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.


Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000
Updated 8 sec ago

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000
  • Refugees are provided a path to permanent residency

SAN DIEGO: President Joe Biden on Tuesday kept the nation’s cap on refugee admissions at 125,000 for the 2023 budget year, despite pressure from advocates to raise it even higher to meet the need after falling far short of that target this year.
Refugees advocates have been pushing the Biden administration to do more to restore the US Refugee Admissions Program. The more than four-decade-old program suffered deep cuts under the Trump administration, which slashed admissions to a record low of 15,000.
Biden raised the cap to four times that amount, but so far fewer than 20,000 refugees have been admitted this budget year, which ends Sept. 30.
That number excludes the roughly 180,000 Ukrainians and Afghans who came to the United States via a legal process called humanitarian parole that got them into the country more quickly than the traditional refugee program but only allows for stays of up to two years.
Refugees are provided a path to permanent residency. Their admissions are determined by the president each year, and federal funding for resettlement agencies is based on the number of people they resettle in a given year.
The 125,000 target “is justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest,” Biden stated in his presidential determination. Historically, the average has been 95,000 under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Biden earmarked 5,000 more slots for people from Europe and Central Asia for the 2023 budget year, making room to accommodate those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
The largest number of slots — 40,000 — was set aside for refugees from Africa, followed by 35,000 from South Asia and 15,000 each from East Asia, Europe and Latin America.
Biden has struggled to restore the US Refugee Program despite raising the numbers and removing bureaucratic barriers put in place by his predecessor, which slowed the process and led to a massive backlog.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the Biden administration must act now to improve the refugee program with the United Nations reporting a record 100 million people being displaced from their homes.
“It must ramp up and streamline overseas processing of refugee applications if this lifesaving program is to remain relevant amid an unprecedented global displacement crisis,” she said in a statement.


UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders
Updated 28 September 2022

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders
  • In spite of Zelensky’s appeals, there is no chance of the Security Council — where Russia holds a veto — reaching a united stance on the annexation move

UNITED NATIONS, US: The UN reaffirmed its commitment to Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” on Tuesday, as pro-Moscow authorities in several parts of the war-torn nation claimed victory in annexation votes condemned internationally as a sham.
“The United Nations remains fully committed to the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders,” Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo told a meeting of the UN Security Council.
Addressing the meeting by video link, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once more denounced the ballots hastily organized in Russian-occupied regions — Donetsk and Lugansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.
“There’s a very cynical attempt to force the male population in occupied territory of Ukraine to mobilize into the Russian army, in order to send them to fight against their own homelands,” he charged.
Taking aim at Russian leader Vladmir Putin, Zelensky warned that “annexation is the kind of move that puts him alone against the whole of humanity.”
“A clear signal is now needed from every country in the world,” he said.
In spite of Zelensky’s appeals, there is no chance of the Security Council — where Russia holds a veto — reaching a united stance on the annexation move.
Nevertheless, the United States intends to submit a resolution condemning the “sham referenda,” urging member states “not to recognize any altered status of Ukraine and obligating Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine,” said the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
China’s statements and vote on the resolution will be monitored closely for signals of any changes in its stance toward Russia, which it has yet to condemn over its invasion of Ukraine.
“Our position and proposition on how to view and handle the Ukraine issue is consistent and clear,” said Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun on Tuesday.
“That is, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected.”
In February, just after Moscow’s forces invaded, China chose to abstain on a resolution deploring the action, which was nonetheless vetoed by Russia.
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s UN ambassador, made clear that Russia would wield its veto again, criticizing the move as “temper tantrums of the Western delegations.”
“The referendums were conducted exclusively transparently, with upholding of all the electoral norms,” Nebenzia argued, adding that the West’s only aim was to “weaken and bleed dry Russia as much as possible.”


