First civilians leave Mariupol steel plant; hundreds remain

Update First civilians leave Mariupol steel plant; hundreds remain
Video posted online Sunday by Ukrainian forces showed elderly women and mothers with small children climbing over a steep pile of rubble from the sprawling Azovstal steel plant. (AFP)
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Updated 02 May 2022

First civilians leave Mariupol steel plant; hundreds remain

First civilians leave Mariupol steel plant; hundreds remain
  • Volodymyr Zelensky: Evacuation of civilians from Azovstal began; the 1st group of about 100 people is already heading to the controlled area; tomorrow we’ll meet them in Zaporizhzhia
  • More than 100 civilians from the plant were expected to arrive in Zaporizhzhia

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine: People fleeing besieged Mariupol described weeks of bombardments and deprivation as they arrived Monday in Ukrainian-held territory, where officials and relief workers anxiously awaited the first group of civilians freed from a steel plant that is the last redoubt of Ukrainian fighters in the devastated port city.
Video posted online Sunday by Ukrainian forces showed elderly women and mothers with small children climbing over a steep pile of rubble from the sprawling Azovstal steel plant and eventually boarding a bus.
More than 100 civilians from the plant were expected to arrive in Zaporizhzhia, about 140 miles (230 kilometers) northwest of Mariupol, on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
The evacuation, if successful, would represent rare progress in easing the human cost of the almost 10-week war, which has caused particular suffering in Mariupol. Previous attempts to open safe corridors out of the Sea of Azov city and other places have broken down, with Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accusing Russian forces of shooting and shelling along agreed-upon evacuation routes.
“Today, for the first time in all the days of the war, this vitally needed green corridor has started working,” Zelensky said Sunday in a pre-recorded address published on his Telegram messaging channel.
At least some of the people evacuated from the plant were apparently taken to a village controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. The Russian military said Monday that some chose to stay in separatist areas, while dozens have left for Ukrainian-controlled territory. The information could not be independently verified.
In the past, Ukrainian officials have accused Moscow’s troops of forcibly relocating civilians from areas they have captured to Russia; Moscow has said the people wanted to go to Russia.
Zelensky told Greek state television that remaining civilians in the Mariupol steel factory were afraid to board buses because they believe they will be taken to Russia. He said he had been assured by the United Nations that they would be allowed to go to areas his government controls.
Mariupol has come to symbolize the human misery inflicted by the war. A Russian siege has trapped civilians with little access to food, water and electricity, as Moscow’s forces pounded the city to rubble in the face of stiffer than expected Ukrainian resistance.
Ukraine’s defense also thwarted Moscow’s attempt to take Kyiv in the opening weeks of the war and Russia has now shifted its focus to the Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014. Mariupol lies in the Donbas.
Russia says its military has struck dozens of military targets in the region in the past day alone. But Ukrainian and Western officials claim Moscow’s troops are using indiscriminate weapons that are taking a heavy toll on civilians and are making only slow progress.
While official evacuations have often faltered, many people have managed to flee Mariupol under their own steam in recent weeks. Others are unable to escape.
“People without cars cannot leave. They’re desperate,” said Olena Gibert, who was among those arriving an a UN-backed reception center in Zaporizhzhia in dusty and often damaged private cars. “You need to go get them. People have nothing. We had nothing.”
She said many people still in Mariupol wish to escape the Russia-controlled city but can’t say so openly amid the atmosphere of constant pro-Russian propaganda.
Anastasiia Dembytska, who took advantage of the brief cease-fire around the evacuation of civilians from the steel plant to leave with her daughter, nephew and dog, told The Associated Press her family survived by cooking on a makeshift stove and drinking well water.
She said could see the steel plant from her window, when she dared to look out.
“We could see the rockets flying” and clouds of smoke over the plant, she said.
A defender of the plant said Russian forces resumed shelling the plant Sunday as soon as some civilians there were evacuated. It was unclear whether there would be further evacuation attempts.
Denys Shlega, commander of the 12th Operational Brigade of Ukraine’s National Guard, said in a televised interview that several hundred civilians remain trapped alongside nearly 500 wounded soldiers and “numerous” dead bodies.
“Several dozen small children are still in the bunkers underneath the plant,” Shlega said.
Before the weekend evacuation, about 1,000 civilians were also believed to be in the the sprawling, Soviet-era steel plant, along with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters. As many as 100,000 people may still be in Mariupol overall.
The city, which had a pre-war population of more than 400,000, is a key Russian target because its capture would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up troops for fighting elsewhere in the Donbas.
A Ukrainian officer at the plant urged groups like the UN and the Red Cross to ensure the evacuation of wounded fighters, though he acknowledged that reaching some of the injured is difficult.
“There’s rubble. We have no special equipment. It’s hard for soldiers to pick up slabs weighing tons only with their arms,” Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, told the AP in an interview. “We hear voices of people who are still alive” inside shattered buildings.
The Azov Regiment originated as a far-right paramilitary unit and is now part of the Ukrainian military.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces struck dozens of military targets in eastern Ukraine in the past 24 hours, including concentrations of troops and weapons and an ammunition depot near Chervone in the Zaporizhzhia region, which lies west of the Donbas.
The information could not be independently verified. The Ukrainian president’s office said at least three people were killed and another seven, including a child, were wounded in the Donbas in the last 24 hours. The regional administration in Zaporizhzhia said that at least two people died and another four were wounded in Russian shelling of the town of Orikhiv.
A full picture of battle unfolding in eastern Ukraine is hard to capture. The fighting makes it dangerous for reporters to move around, and both sides have introduced tight restrictions on reporting from the combat zone.
Ukraine’s military claimed Monday to have destroyed two small Russian patrol boats in the Black Sea. Drone footage posted online showed what the Ukrainians described as two Russian Raptor boats exploding after being struck by missiles.
The AP could not immediately independently confirm the strikes.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance has flowed into Ukraine during the war, but Russia’s vast armories mean Ukraine still needs massive support. Zelensky has appealed to the West for more weapons, and tougher economic sanctions on Russia.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other US lawmakers visited Zelensky on Saturday to show American support. On Monday, the delegation met with Polish President Andrzej Duda and lawmakers in Warsaw to express gratitude to the country for its support of Ukraine.
European Union energy ministers were meeting Monday to discuss a new set of sanctions, which could include restrictions on Russian oil — though Russia-dependent members of the 27-nation bloc including Hungary and Slovakia are wary of taking tough action.


