LONDON: Canada’s government has announced it will repatriate the infamous British-born Daesh member known as “Jihadi Jack,” along with 22 other people being held in Daesh camps in Syria.
The 28-year-old Muslim convert, Jack Letts, held dual British and Canadian citizenship before the UK Home Office stripped him of his citizenship in 2019 after he declared himself an “enemy of Britain.”
He traveled to Syria to join the terror group as a teenager.
After Letts was captured in 2017 by Kurdish forces, he lost his British citizenship and legally became the responsibility of the Canadian government, who accused the UK of taking “unilateral action to offload their responsibilities.”
Letts argued he should be allowed to return to the UK, insisting he had “no intention” of killing Britons.
Alongside Letts, 22 other Canadian citizens — six women, 13 infants, and three men — will be repatriated after a successful challenge by their families against the Canadian government.
According to its ruling, the Canadian federal court said preventing the prisoners from entering Canada would violate their constitutional rights, citing “conditions of the prison and the fact that the men have not been charged and brought to trial,” the Telegraph reported.
Letts’ parents were reported to be “overjoyed” at the news, with his mother Sally adding: “The federal government has been ordered to go to the region to bring back the men, and the judge has said this has to happen ‘as soon as possible.’”
She continued: “(Judge Henry Brown) referred to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, international humanitarian law, and the Magna Carta in his judgment, so this case will have global implications for the cases of all the other detainees, particularly the men.
“Britain, in particular, which has been the most recalcitrant and authoritarian government over this issue, should take note of this judgment and bring all its people home,” she said.
Japanese PM hails ties with Islamic countries at Ramadan dinner
Updated 11 sec ago
TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio hosted a dinner at his office in Tokyo on Thursday to mark the holy month of Ramadan and spoke of the tolerance of Islam needed to combat conflicts in the world.
The event was attended by the heads of Islamic diplomatic missions in Japan, Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, top Foreign Ministry officials, parliamentarians and representatives of Islamic organizations.
“After experiencing the pandemic, the international community stands at a historic turning point,” Kishida said in his address. “Now, more than ever, we must lead the international community toward cooperation instead of division and conflict. I feel that the ‘wifaq’ or harmony and ‘tassmoh’ or tolerance that both Japan and Islamic countries embrace are becoming more important.
Now, more than ever, we must lead the international community toward cooperation instead of division and conflict.
Kishida Fumio, Japanese prime minister
“In that connection, the plan of a free and open Indo-Pacific, or FOIP, which I announced recently, is an important tool. The vision of FOIP honors inclusivity and diversity. Under this plan, we have launched four pillars to make clear our intention to expand cooperation with regions and countries. We would also like to upgrade our relationships with Islamic countries as we continue to advance such efforts.”
Kishida said he had worked hard through meetings, phone calls and events such as TICAD8 to “deepen the bonds of trust and friendship” with the Islamic world.
“Since I was the foreign minister, I have long embraced our ties with the Islamic World, which stretches from Southeast Asia through the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and Europe.”
Kishida concluded his remarks by wishing, “tonight’s occasion, where we share our moments with friends from Muslim communities, will be a great opportunity to deepen the friendship between Japan and your countries.”
Ambassador of Palestine and dean of the Arab diplomatic missions, Waleed Siam, told Arab News Japan: “Hosting the Ramadan iftar dinner has been a tradition of Japanese prime ministers, and we highly appreciate it.”
Ukrainian soldiers in Kharkiv have a clear vision of danger and glory alike
Local commander appreciates weapons donations, says troops lack technical skills and expertise to operate them
Loss of homes and livelihoods proved too much to bear for those who remained during Russian control
Updated 3 min 13 sec ago
KHARKIV: In Kostyantynivka, an industrial city in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, just 20 kilometers southwest of the Bakhmut front line, local and foreign recruits train under the watchful eye of Oleksandr, commander of the Aidar Battalion, an assault unit of the Ukrainian Ground Forces.
Oleksandr, a handsome man in his 30s, has been a soldier since 2014, joining up shortly after his girlfriend’s father was taken captive by Russian-backed forces that same year. Since then, his prowess as a leader on the battlefield has seen him promoted to the rank of commander.
“I know how the enemy operates by now; their strategy is to create confusion and chaos. We run ours by critical thinking, by going over our mistakes and learning from them to do better in the next battle,” he told Arab News at the unit’s local barracks.
