Afghan interpreter in tearful reunion with British soldiers he saved from Taliban

Afghan interpreter in tearful reunion with British soldiers he saved from Taliban
The Taliban launched a campaign of vengeance against people who worked with Western forces, including British troops, during the Afghan conflict. (AFP file photo)
Short Url
Updated 07 June 2022

Afghan interpreter in tearful reunion with British soldiers he saved from Taliban

Afghan interpreter in tearful reunion with British soldiers he saved from Taliban
  • ‘Abdul’ allowed to enter UK after troops launched legal action to overturn government ruling
  • Interpreter hid with his family in Kabul basement for six months when militants seized Kabul

LONDON: An Afghan interpreter who hid in a Kabul basement when the Taliban stormed the capital has been reunited with the British troops he worked with during the war in Afghanistan.

Josh Roberts, Paul Standen, Sam Knight and Vance Bacon-Sharratt owe their lives to the interpreter, known as “Abdul,” who kept them aware of Taliban attacks and movements while attached to their patrols.

The soldiers contacted a lawyer after Abdul was denied entry to Britain following a government ruling that his “presence in the UK would not be conducive to the public good.”

After gaining the right to settle in Britain, Abdul met the soldiers in a cafe in Canterbury, southern England, sharing an emotional moment and stories over breakfast about their time working in Helmand province.

Abdul, who brought his wife and two daughters to Britain, told The Times that the government had twice refused him entry to the country because he was perceived as a threat to “national security.”

The soldiers, from the English Midlands, sought the support of Natalia Garcia, a solicitor who specializes in national security cases.

Garcia launched a judicial review into the decision, arguing that Abdul was a hero who had “saved” the lives of British troops in Helmand.

Faced with a court hearing, the government intervened and passed Abdul’s application for resettlement, eventually confirming that he posed no risk.

When US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan were pulled out last August, Abdul, 32, hid in a friend’s basement with his wife and their daughters, aged 4 and 2, for almost six months.

The family were kept hidden from the Taliban, who launched a campaign of vengeance against people who worked with Western forces during the conflict.

In March, the family fled to Pakistan with the help of British military veterans.

Bacon-Sharratt, 33, told The Times: “I suffer from (post-traumatic stress disorder), so when the news came out about the Taliban takeover, it massively affected me. Abdul was messaging me saying the Taliban were close by and were executing people in the streets. I really struggled with that.”

The soldiers said that they challenged the government’s block on Abdul’s arrival because the Mercians could not leave “a man behind.”

Roberts, 30, said: “Abdul effectively saved our lives in Afghanistan. He was the guy who interpreted the Taliban’s code system, telling us we couldn’t move because there was a sniper on us.”

The soldiers said that they considered Abdul one of their own.

According to Standen, 31, the interpreter saved the lives of his troops “on more than one occasion,” including during an intense contact in November 2011.

“He warned us something was coming and within minutes a fire fight erupted. Who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t picked up that the Taliban were coming? It was the only warning we got.”

Bacon-Sharratt said that on another occasion the soldiers were “sitting ducks.” But Abdul intercepted radio traffic that suggested a militant attack was imminent, allowing the troops to evade the ambush.

Walking into the Canterbury restaurant over the weekend, Bacon-Sharratt said that he and Roberts “stopped dead” when they saw Abdul’s daughters.

“We just looked at each other and it was just this really full-on moment when we were both completely choked up,” he said.

Standen said: “We just went out and had some breakfast and coffees, and walked around Canterbury. Last time we were all in helmets and now we could walk around safely. I felt a bit tearful really.”

Abdul told the British newspaper that he is grateful his daughters will be able to attend school in Britain and plan for a university education. But in the meantime, he needed a job.

“Anything is great,” he said. “Hopefully, I can learn new skills and work in dishwashing, production or agriculture, maybe a shop. I really don’t mind.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “During Operation Pitting we evacuated 15,000 people from Kabul, and we continue to do all we can to secure safe passage and enable British nationals and eligible Afghans to leave the country.”