Shock, shame among some Muslims as Afghan accused of New Mexico murders

Shock, shame among some Muslims as Afghan accused of New Mexico murders
Updated 11 August 2022

Shock, shame among some Muslims as Afghan accused of New Mexico murders

Shock, shame among some Muslims as Afghan accused of New Mexico murders
  • 51-year-old Muhammad Syed denied being involved with any of the four killings

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.: Muslims in New Mexico interviewed on Wednesday said they felt shock and shame at the arrest of a Muslim immigrant from Afghanistan in connection with the murders of four Muslim men.
Police on Tuesday said they detained 51-year-old Muhammad Syed. A motive for the killings remains unclear, but police said he may have acted on personal grudges, possibly with intra-Muslim sectarian overtones.
Syed denied being involved with any of the four killings when questioned by police, according to the New York Times.
“We’re in complete total disbelief. Speechless. You know, kind of embarrassed to say he was one of our own,” said Mula Akbar, an Afghan-American businessman who said he had helped Syed settle in the city.
“His hatred of Shiites might have had something to do with it,” Akbar said.
Syed was from the Sunni branch of Islam and prayed together at Albuquerque’s Islamic Center of New Mexico mosque with most of the victims, three of whom were from the Shiite branch of Islam. All four victims were of Afghan or Pakistani descent. One was killed in November, the other three in the last two weeks.
Syed, who made his first appearance in court Wednesday, was formally charged with killing Aftab Hussein, 41, on July 26 and Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, 27, on Aug. 1.
Police said on Tuesday they were working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, a truck driver killed on Friday, and Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, shot dead on Nov. 7, 2021, outside the grocery store he ran with his brother in southeast Albuquerque.
It was not immediately clear if Syed had retained a lawyer. His family did not immediately respond to a request for comment but local television station KRQE News 13 quoted them as saying they believed he was innocent.
Palestinian-American Samia Assed said the Muslim community of around 4,000 in the city of over half a million people had work to do to prevent violence they left behind in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“This took me back to 9/11 when I just wanted to hide under a rock,” said the human rights activist after she hosted an interfaith memorial at the Islamic Center of New Mexico (ICNM) in Albuquerque, Albuquerque’s oldest and largest mosque.
“For this to happen it’s like setting us back 100 years,” she said.
The mosque is nonsectarian, serves mainly Sunnis from over 30 countries and has never before experienced violence of this kind, according to congregants interviewed by Reuters.
Police on Tuesday declined to comment on rumors Syed was angry one of his daughters had eloped and married a Shiite man.
Syed is a truck driver, has six children, is from Pashtun ethnicity and arrived in the United States as a refugee about six years ago from Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province, said Akbar, a former US diplomat who worked on Afghan issues and helped found the Afghan Society of New Mexico.
Syed developed a record of criminal misdemeanors over the last three or four years, including a case of domestic violence, police said.
Video from February 2020 showed him slashing the tires of a vehicle at the ICNM believed to be owned by the family of the first known victim, Ahmadi, according to the mosque’s president, attorney Ahmad Assed.
“We’re in a surreal time trying to make sense of these senseless killings we’ve suffered,” he said.


