Putin says gunmen in Moscow attack tried to escape to Ukraine, Kyiv denies involvement

Update Putin says gunmen in Moscow attack tried to escape to Ukraine, Kyiv denies involvement
Camouflage-clad gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons at concertgoers near Moscow on Friday, killing at least 60 people and injuring 145. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 23 March 2024

Putin says gunmen in Moscow attack tried to escape to Ukraine, Kyiv denies involvement

Putin says gunmen in Moscow attack tried to escape to Ukraine, Kyiv denies involvement
  • Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack, deadliest in Russia since Beslan school siege in 2004
  • Authorities detain total of 11 people after the attack, which killed 133

MOSCOW: Russian authorities arrested the four people suspected of taking part in the attack on a suburban Moscow concert hall that killed at least 133 people and believe they were headed to Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin said Saturday during an address to the nation.
Kyiv, meanwhile, strongly denied any involvement in Friday’s attack on the Crocus City Hall music venue in Krasnogorsk, which the Daesh group’s affiliate in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for in a statement posted on social media channels linked to the group. Kyiv accused Putin and other Russian politicians of falsely linking Ukraine to the assault in order to stoke fervor in Russia’s war in Ukraine, which recently entered its third year.
A US intelligence official told The Associated Press that US agencies had confirmed that IS was responsible for the attack.
Putin said authorities have detained a total of 11 people in the attack, which also injured scores of concertgoers and left the venue a smoldering ruin. He called it “a bloody, barbaric terrorist act” and said Russian authorities captured the four suspected gunmen as they were trying to escape to Ukraine through a “window” prepared for them on the Ukrainian side of the border.
Putin also said that additional security measures have been imposed throughout Russia, and he declared Sunday to be a day of mourning.
Investigators on Saturday were combing through the charred wreckage of the hall for more victims, and the authorities said the death toll could still rise. Hundreds of people stood in line in Moscow early Saturday to donate blood and plasma, Russia’s health ministry said.
“We faced not just a thoroughly and cynically prepared terror attack, but a well-prepared and organized mass murder of peaceful innocent people,” Putin said.
The attack, which was the deadliest in Russia in years, came just days after Putin cemented his grip on power in a highly orchestrated electoral landslide and as the war in Ukraine drags on.
Some Russian lawmakers pointed the finger at Ukraine immediately after the attack. But Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, denied any involvement.
“Ukraine has never resorted to the use of terrorist methods,” he posted on X. “Everything in this war will be decided only on the battlefield.”
Ukraine’s foreign ministry accused Moscow of using the attack to try to stoke fervor for its war efforts.
“We consider such accusations to be a planned provocation by the Kremlin to further fuel anti-Ukrainian hysteria in Russian society, create conditions for increased mobilization of Russian citizens to participate in the criminal aggression against our country and discredit Ukraine in the eyes of the international community,” the ministry said in a statement.
Images shared by Russian state media Saturday showed a fleet of emergency vehicles still gathered outside the ruins of Crocus City Hall, which could hold more than 6,000 people and has hosted many big events, including the 2013 Miss Universe beauty pageant that featured Donald Trump and other VIPs.
Videos posted online showed gunmen in the venue shooting civilians at point-blank range. Russian news reports cited authorities and witnesses as saying the attackers threw explosive devices that started the fire. The roof of the theater, where crowds had gathered for a performance by the Russian rock band Picnic, collapsed early Saturday as firefighters spent hours fighting the blaze.
In a statement posted by its Aamaq news agency, the IS’s Afghanistan affiliate said it had attacked a large gathering of “Christians” in Krasnogorsk.
A US intelligence official told the AP that American intelligence agencies had gathered information in recent weeks that the IS branch was planning an attack in Moscow, and that US officials had privately shared the intelligence earlier this month with Russian officials.
The official was briefed on the matter but was not authorized to publicly discuss the intelligence information and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Messages of outrage, shock and support for the victims and their families have streamed in from around the world.
On Friday, the UN Security Council condemned “the heinous and cowardly terrorist attack” and underlined the need for the perpetrators to be held accountable. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the terrorist attack “in the strongest possible terms,” his spokesman said.
Putin, who extended his grip on Russia for another six years in this week’s presidential vote after a sweeping crackdown on dissent, had publicly denounced the Western warnings of a potential terrorist attack as an attempt to intimidate Russians. “All that resembles open blackmail and an attempt to frighten and destabilize our society,” he said earlier this week.
In October 2015, a bomb planted by IS downed a Russian passenger plane over Sinai, killing all 224 people on board, most of them Russian vacation-goers returning from Egypt. The group, which operates mainly in Syria and Iraq but also in Afghanistan and Africa, also has claimed several attacks in Russia’s volatile Caucasus and other regions in the past years. It recruited fighters from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

