Taliban say Afghan Deash leader turned himself in, was not arrested

Photo of Aslam Farooqi, aka Abdullah Orakzai., the alleged chief of IS-Khorasan Province (ISKP) was arrested in Afghanistan, said a statement issued by the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) on Saturday. (Credit : NSD Photo)
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Updated 07 April 2020

Taliban say Afghan Deash leader turned himself in, was not arrested

  • Taliban spokesman says Aslam Farooqi surrendered to Afghan forces after Taliban siege of Kunar
  • Farooqi’s arrest announcement came after two deadly attacks in Kabul, for which Daesh claimed responsibility

ISLAMABAD: The Afghan Taliban have rejected an announcement by government forces that a regional Daesh leader was captured in a special security operation.

Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said in a statement on Saturday that Aslam Farooqi, also known as Abdullah Orakzai, had been arrested along with 19 other Daesh militants in a “complex operation.” The statement did not reveal when and where the arrests took place.

According to Taliban sources, Farooqi turned himself in to the authorities to seek shelter from a Taliban siege on Daesh in northeastern Kunar province.

“The government forces have in fact given him shelter and now they take credit and are claiming his arrest,” Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Arab News in an audio message on Sunday.

“The mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate had besieged Farooqi in Mazar Darra area in Kunar and he established contact with the Kabul administration’s forces and surrendered to the government in the wake of his contact,” Mujahid said, adding that Farooqi and other Daesh operatives “were taken to a guest house by the government forces under an understanding with them.”

Farooqi’s arrest announcement came after two deadly attacks in Kabul, for which Daesh claimed responsibility.

On March 25, the group killed at least 25 people at a Sikh temple. On March 6, Daesh gunmen opened fire at a political rally, killing 30 and wounding over 60 others.

The Daesh have been on their back foot following operations by US forces and separately by the Afghan Taliban.

Hundreds of Daesh militants have surrendered to Afghan forces in recent months in Nangarhar province — the group’s stronghold in Afghanistan — while others fled to nearby mountainous Kunar province, which borders Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal district.


Le Pen’s campaign hit by niece calling rival far-right Zemmour a better candidate

Updated 28 January 2022

Le Pen’s campaign hit by niece calling rival far-right Zemmour a better candidate

  • Marechal told Le Parisien and Le Figaro in separate interviews that she considers her aunt's far-right rival Zemmour had adopted a better strategy
  • "Unlike Marine Le Pen, Zemmour still has ample room to rise further (in polls)," Marechal told Le Figaro newspaper

PARIS: Marine Le Pen’s niece Marion Marechal, a popular figure among far-right French voters, on Friday said Eric Zemmour was a better presidential candidate, piling woes onto a campaign already troubled by the defection of two EU lawmakers.
Le Pen ranks second or third in opinion polls that show a tussle among right and far-right candidates to win a second-round runoff spot against President Emmanuel Macron in the April elections. Macron himself is leading polls and seen as likely to secure the other spot.
Marechal, a 32-year old former lawmaker, told Le Parisien and Le Figaro in separate interviews that she considers her aunt’s far-right rival Zemmour had adopted a better strategy, even though he is currently running fourth in opinion polls.
“Unlike Marine Le Pen, Zemmour still has ample room to rise further (in polls),” Marechal told Le Figaro newspaper.
She said that because he was new to politics and was seeking to bridge gaps between parties, Zemmour was better placed to get wide-ranging support than Le Pen’s party, which other parties, including on the mainstream right, often shun.
Her comments went to the heart of a debate that could re-define France’s right and far-right for years to come.
Marechal, once a rising star in the Le Pen family’s National Rally party, quit politics five years ago.
She said on Friday she wanted to return but hadn’t quite decided yet whether to rally with Zemmour’s campaign for fear it would revive feuds that had torn the Le Pen family and the party apart for years.
But the divisions she said she wanted to avoid creating were immediately clear with her aunt’s reaction.
“It’s brutal, it’s violent, it’s tough for me,” a visibly moved Le Pen told CNews, adding it was “painful” on a person level and “incomprehensible” politically.
The 53-year-old veteran politician noted that polls showed her and not Zemmour as likely to reach the second round in April, in a repeat of the 2017 match that Macron won.
While the National Front — rebranded National Rally — has dominated the French far-right for decades, first led by Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie and then by her since 2011, it has always failed to reach power beyond a few municipalities.