“We have been successful in most if not all of our battles, but we need more. We need more weapons, we need more drones, we need more support. We have been trying to produce our own weapons but it is not enough.”
Bakhmut has been the site of some of the bloodiest fighting since Russia launched what it called a “special military operation” on Feb. 24, 2022.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has verified a total of 8,317 civilian deaths during the invasion of Ukraine as of March 19. Furthermore, 13,892 people were reported to have been injured. However, the numbers could be higher.
According to recent estimates, the conflict has wounded or killed 180,000 Russian soldiers and 100,000 Ukrainian troops. Other Western sources estimate the war has caused 150,000 casualties on each side.
Russian armed forces and the Wagner Group — a private military contractor which has recruited from Russia’s jails — sent a massive land force to capture the region, stretching Ukrainian ammunition to the limit.
“We see the Russian soldiers trying to emulate our strategy,” said Oleksandr. “The Wagner soldiers consist of former convicts and drug addicts. They are running low on recruit numbers and have been relying on prisons to fill in their ranks.”
In their attempt to punch through Ukrainian lines, Russian forces have been using a technique known as the “fox den” strategy, in which a grenade is attached to a drone and dropped into Ukrainian trenches from above.
Nevertheless, Russian losses on this stretch of the battlefield have been high, with an attrition rate more severe than that of the Ukrainian defenders. “We do not underestimate our enemy, but they keep making the same mistakes. I have a feeling they do not learn,” said Oleksandr.
“Russian walkie talkies have fallen into our possession. What we heard shows they’re stubborn. Their generals don’t care how — the command is to get the job done no matter what, no matter the cannon fodder.”
NATO’s member states have been supplying Ukraine with modern battle tanks and other high-tech weaponry, supplementing the old Soviet-era technology that has long been the mainstay of Ukraine’s war effort.
Oleksandr says he appreciates the weapons donations, but says his troops still lack the technical skills and expertise to operate, maintain and repair the new gear. “Regardless, we will never surrender,” he said.
The Aidar Battalion came to prominence in recent months thanks to its social media activity, clocking up some 4.5 million subscribers on its TikTok account.
Known as the “dancing soldiers,” short videos of its personnel performing traditional dances in full battle dress have become a source of inspiration and a morale boost for the wider Ukrainian armed forces and the public at large.
“You need to find a way to have fun, or else you won’t survive,” said Oleksandr. “I also make videos for my daughter, so she can see what her father is doing.”
Further to the northwest, in the Kharkiv region, the Kharkiv Territorial Defense Battalion is dug in along the barren landscape, with deep trenches and sandbags piled high to protect its personnel from enemy fire.
Most of the region was retaken from Russian forces in September 2022 during a massive Ukrainian counteroffensive, in what was viewed at the time as a significant turning point in the war. However, this momentum has since been lost, resulting in a bitter stalemate.
The months of fighting across this wide front left unfathomable carnage in its wake, with homes and businesses reduced to rubble and farmland churned up and left fallow.
“The Russians destroyed everything,” Yuriy, a local man in his 40s, told Arab News at his now-disused farm in Kharkiv. “We let our animals free from our barn to give them the chance to survive. Some I believe are still alive near the river.”
Many local families have chosen to leave the area for the comparative safety of western Ukraine and neighboring countries. For those who remained during the months of Russian control, the loss of homes and livelihoods proved too much to bear.
“The building housed my parents, myself and my brother,” said Yuriy, pointing to his family’s damaged farmhouse.
“My father died of a heart attack. The conditions the Russians put us under didn’t aid his ailment. He couldn’t withstand it. He passed away. My mother and brother have relocated. I still return here from time to time.
“I don’t know where to start to rebuild. I think this will be the last time I am here.”
Despite their stalled progress, the Ukrainian armed forces stationed here remain in high spirits, but ever vigilant, their weapons trained on the horizon for signs of enemy activity.
“We are here to protect the border,” one soldier, who went by the nom de guerre “The Director,” told Arab News from his underground bunker.
“The shelling is the hardest to get used to, but we are here to protect our motherland. The shift keeps rotating and we are always on the lookout. There is no way back from here. We have enough food and warm clothes but we need more weapons. The Russians are not welcome here and we will not stop till we defeat them.”
