Iraqi-born taxi bomber angry over asylum rejection, say UK police

A specialist in a white suit carries a fuel can and a funnel as he arrives to inspect the scene of a car blast outside the Women’s Hospital in Liverpool. (File/AFP)
v A specialist in a white suit carries a fuel can and a funnel as he arrives to inspect the scene of a car blast outside the Women’s Hospital in Liverpool. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 October 2023
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Iraqi-born taxi bomber angry over asylum rejection, say UK police

A specialist in a white suit carries a fuel can and a funnel as he arrives to inspect the scene of a car blast.
  • A police investigation has concluded that there was no evidence that Al-Swealmeen held extremist views
  • He had previous convictions and had falsely claimed asylum as a Syrian refugee in the UK after arriving legally on a Jordanian passport

LONDON: An Iraqi-born man who detonated a bomb outside a UK hospital two years ago held a grievance against the British state for rejecting his asylum claim, police said Monday.
Emad Al-Swealmeen, 32, was killed when he set off the homemade device in a taxi outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital in northwest England in November 2021.
No one else died in the botched attack, with the taxi driver managing to escape with minor injuries.
The explosion occurred shortly before events to honor military war dead on Remembrance Sunday and was quickly declared a terrorist incident by police.
A police investigation has concluded that there was no evidence that Al-Swealmeen held extremist views.
“It seems most likely that Al-Swealmeen’s grievance against the British state for failing to accept his asylum claim compounded his mental ill health which in turn fed that grievance and ultimately a combination of those factors led him to undertake the attack,” the police report said.
Detective Superintendent Andy Meeks, of the counter-terrorism unit for England’s northwest, said it was believed Al-Swealmeen planned to detonate his bomb in the hospital, but that it likely exploded earlier than planned.
The explosion came a month after a British MP was stabbed to death as he met constituents in southeast England.
The two attacks prompted the government to raise the terror threat level from “substantial” to “severe” — the second-highest — meaning an attack was “highly likely.”
Al-Swealmeen had previous convictions and had falsely claimed asylum as a Syrian refugee in the UK after arriving legally on a Jordanian passport.
His asylum claims had been refused and counter-terrorism police have suggested that Al-Swealmeen may have converted to Christianity in the hope of strengthening his case to stay.


UK government increases security funding for Jewish community

UK government increases security funding for Jewish community
Updated 4 min 12 sec ago
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UK government increases security funding for Jewish community

UK government increases security funding for Jewish community
  • The funding will be used to increase security at a range of Jewish buildings across the country, including schools and synagogues, the government says

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday announced 54 million pounds ($68 million) of new funding to protect Jewish communities against antisemitism over the next four years.
Earlier this month Jewish advisory body the Community Security Trust (CST) said Britain recorded thousands of antisemitic incidents after the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in October, making 2023 the worst year for UK antisemitism since its records began in 1984.
“It is shocking, and wrong, the prejudice, the racism we have seen in recent months,” Sunak said in a speech to the CST’s annual dinner, according to extracts released by his office.
“It is hatred, pure and simple. An assault on the Jewish people. We will fight this antisemitism with everything we’ve got.”
The government had already given the CST, which advises Britain’s estimated 280,000 Jews on security matters, 18 million pounds for 2024-25, taking the total funding up to 2028 to 70 million pounds.
The funding will be used to increase security at a range of Jewish buildings across the country, including schools and synagogues, the government said, providing measures such as security guards, closed-circuit TV (CCTV) and alarm systems.


Mitch McConnell to step down as Republican leader in US Senate

Mitch McConnell to step down as Republican leader in US Senate
Updated 7 sec ago
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Mitch McConnell to step down as Republican leader in US Senate

Mitch McConnell to step down as Republican leader in US Senate
  • McConnell, the leader of Republicans in the Senate since 2015, was instrumental in bringing Donald Trump to power in January 2017 before falling out with Trump over the former president’s baseless claims to have won the 2020 election

WASHINGTON: Mitch McConnell, the powerful US political tactician who has advanced conservative causes for years and been a strong defender of aid to Ukraine, announced abruptly Wednesday that he would leave his post as leader of the Republicans in the Senate later this year.

