Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia
Al-Shabab, an extremist group linked to Al-Qaeda that has been waging an insurgency against the Somali state for 15 years, claimed responsibility for the attack. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 September 2022

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

MOGADISHU: A suicide attack claimed by the Somali extremist militant group Al-Shabab killed at least seven people and injured nine others in Mogadishu on Sunday, the army and eyewitnesses told AFP.
A “desperate terrorist” blew himself up on Sunday morning near a line of new recruits who were enrolling at the Nacnac military base in the south of the Somali capital, local military commander Abdullahi Adan told AFP.
“Seven people were killed and nine others injured,” he said.
“I was close to the site of the explosion, it was huge and I could see dead and injured people,” eyewitness Ahme Gobe told AFP.
Another eyewitness, Asha Omar, spoke of seeing at least 10 people taken away by ambulance.
Al-Shabab, an extremist group linked to Al-Qaeda that has been waging an insurgency against the Somali state for 15 years, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Its fighters killed at least 19 civilians in central Somalia earlier this month.
The group carried out a major attack on a Mogadishu hotel in August, leaving 21 people dead and 117 injured following a 30-hour siege.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has faced a resurgent Al-Shabab since his election in May and vowed to wage an “all-out war” against the insurgents.
Mohamud also has to grapple with a looming famine caused by the Horn of Africa nation’s worst drought in 40 years.
Al-Shabab has been driven out of Somalia’s urban centers, including Mogadishu in 2011, but remains entrenched in vast swathes of the countryside.
The US army on Wednesday said it had killed 27 Al-Shabab militiamen in an air strike in central Somalia in support of the country’s regular forces.
President Joe Biden decided to restore a US military presence in Somalia in May to fight the militants, approving a request from the Pentagon, which deemed his predecessor Donald Trump’s rotation system too risky and ineffective.


Belgian locked up by Iran on hunger strike: family

Belgian locked up by Iran on hunger strike: family
Updated 29 November 2022

Belgian locked up by Iran on hunger strike: family

Belgian locked up by Iran on hunger strike: family
  • Olivier Vandecasteele, 41, is suffering "monstruous injustice" at the hands of Iranian authorities
  • He is one of several Western nationals detained in Iran, in what foreign-based activists say is a bid to extract concessions

BRUSSLES: A Belgian aid worker detained in Iran is on a hunger strike over the “inhuman” treatment by his captors, his family said on Tuesday, expressing worries about his failing health.
Olivier Vandecasteele, 41, is suffering “monstruous injustice” at the hands of Iranian authorities, who arrested him in Tehran in February, they said in a statement.
He is one of several Western nationals detained in Iran, in what foreign-based activists say is a bid to extract concessions.
Iran is seeking the return of one of its diplomats, Assadollah Assadi, who is in prison in Belgium serving a 20-year sentence after being found guilty last year of masterminding a foiled 2018 bomb plot outside Paris.
Vandecasteele has been kept in solitary confinement since being seized and is suffering a growing number of physical afflictions, his family said.
They included “major weight loss, haematomas on his toes, fingernail loss, and worrying dental and gastric problems,” they said.
He started his hunger strike two weeks ago, consuming nothing more than bread and water once a day.
His last communication with his family was on September 1, and they said they feared he was suffering “irreversible harm” from the “disgraceful” detention conditions.
The bomb plot Assadi was convicted for was an attempted attack on a conference outside Paris held by an exiled Iranian opposition group.
Iran insists that Assadi should enjoy diplomatic immunity, even though he was arrested in Germany, away from Austria where he was accredited to work in Iran’s embassy in Vienna.
Belgium this year agreed a prisoner-swap treaty with Iran seen as opening the door for Assadi to be sent home if Tehran releases Vandecasteele.
But the treaty has generated controversy, with some Belgian politicians, Iranian opposition groups and the United States all coming out against it as allowing an Iranian “terrorist” to escape justice.


UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 migrants

UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 migrants
Updated 29 November 2022

UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 migrants

UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 migrants
  • The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the 32-year-old was arrested at an address near Cheltenham, southwest England
  • NCA investigators are working with the French authorities to track down those responsible for the tragedy

LONDON: UK police on Tuesday arrested a man suspected of playing a “key role” in the deaths of at least 27 people who drowned attempting to cross the Channel in a dinghy last November.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the 32-year-old was arrested at an address near Cheltenham, southwest England, on suspicion of being “a member of the organized crime group who conspired to transport the migrants to the UK in a small boat.”
NCA investigators are working with the French authorities to track down those responsible for the tragedy.
French prosecutors have so far charged 10 people for their alleged role in the disaster on November 24 last year.
It was the worst accident in the Channel since 2018, when the narrow strait became a key route for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia attempting to reach England from France.
The vessel sank after leaving the French coast, leading to the death of all but two of those aboard. Four people remain missing.
The suspect will appear before London’s Westminster Magistrates Court on Wednesday, where extradition proceedings will commence.
“This is a significant arrest and comes as part of extensive inquiries into the events leading to these tragic deaths in the Channel,” said NCA deputy director Craig Turner said.
“The individual detained today is suspected of having played a key role in the manslaughter of those who died.
“Working closely with our French partners we are determined to do all we can to get justice for the families of those whose lives were lost,” he added.
Among the 27 — aged seven to 47 — were 16 Iraqi Kurds, four Afghans, three Ethiopians, one Somali, one Egyptian and one Vietnamese migrant.