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Several of the men serving in The Director’s battalion had little or no combat experience prior to their deployment, working as lawyers, teachers and civil servants, yet all have quickly adapted to their new realities. Few have seen their families in months.
“I took my children and wife to safety, but this is my town,” Ihor Reznik, commander of the Kharkiv Territorial Brigade, told Arab News. “We made it through hard battles. Now there is random shelling and we try to respond adequately. We need drones for survey and we need proper armored vehicles.”
Reznik’s daughter Anna, aged 25, serves in the Kharkiv Territorial Defense Battalion’s 127th Brigade. Before the war, she studied mathematics and computer science at a university in France.
Although she was close to graduation, she chose to quit her studies in order to join her father’s brigade, where she now serves as a military photographer for its press department.
“It’s always been a hobby, but now it is my way of serving in this war,” she told Arab News. “At the beginning, my parents were against it, but came to understand it was my decision. I need to document what is happening.”
And although she has frequently found herself in life-threatening situations while working in the field, she believes her commitment to the cause of documenting the conflict helps her to remain calm while under fire.
“When one has not been faced with such situations, one doesn’t know how to react. But I remain calm,” she said. “The camera is my weapon. No matter how difficult it gets, I never regret my decision. I know I am in the right place at the right time.”
The incidents, on regional passenger rail lines, took place about 30 kilometres apart, north of the Swiss capital Bern
Three people were injured in the first, including the driver, and 12 were injured in the second
Updated 31 March 2023
LUSCHERZ, Switzerland: Fifteen people were injured, including at least one seriously hurt, in two separate train derailments that happened in quick succession Friday in stormy wind in northwestern Switzerland, police said.
The incidents, on regional passenger rail lines, took place about 30 kilometers apart, north of the Swiss capital Bern.
Three people were injured in the first, including the driver, and 12 were injured in the second, with wind speeds of 136 kilometers per hour recorded nearby.
The first incident happened at the lakeside village of Luscherz at around 4:30 p.m. (1430 GMT), police said. The train had 16 people on board.
“While a strong wind was blowing... the front carriage of the train overturned on the right of the track, slipped down a small embankment for a few meters and finally came to a halt,” Bern cantonal police said in a statement.
“Three people, including the driver in the overturned carriage, were injured, treated by four ambulance teams and taken to hospital.”
The front carriage of the two-carriage train could be seen lying on its right side off the single-line track, on the grass verge between a path that runs alongside the railway line and a plowed field.
Workers in orange workwear and hard hats were at the scene, with a ladder placed alongside the carriage so they could reach the upturned left side. Firefighters helped to get people out.
The rear carriage rolled on for a few meters before coming to a stop.
A power mast was damaged, putting the line out of action.
“An investigation has been opened to determine the circumstances and causes of the accident,” police said.
The second derailment took place around 20 minutes later in the village of Buren zum Hof.
Bern police spokeswoman Magdalena Rast told SRF public television that nine adults and three children were injured, with the police tweeting earlier that there was “at least one seriously injured person.”
The RBS regional rail operator said some services had been suspended “as a result of the storm.”
A spokeswoman said the accident could have been due to the high winds but “it’s not clear.”
Switzerland is renowned for its extensive and punctual rail network, with frequent services between cities, towns and even villages.
Rail enthusiasts come from all over the world to ride on some of the most picturesque routes, or those with exceptionally steep climbs.
Recent figures from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office show that in 2021 eight people lost their lives in Swiss rail accidents and 47 were seriously injured. Most of those hurt were on the tracks.
There were 88 separate accidents, of which 53 resulted in serious injury.
“Overall, the number of victims of rail accidents has fallen significantly in recent decades, despite an increase in transport services,” the office said.
NEW DELHI: An Indian investment startup has been flooded with thousands of applications after its post to hire a chief meme officer went viral last week and turned into a meme itself.
The company, StockGro, was launched in Bangalore in 2020 as an experiential learning platform for millennials to become investment ready.
Its founder, Ajay Lakhotia, told Arab News that he wants to teach people how to invest because in Indian culture the focus is only on saving money rather than using it to gain profit.
“No one ever teaches us how to invest money, and there is a very large gap in our education system,” he said.
“If we want to build our nation, the money has to be rolled back through investment in different asset classes. I thought that this is something which is not just building a new startup, but also a nation-building exercise.”
