JEDDAH: At least 35 people, including eight members of a single family, died on Wednesday when Al-Shabab terrorists detonated two car bombs in central Somalia.
The attack in the town of Mahas in the Hiran region was the latest in a series by the Al-Qaeda affiliate since government forces and allied clan militias began pushing the insurgents out of territory they had long held.
“Most of the dead are civilians. They are women and children,” said Hassan-Kafi Mohamed Ibrahim, deputy police commissioner of Hirshabelle state.
“Only one child survived from a family of nine. Other families also lost half of their members. The two suicide car bombs burnt many civilian homes to ashes.”
Mahas District Commissioner Mumin Mohamed Halane said one bomb targeted his house and the other hit the home of a member of the Federal Parliament.
Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has declared “all-out war” against Al-Shabab, which has been waging a bloody insurgency against the frail internationally-backed federal government for 15 years.
In July, local clan militias known as Macawisley launched a revolt against Al-Shabab in parts of central Somalia, and Mohamud sent in troops in September to support the fightback.
In recent months, the army and the militias have retaken large tracts of territory in the central states of Galmudug and Hirshabelle, where Hiran is, in an operation backed by US airstrikes and an African Union force.
However, the insurgents have frequently retaliated with bloody attacks, underlining their ability to strike at the heart of Somali towns and military installations despite the offensive.
Although forced out of the country’s main urban centers about 10 years ago, Al-Shabab remains entrenched in large parts of rural central and southern Somalia. It has carried out frequent attacks in recent months, including several in the capital Mogadishu against government installations and hotels.
Al-Shabab’s activities have also restricted deliveries of international aid, compounding the impact of the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in four decades.
On Oct. 29, 121 people in the capital Mogadishu were killed in two car bomb explosions at the education ministry, the deadliest attack in five years. Eight civilians died on Nov. 27 in a 21-hour siege at a hotel in Mogadishu popular with politicians and government officials.
A triple bombing in October in the city of Beledweyne, the capital of Hiran, left 30 dead. And at least 21 were killed in a siege at a Mogadishu hotel in August that lasted 30 hours before security forces overpowered the militants.
New York waits... and waits... for expected Trump indictment
The probe centers on $130,000 paid weeks before the 2016 election to adult film star Stormy Daniels to stop her from going public about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump a decade earlier
Updated 28 March 2023
NEW YORK: Nine days after Donald Trump announced he was about to be arrested over a hush-money payment to a porn star, the world still awaits what would be one of the most famous police mugshots in history.
The Republican former US president, who has never been shy about grabbing the limelight, sent newsrooms in the United States and beyond into a spin on March 18 when he announced he was three days away from being brought before a New York judge.
Trump, it turned out, had bad information or was simply guessing, and his equally baseless claim a week later that the case had been dropped altogether was greeted with due incredulity.
The prosecutors may not be marching to Trump’s tune but legal analysts genuinely expect the 76-year-old billionaire — who is running again for the White House — to be read his Miranda rights any day now.
A grand jury — a panel of citizens with broad investigative powers that works with prosecutors — reconvened Monday in Manhattan, where they reportedly heard from the former publisher of the National Enquirer, a central player in the hush money payment scheme.
The probe centers on $130,000 paid weeks before the 2016 election to adult film star Stormy Daniels to stop her from going public about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump a decade earlier.
Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, who has testified before the grand jury, told Congress in 2019 that he made the payment on Trump’s behalf and was later reimbursed.
Prosecutors say the checks were not properly registered, which might normally result in a misdemeanor charge of falsifying business records.
But that could be upgraded to a felony if the district attorney can persuade the grand jury that the payment and the suspect accounting were part of a cover-up, intended to benefit Trump’s election campaign by burying the scandal.
There are strict laws about how much candidates can contribute to their own election bid, and secretly funneling money toward campaign coffers can lead to jail terms of several years.
Criminal charges of any level would be uncharted territory in the United States, which has never indicted a sitting or former president.
If the jury votes to indict Trump, Manhattan’s chief local prosecutor is obliged to comply with their decision and announce it to the public.
Accused by Trump and the former president’s allies in the House of Representatives of a political “witch hunt,” prosecutor Alvin Bragg, an elected Democrat, has hit back at Republican “interference” in the investigation.
Trump staged his first official campaign rally in Texas on Saturday, brushing off his potential indictment — denying the tryst with Daniels as he railed against multiple criminal probes threatening his 2024 bid for the White House.
“I think they’ve already dropped the case,” Trump told reporters aboard his plane home to Florida, according to political website Axios.
