Mozambique army says ‘significant’ number of militants killed in Palma battle

Internally displaced people (IDP) from Palma gather in Pemba Sports Center to receive humanitarian aid, April 2, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 05 April 2021

Mozambique army says ‘significant’ number of militants killed in Palma battle

  • Commander Chongo Vidigal, leader of military operations to regain control of Palma, said the area was ‘safe’
  • French energy giant Total has abandoned a site where a multi-billion-dollar gas project is under way

MAPUTO: Mozambique’s military has said a “significant” number of militants were killed in fighting for the northern town and gas hub of Palma, seized by Daesh-linked extremists last month.
Palma was taken in a coordinated attack on March 24, in a major escalation of an insurgency that has been raging in Cabo Delgado province for more than three years.
Thousands have fled the town of some 75,000 people and dozens killed, according to an early government toll, and French energy giant Total has abandoned a site where a multi-billion-dollar gas project is under way.
On Sunday, the army escorted officials and journalists through Palma.
Commander Chongo Vidigal, leader of military operations to regain control of Palma, told state television TVM the area was “safe,” although he fell short of declaring the army had regained control.
“The airfield area was the only one we needed to clear and we did that this morning. It’s completely safe,” Vidigal assured.
“I think that it is a significant number of terrorists who were shot down,” he said, adding the authorities would clarify the exact number later.
Footage broadcast by TVM showed soldiers hastily pulling black plastic sheets over a dead body on the street.
Crews on site filmed the blackened remains of several buildings, including banks, the town’s hospital and the state prosecutor’s office.
Heavily-armed soldiers stood on the street as a few remaining residents slowly picked through debris.
Some collected bags of grain, while one man was shown trying to clear a destroyed stall.
Cabo Delgado’s governor, Valygi Tualibo, painted a rosier picture, claiming Palma was back in government hands.
Visiting the town as part of Sunday’s media visit, Tualibo told reporters he was “greatly satisfied” with what he saw.
“The situation is bleak, but we are excited,” the governor said on TVM.
“Palma is under 100 percent control by Mozambican authorities.”
Thousands of Mozambican troops had already been deployed to Cabo Delgado before the attack on Palma.
But the army’s ability to fight the insurgency has long been questioned, with analysts pointing to poor training and lack of equipment.
Security forces have until now been bolstered by a South African private military company, Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), but its contract with the government ends this week.
DAG founder Lionel Dyck confirmed their involvement ended on April 6.
“God help the people,” he told AFP via WhatsApp on Monday, adding that it was “unlikely” soldiers had retaken Palma.
Vidigal noted the Total gas plant, which the company abandoned on Friday, was secure.
“The facilities are safe, they are protected,” he explained.
Total pulled out all its remaining staff on Friday, while the United Nations suspended civilian evacuation flights over security concerns.
More than 11,000 civilians are known to have fled Palma in recent days, according to the UN.


Murder case in Philippines fuels call for action to halt attacks by rogue cops on Muslims

Updated 05 August 2021

Murder case in Philippines fuels call for action to halt attacks by rogue cops on Muslims

  • Online retailer Nadia Casar was allegedly kidnapped, held to ransom and killed by a group of police officers and civilians. Her body was burned
  • Community leaders and politicians condemned the gruesome killing and call on police chief to end discrimination against the Islamic community

MANILA: The gruesome murder of a Muslim woman in the Philippines has caused anger and outrage among the Islamic community in the country. Businesswoman Nadia Casar was allegedly kidnapped, held to ransom and killed by a group of police officers and civilians. Her body was burned.

“The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) strongly condemns the brutal slaying and corpse desecration by burning of Muslim Filipino businesswoman Nadia Casar,” said Dimapuno Datu-Ramos, a spokesman for the commission. “She was allegedly killed by members of the police.”

At least five police officers are accused of involvement in the death of Casar. They are: Benedict Matias Reyes, a staff sergeant from the Santa Rosa municipal police station in Nueva Ecija; June Malillin, a staff sergeant from Palayan City police station; Julius Alcantara, a corporal from Nueva Ecija Provincial Police Drug Enforcement; Rowen Martin, a master sergeant from the Cabanatuan City police station; and Drextemir Esmundo, a staff sergeant from the Cabiao municipal police station.

Two civilian suspects have also been named: Franklin Macapagal and Dario Robarios.