Independent candidates Kennedy and Stein challenge exclusion from US presidential debates

Independent candidates Kennedy and Stein challenge exclusion from US presidential debates
Updated 18 sec ago

Independent candidates Kennedy and Stein challenge exclusion from US presidential debates

Independent candidates Kennedy and Stein challenge exclusion from US presidential debates
  • CNN and ABC News will circumvent the Commission on Presidential Debates to host their own one-on-one debates

CHICAGO: Third-party candidates for president, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Dr. Jill Stein, filed federal complaints this week alleging that they were being unfairly excluded from media debates hosted by CNN and ABC News between US President Joe Biden and former president, Donald Trump.

CNN and ABC News will circumvent the Commission on Presidential Debates, which imposes ground rules to ensure debates are conducted fairly for all qualifying candidates, to host their own one-on-one debates. The CNN debate is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, and the ABC debate is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 10.

The presidential election is on Nov. 5, and although Kennedy and Stein are excluded from the media debates, they have filed enough signatures to be accepted on a majority of state ballots and expect to meet upcoming deadlines to file to appear on all 50 state ballots.

Stein filed a formal complaint with the US Federal Election Commission on June 19, while Kennedy filed an FEC complaint on May 28; both arguing no candidates had been certified to be included on any state ballots yet, and that they were victims of partisan political bias.

“The media’s job is to impartially inform the voters about all the choices on their ballot, but what CNN is doing is a coordinated communication and prohibited corporate contribution to benefit two candidates to the exclusion of all others,” Stein said in a statement sent to Arab News.

“The (CNN) debate is far from independent, having been actively negotiated by the Biden Committee, the Trump Committee, and representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties for the purpose of ensuring that all independent and third-party candidates are excluded and denied an opportunity for consideration by the voting public.”

Both Biden and Trump believe Kennedy and other independent candidates could play spoilers in what many believe will be a close contest between the two major party contenders.

The FEC complaint argues CNN, Biden and Trump “flagrantly violated a federal law” that requires media broadcasters to use “pre-established” and “objective” criteria to determine candidate participation in debates. Failure to use objective criteria makes the CNN and ABC debates “campaign contributions,” which are subject to strict financial and cost donation limits, Kennedy said in a statement sent to Arab News.

“Presidents Biden and Trump do not want me on the debate stage and CNN illegally agreed to their demand,” Kennedy said.

“My exclusion by Presidents Biden and Trump from the debate is undemocratic, un-American, and cowardly. Americans want an independent leader who will break apart the two-party duopoly. They want a President who will heal the divide, restore the middle class, unwind the war machine, and end the chronic disease epidemic.”

Kennedy received support from former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, who said: “If the American people could hear what all three candidates had to say about the critical issues facing our country, the choice between these three men would be clear.”

Third-party candidates in past elections have been included in presidential debates under the guidelines of the Commission on Presidential Debates, formed in 1987 “to ensure, for the benefit of the American electorate, that general election debates between or among the leading candidates for the offices of President and Vice President of the United States are a permanent part of the electoral process.”

Third-party candidates could siphon off votes and prevent one or both major party candidates from winning enough votes in many states to become president. A candidate must win a majority of votes in each of the 50 states to take the Electoral College votes in each state, which vary by state population size. A candidate must receive 270 EC votes to win the presidency.

Kennedy argues in his statement that CNN’s published debate criteria requires that “a candidate’s name must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 Electoral (Electoral College) Vote threshold. CNN is holding Kennedy to this requirement but is not requiring Presidents Biden and Trump to meet this requirement by claiming they are each the ‘presumptive nominee’ of a political party.”

Kennedy’s campaign claimed that they had satisfied the requirements to appear on the ballot in 22 states, with a combined 310 electoral votes, although it is months away from states confirming any of the candidate’s ballot placement. California, for example, which has 54 EC Votes, will not certify any candidates until Aug. 29, raising questions about the media’s EC Vote rule.

Technically, although Biden and Trump are the presumptive nominees for their political parties, they will not become official candidates on state ballots until after their nominations are confirmed at the conventions. The Republican Convention begins July 18 in Milwaukee and the Democratic Convention begins August 19 in Chicago.

Stein also accused CNN of “collusion” with the Trump and Biden campaigns, arguing the media outlet used biased polling that “intentionally marginalize candidates other than Biden and Trump” by framing the election as an exclusive two-candidate affair and marginalizing her, and others, to prevent them from receiving a minimum 15 percent polling favorability.

