in recent days were in “sealed” high-risk areas or quarantine centers, and that any community transmission cases would be announced on official channels.

Seven killed after fire engulfs Philippine ferry

Seven killed after fire engulfs Philippine ferry
Updated 23 May 2022

Seven killed after fire engulfs Philippine ferry

Seven killed after fire engulfs Philippine ferry
  • 12 rescued so far and seven remained missing, says Philippine Coast Guard
  • The ferry was on its way to Real in Quezon province from Polillo island

MANILA: At least seven people were killed and scores plucked to safety in the Philippines Monday after a fire ripped through a ferry and forced passengers to jump overboard, coast guard and witnesses said.
The blaze broke out on the Mercraft 2 at around 6:30 am (2230 GMT Sunday) as it carried 134 passengers and crew from Polillo Island to Real in Quezon province on the main island of Luzon.
Seven people died and 120 have been rescued so far, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Armando Balilo said.
Another seven were missing and a search operation was ongoing.
The boat had a 186-person capacity.
Thick black smoke billowed from the boat as flames engulfed the entire vessel, photos shared by the coast guard showed.
People with life rings and life vests were in the water. Some were rescued by other ferries or clambered into inflatable boats.
The fire appears to have started in the engine room, Balilo said.
“We were able to rescue 40 survivors. We have two fatalities,” said Captain Brunette Azagra, whose passenger vessel was 500 meters from the Mercraft when the fire broke out.
“They were lucky because we also came from Polillo. They overtook us, but we were just nearby,” Azagra told a local radio station, describing sea conditions as “quite good.”
At least 23 people were injured, according to the coast guard.
The ship was around seven kilometers away (four miles) from port, Real town disaster officer Ricky Poblete said.
Speaking from the hospital where the injured were being treated, Poblete said the seven dead had drowned.
Photos posted on the coast guard’s Facebook page showed a survivor laying on a stretcher being carried off a ferry.
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, is plagued by poor sea transport, with its badly regulated boats and ships prone to overcrowding and accidents.
The Mercraft has been towed to shore, Balilo said.

Russia presses Donbas attacks as Polish leader praises Kyiv

Russia presses Donbas attacks as Polish leader praises Kyiv
Updated 23 May 2022

Russia presses Donbas attacks as Polish leader praises Kyiv

Russia presses Donbas attacks as Polish leader praises Kyiv
  • Zelensky says from 50 to 100 Ukrainian fighters were being killed, apparently each day, in the east
  • Urges the 27-member EU to expedite his country’s request to join the bloc

KYIV, Ukraine: Russia pressed its offensive in eastern Ukraine on Sunday as Poland’s president traveled to Kyiv to support the country’s European Union aspirations, becoming the first foreign leader to address the Ukrainian parliament since the start of the war.
Lawmakers gave a standing ovation to President Andrzej Duda, who thanked them for the honor of speaking where “the heart of a free, independent and democratic Ukraine beats.” Duda said that to end the conflict, Ukraine did not need to submit to conditions given by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Unfortunately, in Europe there have also been disturbing voices in recent times demanding that Ukraine yield to Putin’s demands,” he said. “I want to say clearly: Only Ukraine has the right to decide about its future. Only Ukraine has the right to decide for itself.”
Duda’s visit, his second to Kyiv since April, came as Russian and Ukrainian forces battled along a 551-kilometer (342-mile) wedge of the country’s eastern industrial heartland.
After declaring full control of a sprawling seaside steel plant that was the last defensive holdout in the port city of Mariupol, Russia launched artillery and missile attacks to expand the territory that Moscow-backed separatists have held since 2014 in the region known as the Donbas.

Ukrainian soldiers load bodies of killed Russian soldiers into a refrigerated rail car in Kharkiv on Sunday. (Reuters)

