Iranian terrorists in possible ‘dry run’ in Heathrow uranium scare: Expert

Iranian terrorists in possible ‘dry run’ in Heathrow uranium scare: Expert
Iranian terrorists may have staged a “dry run” to test the capabilities of UK customs authorities after a uranium shipment was discovered at Heathrow Airport on Dec. 29, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 12 January 2023

Iranian terrorists in possible ‘dry run’ in Heathrow uranium scare: Expert

Iranian terrorists in possible ‘dry run’ in Heathrow uranium scare: Expert
  • ‘This could have been some form of reconnaissance to test how security was operating during industrial action’
  • Customs at London airport discovered radioactive shipment on Dec. 29 amid Border Force strike

LONDON: Iranian terrorists may have staged a “dry run” to test the capabilities of UK customs authorities after a uranium shipment was discovered at Heathrow Airport, the Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday.

The consignment was discovered on Dec. 29 — amid an eight-day strike by Border Force staff — at the London airport, where authorities traced its origins to an Oman Air flight from Pakistan.

The deadly shipment was intended to be sent to an Iran-registered business in the UK, but may have been used as part of a “dry run” to test the efficiency of the British customs system, said Philip Ingram, a former military intelligence officer.

The recipient of the shipment has been contacted by police but no arrests have been made in the case. The UK’s domestic intelligence agency MI5 is also involved in the investigation.

Ingram told the Telegraph: “If you were to use depleted uranium in a ‘dirty bomb,’ like any isotope it would cause a contamination issue — but there are a lot more radioactive isotopes out there that would be easier to get hold of and would have a much greater effect.

“It’s definitely a possibility that this could have been some form of reconnaissance or dry run to test how the security was operating during the industrial action.”

Ingram praised Heathrow authorities for detecting the radioactive package, which contained small amounts of uranium hidden in metal bars.

A security source said: “We get quite a lot of hits, but a lot are false positives and you have to respond to every single one. It is unusual for it to be real.”

Richard Smith, chief of the Metropolitan Police counterterror command, said: “I want to reassure the public that the amount of contaminated material was extremely small and has been assessed by experts as posing no threat to the public.

“Although our investigation remains ongoing, from our inquiries so far, it does not appear to be linked to any direct threat.

“As the public would expect, however, we will continue to follow up on all available lines of enquiry to ensure this is definitely the case.”


UN human rights chief calls for ‘decisive steps’ to clarify fate of missing Syrians

UN human rights chief calls for ‘decisive steps’ to clarify fate of missing Syrians
Updated 29 March 2023

UN human rights chief calls for ‘decisive steps’ to clarify fate of missing Syrians

UN human rights chief calls for ‘decisive steps’ to clarify fate of missing Syrians
  • Volker Turk urges nations to establish a new entity to address issue
  • Hopes Syrian government realizes nation’s future depends on resolution

NEW YORK: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk on Tuesday called on the international community to take “decisive steps” to help clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people in Syria, seek the release of those still detained in the country’s prisons, and provide their families with adequate support.

He urged UN member states to consider establishing a new, dedicated entity that would help bring answers and support to the families of the many thousands of disappeared, and to survivors — “bringing clarity about what has happened to all the people of this wounded and exhausted country.

“We owe the people of Syria no less,” Turk told an informal meeting of the General Assembly to hear a briefing by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on missing people in Syria, adding that the pursuit of justice for missing persons is a prerequisite for lasting peace and reconciliation in the country.

Syria’s permanent representative to the UN Bassam Sabbagh had last week, during a security council meeting, attacked the pursuit of such an international institution, describing it as a “hostile” campaign by the West that is weaponizing the issue of missing people. And to “launch another politicized international mechanism, whose sole aim is to distort facts and increase pressure on a country that has been fighting terrorism on behalf of all the peoples of the world.”

But Turk told Arab News after the meeting he still hopes “the realization will set in with the Syrian government” that there can be no future for the country without addressing the issue of the missing people.

