Gunmen kill at least 15 in attack on Afghan government building in Jalalabad

Security forces swarmed the area as a plume of thick black smoke rose above the compound. (Reuters)
Updated 31 July 2018

Gunmen kill at least 15 in attack on Afghan government building in Jalalabad

  • Several people taken hostage by the attackers
  • Taliban deny involvement in the attack

JALALABAD, Afghanistan: A suicide bomb and gun attack by militants on an Afghan government building in Jalalabad on Tuesday killed at least 15 people, the latest in a series of assaults on the eastern city.
On the other side of the country a roadside bomb apparently intended for security forces hit a passenger bus and killed 11 people, marking yet another bloody day for civilians who have borne the brunt of violence in Afghanistan.
The attack in Jalalabad targeted the compound of the refugees and repatriations department. It ended after more than five hours of intense fighting between militants and security forces, said Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province.
At least 15 people were killed and the same number were wounded, Khogyani said.
Provincial health director Najibullah Kamawal said some of the dead were “burned beyond recognition.”
As the raid began with a suicide attacker blowing up a bomb-laden car at the entrance, local representatives of foreign donors and agencies were meeting department employees inside the building.
“All the partner agency representatives attending the meeting were Afghans and those who were stuck inside, including the director of the refugees and repatriations department, were rescued,” Khogyani said.
Several people were taken hostage by the attackers, said Zabiullah Zmarary, a provincial council member.
“I saw a black Corolla car drop three armed men at the gate of the refugees and repatriations department,” a witness told AFP.
Khogyani said the two attackers who stormed the compound were killed.
Security forces swarmed into the area, and a plume of thick black smoke rose into the sky above the compound.
The Taliban denied involvement in the incident in a WhatsApp message sent to journalists.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which comes three days after militants raided a midwife training center in Jalalabad.
The Daesh group claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack, which left at least three people dead and several wounded.
Jalalabad has been the scene of multiple attacks in recent months that have killed dozens, as US and Afghan forces continue offensives against militants.In the western province of Farah on Tuesday the bomb which hit the bus killed at least 11 people and wounded 31.
“It was a bomb planted by the Taliban to hit security forces but... it got a passenger bus,” Farah provincial police spokesman Muhibullah Muhib told AFP.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Taliban that they were responsible.
In a separate incident, 22 passengers traveling on a Kabul-bound bus in the eastern province of Paktia were kidnapped by gunmen on Monday night.
Officials blamed the Taliban for both incidents.
Most of the attacks in Jalalabad have been claimed by Daesh, which has a relatively small but potent presence in Afghanistan, mainly in the east and north.
It is not clear why the militants targeted the refugees and repatriations department, but government buildings are frequently hit.
On July 11 gunmen raided an education department compound in Jalalabad, sparking an hours-long battle with security forces.
At least 11 people were killed in that attack. All were employees of the education department branch and included the director.
A suicide bombing claimed by IS on a crowd of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in Jalalabad on July 1 killed 19 people and wounded 21.
IS emerged in Afghanistan in 2014 and quickly established a stronghold in Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan.
Intensified aerial and ground operations against the militants have failed to dislodge them.


Naming of key road boosts UAE, Indonesia relations

Updated 13 April 2021

Naming of key road boosts UAE, Indonesia relations

  • Both countries have been naming landmarks after leading national figures

JAKARTA: Indonesia on Monday named one of its strategic highways after Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

The move was in response to the UAE in October renaming a street in the Emirati capital after President Joko Widodo.

The Indonesian road given the crown prince’s moniker connects the capital Jakarta to key industrial zones in the West Java province.

“The president instructed the Minister of Public Works and Housing Basuki Hadimuljono and I to officiate the renaming of this 36-kilometer elevated toll road, which is the longest in Indonesia,” said State Secretary Pratikno during the road-naming ceremony attended by UAE Ambassador to Indonesia Abdullah Salem Obaid Al-Dhaheri.

Hedy Rahadian, the ministry’s director general for roadworks, said the renaming of the toll road Jalan Layang MBZ Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed followed an official decree issued on April 8.

Widodo inaugurated the elevated route in December 2019, more than two years after its construction began in July 2017.

The road passes through the capital’s satellite cities of Bekasi and Cikarang in neighboring West Java province, where residential areas and industrial zones flourish.

The elevated highway, which cost state-owned toll road operator Jasa Marga 16 trillion rupiahs ($1.1 billion) to construct, is reserved for private vehicles traveling long distance, with nearly 200,000 cars using the road every day.

It was constructed over the existing Jakarta to Cikampek toll road, which is always congested with container trucks, inter-city buses, and private vehicles, making it one of Indonesia’s busiest roads and an economic lifeline.