“It’s a fake case. Some fake cases, they have absolutely nothing.”
India’s parliament adjourned after protests over Gandhi expulsion
The conviction stemmed from a remark made during the 2019 election campaign when Gandhi had asked why “all thieves have Modi as (their) common surname”
Updated 28 March 2023
NEW DELHI: India’s parliament was adjourned twice on Monday after lawmakers held rowdy protests and threw paper at the speaker following the expulsion from the house of top opposition figure Rahul Gandhi.
Gandhi lost his parliamentary seat on Friday after being convicted in a case that critics say shows how the rule of law is under threat in the world’s largest democracy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The speaker called off proceedings less than a minute after opposition MPs wearing black erupted in shouting, some of them throwing bits of paper at him.
“I want to run the House with dignity,” Speaker Om Birla said.
The session resumed several hours later only to be abandoned again after about 10 minutes as opposition MPs chanted anti-Modi slogans and waved “Democracy in danger” placards.
It was the latest in a string of stoppages in recent weeks in India’s often raucous parliament among lawmakers representing India’s 1.4 billion people.
Opposition MPs have been demanding a probe into potential links between Modi and the business empire of tycoon Gautam Adani, which has been hit by allegations of accounting fraud.
Debates have also descended into shouting matches over comments made by Gandhi in Britain in early March that Indian democracy is “under attack.”
Opposition lawmakers from different parties also staged protests in New Delhi on Monday, the latest in a series of recent demonstrations.
Piyush Goyal, trade minister and a member of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Monday accused the opposition of “cheap politics” and “trying to mislead people.”
Gandhi “has no right to consider himself above the law of the country,” Goyal told reporters.
Despite facing criticism from human rights groups, Modi has largely been courted by Western governments which see India, this year’s host of the Group of 20 economies, as a bulwark against China and potential player on the Ukraine war.
“Respect for the rule of law and judicial independence is a cornerstone of any democracy, and we’re watching Mr.Gandhi’s case in Indian courts,” US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said, steering clear of condemning the opposition leader’s expulsion.
“We engage with the government of India on our shared commitment to democratic values, including, of course, freedom of expression,” Patel told reporters in Washington.
Gandhi, 52, is the leading face of the opposition Congress party, once the dominant force of Indian politics, and is the scion of India’s most famous political dynasty.
But Congress has for years been repeatedly crushed in elections by Modi’s BJP and its nationalist appeals to India’s Hindu majority.
The lower house of parliament ruled Gandhi ineligible to sit as an MP on Friday, a day after he was sentenced to two years for defamation. He is appealing.
The conviction stemmed from a remark made during the 2019 election campaign when Gandhi had asked why “all thieves have Modi as (their) common surname.”
His comments were portrayed as a slur against the prime minister and against all those with the same surname, which is associated with the lower rungs of India’s caste hierarchy.
A BJP spokesman said Thursday the court acted with “due judicial process” in arriving at its ruling in the case, one of several Gandhi is facing.
Legal action has been widely deployed against opposition party figures and institutions seen as critical of the Modi government during its nine years in power.
Domestic and international media have also come under growing pressure. Last month, tax inspectors raided the local offices of Britain’s BBC.
The Editors Guild of India said the raids demonstrated a “trend of using government agencies to intimidate or harass press organizations that are critical of government policies.”
On Saturday, Gandhi, who recently completed a walk across India that was hailed as a success by commentators, said he would “do whatever I have to do to defend the democratic nature of this country.”
UN Security Council rejects Russian demand for Nord Stream probe
Russia said it had been left out of investigations launched by Sweden, Germany and Denmark, all of which have rejected the accusation
Updated 28 March 2023
UNITED NATIONS, United States: The UN Security Council on Monday rejected a Moscow-drafted resolution calling for an independent inquiry into the sabotage last year of the Nord Stream gas pipelines from Russia to Germany.
Western countries have blamed the explosions under the Baltic Sea last September on Russia, but the Kremlin has accused the West of sabotage.
The resolution got three votes, with China and Brazil backing Russia and the other 12 members abstaining.
The resolution called for the creation of a commission to “conduct comprehensive, transparent and impartial international investigation of all aspects of the act of sabotage on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, including identification of its perpetrators, sponsors, organizers and accomplices.”
Russia said it had been left out of investigations launched by Sweden, Germany and Denmark, all of which have rejected the accusation.
“We have serious and very well-founded doubt as to the objectiveness and transparency of national investigations conducted by some European states,” said Russian envoy Vassily Nebenzia.
