Somalia appeals for international help after deadly blasts

Somalia appeals for international help after deadly blasts
Civilians gather on Monday near the ruins of a building at the scene of an explosion along K5 street in Mogadishu, Somalia. (Reuters)
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Updated 31 October 2022

Somalia appeals for international help after deadly blasts

Somalia appeals for international help after deadly blasts

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s president has issued an urgent plea for international help for wounded victims of devastating car bombings at the weekend that claimed the lives of 120 people.

Bulldozers were still clearing the blast site in the capital Mogadishu on Monday in the hunt for bodies feared trapped under the rubble.

Saturday’s attack, which also wounded more than 300 people, was claimed by the Al-Shabab group and was the deadliest in the fragile Horn of Africa nation in five years.

“We appeal for the international community, Somali brothers, and other Muslim brothers and or partners to send doctors to Somalia to help the hospitals treat the wounded people,” President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said in a statement on Sunday.

He warned that the death toll could rise, as ill-equipped hospitals were swamped.

Somalia has been mired in chaos since the fall of president Siad Barre’s military regime in 1991 and has one of the world’s weakest health systems after decades of conflict.

“We cannot airlift all these numbers of wounded people ... anyone who can send us (help) we request to send us,” said Mohamud.

Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre has ordered schools closed so that students can take part in a national blood donation drive.

Mohamud said he himself was among several hundred people who had donated blood to hospitals for the victims.

The World Health Organization said on Sunday it was ready to help the government treat the wounded and provide trauma care.

Al-Shabab, a group linked to Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack in which two cars packed with explosives blew up minutes apart near the city’s busy Zobe intersection, followed by gunfire.

It said it had targeted the country’s Ministry of Education.

The explosions tore through walls and shattered windows of nearby buildings, sending shrapnel flying and plumes of smoke and dust into the air.

Ali Yare Ali, a local government official in Mogadishu, said that between seven and nine bodies were suspected to be under the rubble of buildings destroyed by the blasts.

The attack took place at the same junction where a truck packed with explosives blew up on Oct. 14, 2017, killing 512 people and injuring more than 290, the deadliest attack in Somalia.

Somalia’s allies denounced the bombings, with the US, the UN and the African Union among those issuing messages of support.

The attack tests the government’s ability to secure the conflict-weary nation, including the capital of nearly 2.5 million people.

“The Somali nation and these terrorists are at war, as I speak now, there is fighting ongoing in many parts of the country,” Mohamud said Sunday.

“We are at war with them, and we are killing each other.”

Mohamud called on all Somalis to show solidarity and support those affected by the attack.

“We must get united in providing assistance to the families, children and parents of those who were martyred,” he said, lauding donations of water, food and clothes to survivors.

It was not immediately clear how the cars loaded with explosives evaded the numerous checkpoints that ring-fence the coastal city.

Witnesses said the road was busy with rows of tuk-tuks and other vehicles when the first blast hit.

First responders were met with a second explosion, killing the elderly and women with children strapped on their back, police said.

“I could not sleep last night because of the horrible scene,” police officer Adan Mohamed said on Sunday.

Al-Shabab fighters have stepped up their attacks in Somalia since Mohamud was elected in May and vowed an “all-out-war” against terrorism.

In August, the group launched a 30-hour gun and bomb attack on the popular Hayat hotel in Mogadishu, killing 21 people and wounding 117.

The insurgents have been seeking to overthrow the government in Mogadishu for about 15 years.

They were driven out of the capital in 2011 by an African Union force but the group still controls swathes of countryside and continues to wage deadly strikes on civilian, political and military targets.


