UK man charged with ‘Russia-backed arson plot’ on Ukraine-linked targets

UK man charged with ‘Russia-backed arson plot’ on Ukraine-linked targets
A 20-year-old British man has been charged with masterminding an arson plot against a Ukrainian-linked target in London for the benefit of the Russian state, prosecutors said on Friday. (X/@BrumPolice/File)
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Updated 26 April 2024
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UK man charged with ‘Russia-backed arson plot’ on Ukraine-linked targets

UK man charged with ‘Russia-backed arson plot’ on Ukraine-linked targets
  • Court documents allege that suspect Dylan Earl was connected to the proscribed terrorist group the Wagner Group
  • He is accused of organizing and paying for an arson attack on two units on an industrial estate in Leyton

LONDON: A 20-year-old British man has been charged with masterminding an arson plot against a Ukrainian-linked target in London for the benefit of the Russian state, prosecutors said on Friday.
“Included in the alleged activity was involvement in the planning of an arson attack on a Ukrainian-linked commercial property in March 2024,” the Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement.
Court documents allege that suspect Dylan Earl, from Leicestershire in central England, was connected to the proscribed terrorist group the Wagner Group, the domestic Press Association news agency reported.
He is accused of organizing and paying for an arson attack on two units on an industrial estate in Leyton, east London, on March 20, which required 60 firefighters to bring under control.
The alleged target is referred to as “Mr X” in the charges.
The CPS, which brings prosecutions in England and Wales, said two other men — Paul English, 60, and Nii Mensah, 21 — had also been charged with aggravated arson in connection with the case.
A third, Jake Reeves, 22, had been charged with agreeing to accept a material benefit from a foreign intelligence service as well as aggravated arson.
A fifth man, Dmitrijus Paulauska, 22, has been charged with having information about terrorist acts, the CPS added.
UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said: “While we must let the judicial process run its course, I am deeply concerned by allegations of British nationals carrying out criminal activity on UK soil to benefit the Russian state.
“We will use the full weight of the criminal justice system to hold anyone found guilty of crimes linked to foreign interference to account,” he wrote on the social media platform X.
Dominic Murphy, head of the Metropolitan Police in London’s Counter Terrorism Command which is leading the investigation, said: “This is a highly significant moment and investigation for us.
“Not only are the charges that have been authorized by the CPS extremely serious, but it is also the first time that we have arrested, and now charged anyone using the powers and legislation brought in under the National Security Act.”
The National Security Act 2023 came into effect in December last year, and was designed to respond to “the threat of hostile activity from states targeting the UK’s democracy, economy, and values,” the government said at the time.
All five suspects are due to appear at the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey, London, on May 10.


Plane crashes in Nepal with 18 dead, pilot sole survivor

Plane crashes in Nepal with 18 dead, pilot sole survivor
Updated 14 sec ago
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Plane crashes in Nepal with 18 dead, pilot sole survivor

Plane crashes in Nepal with 18 dead, pilot sole survivor
  • Nepal has a woeful track record on aviation safety and has seen deadly light plane and helicopter crashes
  • The country has some of the trickiest runways to land on, posing challenges even to accomplished pilots

KATMANDU: A passenger plane crashed on takeoff in Katmandu on Wednesday, with the pilot rescued from the flaming wreckage but all 18 others aboard killed, police in the Nepali capital told AFP.
Nepal has a woeful track record on aviation safety and the Himalayan republic has seen a spate of deadly light plane and helicopter crashes over the decades.
The Saurya Airlines flight was carrying two crew and 17 of the company’s staff members, Nepali police spokesman Dan Bahadur Karki told AFP.
“The pilot has been rescued and is being treated,” he added. “Eighteen bodies have been recovered, including one foreigner. We are in the process of taking them for post-mortem.”
The flight was being conducted for either technical or maintenance purposes, Gyanendra Bhul of Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority told AFP without giving further details.
Bahadur and Bhul were unable to confirm the nationality of the sole foreigner aboard.
Images of the aftermath shared by Nepal’s military showed the plane’s fuselage split apart and burnt to a husk.
Around a dozen soldiers in camouflage were standing on top of the wreckage with the surrounding earth coated in fire retardant.
The plane crashed at around 11:15 am (0530 GMT), the military said in a statement, adding that the army’s quick response team had been lending assistance with rescue efforts.
News portal Khabarhub reported that the airplane had caught fire after skidding on the runway.
The plane was scheduled to fly on Nepal’s busiest air route between Katmandu and Pokhara, an important tourism hub in the Himalayan republic.
Saurya Airlines exclusively flies Bombardier CRJ 200 jets, according to its website.
Nepal’s air industry has boomed in recent years, carrying goods and people between hard-to-reach areas as well as foreign trekkers and climbers.
But it has been plagued by poor safety due to insufficient training and maintenance — issues compounded by the mountainous republic’s treacherous geography.
The European Union has banned all Nepali carriers from its airspace over safety concerns.
The Himalayan country has some of the world’s trickiest runways to land on, flanked by snow-capped peaks with approaches that pose a challenge even for accomplished pilots.
The weather can also change quickly in the mountains, creating treacherous flying conditions.
Nepal’s last major commercial flight accident was in January 2023, when a Yeti Airlines service crashed while landing at Pokhara, killing all 72 aboard.
That accident was Nepal’s deadliest since 1992, when all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane died when it crashed on approach to Katmandu airport.
Earlier that year a Thai Airways aircraft had crashed near the same airport, killing 113 people.