His speech to the chamber came as a surprise and prompted lawmakers from both parties to give him a standing ovation, though he did not say if he was giving up his seat from the state of Kentucky, which he has held since 1985.
“I stand before you today, Mr. President and my colleagues to say this will be my last term as Republican leader,” McConnell, 82, said as he signaled the end of his tenure as the longest-serving Senate leader in American history.
McConnell has been the largely unchallenged leader of Republicans in the Senate since 2015 and was in the front line of the party’s battles against the policies of Barack Obama from 2009-2017.
He was instrumental in bringing Donald Trump to power in January 2017 as the party underwent dramatic changes, before falling out with Trump over the former president’s baseless claims to have won the 2020 election.
In the Senate, McConnell waged a fierce fight to enact a right-wing agenda, notably with the appointment of three Supreme Court justices who led the tribunal to end the federal right to abortion in 2022.
“No Member of Congress has played a greater role in reshaping the federal judiciary than Mitch,” Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, a fellow Republican, said, predicting that “his legacy will endure for generations.”
For years McConnell relished his self-given monicker as the “Grim Reaper” — one who doomed the hopes of Democratic lawmakers.
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer acknowledged that rift Wednesday, saying he and McConnell “rarely saw eye to eye.”
“But I am very proud that we both came together in the last few years to lead the Senate forward at critical moments when our country needed us,” Schumer added, pointing to pandemic-era aid and the certification of Biden’s election only hours after the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol.

Tough political operator
A consummate backroom negotiator with a thick, rumbling southern drawl, McConnell also emerged as one of the most outspoken advocates of US military aid to Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
But he has had to grapple with a fractured, Trump-dominated party that came to shun cooperation and the traditional US leadership role on the international stage.
The isolationist shift was underlined in recent weeks as President Joe Biden’s request for $60 billion for Ukraine stalled in Congress as Republicans in the House demanded action first on an immigration crisis at the border with Mexico.
McConnell projected an image of quiet austerity that clashed with his reputation as a tough political operator and strategist.
Under the presidency of Biden, with whom he served in the Senate for years, McConnell also worked for the passage of bipartisan legislation on infrastructure and other issues backed by both parties.
Biden, 81, told reporters Wednesday he was “sorry” to hear his old Senate colleague was stepping down.
“He and I had trust, we had a great relationship, we fought like hell but he never never never misrepresented anything,” he said.
Last summer concerns arose about McConnell’s health, as several times he froze up while speaking in public and fell awkwardly silent.
In March he was hospitalized after he fell during a dinner and suffered a concussion and a broken rib, forcing him to leave his job for six weeks.
The incident reignited criticism that Congress is dominated by white men in their 70s and 80s who cannot bear to retire.
But McConnell had steadfastly refused to resign and rejected suggestions that he was no longer healthy enough to serve.


Several Malian soldiers killed in large-scale attack by suspected jihadists

Several Malian soldiers killed in large-scale attack by suspected jihadists
Updated 39 min 48 sec ago
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Several Malian soldiers killed in large-scale attack by suspected jihadists

Several Malian soldiers killed in large-scale attack by suspected jihadists
  • Official says more than 100 jihadis attacked an army position at Kwala, about 300 km north of the capital Bamako
  • Mali army said that it "destroyed a large number of “terrorists,” but made no mention of casualties in its ranks

BAMAKO: Several Malian soldiers died on Wednesday in a large-scale attack by suspected jihadists on a military outpost in the remote west of the landlocked West African nation.

“More than 100 jihadists attacked an army position at Kwala,” said an elected representative of the nearby town of Mourdiah, 300 kilometers (180 miles) north of the capital Bamako.
“Several soldiers were killed, the jihadists took over the place before leaving without a problem,” he said, asking to remain anonymous.
A local political official confirmed to AFP the same version of events, adding that the army “camp was first hit with a car bomb.”
A second elected official said there had been a lot of gunfire and government troops returned to the base after the jihadists left.
The army reported the assault in a statement, making no mention of casualties in its ranks and claiming to have “found and destroyed” a large number of “terrorists.”
AFP was unable to verify the claims from the various sources in the remote zone.
Mali’s military junta pushed out a French anti-jihadist force in 2022 amid deteriorating relations following military coups in 2020 and 2021.
Mali has since pivoted toward Russia, both politically and militarily.
 


Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden

Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden
Updated 28 February 2024
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Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden

Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden
  • More than 100,000 voters heed call to snub president by choosing ‘uncommitted’ option on ballot, amid anger about his unflinching support for Israel during war in Gaza
  • This could prove significant during the presidential election in November, in which Michigan is likely to be one of the most closely contested states

CHICAGO: Arab American leaders hailed as a “victory” the results of a Democratic presidential primary election in Michigan on Tuesday, in which more than 100,000 voters snubbed President Joe Biden’s nomination bid by choosing the “uncommitted” option on the ballot.

Campaigners had urged Arab voters to do this in protest against the Biden administration’s unwavering support for Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, despite the thousands of civilians who have been killed or injured as a result.

Primaries are elections held by the Democratic and Republican parties in every state to select their candidates for the presidential election. The “uncommitted” voting option is only offered by some states. Campaigners said the number of Arab Americans in Michigan who voted “uncommitted” represented a solid rejection of Biden’s candidacy.

He still comfortably won the primary. With more than 95 percent of the votes counted on Wednesday afternoon, he had received 618,441, representing 81.1 percent of the total. The number of “uncommitted” votes stood at 101,107, or 13.3 percent. Two other candidates, Marianne Williamson and Dean Phillips, each received about 3 percent of the vote.

The “uncommitted” vote could nevertheless prove significant in the presidential election if it translates into loss of support for Biden or a switch of allegiance to his likely rival, Donald Trump. Biden claimed victory in Michigan at the 2020 presidential election by the relatively narrow margin of 154,188 votes out of more than 5.5 million cast. There are more than 500,000 Arab and Muslim voters in Michigan. In addition, turnout for a presidential election is usually significantly higher than for a primary; about 1.8 million people voted in the Michigan primary on Tuesday, for example, compared with the 5.5 million at the 2020 presidential election.

In Michigan’s Republican primary, Trump comfortably won with 68.2 percent of the vote. Closest rival Nikki Haley received just 26.6 percent, which 3 percent were uncommitted.

The Michigan primary was the first among several identified by Arab American campaign groups as taking place in key swing states where Biden’s victory over Trump in 2020 was particularly narrow.

Arab Americans have launched anti-Biden protest movements in several of those states, the most prominent of which has been #AbandonBiden. Its leaders cite as the main reason for Arab anger the president’s support for and defense of Israel during the war in Gaza, including: the allocation of more than $34 billion in aid and weapons; what they view as the pro-Israel bias of Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and the US decisions to veto three UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire.

The #AbandonBiden campaign launched on Nov. 1, shortly after Israel invaded Gaza in response to the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7. It criticized Israel for the “brutality” of its military campaign, which has razed cities to the ground, destroying civilian buildings and infrastructure in the process, including mosques, hospitals, churches, schools, homes and businesses. Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in the past four months.

Osama Siblani, publisher of the Michigan-based Arab American News, which describes itself as the largest Arab American publication in the US, told Arab News that “empty words” from the Biden administration seeking to placate Arab voters will not work.

“The message has been delivered to Biden loud and clear from Michigan’s Arab Americans: Defeat is waiting for you in November,” he said. “This is only a down payment.”

Imad Hamad, the executive director of the American Human Rights Council, told Arab News: “The community delivered and fulfilled its solid commitment not to commit to the reelection of President Biden.

“The uncommitted votes, as well as the votes of those who flipped the party affiliation from the Democratic Party to Republican speaks for itself, setting the record straight moving forward toward the general elections in November.”

The possibility that the #AbandonBiden campaign might help return Trump to the White House has caused alarm among many traditional Democrat supporters.

Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and a longtime political activist, said many movements have emerged in response to discontent over Biden’s policies on Israel and Gaza.

“We hoped to send a message that couldn’t be ignored by President Biden and we did just that,” he told Arab News.

“The turnout in the Arab community was great and with the support of our allies we topped over 100,000 votes. This is a huge win.”

Samir Khalil, founder of the Arab American Democratic Club in Illinois, where Biden could face another Arab voter backlash in that state’s primary on March 19, said that the president’s abandonment of Palestinians was “unconscionable and unacceptable.”

He told Arab News: “Four years of Donald Trump doesn’t even come close to comparing to four months of Israel’s killings in the Gaza Strip.

