US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA
US basketball player Brittney Griner, below, during a court hearing to consider an appeal against her sentence on Oct. 25, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 28 November 2022

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA
  • Russia and the US have been discussing a deal that could see the basketball star in exchange for convicted weapons trafficker Viktor Bout

MOSCOW: The United States and Russia are discussing the release of basketball star Brittney Griner and ex-marine Paul Whelan through special channels, the RIA Novosti news agency reported on Monday, citing a top US diplomat.
Elizabeth Rood, charge d’affaires of the US embassy in Russia, was quoted as saying that the United States had submitted a serious proposal for consideration but it had not received a “serious response” back from Russia.
Russia and the United States have been discussing a deal that could see Griner, who is facing nine years in jail in Russia on drug charges, return to the United States in exchange for convicted Russian weapons trafficker Viktor Bout.
No deal has materialized amid heightened tensions between the two countries.


Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut

Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut
Updated 26 sec ago

Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut

Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut
  • They are among millions of people who have been displaced since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 last year
BAKHMUT: Ukrainian police staged a risky rescue mission in the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut this week to evacuate a six-year-old girl who had become separated from her pregnant mother.
Young Arina was found living with her grandparents in a run-down apartment building in Bakhmut, which has been pummelled by Russian forces in heavy fighting.
After trudging through snow to reach Arina, with artillery fire echoing in the distance, policeman Pavlo Dyachenko and two colleagues in combat gear drove Arina to the nearby city of Sloviansk to be reunited with her mother, Halyna Danylchenko.
“A shell exploded in our yard!” Arina, clutching a large white teddy bear, told her mother after they hugged.
“I heard that a shell exploded in your yard, that’s why I got so worried,” said Danylchenko, who is 24 and eight months pregnant.
They are among millions of people who have been displaced since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 last year.
Dyachenko said there were still about 200 children living in Bakhmut. The city was home to about 70,000 people before the war but officials say only a few thousand residents now remain.
“We’re meeting the families that are still there and talk to them, trying to convince them to agree to be evacuated, either the whole family or the children. Because children must live in a peaceful environment,” he told Reuters.
He had to gently coax Arina into leaving Bakhmut, calmly explaining the dangers of remaining.
“Are there any other children you can play with here?” Dyachenko asked the young girl after finder her in Bakhmut.
“No,” she replied, and started to cry.
“You’re supposed to be in a safe place. Do you understand?,” another officer said. “Do they shoot and shell a lot here?“
Arina nodded in reply.
One of the officers then put a bright orange helmet on her head, explaining: “This is for when we go outside, so that nothing can hit your head.”
They left the building to the sound of shelling, got into a waiting van and left for safety.

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist
Updated 8 min 57 sec ago

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist
  • Anis Amri killed 12 people in German Christmas market during 2016 truck rampage

LONDON: Three Tunisians linked to a terrorist who killed a dozen people in Germany in 2016 have been arrested by Italian police for facilitating illegal immigration, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The trio were arrested during nationwide raids in Italy on more than 40 premises linked to a transnational gang enabling illegal immigration.

Two of the men were subsequently placed in pre-trial detention, while the third was ordered into house arrest.

Police tied the three to Anis Amri, a Tunisian who plowed into Christmas market crowds in Berlin using a truck seven years ago, killing 12 people and injuring dozens.

After going on the run following the attack, Amri was killed in a shootout with Milan police four days later.

Authorities carried out raids on the illegal immigration gang in Ancona, Fermo, Ferrara, Catanzaro, Modena, Macerata, Siracusa and Verona.  


Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report
Updated 50 min 46 sec ago

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report
  • The head of Ukraine’s ruling party confirm Avakov’s home had been searched

KYIV: Former Ukrainian interior minister Arsen Avakov said his home was searched by security officials on Wednesday as part of an investigation into a purchase of Airbus helicopters, the Ukrainska Pravda media outlet reported.
An Airbus helicopter crashed on Jan. 18, killing 14 people including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi and other top ministry officials.
The State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the Ukrainska Pravda report.
A top governing party official confirmed on Wednesday that security officials had raided the homes of one of Ukraine’s richest men and a former interior minister, and said the country would change during the war with Russia.
Ukrainska Pravda quoted Avakov as saying the search was related to the helicopter crash.
“They looked at Airbus contracts from six years ago,” it quoted Avakov as saying.
Avakov, 59, resigned as Ukraine’s interior minister, in July 2021. Prior to his resignation he was one of the country’s most powerful officials, serving as the interior minister for over seven years.
David Arakhamia, head of the Servant of the People party’s parliamentary faction, said there were also searches at Ukraine’s Tax Office and that the management team of the Customs Service would be dismissed.
“The country will change during the war. If someone is not ready for change, then the state itself will come and help them change,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging in app.


Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in

Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in
Updated 01 February 2023

Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in

Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in
  • The bomber struck on Monday as hundreds of worshippers gathered for noon prayers in a mosque that was purpose built for the police and their families living in a highly fortified area

PESHAWAR: Police investigating a suicide bombing that killed more than 100 people at a Pakistan mosque said on Tuesday that several people had been arrested, and they could not rule out the possibility that the bomber had internal assistance evading security checks.
The bombing was the most deadly in a decade to hit Peshawar, a restive northwestern city near the Afghan border, and all but three of those killed were police, making it most suffered by Pakistan’s security forces in a single attack in recent history.
The bomber struck on Monday as hundreds of worshippers gathered for noon prayers in a mosque that was purpose built for the police and their families living in a highly fortified area.
“We have found some excellent clues, and based on these clues we have made some major arrests,” Peshawar Police Chief Ijaz Khan told Reuters.
“We can’t rule out internal assistance but since the investigation is still in progress, I will not be able to share more details.”
Investigators, who include counter-terrorism and intelligence officials, are focusing on how the attacker managed to breach the military and police checkpoints leading into the Police Lines district, a colonial-era, self-contained encampment in the city center that is home to middle- and lower-ranking police personnel and their families.
Defense Minister Khawaja Asif had said the bomber was in the first row in the prayer hall when he struck. Remains of the attacker had been recovered, provincial Police Chief Moazzam Jah Ansari told Reuters.
“We believe the attackers are not an organized group,” he added.
The most active militant group in the area, the Pakistani Taliban, also called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has denied responsibility for the attack, which no group has claimed so far. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had told parliament a breakaway faction of the TTP was to blame.
The blast demolished the upper story of the mosque. It was is the deadliest in Peshawar since twin suicide bombings at All Saints Church killed scores of worshippers in September 2013, in what remains the deadliest attack on the country’s Christian minority.
Peshawar sits on the edge of the Pashtun tribal lands, a region mired in violence for the past two decades.
The TTP is an umbrella group for Sunni and sectarian Islamist factions opposed to the government in Islamabad. The group has recently stepped up attacks against police.


US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons

US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons
Updated 01 February 2023

US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons

US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons
  • The aid is expected to be announced as soon as this week

WASHINGTON: The United States is readying more than $2 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine that is expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time as well as other munitions and weapons, two US officials briefed on the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.
The aid is expected to be announced as soon as this week, the officials said. It is also expected to include support equipment for Patriot air defense systems, precision-guided munitions and Javelin anti-tank weapons, they added.
One of the officials said a portion of the package, expected to be $1.725 billion, would come from a fund known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), which allows President Joe Biden’s administration to get weapons from industry rather than from US weapons stocks.
The USAI funds would go toward the purchase of a new weapon, the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) made by Boeing Co, which have a range of 94 miles (150 km). The United States has rebuffed Ukraine’s requests for the 185-mile (297-km) range ATACMS missile.
The longer range of the GLSDB glide bomb could allow Ukraine to hit targets that have been out of reach and help it continue pressing its counterattacks by disrupting Russia further behind its lines.
Reuters first reported on Boeing’s proposal to field GLSDB for Ukraine in November. At the time it was expected GLSDB could be in Ukraine by spring.
GLSDB is made jointly by SAAB AB and Boeing. It combines the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) with the M26 rocket motor, both of which are common in US inventories.
GLSDB is GPS-guided, can defeat some electronic jamming, is usable in all weather conditions, and can be used against armored vehicles, according to SAAB’s website. The GBU-39 — which would function as the GLSDB’s warhead — has small, folding wings that allow it to glide more than 100km if dropped from an aircraft and hit targets as small as 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter.
The USAI funds would also be used to pay for more components of HAWK air defenses, counter drone systems, counter artillery and air surveillance radars, communications equipment, PUMA drones, and spare parts for major systems like Patriot and Bradley, one of the officials said.
There was also a significant amount of medical equipment — enough to equip three field hospitals being donated by another ally, the official added.
The White House declined to comment. The contents and size of aid packages can shift until they are signed by the president.
In addition to the USAI funds, more than $400 million worth of aid was expected to come from Presidential Drawdown Authority funds, which allows the president to take from current US stocks in an emergency.
That aid was expected to include mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs), guided multiple launch rocket systems (GMLRS) and ammunition.
The US has sent approximately $27.2 billion worth of security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s February 2022 invasion. Russia calls the invasion a “special operation.”