At least 18 dead in Nepal plane crash, officials say

At least 18 dead in Nepal plane crash, officials say
Updated 37 min 23 sec ago
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At least 18 dead in Nepal plane crash, officials say

At least 18 dead in Nepal plane crash, officials say
  • The plane was carrying two crew members and 17 technicians to Pokhara city to repair another aircraft
  • Only the captain was rescued alive and is receiving treatment at a hospital

KATMANDU: At least 18 people were killed when a small plane crashed and caught fire while it was taking off from Nepal’s capital Katmandu on Wednesday, officials said.
The plane was carrying two crew members and 17 technicians to Pokhara city to repair another aircraft, officials said.
“Only the captain was rescued alive and is receiving treatment at a hospital,” said Tej Bahadur Poudyal, the spokesman for Katmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport.
Television visuals showed fire fighters trying to put out the blaze and thick black smoke rising into the sky. They also showed the plane flying a little above the runway and then tilting before it crashed.
Other visuals showed rescue workers rummaging through the charred remains of the plane, strewn in lush green fields.
Bodies were carried to ambulances on stretchers as local residents looked on, the television showed.
The plane was a Bombardier, officials said, and media reported it belonged to local Saurya Airlines. The airport had been temporarily closed, the officials added.
Saurya operates domestic flights in Nepal with two Bombardier CRJ-200 regional jets, both around 20 years old, according to Flight Radar 24.
Nepal has been criticized for a poor air safety record, and nearly 350 people have died in plane or helicopter crashes in the Himalayan country since 2000.
The deadliest incident occurred in 1992, when a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus crashed into a hillside while approaching Katmandu, killing 167 people.
Most recently, at least 72 people were killed in a Yeti airlines crash in January 2023 that was later attributed to the pilots mistakenly cutting off power.


Australia confident Trump will back AUKUS sub deal after talks with his camp

Australia confident Trump will back AUKUS sub deal after talks with his camp
Updated 24 July 2024
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Australia confident Trump will back AUKUS sub deal after talks with his camp

Australia confident Trump will back AUKUS sub deal after talks with his camp
  • Possibility of a Trump victory in the November presidential election has US allies around the world scrambling to divine and prepare for his diplomatic agenda

SYDNEY: Australia Defense MInister Richard Marles said on Wednesday Canberra is confident a re-elected Donald Trump will back the AUKUS security alliance and associated nuclear submarine sales after talks with his camp.
The possibility of a Trump victory in the November presidential election has US allies around the world scrambling to divine and prepare for his diplomatic agenda, including his take on the A$368 billion ($243 billion) AUKUS deal to help Australia acquire nuclear powered submarines and deter China in the Pacific.
The deal includes the sale of three to five US nuclear-powered Virginia Class submarines in the 2030s, a time when the US fleet will shrink to a historic low. Some fear Trump’s America First stance could hew to voices in Congress who want the submarines reserved for the US navy instead.
But conversations with the Trump camp had given Australia confidence he would honor the deal should he win the presidency again, Marles said in an interview on Sky News.
“Every engagement we’ve had with the Trump camp in the normal process of speaking with people on both sides of politics in America, there is support for what is playing out in relation to AUKUS,” he said.
“We do have a sense of confidence, irrespective of what occurs in November of this year, we can firstly look forward to the alliance being as strong as ever and secondly that the equities that we have in that alliance, AUKUS front and center, will be maintained“
Marles also pointed to the passage of AUKUS legislation last December, which he said was supported by Republicans, including those associated with Trump.


Typhoon Gaemi strengthens as it nears Taiwan, work halted, flights canceled

Typhoon Gaemi strengthens as it nears Taiwan, work halted, flights canceled
Updated 24 July 2024
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Typhoon Gaemi strengthens as it nears Taiwan, work halted, flights canceled

Typhoon Gaemi strengthens as it nears Taiwan, work halted, flights canceled
  • Gaemi, expected to be the strongest storm to hit Taiwan in eight years, is set to make landfall on the northeast coast on Wednesday evening
  • After crossing the Taiwan Strait, it is likely to hit the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian late on Thursday afternoon