He pointed to “increasing suspicions” that the three probes aimed “not to shed light on what happened with the acts of sabotage, but rather to hide evidence and to clean up the crime scene.”
“I think that after today’s vote, suspicion as to who is behind the act of sabotage on the Nord Stream is just obvious,” he added.
Several members assured the three countries conducting the investigations of their confidence, and denounced what they dismissed as an attempt by Russia to divert attention from its invasion of Ukraine.
“It was an attempt to discredit the work of ongoing national investigations and prejudice any conclusions they reached that do not comport to Russia’s predetermined and political narrative,” said Deputy US ambassador Robert Wood.
A previous version of the resolution seen by AFP stressed that the sabotage had taken place after “repeated threats to the Nord Stream by the leadership of the United States” but the line was subsequently omitted.
Nearly six months after the explosions that hit the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, the responsibility for the attack remains a mystery.
The White House has flatly rejected a self-published report by veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that US Navy divers helped by Norway planted explosives on the pipelines last June and detonated them three months later.
The New York Times pointed to a “pro-Ukrainian group” opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing US intelligence sources.
North Korea’s Kim orders more production of weapons-grade nuclear materials
The military simulated a nuclear air explosion strike with two ground-to-ground tactical ballistic missiles during Monday’s firing training, KCNA said in a separate dispatch
Updated 28 March 2023
SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for scaling up the production of weapons-grade nuclear material to grow the country’s arsenal, saying it should be ready to use the weapons at any time, state media KCNA said on Tuesday.
Kim made the remarks as he inspected the country’s nuclear weapons program, including new tactical nuclear weapons and technology for mounting warheads on ballistic missiles, and examined nuclear counterattack operation plans, KCNA said.
He was also briefed on an IT-based integrated nuclear weapon management system called Haekbangashoe, which means “nuclear trigger,” whose accuracy, reliability and security were verified during recent drills simulating a nuclear counterattack, it added.
Kim ordered the production of weapons-grade materials in a “far-sighted way” to boost its nuclear arsenal “exponentially” and produce powerful weapons, KCNA said.
He said the enemy of the country’s nuclear forces is not a specific state or group but “war and nuclear disaster themselves,” and the policy of expanding North Korea’s arsenal is solely aimed at defending the country, and regional peace and stability.
North Korea has been ramping up military tests, firing short-range ballistic missiles on Monday and conducting a nuclear counterattack simulation last week against the United States and South, Korea which it accused of rehearsing an invasion with their military exercises.
North Korea’s military simulated a nuclear airburst with two tactical ballistic missiles during Monday’s training, KCNA said in a separate dispatch.
A defense think tank also tested underwater strategic weapons systems on March 25-27, KCNA said.
How Arab-Islamic migration, language and culture shaped modern Latin America
Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula left many influences, later taken to the continent by colonists
Some researchers believe 700-1,000 Portuguese words and about 4,000 in Spanish come from Arabic
Updated 28 March 2023
Eduardo Campos Lima
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL: In recent years, a new generation of researchers has been examining the ancient Islamic roots of Latin American societies.
In the age of social media, such content is being disseminated among larger audiences, and many people in Latin America seem to be avidly interested.
“I began to read about the Moors when I was studying Arabic in Egypt,” said Mansour Peixoto, a Muslim convert from the Brazilian city of Recife who in 2014 founded the website Historia Islamica (Islamic History).
“I’d already learnt at that time about the Islamic influence on Portugal, but then I became interested in its direct and indirect impacts on Brazilian culture,” he told Arab News.
Between 711 and 1492, Arab-Berber rulers dominated parts of present-day Portugal, Spain and France, naming the region Al-Andalus.
An almost-800-year presence in the Iberian Peninsula left many influences that were brought to colonial Latin America.
After the Christian re-conquest, Islam was forbidden in Spain and Portugal. From then on, especially at the beginning of the 17th century, many Muslims — including people of European ancestry — were forced to move to North Africa, but many accepted to convert to Catholicism, some of whom remained secretly Muslim.
“Those people, especially the poor, were numerous among the Portuguese who came to colonize Brazil since the 16th century,” said Peixoto.
Between 711-1492, Arab-Berber rulers dominated parts of Portugal, Spain and France, naming the region Al-Andalus.
After the Christian re-conquest of Al-Andalus, Islam was forbidden in Spain and Portugal.
Some researchers believe that 700-1,000 Portuguese words come from Arabic.
Although his website deals with several Islamic themes, the history of Muslim Portuguese settlers — known as Mouriscos, or Moors — and their influence on Brazil is a frequent topic. “Many people don’t realize that we have customs in Brazil that come from the Islamic world,” said Peixoto.