UK charity to help Pakistan flood victims with cryptocurrency fundraising

UK charity to help Pakistan flood victims with cryptocurrency fundraising
Updated 29 November 2022

UK charity to help Pakistan flood victims with cryptocurrency fundraising

UK charity to help Pakistan flood victims with cryptocurrency fundraising
  • Penny Appeal joins Crypto Giving Tuesday
  • Last year $2.4m raised from digital-asset holders

LONDON: UK-based humanitarian charity Penny Appeal has announced that it would take part in Crypto Giving Tuesday, the biggest day for cryptocurrency generosity, to raise digital donations for its efforts to support the victims of Pakistan’s floods.

Devastating floods since June have killed more than 1,700 people, displaced 7.9 million, and inflicted billions of dollars of damage. Pakistan’s authorities estimate property damage could be as high as $40 billion.

“Bitcoin is more than just an investment; it can also be used to make charitable donations, that’s why on Nov. 29, crypto enthusiasts around the world will be taking part in Crypto Giving Tuesday,” the international charity said in a statement.

“Just as Black Friday and Cyber Monday kicked off the holiday shopping season, Crypto Giving Tuesday is a day for people to show their support for charities and nonprofit organizations that accept cryptocurrency donations,” it added.

Penny Appeal said it has been utilizing platforms like The Giving Block, which helps facilitate cryptocurrency fundraising for nonprofit organizations, to make it easy for people to donate using their digital assets.

The charity’s projects include humanitarian response work, solar-powered water wells, climate-smart villages and education sponsorships for orphans. They are currently working on building permanent homes for those who have lost everything in the floods in Pakistan.

“We’re extremely excited to be able to receive cryptocurrency donations,” said Adeem Younis, founder of Penny Appeal. “Cryptocurrency is playing an increasingly important role in philanthropy, and we hope that Crypto Giving Tuesday will encourage more people to donate cryptocurrencies to support life-saving aid for millions of victims of the Pakistan floods.”

Last year, the day raised over $2.4 million and saw nonprofit participation rise by 839 percent, according to data provided by The Giving Block.

“This year, the team behind Crypto Giving Tuesday is hoping to build on that success and raise even more money for charity,” Penny Appeal said.


Ukraine detains Kherson official suspected of aiding Russian occupiers

Ukraine detains Kherson official suspected of aiding Russian occupiers
Updated 29 November 2022

Ukraine detains Kherson official suspected of aiding Russian occupiers

Ukraine detains Kherson official suspected of aiding Russian occupiers
  • The unnamed Kherson official cooperated with the occupation authorities and helped with the functioning of public services under the Russians
  • The official, who could not be reached for comment, faces up to 12 years in prison under the allegations if prosecuted and found guilty

KYIV: Ukraine has detained a deputy head of newly liberated Kherson’s city council on suspicion of aiding and abetting Russian occupation forces that seized control of the city in March, Ukraine’s state prosecutor said on Tuesday.
The Kherson official, who was not named in the statement, cooperated with the occupation authorities and helped with the functioning of public services under the Russians, the prosecutor said.
The official, who could not be reached for comment, faces up to 12 years in prison under the allegations if prosecuted and found guilty. The official was in custody, but could post bail, the prosecutor said.
Ukraine proclaimed the liberation of Kherson on Nov. 11 after Russian forces who invaded Ukraine in February pulled out of the city in the south of the country and crossed to the other side of the Dnipro River.
The withdrawal ended more than eight months of Russian occupation of Kherson, which was home to almost 300,000 people before the war, but Russian forces are now frequently shelling the city from across the Dnipro.
Ukraine faces a challenge restoring order in Kherson. Tens of thousands of residents have fled, electricity and basic utilities are unavailable and security forces are hunting for possible collaborators and Russian soldiers in disguise.
Ukraine has legislation criminalizing the act of collaboration, but the Kherson city council official is suspected of the slightly different crime of “assisting an aggressor state.”


Students sent home, police on patrol as China curbs protests

Students sent home, police on patrol as China curbs protests
Updated 29 November 2022

Students sent home, police on patrol as China curbs protests

Students sent home, police on patrol as China curbs protests
  • Authorities have eased some controls after demonstrations in at least eight mainland cities and Hong Kong
  • Security forces have detained an unknown number of people and stepped up surveillance