Lebanese antiques dealer who exposed smuggling network accused of artifact looting

Lebanese antiques dealer who exposed smuggling network accused of artifact looting
Updated 13 August 2022

Lebanese antiques dealer who exposed smuggling network accused of artifact looting

Lebanese antiques dealer who exposed smuggling network accused of artifact looting
  • Lofti sold and lent items to Metropolitan Museum of Art and kept other artifacts in an apartment located across the road

LONDON: An antiques dealer from Lebanon has been accused of smuggling looted artifacts worth millions of dollars into the US.

Georges Lofti, 81, who previously assisted the Antiquities Trafficking Unit in exposing an Egyptian golden coffin on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as having been looted during unrest in Egypt in 2011, is also accused by law enforcement agents of using the agency to give stolen items a “sheen of legitimacy,” The Times reported.

Lofti sold and lent items to the museum and kept other artifacts in an apartment located across the road, the report added.

He often invited ATU agents to his storage space, believing that they would not suspect the antiquities kept inside were stolen, according to a report by The New York Times.

The ATU were granted an arrest warrant for Lotfi this week on suspicion of stealing 24 items and tricking investigators into giving the artifacts a stamp of approval.

According to legal documents attached to the warrant, ATU security agent Robert Mancene confirmed that Lotfi tipped them off regarding the gold Coffin of Nedjemankh, which the museum bought for $4 million in 2017 and put on display. Following Lofti's tipoff, the coffin was returned in 2019.

“Over the years (Lotfi) has provided me with detailed information about looting practices globally,” Mancene said. The dealer, described by Mancene as “a valuable source of information,” also passed on details about global looters and traffickers, according to the report.

One of the stolen items Lofti is accused of smuggling into the US is the “Palmyra Stone” — a limestone sculpture from Syria depicting a couple with three children worth an estimated $750,000 — which investigators said Lofti did not purchase from a dealer in 1982 as he had claimed, but instead obtained from a smuggler in 2010 or 2011.

Several mosaics, one valued at $2.5 million and another at $500,000, were also among the items Lofti is alleged to have looted.

Lofti, who said that he was shocked by the allegations and denies any wrongdoing, told The New York Times: “I was fighting with them for 10 years to stop illicit trading and they turned against me.”


Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines
Updated 13 August 2022

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines
  • Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages

KYIV: Ukraine’s health minister has accused Russian authorities of committing a crime against humanity by blocking access to affordable medicines in areas its forces have occupied since invading the country 5 1/2 months ago.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages.
“Throughout the entire six months of war, Russia has not (allowed) proper humanitarian corridors so we could provide our own medicines to the patients that need them,” Liashko said, speaking at the Health Ministry in Kyiv late Friday.
“We believe that these actions are being taken with intent by Russia, and we consider them to be crimes against humanity and war crimes that will be documented and will be recognized,” the minister said.
The Ukrainian government has a program that provides medications to people with cancer and chronic health conditions. The destruction of hospitals and infrastructure along with the displacement of an estimated 7 million people inside the country also have interfered with other forms of treatment, according to United Nations and Ukrainian officials.
The war in Ukraine has caused severe disruptions to the country’s state-run health service, which was undergoing major reforms, largely in response to the coronavirus pandemic, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade on Feb. 24.
The World Health Organization said it recorded 445 attacks on hospitals and other health care facilities as of Aug. 11 that directly resulted in 86 deaths and 105 injuries.
But Liashko said the secondary effects were far more severe.
“When roads and bridges have been damaged in areas now controlled by the Ukrainian forces... it is difficult to get someone who had a heart attack or a stroke to the hospital,” he said. “Sometimes, we can’t make it in time, the ambulance can’t get there in time. That’s why war causes many more casualties (than those killed in the fighting). It’s a number that cannot be calculated.”


Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry
Updated 13 August 2022

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry
ANKARA: Two more ships left from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Saturday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, bringing the total number of ships to depart the country under a UN-brokered deal to 16.
Barbados-flagged Fulmar S left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port, carrying 12,000 tons of corn to Turkey’s southern Iskenderun province, it said. The Marshall Island-flagged Thoe departed from the same port and headed to Turkey’s Tekirdag, carrying 3,000 tons of sunflower seeds.
The statement added that another ship would depart from Turkey on Saturday to Ukraine to buy grains.