9 Russian planes destroyed in ‘first Ukraine attack’ on Crimea

9 Russian planes destroyed in ‘first Ukraine attack’ on Crimea
Updated 11 August 2022

9 Russian planes destroyed in ‘first Ukraine attack’ on Crimea

9 Russian planes destroyed in ‘first Ukraine attack’ on Crimea
  • Strike on occupied territory is major escalation
  • Kyiv officially silent but military say ‘it was us’

KYIV: Ukraine’s air force said on Wednesday that nine Russian warplanes were destroyed in a deadly string of explosions at an air base in Crimea, amid speculation of a Ukrainian attack that would be a significant escalation in the war.

Russia denied any aircraft were damaged in Tuesday’s blasts, or that an attack even took place. But Ukrainian officials mocked Russia’s explanation that a careless smoker might have caused ammunition at the Saki air base to catch fire and blow up. Analysts also said that explanation made no sense and that the Ukrainians could have used anti-ship missiles to strike the base.

“Officially Kyiv has kept mum about it, but unofficially the military acknowledges that it was a Ukrainian strike,” military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said.

If Ukrainian forces were responsible for the blasts, it would be the first known major attack on a Russian military site on the Crimean Peninsula, which was seized from Ukraine by the Kremlin in 2014.

Crimea holds huge strategic and symbolic significance for both sides. The Kremlin’s demand that Ukraine recognize the peninsula as part of Russia has been one of its key conditions for ending the fighting, while Ukraine has vowed to drive the Russians out of all occupied territories.
After the blasts, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea — its liberation.”

The explosions, which killed one person and injured 14, sent tourists fleeing in panic as plumes of smoke rose over the coastline near by. Video showed shattered windows and holes in the brickwork of some buildings.
One visitor, Natalia Lipovaya, said: “The earth was gone from under my feet … I was so scared.” Sergey Milochinsky, a local resident, recalled hearing a roar and seeing a mushroom cloud from his window. "Everything began to fall around, collapse,” he said.
The base on the Black Sea peninsula is at least 200 kilometers from the closest Ukrainian position and beyond the range of missiles supplied by the West for use in HIMARS launchers.
Ukraine has repeatedly asked for longer-range missiles for HIMARS that can strike targets up to 300 kilometers away. The explosions raised speculation that it had finally obtained them.
Zhdanov said Ukrainian forces could also have struck the air base with Neptune or Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said simultaneous blasts in two places at the base probably ruled out an accidental fire, but not sabotage or a missile attack. “The Kremlin has little incentive to accuse Ukraine of conducting strikes that caused the damage since such strikes would demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Russian air defense systems,” it said.


42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks

42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks
Updated 11 August 2022

42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks

42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks
  • Drones artillery used in attack, one of the bloodiest in Mali’s decade-long insurgency

BAMAKO, Mali: Forty-two Malian soldiers died in a sophisticated weekend attack by suspected jihadists using drones artillery, authorities said Wednesday, the latest violent incident to rock the troubled Sahel country.
The toll is one of the bloodiest in Mali’s decade-long insurgency, which has spread from the north of the country to the center and south and into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
A document naming the dead was authenticated to AFP by several senior military officials, while the government later confirmed the toll in a statement that said 22 soldiers were injured and 37 “terrorists” were neutralized.
The attack occurred on Sunday in the town of Tessit, in the troubled “three-border” region where the frontiers of the three nations converge.
On Monday, the army had said 17 soldiers and four civilians had died. Relatives of the victims, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that some of the civilians had been elected officials.
Monday’s statement pointed the finger of blame at the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), saying its members had deployed “drone and artillery support and (used) explosives and an explosives-laden vehicle.”
The last time Mali’s armed forces sustained such losses was in a string of attacks in the same region in late 2019 and early 2020.
Hundreds of soldiers were killed in assaults on nearly a dozen bases, typically carried out by highly mobile fighters on motorbikes.
The raids prompted the Malian, Nigerien and Burkinabe forces to fall back from forward bases and hunker down in better-defended locations.
In January 2020, France and its Sahel allies agreed on a push against the ISGS at a summit in Pau, southwestern France.
Several of its leaders were targeted and killed, including its founder, Abu Walid Al-Sahraoui, but local people say the group has continued to recruit and carry out its operations.