“We have heard from five countries (at the GA meeting) that have gone through conflict, who have had the experience of missing people, who all emphasize one point: You cannot go into any addressing of grievances of your population if you don’t address the fate of missing people.

“I myself having worked for Syrian refugees for many years, I know how important it is for them.”

More than 100,000 Syrians have gone missing or forcibly disappeared at the hands of both the Syrian regime, opposition forces, and terrorist groups since the war began 12 years ago.

A large number of nongovernmental, international, humanitarian, and family organizations work on the Syria missing persons issue, collecting information and following up on cases, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Commission on Missing Persons, and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. But the lack of coordination leaves victims and survivors and their families in a state of uncertainty, searching for any evidence of their loved ones, and not knowing where to give data and information.

Families have been pushing for a dedicated, independent international institution to clarify their loved ones’ fate that is commensurate with the scale and complexity of the crisis.

Guided by their views and advice, the UN secretary-general issued a report last year that concluded that such an international institution – tasked with a robust mandate to clarify the fate of the missing and provide support for their families — would be the cornerstone of a comprehensive solution to the crisis.

Speaking at the meeting, Guterres urged member states “to act” and work on resolving “this deeply painful situation with determination and urgency,” and called on the Syrian government and all other parties to the conflict to cooperate.

Describing the crisis of missing persons in Syria, Turk painted for the gathering a picture of despair that is “crushing in its enormity,” where children are growing with a “gaping absence where their father should be,” where associating with the family of a missing person could bring on more violence on the community. And where searching for loved ones exposes families to risks of exploitation, physical threat and extortion, demands for payment for information about their whereabouts that may later prove to be false.

He said survivors who have been released after arbitrary detention in Syria have spoken of rampant torture and sexual violence, where “death has been a close and constant neighbor.” After their release, Turk added, many women and girls are shunned by their families on the assumption that they have been raped and so are seen as bringing dishonor on their relatives.

“This harrowing accumulation of trauma has led many women survivors of disappearance to disappear again — by leaving the country — or even to try to kill themselves.”

“The pain, the loss, and the injustice are simply too great.”

The new entity’s tasks will include consolidating existing data and claims, advocating for access to detention sites, and providing support to victims, survivors and their families, to address their psychosocial, legal, administrative and economic needs.  


Myanmar junta dissolves Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, much of opposition

Myanmar junta dissolves Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, much of opposition
Updated 29 March 2023

Myanmar junta dissolves Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, much of opposition

Myanmar junta dissolves Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, much of opposition
  • Ousted leader’s party governed Myanmar with overwhelming majorities in Parliament from 2015 to 2021
  • The army said it staged its 2021 takeover because of massive poll fraud