Indonesian Ambassador to the UAE Husin Bagis told Arab News that naming the toll road after the crown prince signified increasingly strong ties between the two nations.

“It is in honor of the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan in bringing closer relations between the two countries and further indicating the strong brotherhood between Indonesia and the UAE,” the envoy said.

Al-Dhaheri said that his country extended its “highest gratitude and appreciation for naming this very strategic and vital street after the name of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces.”

“I can tell you we are very much proud and happy to get this kind of token of appreciation from Indonesia.”

Indonesia and the UAE have been naming landmarks in their respective countries following the signing of a $22.9 billion investment deal that Widodo and his entourage secured during a visit to Abu Dhabi in January last year which came after the crown prince’s trip to Indonesia in July 2019.

Indonesian officials have described the agreement as the biggest trade deal in the country’s history.

In July, Indonesia and the UAE also agreed to set up a temporary travel corridor – the first for both countries during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic – to facilitate business and diplomatic trips between them.

The UAE renamed Al-Ma’arid Street, one of Abu Dhabi’s key roads, President Joko Widodo Street on Oct. 20 last year to coincide with the first anniversary of the president’s inauguration for a second term in office.

“In addition, the establishment of President Joko Widodo Mosque in Abu Dhabi is also underway,” Bagis added.

Al-Dhaheri noted that relations between the two countries had reached new heights, moving away from traditional sectors of cooperation in areas such as oil and gas into other sectors including education, health, agriculture, investment, and retail.

Indonesia and the UAE have signed more agreements for the emirates to invest and develop several major infrastructure projects in Indonesia, including a $500 million tourism resort in its western Aceh province and the opening of the first LuLu supermarket in Indonesia on the western outskirts of Jakarta.

The agreements were signed during a visit to Indonesia in March by the UAE’s energy and infrastructure minister, Suhail Al-Mazroui, and his delegation – the first high-level government official from the UAE to visit Indonesia since the signing of a bilateral safe travel corridor deal.

Al-Mazroui’s week-long trip was capped with a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a replica of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Solo in Central Java province, the Indonesian president’s hometown, where his eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, is mayor.

Also in March, the UAE announced its commitment to invest $10 billion in Indonesia’s sovereign wealth fund, making the emirates the “largest major investor” in the initiative, which the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority helped establish and serves as an adviser.

In a yet-to-be approved proposal for a mangrove rehabilitation agreement between the two countries, Indonesia has also nominated a 10,000-hectare integrated mangrove rehabilitation project in either East Kalimantan or Bangka Belitung provinces as the Khalifa bin Zayed Mangrove Park.


One killed, police officer hurt in shooting at Knoxville, Tennessee high school

Updated 51 min 42 sec ago

One killed, police officer hurt in shooting at Knoxville, Tennessee high school

One person was killed at a Knoxville, Tennessee high school on Monday and a police officer was wounded when police confronted an armed suspect.
The shooting, which unfolded at about 3:15 p.m. local time at Austin-East Magnet School on the east side of Knoxville was the latest episode of gun violence in the United States since mid-March.
Knoxville police said the officer struck by gunfire was expected to survive.
“He is conscious and in good spirts. ... He’s going to be OK. I thanked him for putting his life on the line to protect sutdents and staff at the school. He said he’d rather be hurt than anybody else,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon told CBS News.
Investigators did not immediately identify the suspect or slain victim except to say that they were both male. It was not immediately clear if either victim attended Austin-East Magnet School.
“Based on the preliminary investigation, Knoxville Police Department officers responded to Austin-East Magnet High School on the report of a male subject who was possibly armed in the school,” the police department said on Facebook.
“Upon approach of the subject, shots were fired. A KPD officer was struck at least one time and transported to the (University of Tennessee) Medical Center with injuries that are not expected to be life-threatening. One male was pronounced deceased at the scene, while another was detained for further investigation.”
The police department had initially reported “multiple gunshot victims” in the attack.
“Knox County Schools is responding to a shooting that occurred this afternoon at Austin-East Magnet High School. We are gathering information about this tragic situation and will provide additional information as soon as possible,” Knoxville schools superintendent Bob Thomas said on Twitter.
“The school building has been secured and students who were not involved in the incident have been released to their families,” Thomas said.
Agents from the US Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms were en route to the scene to assist other law enforcement agencies, the bureau’s Nashville office said on Twitter.
Police established a reunification site for families of the students at the baseball field behind the high school.
One mother who had been separated from her daughter was waiting elsewhere near the school and was relieved to receive a text message from her that she was safe.
In other shootings since mid-March, a man opened fire at the cabinet-making plant in Texas where he worked last week, killing one person and wounding six others before he was arrested.
Eight people were slain at Atlanta-area spas, 10 people at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, and four people, including a 9-year-old boy at a real estate office in Orange, California.