According to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG), 35-year-old online retailer Casar hired a ride-share driver on July 20 to take her from Cavite province in southern Luzon to Santa Rosa, Nueva Ecija, in Central Luzon, for a business meeting with Macapagal. The driver was taking her back to Cavite after the meeting when, at about 1.45 p.m. they found the road blocked by a pick-up truck and two motorcycles. Five armed men are said to have got out of the vehicle and kidnapped them.

Police said the driver was robbed of his belongings, including 4,500 pesos ($90) in cash, and released at about 3.00 a.m. on July 21. Casar’s charred remains were discovered on Aug. 1 in a shallow grave in Sitio Pinagpala, Barangay Imelda Valley, Palayan City.

The suspects came to the attention of the AKG after the ride-share driver said he recognized one of them as an officer in a group photograph hanging on the wall of a police station in Santa Rosa police station. This led them to Reyes, who was arrested on July 29. Two days later, Alcantara voluntarily surrendered himself and was taken into custody. Malillin reportedly admitted his role in the crime, and Alcantara implicated Martin and Esmundo, who are still at large.

Robarios, the caretaker of a house where Casar was allegedly held captive, was arrested in a follow-up operation. He reportedly confessed and claimed that Malillin, Martin, and Esmundo had ordered him to bury Casar’s remains. Macapagal, who has also eluded arrest, was identified from a driver’s license found inside the house.

The ride-share driver reportedly told investigators he “heard one of the suspects order Casar to tell her family that they have to pay a ransom in exchange for her release.” Investigators suspect she was killed when her relatives were unable to pay.

“We call upon PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar to fulfill his commitment to cleanse his ranks of … criminals,” said NCMF spokesman Datu-Ramos. “The Muslim Filipino community has long been patient with the promises made by the PNP to protect all Filipinos, regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation.

“This abhorrent crime is a violation of Philippine Law, a transgression of basic human rights, and a blatant disregard of the Islamic rituals in handling the dead. This must not be ignored.

“NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan also calls upon the country’s leaders … to create legislation that would ensure the safety of minorities who have been repeatedly targeted by corrupt men in uniform. A heavier sanction must be placed upon those who have sworn to protect all life, yet have been proven to abuse their power and authority.”

Mujiv Hataman, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives and the representative for Basilan, also condemned the killing, and called on Eleazar to ensure an “exhaustive investigation” of the case.

“It is reprehensible to think that those who are supposed to protect and serve the people are the same ones behind this savagery,” Hataman said. “Casar’s case was not an isolated case, since there have been reports in the past about Muslims, especially traders, becoming victims of abuse, being robbed and some of them even getting killed by rogue policemen.

“I urge the PNP to investigate the occurrences of crimes perpetrated by wayward members of the police against Muslims, to put an end to these kinds of incidents,” he added, and called on the PNP to take action to “stop discrimination against their Muslim brothers.”

He highlighted as an example the case of a Muslim couple from Lanao del Sur who died in a robbery and shooting incident in Pasay City that was committed by “policemen in uniform,” according to witnesses.

In another incident last year, Hataman said, members of the Manila police were involved in an eight-hour standoff with the family and neighbors of two Muslim jewelry traders in the capital’s San Andres Bukid district. Officers allegedly searched and arrested the victims without a warrant and without identifying themselves. Hataman and other politicians filed a resolution in June last year calling for an investigation into the incident.

Eleazar assured Casar’s family that “justice will be served” in the case and he had ordered the immediate dismissal of the five accused officers. He said he has also tasked the AKG and the Integrity Monitoring and Enforcement Group to launch search operations to find the remaining suspects.

“We strongly condemn this incident,” he said. “I will make sure that the policemen involved in the kidnapping and killing of Nadia Casar will be dismissed from the service and held accountable for their crime.”

He added that he has additionally ordered an investigation to determine whether other police officers have been involved in kidnap-for-ransom activities.


Taliban reject US envoy’s claims of seeking ‘lion’s share’ in future government

Updated 05 August 2021

Taliban reject US envoy’s claims of seeking ‘lion’s share’ in future government

  • Group aims for accord that ‘observes Islamic aspirations’ of Afghans, spokesman says

KABUL: The Taliban on Wednesday refuted US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s assertions that it was seeking a “lion’s share of power” in a future government, terming it as a “personal view,” as fighting worsens across Afghanistan and foreign troops inch closer to completing a withdrawal mission by month-end.