To bolster its defenses, Ukraine’s parliament voted Sunday to extend martial law and the mobilization of armed forces for a third time, until Aug. 23.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has stressed that the 27-member EU should expedite his country’s request to join the bloc. Ukraine’s potential candidacy is set to be discussed at a Brussels summit in late June.
France’s European Affairs minister Clement Beaune on Sunday told Radio J it would be a “long time” before Ukraine gains EU membership, perhaps up to two decades.
“We have to be honest,” he said. “If you say Ukraine is going to join the EU in six months, or a year or two, you’re lying.”
But Poland is ramping up efforts to win over EU members who are more hesitant about accepting Ukraine into the bloc. Zelensky said Duda’s visit represented a “historic union” between Ukraine, which declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and Poland, which ended communist rule two years earlier.
“This is really a historic opportunity not to lose such strong relations, built through blood, through Russian aggression,” Zelensky said. “All this not to lose our state, not to lose our people.”
Poland has welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees and become a gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons into Ukraine. It is also a transit point for some foreign fighters who have volunteered to fight the Russian forces.
Duda credited the US and President Joe Biden for unifying the West in supporting Ukraine and imposing sanctions against Moscow.
“Kyiv is the place from which one clearly sees that we need more America in Europe, both in the military and in this economic dimension,” said Duda, a right-wing populist leader who clearly preferred former President Donald Trump over Biden in the 2020 election.
On the battlefield, Russia appeared to have made slow, grinding moves forward in the Donbas in recent days. It intensified efforts to capture Sievierodonetsk, the main city under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province, which together with Donetsk province makes up the Donbas. The Ukrainian military said Sunday that Russian forces had mounted an unsuccessful attack on Oleksandrivka, a village outside of Sievierodonetsk.
Sievierodonetsk came under heavy shelling, and Luhansk Gov. Serhii Haidai said the Russians were “simply intentionally trying to destroy the city... engaging in a scorched-earth approach.”
Haidai said Moscow was concentrating forces and weaponry there to try to win control of Luhansk, bringing in forces from Kharkiv to the northwest, Mariupol to the south, and from inside Russia.
The sole working hospital in the city has only three doctors and supplies for 10 days, he said.
Ukrainian officials have said little since the war began about the extent of their country’s casualties, but Zelensky said at a news conference Sunday that 50 to 100 Ukrainian fighters were being killed, apparently each day, in the east.
In a general staff morning report, Russia said it was also preparing to resume its offensive on Slovyansk, a city in Donetsk province that saw fierce fighting last month after Moscow’s troops backed away from Kyiv.
In Enerhodar, a Russian-held city 281 kilometers (174 miles) northwest of Mariupol, an explosion Sunday injured the Moscow-appointed mayor at his residence, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported. Ukraine’s Unian news agency said a bomb planted by “local partisans” wounded 48-year-old Andrei Shevchuk, whose lives near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest.
With Russia claiming to have taken prisoner nearly 2,500 Ukrainian fighters from the Mariupol steel plant, concerns grew about their fate and that of the remaining residents of the city, now in ruins with more than 20,000 feared dead.

Ukrainian soldiers assist their comrades not far from the frontline in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on May 21, 2022. (AFP)

Relatives of the fighters have pleaded for them to be given rights as prisoners of war and eventually returned to Ukraine. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine “will fight for the return” of every one of them.
Denis Pushilin, the pro-Kremlin head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, vowed that the Ukrainian fighters from the plant would face tribunals.
The complete seizure of the Azovstal steel plant, a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity, gave Putin a badly wanted victory in the war he began nearly three months ago, on Feb. 24. Ukraine’s military had told the fighters their mission was complete and they could come out. It described their extraction as an evacuation, not a mass surrender.
Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko warned that the city faces a health and sanitation “catastrophe” from mass burials in shallow pits and the breakdown of sewage systems. An estimated 100,000 of the 450,000 people who lived in Mariupol before the war remain.
Ukrainian authorities have alleged Russian atrocities there, including the bombings of a maternity hospital and a theater where hundreds of civilians had taken cover.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian court was expected to reach a verdict Monday for a Russian soldier who was the first to go on trial for an alleged war crime. The 21-year-old sergeant, who has admitted to shooting a Ukrainian man in the head in a village in the northeastern Sumy region on Feb. 28, could get life in prison if convicted.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova has said her office was prosecuting war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses that included bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting.
In other developments, Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, gave a rare interview to national broadcaster ICTV alongside her husband and said she has hardly seen him since the war began.
“Our family, like all Ukrainian families, is now separated,” she said, adding that she speaks to him mostly by phone.
“Unfortunately, we cannot sit together, have dinner with the whole family, talk about everything,” she said.
Zelensky called the interview itself “a date on air,” and the couple, who have two children, joked in front of the journalists.
“We are joking, but we are really waiting, like everyone else, to be reunited, like all families in Ukraine who are separated now, waiting for their relatives and friends who want to be together again,” he said.

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