BANGKOK: Myanmar’s military government took another major step in its ongoing campaign to cripple its political opponents on Wednesday, dissolving dozens of opposition parties including that of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to meet a registration deadline ahead of elections.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, or NLD, was one of 40 parties ordered dissolved in an official announcement by the election commission published Wednesday in the state-controlled press. The NLD governed Myanmar with overwhelming majorities in Parliament from 2015 to 2021 before being overthrown by the military.
The NLD had already announced that it would not register, denouncing the promised polls as a sham.
The party, and other critics, say the still-unscheduled polls will be neither free nor fair in a military-ruled country that has shut free media and arrested most of the leaders of Suu Kyi’s party.
The NLD won a landslide victory in the November 2020 election, but in February 2021, the army blocked all elected lawmakers from taking their seats in Parliament and seized power, detaining top members of Suu Kyi’s government and party.
The army takeover was met with widespread popular opposition. After peaceful demonstrations were put down with lethal force, many opponents of military rule took up arms, and large parts of the country are embroiled in conflict.
Suu Kyi, 77, is serving prison sentences totaling 33 years after being convicted in a series of politically tainted prosecutions brought by the military. Her supporters say the charges were contrived to prevent her from participating in politics.
Kyaw Htwe, a member of the NLD’s Central Working Committee, said on Tuesday night that the party’s existence does not depend on what the military decides, and it “will exist as long as the people support it.”
His statement was a reference to a message Suu Kyi sent to her supporters through her lawyers in May 2021 when she appeared in court in person for the first time after the military seized power, she said “Since the NLD was founded for the people, the NLD will exist as long as the people exist.″
“The party will continue to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted by the people.” Kyaw Htwe said in a text message.
The army said it staged its 2021 takeover because of massive poll fraud, though independent election observers did not find any major irregularities. Some critics of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who led the takeover and is now Myanmar’s top leader, believe he acted because the vote thwarted his own political ambitions.
The new polls had been expected by the end of July, according to the army’s own plans. But in February, the military announced a six-month extension of its state of emergency, delaying the possible legal date for holding an election. It said security could not be assured. The military does not control large swaths of the country, where it faces widespread armed resistance to its rule.
“Amid the state oppression following the 2021 coup, no election can be credible, especially when much of the population sees a vote as a cynical attempt to supplant the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in 2020,” said a report issued Tuesday by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank.
“The polls will almost certainly intensify the post-coup conflict, as the regime seeks to force them through and resistance groups seek to disrupt them.”
The military government enacted a new political party registration law in January that makes it difficult for opposition groups to mount a serious challenge to the army’s favored candidates. It sets conditions such as minimum levels of membership and candidates and offices that any party without the backing of the army and its cronies would find hard to meet, especially in the repressive political atmosphere.
The new law required existing political parties to re-apply for registration with the election commission by March 28.
Ninety parties ran in the 2020 election, of which just under half have been dissolved. The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Wednesday published the election commission’s list of 50 existing parties that had registered by the Tuesday deadline, and 40 that had not, meaning they would be dissolved as of Wednesday.
The surviving parties are unlikely to pose a meaningful electoral challenge to the junta: they won only a handful of seats in the 2020 election, and most will not mount national campaigns.
“Among these 63 parties, 12 parties will launch election campaigns across the nation and 51 parties only in one region or state,” the state-run paper reported.
The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which ran a distant second to the NLD in 2015 and 2020, registered again. The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, and NLD ally that won the third largest number of seats in 2020, did not.
Thirteen new parties registered, and the announcement said the opportunity for new parties to register was still open.
The National League for Democracy was founded in 1988 in the wake of a failed uprising against military rule. It won a 1990 general election that was invalidated by the country’s military rulers. It was technically banned after it boycotted a 2010 election held under military auspices because it felt it was not free or fair, but was allowed to register when it agreed to run in 2011. It took power after a landslide victory in the 2015 general election.


China threatens retaliation if Taiwan president Tsai and US House speaker McCarthy meet

China threatens retaliation if Taiwan president Tsai and US House speaker McCarthy meet
Updated 10 min 1 sec ago

China threatens retaliation if Taiwan president Tsai and US House speaker McCarthy meet

China threatens retaliation if Taiwan president Tsai and US House speaker McCarthy meet
  • Diplomatic pressure against Taiwan has ramped up recently, with Beijing poaching Taipei’s dwindling number of diplomatic allies

BEIJING: China has threatened “resolute countermeasures” over a planned meeting between Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen and US House speaker Kevin McCarthy during an upcoming visit in Los Angeles by the head of the self-governing island democracy.

Diplomatic pressure against Taiwan has ramped up recently, with Beijing poaching Taipei’s dwindling number of diplomatic allies while also sending military fighter jets flying toward the island on a near daily basis. Earlier this month, Honduras established diplomatic relations with China, leaving Taiwan with only 13 countries that recognize it as a sovereign state.

Tsai framed the trip as a chance to show Taiwan’s commitment to democratic values on the world stage, as she left Taiwan Wednesday afternoon to begin her 10-day tour of the Americas.