“The poll cited by CNN as its standard mentions Trump 169 times and Biden 146 times, but mentions Jill Stein, Kennedy, and Cornel West only once, suppressing support for candidates outside the two-party system by design,” Stein said.

Neither CNN nor ABC News officials organizing the debates responded to requests for comment, but CNN officials were quoted by Associated Press arguing that the Kennedy FEC complaint lacks merit.

Biden and Trump will not have a live audience during their debate on Thursday, and their microphones will be muted when the other speaks to prevent interruptions. Journalists and campaign supporters will be seated in alternative halls.

EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’

EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’
Updated 12 min 34 sec ago

EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’

EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’
  • Ruling party in Georgia adopted a controversial ‘foreign influence’ law this month
  • Critics say legislation is modelled on Russian legislation used to stifle dissent

LUXEMBOURG: EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told Georgia Monday that its push to join the bloc could be ended, as Brussels weighs options to punish the authorities over a “foreign influence” law.
“The door for Georgia to become a member of the European Union is open,” Borrell said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
“But if the government continues on the same track, continues doing what they are doing, this door will be closed, and the Georgian people will pay the consequences, will suffer.”
The ruling party in the South Caucasus country — which formally became a candidate to join the EU last year — adopted a controversial “foreign influence” law this month that critics say is modelled on Russian legislation used to stifle dissent.
The move was condemned by Georgia’s Western supporters, with the United States banning several officials from the South Caucasus nation from visiting.
Concerns were further fueled by proposed new legislation to ban what the ruling party calls “LGBT propaganda,” in another conservative shift that drew fresh comparisons with repressive Russian laws.
The 27-nation EU is now pondering its response to the shifts from the governing Georgian Dream party, but is wary of pushing the ex-Soviet state closer toward Moscow.
Despite the moves from the government, the population in the country remains overwhelmingly in favor of moving closer toward the EU.
Borrell said that initial moves being discussed by ministers could include halting funding for Georgia’s security forces, cutting government financing, or severing high-level contacts.
“We don’t want to affect civilians. We don’t want to put more pain on the civilian people,” Borrell said, adding that no firm decision was expected Monday.
Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said there would also be discussions on Schengen visa bans for high-ranking Georgian officials.
“The situation for Georgia is serious, and all the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Georgian government,” he said.
“The Georgian people are supporting the way to the European Union.”
Meanwhile, his counterpart from Lithuania Gabrielius Landsbergis complained that stronger measures were not yet being put forward in a paper presented by the EU’s diplomatic arm.
“Unfortunately, there are certain options in the paper that are not mentioned, such as actually stopping Georgia’s EU integration, which I think it has to be mentioned,” he said.

At least 16 dead in a fire at a lithium battery factory in South Korea

At least 16 dead in a fire at a lithium battery factory in South Korea
Updated 21 min 39 sec ago

At least 16 dead in a fire at a lithium battery factory in South Korea

At least 16 dead in a fire at a lithium battery factory in South Korea
  • Rescue workers at the factory in Hwaseong city, just south of Seoul, retrieved the bodies after combing through the site

SEOUL: A fire at a lithium battery manufacturing factory near South Korea’s capital on Monday left at least 16 people dead, seven injured and six missing, officials said.

Rescue workers at the factory in Hwaseong city, just south of Seoul, retrieved the bodies after combing through the site, local fire official Kim Jin-young told a televised briefing.

Kim earlier said most of the missing people were foreign nationals including Chinese.

He said the mobile phone signals of the missing people were tracked to the second floor of the factory. Kim said a witness told authorities that the fire began after batteries exploded as workers were examining and packaging them, but the exact cause would be investigated.

Kim said those found dead likely failed to escape via stairs to the ground. He said officials will investigate whether fire extinguishing systems worked.

Kim said a total of 102 people were working at the factory before the fire occurred.

President Yoon Suk Yeol earlier ordered officials to mobilize all available personnel and equipment to find survivors, according to his office.

Philippines accuses China of using ‘illegal force’ to deliberately disrupt resupply mission

Philippines accuses China of using ‘illegal force’ to deliberately disrupt resupply mission
Updated 36 min 32 sec ago

Philippines accuses China of using ‘illegal force’ to deliberately disrupt resupply mission

Philippines accuses China of using ‘illegal force’ to deliberately disrupt resupply mission
  • Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro: ‘It was not a misunderstanding or an accident’
  • Chinese coast guard vessels deliberately disrupted a resupply mission last week

MANILA: The Philippines’ defense chief said China used “aggressive and illegal force” to disrupt a resupply mission in the South China Sea and said last week’s maritime incident, which injured a sailor, was neither a misunderstanding nor an accident.