Afghan women prosecutors once seen as symbols of democracy find asylum in Spain

Afghan women prosecutors once seen as symbols of democracy find asylum in Spain
Updated 8 sec ago

Afghan women prosecutors once seen as symbols of democracy find asylum in Spain

Afghan women prosecutors once seen as symbols of democracy find asylum in Spain
  • Women's freedoms in Afghanistan were abruptly curtailed in 2021 with the arrival of a government that enforces a strict interpretation of Islam
  • 32 women judges and prosecutors left Afghanistan only to be stuck in Pakistan for up to a year trying to find asylum in Europe
MADRID: Pushing her son on a swing at a playground on a sunny winter's day in Madrid, former Afghan prosecutor Obaida Sharar expresses relief that she found asylum in Spain after fleeing Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban took over.
Sharar, who arrived in Madrid with her family, is one of 19 female prosecutors to have found asylum in the country after being left in limbo in Pakistan without official refugee status for up to a year after the Taliban's return to power. She feels selfish being happy while her fellow women suffer, she said. "Most Afghan women and girls that remain in Afghanistan don't have the right to study, to have a social life or even go to a beauty salon," Sharar said. "I cannot be happy."
Women's freedoms in her home country were abruptly curtailed in 2021 with the arrival of a government that enforces a strict interpretation of Islam.
The Taliban administration has banned most female aid workers and last year stopped women and girls from attending high school and university.
Sharar's work and that of her female peers while they lived in Afghanistan was dangerous. Female judges and prosecutors were threatened and became the target of revenge attacks as they undertook work overseeing the trial and conviction of men accused of gender crimes, including rape and murder.
She was part of a group of 32 women judges and prosecutors that left Afghanistan only to be stuck in Pakistan for up to a year trying to find asylum.
A prosecutor, who gave only her initials as S.M. due to fears over her safety and who specialised in gender violence and violence against children said, "I was the only female prosecutor in the province... I received threats from Taliban members and the criminals who I had sent to prison."
Now she and her family are also in Spain.
Many of the women have said they felt abandoned by Western governments and international organizations.
Ignacio Rodriguez, a Spanish lawyer and president of Bilbao-based 14 Lawyers, a non-governmental organisation which defends prosecuted lawyers, said the women had been held up as symbols of democratic success only to be discarded.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was not in a position to comment on specific cases.
"The Government of Pakistan has not agreed to recognise newly arriving Afghans as refugees," UNHCR said in a statement. "Since 2021, UNHCR has been in discussions with the government on measures and mechanisms to support vulnerable Afghans. Regrettably, no progress has been made."
The foreign ministry of Pakistan did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Pakistan is home to millions of refugees from Afghanistan who fled after the Soviet Union's invasion in 1979 and during the subsequent civil war. Most of them are yet to return despite Pakistan's push to repatriate them under different programmes.
The Taliban has said any Afghan who fled the country since it took power in 2021 can return safely through a repatriation council.
"Afghanistan is the joint home of all Afghans," said Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesperson for the Taliban administration. "They can live here without any threat."

Morocco arrests British national linked to deadly drive-by shooting

Morocco arrests British national linked to deadly drive-by shooting
Updated 8 min 51 sec ago

Morocco arrests British national linked to deadly drive-by shooting

Morocco arrests British national linked to deadly drive-by shooting
  • Nana Oppong, 42, awaiting extradition to UK after ‘day and night’ multi-agency manhunt
  • National Crime Agency regional manager praises ‘the vigilance of our Moroccan partners’

LONDON: A criminal wanted by UK authorities over a deadly drive-by shooting has been arrested at the Moroccan border following a “day and night” multi-agency manhunt, the Daily Mail reported.

Nana Oppong, 42, was the subject of a UK police investigation into the drive-by killing of 50-year-old Robert Powell in 2020.

Oppong was named on the National Crime Agency’s most-wanted list and was placed on Interpol Red Notice, which alerts law enforcement authorities worldwide about wanted fugitives.

UK police said Oppong was arrested by Moroccan border authorities late last year after trying to enter from Spain on forged documents, but the news was kept secret over operational and security concerns.

Oppong, who is the seventh person to be arrested from the NCA most-wanted list, has since been kept in custody and is awaiting extradition to the UK.

NCA regional manager in Spain Steve Reynolds said: “Oppong’s arrest came about after a sustained campaign to trace him and because of the vigilance of our Moroccan partners and support from Interpol.

“This is another excellent result and shows once again that UK law enforcement does not give up on finding those who await justice in the UK. Working with our colleagues at home and abroad we will continue to hunt those on the run.”

Stephen Jennings, a detective superintendent who leads the regional police case on Oppong, said: “Numerous officers and staff across all agencies involved in this case have been working day and night to get justice for Robert’s family.