“I want to tell the whole world democratic Taiwan will resolutely safeguard the values of freedom and democracy, and will continue to be a force for good in the world, continuing a cycle of goodness, strengthening the resilience of democracy in the world,” she told reporters before she boarded the plane. “External pressure will not obstruct our resolution to engage with the world.”

Tsai is scheduled to transit through New York on March 30 before heading to Guatemala and Belize. On April 5, she’s expected to stop in Los Angeles on her way back to Taiwan, at which time the meeting with McCarthy is tentatively scheduled.

The US stops are the most closely watched of her trip.

Spokesperson for the Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office Zhu Fenglian at a news conference Wednesday denounced Tsai’s stopover on her way to diplomatic allies in Central America and demanded that no US officials meet with her.

“We firmly oppose this and will take resolute countermeasures,” Zhu said. The US should “refrain from arranging Tsai Ing-wen’s transit visits and even contact with American officials, and take concrete actions to fulfill its solemn commitment not to support Taiwan independence,” she said.

Transit visits through the United States during broader international travel by the Taiwanese president have been routine over the years, senior US officials in Washington and Beijing have underscored to their Chinese counterparts.

In such unofficial visits in recent years, Tsai has met with members of Congress and the Taiwanese diaspora and has been welcomed by the chairperson of the American Institute in Taiwan, the US government-run nonprofit that carries out unofficial relations with Taiwan.

Tsai transited through the United States six times between 2016 and 2019 before slowing international travel with the coronavirus pandemic. In reaction to those visits, China lashed out rhetorically against the US and Taiwan.

However, the planned meeting with McCarthy has triggered fears of a heavy-handed Chinese reaction amid heightened frictions between Beijing and Washington over US support for Taiwan, trade and human rights issues.

Following a visit by then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in 2022, Beijing launched missiles over the area, deployed warships across the median line of the Taiwan Strait and carried out military exercises in a simulated blockade of the island. Beijing also suspended climate talks with the US and restricted military-to-military communication with the Pentagon.

McCarthy, R-Calif., has said he would meet with Tsai when she is in the US and has not ruled out the possibility of traveling to Taiwan in a show of support.

Beijing sees official American contact with Taiwan as encouragement to make the island’s decades-old de facto independence permanent, a step US leaders say they don’t support. Pelosi, D-Calif., was the highest-ranking elected American official to visit the island since then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997. Under the “One China” policy, the US acknowledges Beijing’s view that it has sovereignty over Taiwan, but considers Taiwan’s status as unsettled. Taipei is an important partner for Washington in the Indo-Pacific.

US officials are increasingly worried about China attempting to make good on its long-stated goal of bringing Taiwan under its control by force if necessary. The sides split amid civil war in 1949 and Beijing sees US politicians conspiring with Tsai’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party to make the separation permanent and stymy China’s rise as a global power.

The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which has governed US relations with the island, does not require Washington to step in militarily if China invades but makes it American policy to ensure Taiwan has the resources to defend itself and to prevent any unilateral change of status by Beijing.

Tensions spiked earlier this year when President Joe Biden ordered a Chinese spy balloon shot down after it traversed the continental United States. The Biden administration has also said US intelligence findings show that China is weighing sending arms to Russia for its ongoing war in Ukraine, but has no evidence Beijing has done so yet.

China, however, has provided Russia with an economic lifeline and political support, and President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met in Moscow earlier this month. That was the first face-to-face meeting between the allies since before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.

The Biden administration postponed a planned visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken following the balloon controversy but has signaled it would like to get such a visit back on track.