“We are not downplaying the incident,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro told a media briefing after the chairman of the Philippine maritime council said on Friday that last week’s maritime clash was probably a misunderstanding or an accident.

A Philippine sailor suffered serious injury after what its military described as “intentional-high speed ramming” by the Chinese Coast Guard, aiming to disrupt a resupply mission for troops stationed on the Second Thomas Shoal on June 17.

Chinese Coast Guard personnel carrying knives and spears looted firearms and “deliberately punctured” Philippine boats involved in the mission, the Philippine military said.

China’s foreign ministry has disputed the Philippines’ account, with a spokesperson saying last Thursday that the necessary measures taken by the coast guard were lawful and professional.

“We see the latest incident in Ayungin not as a misunderstanding or an accident. It is a deliberate act of the Chinese officialdom to prevent us from completing our mission,” Teodoro said, using the local name for the Second Thomas Shoal.

“It was an aggressive and illegal use of force. We, however, continue to find peaceful solutions to this issue,” Teodoro said.

Teodoro said the Philippines will continue to resupply its troops stationed on a rusting warship grounded on Second Thomas Shoal, but it will not publicize schedules of missions, which he said do not require permission or consent from anyone.

In response to Teodoro’s remarks, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday that the Philippines “should stop its infringement and provocation” and “work with China to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

It also urged Manila to stop “violations” and “misleading the international community.”

President Ferdinand Marcos said on Sunday that the Philippines was not in the business of instigating wars and would always aim to settle disputes peacefully.

The Second Thomas Shoal is inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea with its so-called nine-dash line, which overlaps the exclusive economic zones of rival claimants Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

A 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling, which Beijing does not recognize, invalidated China’s claim in the strategic waters.

Texas woman charged for trying to drown Palestinian girl toddler

Texas woman charged for trying to drown Palestinian girl toddler
Updated 24 June 2024

Texas woman charged for trying to drown Palestinian girl toddler

Texas woman charged for trying to drown Palestinian girl toddler
  • Elizabeth Wolf, 42, reportedly racially abused mother
  • Woman allegedly also attacked girl’s brother, aged 6

LONDON: A woman in Texas has been charged with attempted murder and injury to a child after allegedly trying to drown a 3-year-old Palestinian-Muslim child in a pool and attacking her older brother, CNN reported on Sunday.

The Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged law enforcement to investigate the incident as a hate crime.

On May 19, police officers responded to an alert of a disturbance at an apartment complex pool involving 42-year-old Elizabeth Wolf and the victim’s mother.

The police stated that according to witnesses “a woman who was very intoxicated had tried to drown a child and argued with the child’s mother.”

The victim’s mother told the police Wolf had asked where she was from and if the two children playing in the pool were hers.

The mother was clearly Muslim, wearing a hijab, or Islamic headscarf, and modest swimwear, according to the council.

Wolf also stated that the mother was not an American and made other racist remarks, according to the police.

“When the mother answered her, she stated that Wolf tried to grab her 6-year-old son but he pulled away from her grasp, which caused a scratch on his finger. The mother began helping her son when Wolf grabbed her 3-year-old daughter and forced her underwater,” the news release said.

The mother was able to get her daughter out of the water, but she “had been yelling for help and coughing up water.”

Both children received medical clearance from a local health facility.

“We are American citizens, originally from Palestine, and I don’t know where to go to feel safe with my kids,” the council quoted the mother as saying.

“My country is facing a war, and we are facing that hate here. My daughter is traumatized; whenever I open the apartment door, she runs away and hides, telling me she is afraid the lady will come and immerse her head in the water again.”

The Euless Police Department confirmed that Wolf was released on bail.

“The bond for the Attempted Capital Murder charge was $25,000. The bond for the Injury to a Child charge was $15,000,” captain Brenda Alvarado told CNN.

“We ask for a hate-crime probe, a higher bail bond, and an open conversation with officials to address this alarming increase in Islamophobia, anti-Arab, and anti-Palestinian sentiment,” Shaimaa Zayan, the council’s Austin operations manager, said.

Texas Rep. Salman Bhojani said he was “shocked and appalled by this alleged racist, Islamophobic occurrence that took place in my town.”

He added: “Hate has no place in Euless, District 92, or anywhere in our great state. I want to thank Euless PD for quickly apprehending the alleged provocateur, and I extend my service to the affected family.”