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul
Updated 13 August 2022

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul
  • Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts

KABUL: Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired into the air on Saturday as they violently dispersed a rare rally in the Afghan capital, days ahead of the first anniversary of the hard-line Islamists’ return to power.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year, the Taliban have rolled back the marginal gains made by women during the two decades of US intervention in Afghanistan.
About 40 women — chanting “Bread, work and freedom” — marched in front of the education ministry building in Kabul, before the fighters dispersed them by firing their guns into the air, an AFP correspondent reported.
Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts.
The protesters carried a banner which read “August 15 is a black day” as they demanded rights to work and political participation.
“Justice, justice. We’re fed up with ignorance,” chanted the protesters, many of them not wearing face veils, before they dispersed.
Some journalists covering the protest — the first women’s rally in months — were also beaten by the Taliban fighters.
After seizing power, the Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have already been imposed.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
Women have also been banned from traveling alone on long trips, and can only visit public gardens and parks in the capital on days separate from men.
In May, the country’s supreme leader and chief of the Taliban, Hibatullah Azkhundzada, even ordered women to fully cover themselves in public, including their faces — ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs, holding small protests.
But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.


‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump
Updated 13 August 2022

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump
  • In Poland, the government has come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action
  • Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned

SCHWEDT, Germany: Thousands of fish have washed up dead on the Oder river running through Germany and Poland, sparking warnings of an environmental disaster as residents are urged to stay away from the water.
The fish floating by the German banks near the eastern town of Schwedt are believed to have washed upstream from Poland where first reports of mass fish deaths were made by locals and anglers as early as on July 28.
German officials accused Polish authorities of failing to inform them about the deaths, and were taken by surprise when the wave of lifeless fish came floating into view.
In Poland, the government has also come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action.
Almost two weeks after the first dead fish appeared floating by Polish villages, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that “everyone had initially thought that it was a local problem.”
But he admitted that the “scale of the disaster is very large, sufficiently large to say that the Oder will need years to recover its natural state.”
“Probably enormous quantities of chemical waste was dumped into the river in full knowledge of the risk and consequences,” added the Polish leader, as German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke urged a comprehensive probe into what she called a brewing “environmental disaster.”
Standing by the riverbank, Michael Tautenhahn, deputy chief of Germany’s Lower Oder Valley National Park, looked in dismay at the river on the German-Polish border.
“We are standing on the German side — we have dead fish everywhere,” he told AFP.
“I am deeply shocked... I have the feeling that I’m seeing decades of work lying in ruins here. I see our livelihood, the water — that’s our life,” he said, noting that it’s not just fish that have died, but also mussels and likely countless other water creatures.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Oder has over the last years been known as a relatively clean river, and 40 domestic species of fish make their home in the waterway.
But now, lifeless fish — some as small as a few centimeters, others reaching 30-40 cm — can be seen across the river. Occasionally, those still struggling to pull through can be seen flipping up in the water, seemingly gasping for air.
Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned.
“This fish death is atypical,” said Axel Vogel, environment minister for Brandenburg state, estimating that “undoubtedly tons” of fish have died.
Fish death is often caused by the distortion of oxygen levels when water levels are too low, he explained.
“But we have completely different test results, namely that we have had increased oxygen level in the river for several days, and that indicates that a foreign substance has been introduced that has led to this,” he said.
Tests are ongoing in Germany to establish the substance that may have led to the deaths, but there are early indications of extremely high levels of mercury — although authorities said final results are still pending.
In Poland, prosecutors have also begun investigating after authorities came under fire over what critics said was a sluggish response to a disaster.
Tautenhahn said the disaster would likely carry consequences for years to come.
“If it is quicksilver, then it will also stay here for a long time,” he said, noting that mercury does not disintegrate but would then remain in the sediments.