Russia starts exercises with Yars intercontinental ballistic missiles

Russia starts exercises with Yars intercontinental ballistic missiles
Updated 29 March 2023

Russia starts exercises with Yars intercontinental ballistic missiles

Russia starts exercises with Yars intercontinental ballistic missiles
  • The drills involve the Strategic Missile Forces comprehensive control checking of the Omsk missile formation together with a command and staff exercise

Russia has begun exercises with its Yars intercontinental ballistic missile system and several thousand troops, its defense ministry said on Wednesday, in what is likely to be seen as another attempt by Moscow to show off its nuclear strength.
President Vladimir Putin has aimed to make the Yars missile system, which replaced the Topol system, part of Russia’s “invincible weapons” and the mainstay of the ground-based component of its nuclear arsenal.
“In total, more than 3,000 military personnel and about 300 pieces of equipment are involved in the exercises,” the defense ministry said in a statement on the Telegram messaging service.
The drills involve the Strategic Missile Forces comprehensive control checking of the Omsk missile formation together with a command and staff exercise with the Novosibirsk missile formation equipped with the Yars systems.
During the exercises, the Yars mobile systems will conduct maneuvers in three Russian regions, the ministry said, without identifying the regions.
“Also, strategic missilemen will carry out a set of measures to camouflage and counter modern aerial reconnaissance means in cooperation with formations and units of the Central Military District and the Aerospace Forces.”
There are few confirmed tactical and technical characteristics of the Yars mobile intercontinental ballistic missile systems, which reportedly have an operational range of 12,000 km (7,500 miles).
According to military bloggers, the systems are able to carry multiple independently targetable nuclear warheads and can be mounted on a truck carriers or deployed in silos.
Since launching an invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Russia has conducted numerous military exercises on its own or with other countries, such as China or South Africa.
It has also increased military training with Belarus, which borders both Russia and Ukraine, conducting a series of comprehensive drills over the past year.
Belarus has said it had decided to host Russian tactical nuclear weapons was a response to Western sanctions and what it said was a military build-up by NATO member states near its borders.
US President Joe Biden had indicated he would be concerned by the decision although the United States said it had not seen any indications that Russia was closer to using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.


Volodymyr Zelensky: Russia’s Vladimir Putin has ‘lost everything’ over the last year of war with Ukraine

Volodymyr Zelensky: Russia’s Vladimir Putin has ‘lost everything’ over the last year of war with Ukraine
Updated 29 March 2023

Volodymyr Zelensky: Russia’s Vladimir Putin has ‘lost everything’ over the last year of war with Ukraine

Volodymyr Zelensky: Russia’s Vladimir Putin has ‘lost everything’ over the last year of war with Ukraine
  • Ukraine’s military has been bolstered by billions of dollars of ammunition and weaponry from Western nations
  • Volodymyr Zelensky on Vladimir Putin: He is an ‘informationally isolated person’