YILAN, Taiwan: Taiwan hunkered down on Wednesday for the arrival of a strengthening Typhoon Gaemi, with financial markets shut, people getting the day off work and flights canceled, while the military went on stand-by amid forecasts of torrential rain.
Gaemi, expected to be the strongest storm to hit Taiwan in eight years, is set to make landfall on the northeast coast on Wednesday evening, the weather authorities said.
They upgraded its status to a strong typhoon, packing gusts of up to 227kph near its center.
After crossing the Taiwan Strait, it is likely to hit the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian late on Thursday afternoon.
“The next 24 hours will present a very severe challenge,” Taiwan Premier Cho Jung-tai told a televised meeting of the emergency response center.
In rural Yilan county, where the typhoon will first hit land, wind and rain gathered strength, shutting eateries as most roads emptied out.
“This could be the biggest typhoon in recent years,” fishing boat captain Hung Chun told Reuters, adding that Yilan’s harbor of Suao was packed with boats seeking shelter.
“It’s charging directly toward the east coast and if it makes landfall here the damage would be enormous.”
Work and school were suspended across Taiwan, with streets almost deserted in the capital Taipei.
The government said more than 2,000 people had been evacuated from sparsely populated mountain areas at high risk of landslides from the “extremely torrential rain.”
Almost all domestic flights had been canceled, along with 201 international flights, the transport ministry said.
All rail operations will stop from midday, with an abbreviated schedule for high-speed links between north and south Taiwan that will continue to operate, it added.
However, TSMC, the world’s largest contract chipmaker and a major supplier to Apple, said it expected its factories to maintain normal production during the typhoon, after it activated routine preparations.
SOLDIERS STANDING BY
The typhoon is expected to bring rain of up to 1,800mm to some mountainous counties in central and southern Taiwan, weather officials said.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had put 29,000 soldiers on stand-by for disaster relief efforts.
The typhoon has severely curtailed this year’s annual Han Kuang war games, but they have not been canceled, with scheduled live fire drills held on the Penghu islands in the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday.
Gaemi is expected to bring heavy to very intense rains over vast swathes of China from Thursday, the water resources ministry warned.
These are areas between the Pearl River basin in the south and the Songhua and Liao River basins on the northeastern border with Russia and North Korea, it said on Wednesday.
The rains are expected to last until July 31, fueled by the typhoon’s abundant moisture, it added.
Gaemi and a southwest monsoon brought heavy rain on Wednesday to the Philippine capital region and northern provinces, bringing work and schools to a halt, with stock and foreign exchange trading suspended. The storm killed 12 people.
While typhoons can be very destructive, Taiwan relies on them to replenish reservoirs after traditionally drier winters, especially in its south.


Germany bans ‘Hezbollah, Iran-linked’ Islamist group

Germany bans ‘Hezbollah, Iran-linked’ Islamist group
Updated 24 July 2024
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Germany bans ‘Hezbollah, Iran-linked’ Islamist group

Germany bans ‘Hezbollah, Iran-linked’ Islamist group
  • Extensive evidence from an earlier search of 55 properties conducted in November provided the basis for Wednesday’s ban of the IZH

BERLIN: Germany on Wednesday banned the Hamburg Islamic Center, an association that has been under investigation for several months over its alleged support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah group and its links to Iran.
The Interior Ministry accused the center of presenting itself as a purely religious organization with no political agenda, but said its probe has found the contrary to be true.
In a statement, the ministry said that it “banned the Hamburg Islamic Center and its affiliated organizations throughout Germany to date, as it is an Islamist extremist organization pursuing anti-constitutional objectives.”
Accusing the group of being a “direct representative of Iran’s supreme leader,” the ministry said the center spreads Tehran’s ideology “in an aggressive and militant manner.”
It is allegedly seeking to “establish authoritarian, theocratic rule” in place of a democracy, said the ministry, accusing the center of backing the “military and political dimension” of organizations like Hezbollah.
It is also believed to propagate anti-Semitism, something that Germany has been battling to stem amid a jump in cases following Israel’s war on Gaza in response to the deadly attack by Hamas militants on Israeli soil.
Investigators raided 53 properties allegedly linked to the center across Germany on Wednesday, and the ban will also be imposed on several organizations related to the Hamburg center — including four Shiite mosques.
“I want to make it very clear: We are not taking action against a religion,” said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser.
“We are drawing a clear distinction between the Islamist extremists that we are cracking down on and the many Muslims who belong to our country and live according to their faith.
“This ban absolutely does not apply to the peaceful practice of the Shiite religion,” she stressed.
Germany considers Hezbollah a “Shiite terrorist organization” and in 2020 banned Hezbollah from carrying out activities on its soil.
The Hamburg Islamic Center runs the Imam Ali Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, and calls have been growing in recent years for authorities to close it down because of its alleged links to Iran.
Founded by Iranian immigrants in 1953, the Hamburg Islamic Center had already been under surveillance by domestic intelligence for some time.
In November, investigators had conducted sweeping raids of its premises and other related sites across seven of Germany’s 16 states.
“Extensive evidence” that was secured then had “confirmed suspicions sufficiently to order today’s ban” of the group, said the interior ministry.
The regional government of Hamburg welcomed the decision, with interior minister of the state Andy Grote saying the “closure of this outpost of the Iranian inhumane regime is a real blow against Islamist extremism.”