All honest people recognize global warming is real, says Pakistani envoy

All honest people recognize global warming is real, says Pakistani envoy
Updated 28 September 2022

All honest people recognize global warming is real, says Pakistani envoy

All honest people recognize global warming is real, says Pakistani envoy
  • Munir Akram told Arab News his country is proposing the creation of a financial facility that would be permanently available to compensate countries for the effects of climate change
  • He said he is ‘disappointed’ with the rights record of the Taliban in Afghanistan but added it would be counterproductive to break off from talks with them and isolate the government

NEW YORK CITY: Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Munir Akram, remembers the day the recent floods that would eventually submerge a third of his country began.
“The extreme heat melted the glaciers,” he said. “We have 7,000 glaciers in the mountains of Pakistan. This resulted in flash floods. And then the extreme heat led to high precipitation, which resulted in the massive torrential rains that came.
“It is perhaps difficult to imagine the magnitude of the disaster and this became clear to all of us, and to the world, as the waters ran over the rivers into the villages, towns, fields, destroying 7,000 kilometers of roads, 300 bridges, over a million homes, seven million acres of standing crops.”
During a visit to the country this month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the situation in Pakistan as “climate carnage.” He had never seen anything like it on this scale before, he said, as the flooded land covered an area three times the size of his own country, Portugal.
This disaster of monumental magnitude has resulted in more than 1,400 deaths, and caused damage estimated at more than $30 billion. A catastrophe of hitherto unimaginable proportions, it has once again propelled the issue of climate change to the top of the international agenda, dominating every discussion during the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN General Assembly in New York this month.
“This is the consequence of climate change, of global warming,” Akram told Arab News on the sidelines of the UN event. “And the supreme irony is that Pakistan is not responsible for global warming; we emit only 0.8 percent of global carbon emissions and yet Pakistan is the most significantly impacted country by this.
“I think the (UN) secretary-general has spoken eloquently about that when he visited the affected areas and he has called for massive assistance to Pakistan, not only as a humanitarian gesture but also as part of, like, climate justice.
“It is unjust that Pakistan should face the consequences of the actions of those who are the largest emitters and have been the largest emitters for so many decades.”
China, the US and the nations that make up the membership of the EU are the three largest global emitters of greenhouse gases, which cause the Earth’s surface and lower atmosphere to warm.
Guterres has for years called for the biggest producers of greenhouse gases not only to lower their emissions but also to finance the response to the effects of climate change in less-wealthy countries and regions — such as Pakistan, drought-hit Horn of Africa, and the Small Island States that are also particularly vulnerable to flooding — when they face extreme weather events resulting from those emissions.
“I think that all the honest people around the world recognize that global warming and climate change is a reality and that it is having very enormous impacts around the world, especially on developing countries,” said Akram.
“Therefore there is a growing support for the proposal of the developing countries that at least $100 billion should be provided annually for climate finance, that at least half of this should go to adaptation — so far, it’s only 20 to 25 percent of those (funds that go) for adaptation — and that when countries such as Pakistan (are) damaged so grievously, to the extent of 10 percent of the gross domestic product, that there is a responsibility on the part of the international community, especially those who have a historical and current responsibility for having the highest emissions, to provide support in the recovery of countries which suffer from the impact.”
Pakistan is putting forward a proposal for the creation of a financial facility that would be permanently available to compensate countries for the effects of climate change. This is in addition, Akram said, to Islamabad’s suggestion that climate-adaptation efforts, often deemed the “orphan child” of climate talks, should receive at least 50 percent of all climate financing, along with an increased emphasis on the importance of speeding up mitigation efforts, “especially by those who are the highest emitters and who have been historically the highest contributors to global warming over the last 150 years.”
Turning to the situation in neighboring Afghanistan, the Pakistani envoy expressed “disappointment” at the human rights record of the Taliban in the year since they took over the country by force following the withdrawal of Western forces in August last year.
“We are all disappointed that some of the promises that were made with regard to human rights, women’s rights and counterterrorism have not been fulfilled and it remains a priority for us to promote those objectives,” Akram said.
However he added that it would be counterproductive to disengage from talks with the Taliban government or to try to isolate and punish it. He said such actions would condemn the entirety of the Afghan population to further suffering and starvation “and that is certainly not the objective of the international community.”
Akram urged the global donors to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and engage in the economic revival of the country, including improvements to its banking system. He also called for the nation to be allowed to use the resources available to it, including the release of overseas assets currently frozen by the international community. Pakistan is actively engaged in this process, he added.
Calling for “a pathway for normalization” as a major weapon in the fight against terrorism, Akram urged the Taliban to “take effective action not only against (Daesh), which is of course the major concern for the international community, but also against terrorist organizations such as the TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), which is not only threatening but actually resorting to cross-border attacks against Pakistan.”
The plight of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban is another topic that has dominated discussions during the UN General Assembly, with Afghan women living in exile making the case for their compatriots in a country that is the only one in the world that actively denies women the right to an education. They have called on world leaders to label the regime’s actions against women as “gender apartheid,” in the hope the term will become a catalyst in Afghanistan for change in terms of the treatment of women, just as it once did in South Africa on issues of race relations.
Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, told Arab News last week that the plight of women in Afghanistan should be an issue not only for the wider international community but for the Muslim world in particular because “Islam is what gave women their rights. Islam is what protects women’s rights.”
Akram believes in pursuing “a strategy of persuasion” with the Taliban on the issue.
“We need to convince the Taliban that their position on this issue is out of step with the requirements of human rights, Islamic law or Islamic practice as such, and we are fully behind this,” he said.
“All we say is let’s do it in a way of persuasion, of trying to convince them through (for example) illustration of best practices in the Islamic world of how women are treated and how women are contributing to the welfare of the nations.
“And perhaps the Taliban — at least those who are younger, educated and know the world — will soon come to be convinced that this is the right way to do it. And hopefully, Afghanistan will then emerge into a stage of development that is more consistent with international norms.”