Pandemic hits ‘critical point’ as Europe deaths top one million

Updated 12 April 2021

Pandemic hits ‘critical point’ as Europe deaths top one million

  • Death toll across Europe, compiled by AFP from official sources, totaled around 1 million by 1830 GMT
  • WHO's technical lead on Covid-19 said the trajectory of this pandemic is growing exponentially

GENEVA, UNITED KNGDOM: Europe passed the grim milestone of one million coronavirus deaths on Monday, as the World Health Organization warned that infections are rising exponentially despite widespread efforts aimed at stopping them.
The death toll across Europe’s 52 countries, compiled by AFP from official sources, totalled at least 1,000,288 by 1830 GMT.
“We are in a critical point of the pandemic right now,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19.
“The trajectory of this pandemic is growing... exponentially.
“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic, when we have proven control measures,” she told reporters.
The coronavirus has already killed more than 2.9 million people and infected nearly 136 million across the world.
But despite the somber news in Europe — the world’s worst-hit region — Britain eased curbs for the first time in months on Monday, allowing Britons to enjoy a taste of freedom with a pint and a haircut.
The changes illustrate how fast-vaccinating countries are leaving other — mostly poorer — nations behind.
In South Africa, the president called for African-made vaccines as the continent lags behind other regions in its inoculation efforts, struggling with inadequate supplies as well as a lack of financing and logistical problems.
“Africa needs to harness its own continental capabilities and identify opportunities for collaboration,” Cyril Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa suggested India or Brazil could help after successfully developing their own generic pharmaceutical industries.
But both giants are battling their own health crises, with India overtaking Brazil on Monday as the country with the second-highest number of infections after logging more than 168,000 new cases in a day.
“The solution is for everyone to stay home for two months and end this (pandemic) once and for all. But the public doesn’t listen,” said Rohit, a 28-year-old waiter in Mumbai.
Experts have warned that huge, mostly maskless and tightly packed crowds at political rallies, religious festivals and in other public places have fueled India’s caseload.
In the Himalayan city Haridwar on Monday, maskless Hindu pilgrims squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder on the banks of the Ganges River for a dip during the Kumbh Mela ritual.
Several Indian regions have tightened their coronavirus measures with Maharashtra, India’s wealthiest state and current epicenter of its epidemic, imposing a weekend lockdown and night curfew.
Neighbouring Bangladesh has announced it will virtually seal itself off, shutting down both international and domestic transport starting Wednesday in an attempt to staunch its own spiralling outbreak.
The South Asian nation of 160 million people will also shutter all offices for eight days.
Russia, meanwhile, said it would suspend air links with Turkey and Tanzania for six weeks as they battle a surge in Covid-19 cases.
But there are glimmers of hope in the drawn-out fight against the pandemic.
English pubs and restaurants can now serve people outside, a move welcomed by the hard-hit hospitality sector despite wintry temperatures.
“It’ll be great to see everybody again and see all the locals,” Louise Porter, landlady of The Crown Inn in Askrigg, northern England, told AFP.
“Our lives have just been turned upside down, just like everybody else’s,” she said, adding: “We’re still here to tell the tale.”
England’s hairdressers, indoor gyms and swimming pools also got the green light to reopen.
Retail parks and high streets anticipate a shopping spree, hoping the partial reprieve after more than three months of stay-at-home orders will trigger an economic windfall.
Once the worst affected country in Europe, Britain launched a successful vaccination campaign coupled with lockdown measures that cut deaths by 95 percent and cases by 90 percent from January.
Italy has also been one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries, and on Monday Rome saw the latest in a series of anti-lockdown demonstrations, with several hundred people turning out in protest against weeks of restaurant closures.
In France, now the European country with the most infections, an expansion of the vaccine rollout has buoyed optimism among lockdown-weary residents.
Everyone over 55 years old is now eligible for Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca jabs.
In Greece, high school students were welcomed back to campus for the first time in five months on Monday.
And in other positive news, clinical trial results indicated that the Regeneron antibody treatment used to treat Covid-19 patients also helps prevent infections.


India overtakes Brazil in COVID-19 infections

Updated 13 April 2021

India overtakes Brazil in COVID-19 infections

  • India is experiencing its worst surge of the pandemic, with a seven-day rolling average of more than 130,000 cases per day

NEW DELHI: India reported another record daily surge in coronavirus infections Monday to overtake Brazil as the second-worst hit country.

The 168,912 cases added in the last 24 hours pushed India’s total to 13.5 million, while Brazil has 13.4 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

India also reported 904 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking its total to 170,179, which is the fourth highest toll, behind the United States, Brazil and Mexico.