Historia Islamica’s publications about the influence of Arabic on the Portuguese language are among the most shared by the website’s followers.
Some researchers believe that 700-1,000 Portuguese words come from Arabic, but recent studies suggest that the number of Arabisms could be much higher.
Several everyday words in Brazil have Arabic origins, such as alface (lettuce), almofada (cushion), acougue (butcher shop) and garrafa (bottle).
“Not to mention architectural terms that we still use today, like alicerce (foundation) and andaime (scaffolding),” said Peixoto.
“Iberian building methods were mostly Arab in the 16th century, and they were brought to the Americas.”
Islamic architectural influence in Latin America is one of the most noticeable cultural traits of Al-Andalus in the region, according to Hernan Taboada, an expert on the subject and a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
“That can be seen in the architectural style in New Spain, the viceroyalty that extended from the south of the present-day US to Central America,” he told Arab News.
Along with the Viceroyalty of Peru, in South America, that region probably concentrated most of the Moorish settlers in colonial Latin America, Taboada said.
Colonial-era churches in Mexico, from Veracruz on the Atlantic coast to Oaxaca in the south, exhibit evident Moorish artistic traits.
“They’re especially visible in the elements of decoration in those churches,” Taboada said. “Many temples in Mexico undoubtedly have Moorish style, which doesn’t mean they were necessarily built by Moors. In general, such elements were assimilated in Spain and transposed to Latin America.”
The presence of Muslims in New Spain and elsewhere in the region is not easy to verify, given that it was a clandestine presence.
This may be why the subject was ignored in academia for so long, although classical works of Latin American history mentioned it in the 19th and 20th centuries.
“The study of the Moorish presence was mostly resumed by Muslims and people of Arab origin. Those works showed that they weren’t as few in Latin America as was once supposed,” Taboada said.
Although Islam was forbidden, the Moors — like the Jews — largely enjoyed tolerance in the New World, though the Inquisition did act against them at times, he added.
Historian Ricardo Elia, cultural director of the Islamic Center of the Republic of Argentina, has since the 1980s been one of the pioneers in the study of the Moorish presence in the region of La Plata River.
“I discovered that the gauchos (the term used in Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil for legendary horsemen) are nothing less than Moors,” he told Arab News.
There is an ancient controversy regarding the etymological origin of that term in Argentina. Some scholars say it comes from a Quechuan word, but Elia and other researchers say it comes from chauch, a term with Arabic origins that means something like indomitable.
“In Valencia, Spain, the word chaucho was used to designate horsemen and pastors,” Elia said, adding that most of the crews of the Spanish ships that explored the Americas since the 15th century were composed of Moors, and that the first person to catch sight of the Americas was Rodrigo de Triana, a Moor.
“They needed to leave Spain so they came to the Americas. And they were good sailors.”
Over the centuries, Moors intermarried with other ethnic groups such as the Guarani indigenous people, but their cultural impact in the region is felt to this day.
Elia said empanadas, Argentina’s most typical pastry, have Andalusian origins, as does dulce de leche (caramelized milk).
The linguistic influence on the Spanish language is unquestionable. Elia estimates that there are about 4,000 Arabisms, most of them adopted in Spain.
“But in Argentina and Uruguay, the Moors also impacted our way of pronouncing the words,” he said.
Over the years, Elia has taught classes in universities in Argentina and Chile about the Moorish presence in South America.
“Unfortunately, the community of Lebanese and Syrian descent in Argentina has never shown much interest in such themes. Non-Arab Argentinians have always been the most curious about that,” said Elia, who comes from a Lebanese family.
He added that more and more people now want to learn about the first Muslim settlers in Latin America.
“In Morocco, an academic conference dealing especially with that topic was organized in 2021,” he said.
Peixoto said many people are “willing to discover more about their ancestry and the many questions not answered about it,” which is why a new generation of scholars has been researching the Moors of Latin America.
He plans to conduct an academic study about the Moors in Brazil, publish books on that topic and offer online classes.
“Our elite (in Brazil) likes to see itself as European, but we’re a combination of indigenous peoples, Africans, Europeans, and also Moors,” he said.
Peixoto thinks Muslims and Arabs made a decisive contribution to the formation of the Brazilian people, not only with the settlers from Al-Andalus, but also with the Africans brought as slaves, and the huge wave of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants who came to Brazil since the end of the 19th century.
“They transformed our way of being on many levels,” he said.
Taboada agreed, saying: “Eurocentric views are dominant among the Latin American elite. We have to emphasize that we have a multicultural origin.”