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Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery
Updated 27 September 2022

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

KABUL: A mass grave found in southern Afghanistan has sparked calls for justice, as locals recalled atrocities committed against civilians over decades of conflict.

The remains of 12 people were recently found by residents of Spin Boldak, a town bordering Pakistan in the southern province of Kandahar, which had been the site of intense fighting between forces of the Western-backed government and Taliban fighters for the last two decades until the group took over Afghanistan last year.

Video clips, shared on social media by locals and Taliban officials, showed villagers gathered around piles of bones.

Bilal Karimi, the Taliban’s deputy spokesman, said the grave was from around eight or nine years ago, “when the area was under the control of the former administration.” He added that investigations were ongoing.

Taliban officials said the killings took place when Gen. Abdul Raziq was Kandahar police chief under the previous government.

Raziq was allegedly involved in torture and kidnapping, and was known for his fierce stance against the Taliban. He was killed in 2018.

A number of mass graves have been found in Afghanistan, many containing the remains of civilians killed in the decades of war before the US-led invasion in 2001.

More than 47,000 civilians and around 66,000 of Afghanistan’s soldiers and police officers died in the post-2001 conflict, according to a Costs of War report by Brown University.

Afghans called for justice for the victims in the latest discovery. “A lot of kidnapping, disappearing and killing was happening in Kandahar,” Abdul Kabir Mukhlis told Arab News on Tuesday.

Mukhlis, who now lives in Zabul province but studied for several years in Kandahar, recalled years of living under the threat of violence and brutality.

“I swear to God I haven’t had a single day in peace because of the ruthless Raziq and his allies,” the 28-year-old said.

“I couldn’t go anywhere in the city. I’ve seen many such incidents. My friends disappeared, they were killed.”

Mukhlis called on the Taliban to bring the perpetrators to justice, especially those who remain in the country.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan should bring all of them to justice. I don’t expect justice from the international community because they supported these criminals,” he said. “They knew about the atrocities but didn’t do anything.”

Hekmatullah Zaland, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Regional Studies in Kabul, told Arab News that the past two decades had seen powerful military figures committing “severe human rights and legal violations” to retain power.

“In the name of security, many innocent people were killed in the south in ways that are known only to those who did the atrocities. The recently explored grave in Kandahar could be just one example of the many similar incidents across the country,” Zaland said.