“That is his personal view. We heard Khalilzad’s comments, but our stance is that we want an accord that can observe the Islamic aspirations of the people,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News, adding that the group was “not after a monopoly of power or eyeing a key share.”

“We do not want anything for ourselves; we have given lofty sacrifices for Islam. The nation is exhausted. There will definitely be a complete Islamic government, and all sides will have to accept this … All Afghans will be given a share in it,” he added.

The comments follow Khalilzad’s remarks during a virtual conference of the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday when he said: “At this point, (the Taliban) are demanding that they take the lion’s share of power in the next government given the military situation as they see it.”

He added that the Taliban and the Kabul government “are far apart” in US-backed peace negotiations, which began in Doha, Qatar, nearly a year ago.

The intra-Afghan talks were the first formal step to politically settle a decades-old conflict that began after the Taliban were toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Khalilzad was the chief architect of the controversial, behind-the-door negotiations between the US and the Taliban, which Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his administration were excluded from.

They led to the signing of a conditional agreement on Feb. 29 in Qatar between former US President Donald Trump’s administration and Taliban representatives based on which US and NATO troops were to pull out of Afghanistan as part of a 14-month process that began on May 1 and is scheduled to complete on Aug. 31.

Since then, Khalilzad has played a crucial role in facilitating the talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government in Doha and, in March, proposed the formation of an inclusive interim government to replace Ghani, whose term ends in 2024.

Both groups have failed to make headway in the Doha talks, which was the subject of a phone call on Tuesday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ghani, who agreed on the need to accelerate the peace process.

This comes a day after Ghani, during a special parliamentary session, called for a nationwide war against the Taliban, who have made significant gains in several parts of Afghanistan and after an overnight attack in Kabul on the defense minister’s home.

“Eight non-combatants, including a woman, were killed in the attack on the home of Defense Minister Gen. Besmillah Khan in Kabul,” Interior Ministry Spokesman Mirwais Stanekzai told reporters on Wednesday.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the strike.

“We were behind the strike,” Mujahid said. “The attack was in response to the airstrikes by the defense ministry.” 

Ghani blamed the country’s deteriorating security on Washington’s “abrupt” decision to withdraw its troops.

Presenting his security plan before parliament on Monday, Ghani said the situation in the war-torn nation would be “under control within six months,” adding that the US has pledged its full support.

The gap left by departing troops has emboldened the Taliban, who have intensified their insurgency since early May, targeting Afghan government forces and stepping up attacks on Herat in the west, Kandahar, and the adjacent Helmand province in the south — three major regions — since last week.

Helmand’s provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, has taken the brunt of the fighting.

Both Taliban and government officials said fighting was “intense” on Wednesday in various parts of Lashkar Gah, where the group has made significant inroads.

A lawmaker from Helmand, Mirwais Khadem, said the Taliban were “in control of all parts of the city,” except for a series of government buildings, such as the governor’s compound, police and intelligence headquarters and the central prison.

“I can say that there is street-to-street fighting in Lashkar Gah now. The Taliban have taken shelter in people’s homes. Afghan troops fire back on them, and there are bombardments both by the government and US forces,” Khadem told Arab News.

He chided the army’s move asking residents to “flee from their homes” in Taliban-held areas.

“This decision of the government is not appropriate. We urged the government to go instead to a desert where there are no residential homes. Both the Taliban and the government can fight there and decide who will be the winner and will be defeated,” he said.

“But the government did not accept it. Asking civilians in the middle of the war to leave their homes, without arrangements for shelter, food and other necessities in this hot weather is not fair,” Khadem added.

He explained that “there were casualties among civilians both from shelling and air raids in Lashkar Gah” but could not provide the exact fatality count.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders said casualties were “mounting” in Lashkar Gah.

“There has been relentless gunfire, airstrikes and mortars in densely populated areas. Houses are being bombed, and many people are suffering severe injuries,” Sarah Leahy, the aid group’s coordinator for Helmand, said in a statement.

The loss of Lashkar Gah to the Taliban would be a massive blow for Kabul, which has pledged to safeguard provincial capitals “at all costs” after losing much of the countryside to the insurgent group over the summer.