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Iraqi army: Rockets hit Baghdad airport, damage two planes

Updated 28 January 2022

Iraqi army: Rockets hit Baghdad airport, damage two planes

  • Projectiles fired early morning landed on planes parked in a waiting area of Iraqi Airways 
  • The airport contains an Iraqi military base that hosts US and other coalition advisers 

BAGHDAD: Six rockets struck Baghdad’s international airport facility on Friday, damaging two commercial planes but causing no casualties, Iraq’s military said in a statement.
The rockets fired in the early morning landed on planes parked in a waiting area of Iraqi Airways, the country’s national carrier, the statement said. One rocket punched a gaping hole in the cockpit area of the plane.
The attack marks an escalation of a series of rocket and drone strikes that have targeted the US and their allies as well as Iraqi government institutions since the start of the year. Most attacks targeting the airport did not cause heavy damage or affect civilian areas of the airport facility.
The recent uptick followed the second anniversary of the US strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.
The military said launch pads for the missiles had been located in the nearby Abu Ghraib area.
The airport contains an Iraqi military base that hosts US and other coalition advisers.
The rockets landed between the civilian and military areas of the airport, two security officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press.
The airline said in a statement that the attack had damaged one of its out-of-service planes parked near the airport but that operations were running normally and no delays were expected.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi condemned the attack, calling it an attempt “to undermine Iraq’s reputation, that we have endeavoured to restore in the region and internationally.”
The attack on the airport aimed to undermine confidence in Iraq’s security, as well as impede the work of the airline, according to the Iraqi military and the prime minister. Al-Kadhimi called on Iraqi political parties to unequivocally condemn the attack and support Iraqi security forces in the search for those responsible.
Their silence over the frequency of attacks has served as a cover for perpetrators, Al-Kadhimi said. He also called on the international community not to place restrictions on travel to Iraq as a result of the attack.
The UN condemned the rising number of “despicable” attacks in a statement urging political actors to act together and expose the culprits.
Pro-Iran Shiite factions in Iraq have vowed revenge for Soleimani’s killing and have conditioned the end of the attacks on the full exit of American troops from the country.
The US-led coalition formally ended its combat mission supporting Iraqi forces in the ongoing fight against the Daesh group last month. Some 2,500 troops will remain as the coalition shifts to an advisory mission to continue supporting Iraqi forces.


Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount

Updated 28 January 2022

Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount

  • US President Joe Biden warned Ukraine’s leader a day earlier that there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could take military action
  • “There won’t be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation, we don’t want a war,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said

MOSCOW: Russia’s top diplomat said Friday that Moscow will not start a war in Ukraine but warned that it wouldn’t allow the West to trample on its security interests, amid fears it is planning to invade its neighbor.
US President Joe Biden warned Ukraine’s leader a day earlier that there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could take military action against the former Soviet state in February.
“There won’t be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation, we don’t want a war,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a live interview with Russian radio stations. “But we won’t let our interests be rudely trampled on and ignored.”
Tensions have soared in recent weeks, and the United States and its NATO allies warily eyed a buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine, worrying that Moscow was preparing to attack. Russia has repeatedly denied having any such plans, but has demanded that NATO promise Ukraine will never be allowed to join and that the alliance roll back deployments of troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe.
The US and NATO formally rejected those demands this week, though Washington outlined areas where discussions are possible, offering hope that there could be a way to avoid war.
Russia’s official response to those proposals will come from President Vladimir Putin, but the Kremlin has said there was “little ground for optimism.”
Lavrov echoed noted that grim note Friday.
“While they say they won’t change their positions, we won’t change ours,” he said. “I don’t see any room for compromise here.”
Putin opened the weekly meeting of his Security Council on Friday, saying only that it would address foreign policy issues. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Russian leader may also discuss his reaction to the US rejection with French President Emmanuel Macron during their video call the same day.
Lavrov noted that the US suggested the two sides could talk about limits on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, restrictions on military drills and rules to prevent accidents between warships and aircraft. He said that Russia proposed discussing those issues years ago — but Washington and its allies never took them up on it until now.
While he described the US offers as reasonable, he emphasized that Russia’s main concerns are to stop both NATO’s expansion and the deployment of the alliance weapons near Russia’s borders. He noted that international agreements say that the security of one nation must not come at the expense of others’ — and that he would send letters to ask his Western counterparts to address that obligation.
“It will be hard for them to wiggle out from answering why they aren’t fulfilling the obligations sealed by their leaders not to strengthen their security at the expense of others,” he said.
As tensions build, Washington warned Moscow of devastating sanctions if it invades Ukraine, including penalties targeting top Russian officials and key economic sectors. Several senior US officials also said Thursday that Germany would not allow a newly constructed pipeline — which is meant to bring gas directly from Russia — to begin operations if Russia invades Ukraine.
Asked about possible sanctions, Lavrov said that Moscow had warned Washington that their introduction would amount to a complete severing of ties.
While Moscow and the West are mulling their next steps, NATO said it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region, and the US ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert for potential deployment to Europe.
Russia has launched a series of military drills involving motorized infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, and dozens of warships in the Black Sea and the Arctic. Russian troops have also headed to Belarus for sweeping joint drills, raising Western fears that Moscow could stage an attack on Ukraine from the north. The Ukrainian capital is just 75 kilometers (50 miles) from the border with Belarus.
Despite the alarming rhetoric, Ukrainian officials have repeatedly tried to project calm.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told parliament Friday that the total number of Russian troops near Ukraine — about 130,000 — is comparable to Moscow’s military buildup in the spring of 2021, when Moscow eventually pulled its forces back after massive military exercises.
“We haven’t observed any events or actions of military character that significantly differ from what was going on last spring,” with the exception of the deployment to Belarus, Reznikov said.
But that has so far not reassured many in the West. Biden warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Thursday’s call that the US believed there was a high degree of likelihood that Russia could invade when the ground freezes and Russian forces could attack Ukrainian territory from north of Kyiv, according to two people familiar with the conversation who were not authorized to comment publicly.
While concerns rise about an invasion, Ukraine is already beset by conflict. Following the 2014 ouster of a Kremlin-friendly president in Kyiv, Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed an insurgency in the country’s eastern industrial heartland. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels has killed over 14,000 people, and efforts to reach a settlement have stalled.


Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east

Updated 28 January 2022

Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east

  • Storm Ana passed over Madagascar on Jan. 22, adding to days of already intense rainfall
  • Ana has affected hundreds of thousands of people and lead to widespread flooding and destruction
JOHANNESBURG: Tropical Storm Ana has killed at least 86 people across southern and eastern Africa, with recovery operations still ongoing as another storm threatened more severe weather.
Storm Ana passed over Madagascar on Jan. 22, adding to days of already intense rainfall. The country declared a state of disaster on Thursday night, reporting a rise in the death toll from Ana to 48, with people killed by landslides and collapsing buildings or washed away.
Ana then made landfall in Mozambique on Jan. 24, where 18 have been reported dead, before moving inland to Malawi, where it triggered massive power cuts. Malawi’s death toll rose to 20 on Thursday.
Across all three nations, Ana has affected hundreds of thousands of people and lead to widespread flooding and destruction, according to the United Nations.
“This latest storm...is a blunt reminder that the climate crisis is very much a reality,” said Maria Luisa Fornara, UNICEF Representative in Mozambique.
The region has been repeatedly struck by severe storms and cyclones in recent years, destroying homes, infrastructure and crops and displacing large numbers of people.
In some cases, communities still recovering are hit again, compounding the impacts. Experts say storms are becoming stronger and more frequent as waters warm due to climate change, with rising sea levels also making low-lying coastal areas vulnerable.
Another storm, dubbed Batsirai, is now traveling toward Africa’s east coast.
Meteo France on Friday described Batsirai as a small system that presented no immediate threat to a group of islands to the east of Madagascar, including the French territory of Reunion, because it was still days away.
However, it said the evolution of Batsirai’s intensity and trajectory remained uncertain. Mozambique’s National Institute of Meteorology warned Batsirai still had the potential to evolve into a severe tropical storm.

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report

Updated 28 January 2022

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report

  • Rights groups have accused China of perpetrating widescale abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in its western region of Xinjiang

BEIJING: China has agreed to let the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights visit Xinjiang in the first half of 2022 after the Beijing Winter Olympics, according to a report in the South China Morning Post which cited unnamed sources.
Rights groups have accused China of perpetrating widescale abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in its western region of Xinjiang, including mass detention, torture and forced labor. The United States has accused China of genocide.
Beijing denies all allegations of abuse of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims and has described its policies as necessary to combat religious extremism.
UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet has been pursuing negotiations with China on a visit since September 2018.
China’s foreign ministry, China’s mission to the United Nations in New York, and the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The South China Morning Post report on Thursday cited sources saying that the approval for a visit after the conclusion of the Beijing Winter Games, which run Feb. 4-20, was granted on the condition the trip should be “friendly” and not framed as an investigation.
As in 2008, the Olympics have again cast a spotlight on China’s human rights record, which critics say has worsened since then, leading Washington to call Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims genocide and prompting a diplomatic boycott from the United States and other countries.
“No one, especially the world’s leading human rights diplomat, should be fooled by the Chinese government’s efforts to distract attention away from its crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities,” Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters in an emailed statement on Friday.