“Over 100,000 people voted for ‘uncommitted’ in the Michigan presidential primary yesterday. This record-breaking total for the uncommitted option sent a loud and clear message to the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign: It is time to take action to end the genocide in Gaza.

Abed Ayoub, president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee echoed these comments and said: “Uncommitted voters represent diverse demographics, including young voters, progressive voters, and a significant number of voters from ally communities.”

In a message posted on social media platform X, Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor of the Michigan city of Dearborn wrote: “I am overwhelmed by the power of the people, demonstrated today by the number of Michiganders who voted ‘uncommitted’ … Every person who voted ‘uncommitted’ today was personally compelled to use their voice to speak out against President Biden’s support of (Israeli President) Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Biden has faced harsh criticism from other groups, including the Council on American Islamic Relations; Our Revolution, founded by progressive Democratic US Senator Bernie Sanders; and Listen to Michigan.

Hassan Abdel Salam, the national coordinator of #AbandonBiden, and the group’s Michigan coordinator, Khalid Turani, released a statement on Wednesday in which they said: “Abandon Biden leaders stand before the nation today, not just as victors in the Michigan primary, but as bearers of a profound and indignant message against President Joe Biden’s oversight of the ongoing US-Israeli genocide in Gaza. This isn’t just a political setback for Biden; it’s a damning indictment of his presidency’s moral bankruptcy.

“Our motivation is driven by the harrowing realities of Gaza, where the statistics of death and despair climb daily under the shadow of a genocide facilitated by Biden’s administration. At least 29,606 innocent men, women and children have been murdered, including more than 12,300 children and 8,400 women; and more than 69,737 wounded, including at least 8,663 children and 6,327 women.

“These aren’t just numbers; they’re a damning testament to the horror and suffering supported by Biden’s foreign policy.”

They added: “As we move from Michigan to the national stage, our message remains unequivocal: We will accept nothing less than justice, accountability and an end to US funding, arming and support of the genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Biden faced no significant challengers in the Michigan primary, so voting “uncommitted” was the best and clearest way to express the outrage and anger of the Arab American community, campaigners said.

To become president, a candidate must win at least 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes up for grabs. Each of the 50 states receives a set number of Electoral College votes based on population size, and they are normally awarded to the candidate that wins the popular vote in the state.

In 2020, Biden won 306 Electoral College votes compared with Trump’s 232. If Arab Americans votes prevent Biden from winning 36 of these votes in three key swing states at the presidential election in November, he could lose, #AbandonBiden leaders said. Michigan has 16 Electoral College votes up for grabs.

Biden is particularly vulnerable in several swing states where his 2020 margins of victory over Trump were even closer than in Michigan. They include: Arizona, which has 11 Electoral College votes and in which he won the popular vote by a narrow margin of 10,457; Wisconsin (10 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 20,682); Georgia (16 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 11,779); and Nevada (6 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 33,596).


Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria

Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria
Updated 36 min 7 sec ago
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Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria

Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria
  • Fears that landlocked Transnistria could become a new flashpoint in Russia’s conflict with neighboring Ukraine
  • Russia’s foreign ministry: ‘Protecting the interests of the residents of Transnistria, our compatriots, is one of our priorities’

KYIV, Ukraine: Ukraine’s foreign ministry on Wednesday cautioned against any meddling from Russia in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria, whose separatist leaders earlier appealed to Russia for “protection.”
The move from Transnistrian separatists raised fears that the landlocked territory could become a new flashpoint in Moscow’s conflict with neighboring Ukraine.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine... calls for a peaceful resolution of economic, social and humanitarian issues between Chisinau and Tiraspol without any destructive external interference,” the ministry said.
Transnistria is a primarily Russian-speaking region that has long depended on Moscow for support.

After the separatist lawmakers’ resolution was passed, Russia’s foreign ministry said it considered “all requests” for help.
“Protecting the interests of the residents of Transnistria, our compatriots, is one of our priorities,” the ministry told Russian news agencies.
Officials in Moldova and analysts have downplayed concerns.
But the move has fueled comparisons with February 2022, when Russian-backed militants in eastern Ukraine asked for protection against what they said was relentless attacks by Kyiv’s forces.
“Our country knows the horrors of war and the price of peace better than anyone else,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said.
“We are making and will continue to make every effort... to prevent any attempts by Russia to destabilize Moldova or other countries in our region,” it added.