ON BOARD A TRAIN FROM SUMY TO KYIV, Ukraine: A team of journalists from the AP spent two days traveling by train with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as he visited the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, which still faces regular shelling from Russian forces, and northern towns in the Sumy region that were liberated shortly after the war began a year ago.
The AP is the first news organization to travel extensively with Zelensky since the war began. Here are some takeaways from an interview with Zelensky as he returned to Kyiv late Tuesday.
WESTERN WEAPONS
Throughout much of the war, Ukraine’s military has been bolstered by billions of dollars of ammunition and weaponry from Western nations. Zelensky welcomed the help but said some of the promised weapons had not yet been delivered.
“We have great decisions about Patriots, but we don’t have them for real,” he said, referring to the US-made air defense system.
Ukrainian soldiers have received training in the US since January on how to use the Patriot system, but it hasn’t yet been deployed in Ukraine.
Ukraine needs 20 Patriot batteries to protect against Russian missiles, and even that may not be enough “as no country in the world was attacked with so many ballistic rockets,” Zelensky said.
Zelensky added that a European nation sent another air defense system to Ukraine, but it didn’t work and they “had to change it again and again.” He did not name the country.
Zelensky also reiterated his longstanding request for fighter jets, saying “we still don’t have anything when it comes to modern warplanes.” Poland and Slovakia have decided to give Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine, but no Western country so far has agreed to provide modern warplanes amid concern that it could escalate the conflict and draw them in deeper.
PUTIN’S ISOLATION
Zelensky was unsparing in his assessment of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, calling him an “informationally isolated person” who had “lost everything” over the last year of war.
“He doesn’t have allies,” Zelenskky said, adding that it was clear that even China — an economic powerhouse long favorable toward Moscow — was no longer willing to back Russia. Chinese President Xi Jinping recently visited Putin i n Russia but left without publicly announcing any overt support for Moscow’s campaign against Ukraine.
Zelensky suggested that Putin’s announcement shortly after Xi’s visit that he would move tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, closer to NATO territory, was meant to deflect from the fact that the Chinese leader’s visit did not go well. Putin said the move was a counter to Britain’s decision to provide more depleted uranium ammunition to Ukraine.
Despite Putin’s nuclear provocations, Zelenskky said he does not believe the Russian leader is prepared to use the bomb.
“If a person wants to save himself, he really ... will use these,” he said. “I’m not sure he’s ready to do it.”
AVOIDING A NUCLEAR DISASTER
On Zelensky’s itinerary this week was a meeting with Rafael Mariano Grossi, the visiting head of the UN’s atomic energy agency. Grossi was in the region to take stock of the situation at the nearby Zaporizhizhia Nuclear Power Plant, which Russia took control of last year.
Fierce fighting around the plant, Europe’s largest, has put the facility and the broader region at significant risk. During his meeting with Zelensky on Monday, Grossi said the situation was not improving.
Grossi has called for a “protection zone” around the plant but has failed to come up with terms that would satisfy both Ukraine and Russia. Grossi told the AP on Tuesday he believed a deal was “close.” However, Zelensky, who opposes any plan that would legitimize Russia’s control over the facility, said he was less optimistic a deal was near. “I don’t feel it today,” he said.
THE FIGHT FOR BAKHMUT
The longest battle of the war is raging in the eastern city of Bakhmut, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have been locked in a grinding conflict for seven months.
Some Western military analysts have questioned why Ukraine is willing to suffer so many losses to defend the territory, arguing that the city is not of strategic significance. Zelensky argued otherwise, saying any loss in the war will give Russia an opening. He predicted that if Russia defeats Ukraine in Bakhmut, Putin would set out to “sell” a victory to the international community.
“If he will feel some blood, smell that we are weak, he will push, push, push,” Zelensky said, adding that the pressure would come not only from the international community but also from within his own country.
“Our society will feel tired,” he said. “Our society will push me to have compromise with them.”
Zelensky recently made traveled near Bakhmut for a morale-boosting visit with troops fighting in the hard-hit city.
CALLS FOR TOUGHER SANCTIONS
Western sanctions against Russia don’t go far enough, according to Zelensky, who called for more far-reaching measures against people in Putin’s inner circle.
More than 30 countries, representing more than half the world’s economy, have imposed sanctions on Russia, including price caps on Russian oil and restrictions on access to global financial transactions. The West has also directly sanctioned about 2,000 Russian firms, government officials, oligarchs and their families. More than $58 billion worth of sanctioned Russians’ assets have been blocked or frozen worldwide, according to a recent report from the US Treasury Department.
Zelensky said more should be done to target Putin’s enablers, who “have to know that they will lose all their money … all their real estate in Europe or in the world, their yachts everywhere.”
RIDING THE RAILS
Most of Zelensky’s travel in Ukraine is done by rail. There are few other options: Commercial air travel has been grounded and Ukraine’s expanse, as well as the unpredictability of life in a war-torn country, make road travel arduous.
The state railway system, however, has remained remarkably stable throughout the war and largely untouched by the constant barrage of Russian missiles. One notable exception: the April 2022 bombing of the crowded Kramatorsk train station that killed dozens of people.
Though Zelensky rides on a train set aside for him and his delegation, it is largely indistinguishable on the outside from the blue-and-yellow trains ferrying other people and goods across the country. Most Ukrainians barely looked up to acknowledge Zelensky’s train as it zipped through towns across the countryside, passing picturesque fields and the occasional bombed-out building or bridge.