Lakhotia, 41, began investing in stocks 20 years ago and noticed that most of his friends did not share his interest in finance.
As more than 65 percent of Indians are under 35, he decided to try to change perceptions surrounding investment and make it resonate with a younger, digital-savvy generation.
That is how StockGro came up with the idea to hire an officer responsible for memes — visual content, usually humorous, that goes viral on social media.
“Finance in people’s minds, when it comes to numbers, it’s not fun, it’s not exciting. That’s why we said, ‘Let’s break this whole monotony out there and let’s make it a little more fun. Let’s get someone who can add humor and satire to the whole finance sector,’” Lakhotia said.
“The new generation, their attention span is very small. If I throw 500-page literature at them, saying, ‘go read and start doing your options and futures trading,’ they will not do it. But if you make it bite-size content, if you make it fun for them, if you make it engaging for them, they will go after this.”
To the StockGro team’s surprise, the meme chief vacancy displayed on social media as an experiment has already drawn 3,000 applications, with candidates ranging from influencers to advertisers and college students.
All of the applicants, Lakhotia said, are “pretty much excited about this role.”
The successful applicant for the job, which comes with a monthly salary of $900, will be announced after the company runs a week-long test of shortlisted candidates’ skills.
“We will help them put out their memes, we will engage the audience and then we will know whose memes are working, whose concepts are working well, and accordingly we will move forward,” Lakhotia said.
If everything goes well, the company will venture into foreign markets, including the Middle East, where the demographics, especially in the Gulf region, are similar to those of India.
“The challenges are exactly the same,” Lakhotia said. “The market is very vibrant out there. The millennials actually are looking to invest in multiple asset classes and not just stocks, which is a very good time for us to enter these markets.
“That is what we are exploring, and we will probably be there in the next few quarters.”
Filipinos join hands to support Muslims during Ramadan
Muslims constitute roughly 5 percent of the predominantly Catholic population of the Philippines
Interfaith events during Ramadan are frequently organized by Muslims for non-Muslims and vice versa
Updated 31 March 2023
MANILA: Throughout Ramadan, representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups in the Philippines are pooling their resources to support the Muslim community in their fast and observance of the holy month.
Muslims constitute roughly 5 percent of the nearly 110 million, predominantly Catholic population of the Southeast Asian nation.
The minority communities live mostly on the island of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago in the country’s south, as well as in the central-western province of Palawan, and the capital, Manila.
As Ramadan began last week, interfaith events, especially iftars to break fasts, have been frequently organized by Muslims for non-Muslims and vice versa.
One such meeting was held in Manila on Thursday evening by Uniharmony Partners, a coalition of churches and faith organizations. Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus celebrated the special time together.
“There are a lot of programs and activities ... for people of different faiths just to come together appreciate one another and enjoy each other’s culture,” Dr. Pablito Baybado, Uniharmony coordinator and theology professor at the University of Santo Tomas, told Arab News.
The programs include mutual support that Muslims extend to Christians and other groups during Christmas and other major holidays, and that is reciprocated when the Islamic fasting month arrives.
“During Ramadan, you have the Catholic Church through the Quiapo Church, and then the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pulling together resources so that every Sunday we go to some communities or Muslim communities in Metro Manila like Culiat, Taguig and Quiapo and distribute food packs,” Baybado said.
“During this time of Ramadan, we are doing this because it’s a way of showing respect to one another.”
For Alvaro Centuria, a pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Ramadan, besides inspiring a sense of unity, also has a spiritual dimension.
“It is it is very important because it reminds us, Christians, to also do fasting too ... It’s scientifically as well as religiously necessary,” he said.
“The essence of a meeting like this is that we are able to show that religions can unite for good, religious people can unite and can be in fellowship with one another.”
For Kerem Sadik, a Muslim member of Uniharmony, inter-faith meetings and activities, especially during Ramadan, which is not only the month of fasting but also charity, are a chance to foster a more tolerant and inclusive future generation.
“We try to nurture new generations from the start, without giving them any chance to grow stereotypes from the beginning rather than breaking them later,” he told Arab News, hoping that the examples set would foster mutual understanding and support.
“Now that we are in Ramadan, non-Muslim friends are also helping us in raising donations and they are getting out from their own community to reach our Muslim friends at this time of the year,” Sadik said. “This is what we did by helping the church community during Christmas celebrations.”