“On the pretext of the war on terror, both Afghans and their international allies have caused so much harm to innocent people that can’t be compensated. Justice is what could heal some of the wounds of the Afghan nation and the families of the victims.”

Esmatullah Afghan, a university lecturer from Helmand province, told Arab News that families of the victims often had to wait years to find out their fate.

“The injustice done to Afghans by their own countrymen and by foreigners is enormous,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the current government and an ethical obligation of the world to ensure justice to victims of cruelty, injustice and war in Afghanistan. 

“Afghans have been suffering mainly due to wars initiated by foreigners. The guilty must be punished.”


Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster
Updated 27 September 2022

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster
  • Death toll has risen to 67 as of Tuesday afternoon, local official says
  • Boat accident is the worst waterway disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year

DHAKA: Almost as soon as the boat started moving to take passengers to the other side of the Karatoya River, where many Hindu devotees were heading to celebrate the Durga Puja festival at a popular temple, the small vessel began to tremble.
The 15-minute journey to cross the river in northern Bangladesh that Sunday afternoon quickly turned into a tragedy, taking less than four minutes before the boat began to sink.
“There had been a huge rush of passengers, and people were all in a hurry to get on the boat. Not a single inch of space was empty,” Ramesh Chandra, a 40-year-old farmer from the northern Panchagarh district, told Arab News on Tuesday.
Chandra, who boarded the boat with his 35-year-old wife Shyamoli Rani Shimuli and his 11-year-old daughter Surovi Rani, said it had all happened suddenly.
“Soon after the boat started moving, it was trembling because of the overload,” he said.
When Chandra realized the boat was sinking, he took his daughter’s hands and swam toward the river bank. But his wife, who was wearing a traditional sari, did not make it.
“My wife knew swimming very well, but she unfortunately failed to manage it as she was wearing a sari, which wrapped her whole body immediately when it got wet,” Chandra said.
He is now left alone to raise his daughter and 13-year-old son Saurov, who had been at home when the incident occurred.
“I don’t know what to do now, how I will be able to raise my children alone without their mother,” Chandra said.
Shimuli’s body was recovered on Sunday evening, and she was cremated the following day. As the family mourns the tragic loss, they also have to grapple with other losses in the extended family.
Chandra said his niece and sister were also killed in the accident, and authorities were still searching for his nephew on Tuesday.
The worst waterways disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year had killed at least 67 people as of Tuesday afternoon, comprising 30 women, 20 children, and 17 men, Mohammad Jahurul Islam, Panchagarh district administrator, told Arab News.
“Our divers are working to trace the (missing) bodies. Rescue operations will continue until we can address the last complaint reported,” Islam said.
Islam said aid was given to the families of the deceased victims to cover expenses for the funeral rites.
Dipankar Roy, who heads the committee investigating the accident, told Arab News that they have conducted interviews with eyewitnesses, survivors, and other concerned parties.
“Our investigation over this tragic incident is almost over. We hope to submit the report by 10 a.m. on Wednesday at the latest,” Roy said.
Hundreds of people die each year in ferry accidents across Bangladesh, as accidents commonly occur due to lax safety standards. In April 2021, at least 35 people were killed after an overcrowded ferry collided with a cargo vessel and sank on the Shitalakhsya River outside the capital Dhaka.
The villages along the Karatoya River were overwhelmed with grief, as many residents mourn the deaths of relatives, friends, and neighbors in the boat accident.
Tarun Kumar Barman, a 35-year-old farmer from Panchagarh, said his village alone had lost eight people to the tragedy. His nine-year-old niece and 48-year-old sister were among the victims.
“All of them were from the Hindu community and had intended to make offerings in the temple on the occasion of Mahalaya,” Barman told Arab News, referring to the beginning of Durga Puja celebrations.
“The whole village is overwhelmed with mourning now. People forgot their daily routines. We are extremely shocked,” he said. “It’s a dead village now. We cremated the bodies one after another. None of us was ready for a situation like this.”