India is experiencing its worst surge of the pandemic, with a seven-day rolling average of more than 130,000 cases per day. Hospitals across the country are becoming overwhelmed with patients, and experts worry the worst is yet to come.

The latest surge also coincides with the shortage of vaccines in some Indian states, including western Maharashtra state, home to financial capital Mumbai, which is the worst hit state and has recorded nearly half of the country’s new infections in the past two weeks.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region, the hard-hit Philippine capital and four nearby provinces were placed under a lighter coronavirus lockdown Monday to avoid further damage to an already battered economy despite a continuing surge in infections and deaths. 

New Zealand is requiring that all border workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of the month. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that beginning immediately, employers would need to consider alternative options for any of their employees who haven’t been vaccinated.

Tokyo adopted tougher measures against the coronavirus as it struggles to curb the rapid spread of a more contagious variant ahead of the Olympics in a country where less than 1 percent of people have been vaccinated. Japan expanded its vaccination drive Monday to older residents, with the first shots being given in about 120 selected places around the country.

Bhutan’s COVID-19 vaccination drive was fast from the start. As other countries rolled out their vaccination campaigns over months, Bhutan is nearly done just 16 days after it started. The tiny Himalayan kingdom has vaccinated nearly 93 percent of its adults. Its small population helped Bhutan move fast, but dedicated volunteers and the use of cold chain storage from earlier vaccination drives are credited as well.

The new mayor of South Korea’s capital demanded swift approval of coronavirus self-testing kits, saying that his city urgently needs more tools to fight the pandemic and keep struggling businesses open. 

Oh Se-hoon spoke Monday as Seoul and nearby metropolitan towns shut down hostess bars, night clubs and other high-risk entertainment venues to slow transmissions. Similar businesses were also shut down in the southern port city of Busan. 

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 350 of the country’s 587 new cases were from the greater Seoul area. Kwon Jun-wook, director of South Korea’s National Health Institute, said earlier this month that authorities are reviewing whether to approve rapid home tests. But the review has proceeded slowly with some experts saying such tests would do more harm than good because they are less accurate than standard laboratory tests.


Asthma drug budesonide speeds recovery for at-home COVID-19 patients

People who suffer from asthma are regularly prescribed budesonide, which they take using an inhaler. (File/Reuters)
Updated 12 April 2021

Asthma drug budesonide speeds recovery for at-home COVID-19 patients

  • Budesonide is a safe, relatively cheap and readily available drug used to treat asthma
  • Doctors said the discovery could change the way Covid-19 is treated around the world

LONDON: Treating COVID-19 patients at home with a commonly-used inhaled asthma drug called budesonide can speed up their recovery, according to UK trial results on Monday which doctors said could change the way the disease is treated around the world.
Researchers behind the trial — known as PRINCIPLE — said the findings were only an interim analysis at this stage, but could soon lead doctors to prescribe budesonide inhalers to patients infected with COVID-19 but not sick enough to be hospitalized.
“For the first time we have high-quality evidence of an effective treatment that can be rolled out across the community for people who are at most risk of developing more severe illness from COVID-19,” said Richard Hobbs, a professor at Britain’s Oxford University who co-led the trial.
He noted that unlike other proven COVID-19 treatments, such as the steroid dexamethasone, budesonide is effective in early stages of COVID-19 and can be used at home. “This is a significant milestone for this pandemic,” he said.
The PRINCIPLE results add to recent evidence from a smaller UK study, which found in February that budesonide reduced recovery time and the need for hospitalization among COVID-19 patients given it within a week of first symptoms.
Budesonide is a safe, relatively cheap and readily available corticosteroid drug used around the world in inhalers to treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
“Medical practitioners around the world caring for people with COVID-19 in the community may wish to consider this evidence when making treatment decisions,” said Chris Butler, a family doctor and Oxford professor who co-led the PRINCIPLE study. “It should help people with COVID-19 recover quicker.”
The study involved 961 patients who were randomly assigned to receive inhaled budesonide and compared to 1,819 patients assigned to the usual standard of care. Some 751 people in the budesonide group and 1,028 in the usual care group were SARS-CoV-2 positive and included in the interim analysis.
Doctors asked the budesonide patients to take two puffs on the inhaler, twice a day for a fortnight — giving an inhaled dose of 800 micrograms twice a day for 14 days. All patients were either age 65 plus, or aged over 50 with an underlying health condition that put them at more risk of serious COVID-19.
Interim results, published before peer-review on the medRxiv server, showed that 32% of those on inhaled budesonide, compared to 22% in the usual care group, recovered within the first 14 days and remained well until at least 28 days of follow-up.
Butler’s team said a full analysis with detailed results on time to recovery and hospitalizations would be published when all remaining trial patients have completed follow-up.