US-led troops have stepped up aerial attacks on suspected Taliban positions to support Afghan forces and block Taliban advances.

Experts say the measures are too little, too late.

“American forces do not want to see the fall of any major city to the Taliban before their exit. That is why they continue providing air support for national forces,” Torek Farhadi, an analyst and former adviser to former President Hamid Karzai, told Arab News.

“But these attacks cause civilian casualties, such as the ones we saw in Helmand. This is not good for the Kabul government,” he added.

Nearly 2,400 Afghan civilians have been killed or injured in May and June amid an uptick in violence between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, the highest number for those two months since records started in 2009, the UN’s Assistance Mission to Afghanistan said in a July report.

By then, it had documented 5,183 civilian casualties between January and June, of which 1,659 were deaths. The number was up 47 percent from the same period last year.


South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage

Updated 05 August 2021

South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage

  • Sri Lankan-born Sudesh Amman was offered support from two different mentors following his release from jail but before the attack
  • Mentors said there was no behavior of concern to report, but were ‘shocked’ when they saw details of the 2020 incident in Streatham

LONDON: A convicted terrorist told his mentor that he had changed, days before carrying out a knife rampage in south London which ended when he was shot dead by police, an inquest has heard.

Sudesh Amman, 20, told his allocated mentor that he had “now realized” that terrorists were “pushing people away” from Islam.

Amman made the comments on Jan. 30, 2020, seven days after his early release from prison and just three days before he suddenly stole a knife from a shop in Streatham and stabbed two unsuspecting members of the public. He was fatally shot by covert police officers who were tasked with keeping him under surveillance. Both of his victims survived.

An inquest into his death at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London heard yesterday that Amman pledged his allegiance to Daesh in prison and that he told prisoners he “wanted to kill the Queen.”

The inquest was told that the Sri Lankan-born terrorist was offered support from a theological mentor to deal with his extreme brand of Islam and a practical mentor to help him adapt to life beyond prison.

He had met both of them following his release from prison.

His mentors told the court that they were “shocked” and “gobsmacked” when they recognized Amman as the perpetrator of the shocking attack on Feb. 2, 2020.

One of his mentors had a testimony following a meeting with Amman read out in court: “He (Amman) said he now realized that people who hurt other people through things like acts of terror were pushing people away from the faith and causing hatred.”

The witness said Amman had been “the most relaxed that I have seen him” in the last of their four meetings in person, which took place in HMP Belmarsh and after his release.

The mentor, who was known as “Witness M” to retain their anonymity, said: “He was happy to talk, he had no moments where he held back from saying anything and he seemed happy and relieved at being released.

“I took him at his word. He seemed sincere the way he was saying it.”

The mentor said that he felt there was no behavior of concern to report, but was “shocked” when he saw details of the incident in Streatham unfolding.

Witness M said: “I saw when it said the incident was in Streatham, I knew I visited him, I hoped it was not (him). I kept watching the news and I had a little bit of disbelief, to be honest.”

The other mentor, referred to as “Witness T,” told the inquest that he discussed religious matters with Amman during their only meeting on Jan. 29.

Witness T said Amman showed that he was “ignorant” of Islam during their meeting. Amman told Witness T that he was keeping to himself in the week after his release at a Streatham probation hostel out of fear that people believed he was radicalizing others.

Witness T said he found out about the attack on Streatham high street on the same day it occurred.

“I was gobsmacked, I was shocked, I was surprised,” he said.


Disabled Indian teen achieves top scores despite writing exams with his feet

Updated 05 August 2021

Disabled Indian teen achieves top scores despite writing exams with his feet

  • ‘Disability is a state of mind, not the body,’ says Vishwakarma, who secured a 70 percent score on his Grade 12 tests

NEW DELHI: A 19-year-old student born with multiple congenital anomalies and limb defects has scored 70 percent on his Grade 12 exams by writing the tests with his feet.

Tushar Vishwakarma, who declined to hire a writer or ask for extra time to finish the exams, said that he realized early on in life that he wanted the disability, which prevents him from using his hands, “to be my strength and not my weakness.”

“I never thought of myself as disabled. It took me three years to master the art of writing with my toes,” Vishwakarma, who is from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, told Arab News. “Disability is a state of mind and not the body,” he said.