Tessit is one of the hotspots in the three-border area.
The ISGS is fighting for control of the strategic, gold-rich area against an Al-Qaeda-linked alliance, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM).
In March 2021, 33 soldiers were killed in an ISGS-claimed ambush as units were being rotated, and in February this year, around 40 civilians — suspected by the ISGS of being in league with Al-Qaeda — were massacred.
Mobile phone connections to the area have been frequently cut over the last few years and physical access is hard, especially during the mid-year rainy season.
Thousands have fled Tessit to the nearest large town, Gao, which is located some 150 kilometers (90 miles) to the north.
Across the Sahel, the jihadist campaign has claimed thousands of lives and forced more than two million to flee their homes.
Sporadic cross-border attacks have also occurred in Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin to the south, amplifying fears of a jihadist push toward the Gulf of Guinea.


Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together
Updated 10 August 2022

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together
  • Social media full of praise for family duo from Kerala
  • They applied and prepared together for Public Service Commission exams

NEW DELHI: A mother and son from Kerala made national headlines and the rounds on social media in India on Wednesday after clearing civil service exams together.

Nedumkalathil Bindu, 42, and Vivek Ottupara, 24, from the Malappuram district in the southwestern Indian state, have studied together to take the Public Service Commission’s examination.

The mother’s test results for Last Grade Servants were announced in late July with the rank of 92, while her son for Lower Divisional Clerk came out last week with the rank of 38.  

For Bindu, who for the past 10 years has been involved in rural social work, it was a third attempt at the test. And the third time proved to be the charm.

“I have been trying to clear this exam since 2014,” she told Arab News over the phone from Malappuram.

The exam is conducted every three years. After failing twice, Bindu joined hands with her son, who had completed his degree in geography in 2019.

“I used to go to the Prateeksha coaching center in the Areekode area of Malappuram,” she said. “I also asked my son to join the coaching.”

Although both knew that they were well prepared to clear the tests, they were surprised when the news broke, going viral on social media.

“We are happy and tense because we are not able to handle this situation of constant attention,” Ottupara said. “We did not expect that the result would go viral.” It was the last chance for Bindu to try to join the civil service in Kerala, where the maximum age to apply is 40. She applied in 2019, a year before crossing the limit.

Social media posts under news headlines praised the duo for being an inspiration for Indian mothers and their children, and an “awesome example of willingness to achieve goals.”

Bindu was initially reluctant to give interviews but said that her coaching center told her the achievement will help motivate others.

“I keep on getting lots of calls from people,” she said. “I got a call from a coaching center in Calicut which said that because of me many women have joined the coaching. I feel that all the bother is worth it if I can inspire even one person.”


UK accidentally leaks personal data on Afghan teacher in hiding from Taliban

UK accidentally leaks personal data on Afghan teacher in hiding from Taliban
Updated 10 August 2022

UK accidentally leaks personal data on Afghan teacher in hiding from Taliban

UK accidentally leaks personal data on Afghan teacher in hiding from Taliban
  • The man, who has worked abroad, has been in hiding in Afghanistan with his wife and two children since the Taliban takeover in August last year
  • Afghan teacher: ‘I am more exposed and at risk of being misidentified as a British spy, because I worked abroad for so long’

LONDON: An Afghan teacher has been told by a UK government department that his personal details were passed to a member of the public in Afghanistan “in error.”

The man, who has worked abroad, has been in hiding in Afghanistan with his wife and two children since the Taliban takeover in August last year.

The data breach has been acknowledged by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and is the first known leak under the government’s Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, which prioritizes those who have assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan and vulnerable people, including members of minority groups.

Those wishing to apply for transfer to the UK through the scheme must complete an “expression of interest” form. The family’s personal details from this form were leaked to another Afghan citizen, putting them at risk of being found by the Taliban.

The ACRS team alerted the man to the leak, saying: “In accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation, I am writing to inform you that some of your personal data has, in error, been forwarded on to another member of the public who had submitted an expression of interest for the ACRS … which contained personal data, including your name and background details.

“We have reviewed our processes in light of this event and taken steps to avoid it happening again.”

The man said: “What is really upsetting and unsettling is the fact that instead of being the source of comfort and sanctuary, the British government has regrettably become the source of unimaginable pain and danger for us. These errors could be lethal.

“I am so frustrated with the blunders and non-responsiveness from the government during such a difficult year. Now I am lost for words that this has happened. I am more exposed and at risk of being misidentified as a British spy, because I worked abroad for so long. We are extremely shocked … It is so distressing for us all.”

The FCDO and the UK Home Office have joint responsibility for processing ACRS applications.

The government says it aims to resettle more than 5,000 people through the scheme in the first year, once the window for expression of interest forms closes on August 15.

Anyone resettled through the scheme will receive indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and under existing rules be able to apply for British citizenship after five years.

The ACRS runs separately to the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, which offers relocation to those who worked directly for the British government, including interpreters and security guards.

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