“Oppong’s arrest is the result of an excellent collaboration between Essex Police, the NCA, the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service), Interpol, Crimestoppers and other law enforcement colleagues around the world.”


UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC

UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC
Updated 15 min 35 sec ago

UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC

UK government pauses plan to ban IRGC
  • Foreign Office fears move could make communication channels with Iran more difficult
  • Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ‘should have been proscribed by now,’ source tells Times

A plan to ban Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the UK for being a terrorist organization has been temporarily shelved by the government over fears that the move could harm diplomatic communication channels between London and Tehran. It is not known how long the pause will last.

The IRGC, established in 1979 in the wake of Iran’s revolution, has been accused of orchestrating insurgencies, assassinations, attacks and other acts of aggression worldwide. 

The proposed ban would have made membership of the IRGC or attendance of meetings in support of it illegal in the UK, and hindered its ability to raise funds in the country.

In November, the director general of UK intelligence branch MI5, Ken McCallum, accused the IRGC of plotting to assassinate or kidnap people living in Britain on at least 10 occasions in 2022.

The IRGC was also accused by British security services of threatening journalists working at London-based news outlet Iran International, which necessitated the deployment of armed police at its offices.

The IRGC’s outlawing has long been supported by senior British politicians, including Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Minister of State for Security Tom Tugendhat.

A source told The Times: “Foreign Office officials have real concerns about proscription because they want to maintain access.

“The Home Office, and the government more broadly, supports the move. The IRGC should have been proscribed by now, but the whole process is on ice.”

Diplomatic relations between the two countries remain strained, and were not helped by the execution earlier this year of UK resident Alireza Akbari, who authorities in Tehran had accused of being a spy. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the case had “appalled” him.

A UK government spokesperson said: “While the government keeps the list of proscribed organizations under review, we do not comment on whether a specific organization is or is not being considered for proscription.”


EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary
Updated 29 min 25 sec ago

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary

EU plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary
  • An existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day
KYIV: The European Union plans to slap Russia with fresh sanctions by the anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on a visit to Kyiv Thursday.
“We will introduce with our G7 partners an additional price cap on Russian petroleum products, and by the 24th of February — exactly one year since the invasion started — we aim to have the 10th package of sanctions in place,” von der Leyen said during a press conference with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Existing sanctions are “eroding” Russia’s economy, she said, and “throwing it back by a generation,” estimating that an existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day.

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration
Updated 02 February 2023

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration

France’s Macron faces electoral pressure over ‘out of control’ immigration
  • 28.6% increase in asylum claims as opposition warns of ‘insurrection in the voting booths’
  • Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Georgia were main countries of origin for asylum seekers last year

French President Emmanuel Macron’s party is facing significant electoral losses amid concerns over “out of control” immigration, The Times reported.

The government’s perceived failure to control immigration — with a 28.6 percent year-on-year increase in asylum applications — has led to key potential allies urging Macron to take urgent action.

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Georgia were the main countries of origin for asylum seekers in France last year.

New figures show that France provided 320,330 people with residency permits in 2022 — up from 193,000 a decade earlier.

Bruno Retailleau, leader of the opposition Republicans in the Senate, said populism could make another comeback in France due to growing dissatisfaction with immigration levels.

Macron is likely to need Retailleau’s support in pushing through a critical new immigration bill in Parliament, with the president’s party losing its majority in the National Assembly during elections last year.

The proposed bill aims to ease concerns from both the left and right of French politics, with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne describing the legislation as a balance of “firmness and humanity.”

Under the plans, authorities will expedite the deportation of unemployed illegal immigrants, while industries facing labor shortages will gain access to new one-year working visas enabling the rapid hiring of undocumented migrants.

But Retailleau criticized the proposals, saying it “will not enable us to take back control” of immigration.

He added: “We are in the midst of migratory disorder (and) if we don’t take back control … there will be insurrections in the voting booths very soon.”

Retailleau warned that France could follow in the footsteps of Sweden, where “the extreme right is at the door of power.”

Political commentator Matthieu Croissandeau said: “The left thinks it (the legislation) is too right wing and the right thinks it’s too left wing.”