BEIJING: Chinese universities sent students home and police fanned out in Beijing and Shanghai to prevent more protests Tuesday after crowds angered by severe anti-virus restrictions called for leader Xi Jinping to resign.
This is the biggest show of public dissent in decades.
Authorities have eased some controls after demonstrations in at least eight mainland cities and Hong Kong — but maintained they would stick to a “zero-COVID” strategy that has confined millions of people to their homes for months at a time.
Security forces have detained an unknown number of people and stepped up surveillance.
With police out in force, there was no word of protests Tuesday in Beijing, Shanghai or other major mainland cities that saw crowds rally over the weekend. Those were the most widespread protests since the army crushed the 1989 student-led Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement.
In Hong Kong, about a dozen people, mostly from the mainland, protested at a university.
Beijing’s Tsinghua University, where students rallied over the weekend, and other schools in the capital and the southern province of Guangdong sent students home. The schools said they were being protected from COVID-19, but dispersing them to far-flung hometowns also reduces the likelihood of more demonstrations. Chinese leaders are wary of universities, which have been hotbeds of activism including the Tiananmen protests.
On Sunday, Tsinghua students were told they could go home early for the semester. The school, which is Xi’s alma mater, arranged buses to take them to the train station or airport.
Nine student dorms at Tsinghua were closed Monday after some students positive for COVID-19, according to one who noted the closure would make it hard for crowds to gather. The student gave only his surname, Chen, for fear of retribution from authorities.
Beijing Forestry University also said it would arrange for students to return home. It said its faculty and students all tested negative for the virus.
Universities said classes and final exams would be conducted online.
Authorities hope to “defuse the situation” by clearing out campuses, said Dali Yang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Chicago.
Depending on how tough a position the government takes, groups might take turns protesting, he said.
Police appeared to be trying to keep their crackdown out of sight, possibly to avoid drawing attention to the scale of the protests or encouraging others. Videos and posts on Chinese social media about protests were deleted by the ruling party’s vast online censorship apparatus.
There were no announcements about detentions, though reporters saw protesters taken away by police and social media posts said people were in custody or missing.
Police warned some detained protesters against demonstrating again.
In Shanghai, police stopped pedestrians and checked their phones Monday night, according to a witness, possibly looking for apps such as Twitter that are banned in China or images of protests. The witness, who insisted on anonymity for fear of arrest, said he was on his way to a protest but found no crowd there when he arrived.
Images viewed by The Associated Press of photos from a weekend protest showed police shoving people into cars. Some people were also swept up in police raids after demonstrations ended.
One person who lived near the site of a protest in Shanghai was detained Sunday and held until Tuesday morning, according to two friends who insisted on anonymity for fear of retribution from authorities.
In Beijing, police on Monday visited a resident who attended a protest the previous night, according to a friend who refused to be identified for fear of retaliation. He said the police questioned the resident and warned him not to go to more protests.
On Tuesday, protesters at the University of Hong Kong chanted against virus restrictions and held up sheets of paper with critical slogans. Some spectators joined in their chants.
The protesters held signs that read, “Say no to COVID panic” and “No dictatorship but democracy.”
One chanted: “We’re not foreign forces but your classmates.” Chinese authorities often try to discredit domestic critics by saying they work for foreign powers.
China’s “zero-COVID” policy has helped keep case numbers lower than those of the United States and other major countries, but global health experts have increasingly criticized the methods as unsustainable.
Beijing needs to make its approach “very targeted” to reduce economic disruption, the head of the International Monetary Fund told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.
“We see the importance of moving away from massive lockdowns,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in Berlin. “So that targeting allows to contain the spread of COVID without significant economic costs.”
“Zero COVID” means few Chinese have been exposed to the virus. Meanwhile, elderly vaccination rates lag other countries as seniors decline the shots, and China’s domestically developed vaccines are less effective than those used abroad.
Public tolerance of the onerous restrictions has eroded as some people confined at home said they struggled to get access to food and medicine.
The Chinese Communist Party promised last month to reduce disruptions, but a spike in infections has prompted cities to tighten controls.
The protests over the weekend were sparked by anger over the deaths of at least 10 people in a fire in China’s far west last week that prompted angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by anti-virus controls.
Most protesters over the weekend complained about excessive restrictions, but some turned their anger at Xi, China’s most powerful leader since at least the 1980s.
In a video that was verified by The Associated Press, a crowd in Shanghai on Saturday chanted, “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!” Such direct criticism of Xi is unprecedented.
Sympathy protests were held overseas, and foreign governments have called on Beijing for restraint.
“We support the right of people everywhere to peacefully protest, to make known their views, their concerns, their frustrations,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to Bucharest, Romania.
Meanwhile, the British government summoned China’s ambassador as a protest over the arrest and beating of a BBC cameraman in Shanghai.
Media freedom “is something very, very much at the heart of the UK’s belief system,” said Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian disputed the British version of events. Zhao said the journalist, Edward Lawrence, failed to identify himself and accused the BBC of twisting the story.
Asked about criticism of the crackdown, Zhao defended Beijing’s anti-virus strategy and said the public’s legal rights were protected by law.
The government is trying to “provide maximum protection to people’s lives and health while minimizing the COVID impact on social and economic development,” he said.
Wang Dan, a former student leader of the 1989 demonstrations who lives in exile, said the protest “symbolizes the beginning of a new era in China ... in which Chinese civil society has decided not to be silent and to confront tyranny.”
But he warned at a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan, that authorities were likely to respond with “stronger force to violently suppress protesters.”