Born into a lower-middle-class family with his father, Rajesh, working as a small-time trader in Lucknow, Vishwakarma lives in the city with his parents and three siblings.

Rajesh said that a few months after Vishwakarma was born he took him to hospitals “with limited resources” in Lucknow and elsewhere to identify the issue, but in vain.

“When Tushar was quite young, doctors in Lucknow told me that I should get him treated after he grows up. At the age of 3, I took him to hospital again but doctors only prescribed medicines,” Rajesh, 46, told Arab News.

He added that the PGI hospital in Lucknow diagnosed Vishwakarma with “multiple congenital anomalies” and said he was “missing a few veins from his hands.”

Next, the family tried to get Vishwakarma treated in Lucknow, in Chitrakoot, a city in Uttar Pradesh, and Udaipur, a city in the northern state of Rajasthan, but “none of the doctors could help him.”

Finally, in 2015, Rajesh was referred to a facility in Udaipur where doctors advised Vishwakarma to have plastic surgery on his hands.

“First, the doctors told me that they would perform the surgery but later decided against it as they were not sure whether that would cure my son or not,” Rajesh said.

“Doctors told me that the veins that control his hands were missing, and the issue could not be addressed through an operation. It’s the same response I got everywhere,” Rajesh said.

Dr. Ankur Bhardwaj from the PGI hospital in Lucknow, who was part of the team handling Vishwakarma’s case, was unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Wednesday.

However, Dr. J. Bhadani from Patna in the eastern state of Bihar, told Arab News that “multiple congenital anomalies are structural deformities of the body and such deformities are the cause of chronic illness and disability in children.”

Rajesh said that the family moved to Lucknow from the neighboring district of Unnao 20 years ago for “a better life” but were “always worried about Tushar, especially after we grow old.”

Vishwakarma’s high scores in the recent exams, however, have offered a renewed sense of “hope for his future.”

“I know now that he will not need our support in the future. Tushar has proven us wrong in life so far, and I am sure he will shine in life and make us prouder,” Rajesh said.

Vishwakarma credits his success to the Creative Convent College in Lucknow, which played a “great role in supporting” him.

“No one was willing to admit a disabled student when I was looking for admission in a higher secondary school, but the Creative Convent College helped me a lot,” he said.

School manager, Yogendra Sachan, told Arab News that it had “never charged” the family a fee for Vishwakarma’s education.

“We gave one full bench to Tushar so that he does not have any problem in writing,” Sachan said. “We made sure the school doesn’t charge any fee from the boy. He is bright and ambitious.”

Vishwakarma said that he aspires to be an engineer and is working toward realizing that dream.

“It’s not easy when your hands are not working, but I never allow negative thoughts to (take root) in my mind,” he said.


Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

Updated 04 August 2021

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

  • Gen. Nick Carter: Govt forces need to secure military stalemate with Taliban so as to enable talks
  • There is a ‘real risk’ that the West is ‘giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban’

LONDON: Afghanistan risks becoming a failed state unless government forces can prevent the Taliban’s advance, Britain’s most senior soldier warned on Wednesday.

Gen. Nick Carter, the chief of defense staff, said Afghan forces have to secure a military stalemate in order to start talks between the government and the Taliban. 

He also warned the international community against giving credence to the Taliban and its leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, saying there is a risk of giving the group “legitimacy” that it does not deserve.

Carter said the country becoming a failed state “is one of the scenarios that could occur, but we have to get behind the current Afghan government and support them in what they’re trying to do.

“And if they can achieve a military stalemate, then there will have to be a political compromise. Even the Taliban at the level of Baradar recognize that they can’t … conquer Afghanistan.

“There has to be a conversation. And the important thing is to achieve the military stalemate that can then bring on that conversation.”

Carter told the BBC that there is a “real risk” that the West is “giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban movement.”

He added: “There’s a huge disparity between what Mullah Baradar is saying publicly and … what’s actually happening on the ground. 

“And the international community has got to do much more about calling out the way that the people on the ground are trashing government buildings, they’re threatening the population, there are reports of people being forced into marriages.”

Carter said he has seen “grisly videos of war crimes,” and the international community “mustn’t let them get away with this — we’ve got to call them out.”

His comments come as Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP and chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, called for the West to “rethink its strategy.”

Ellwood, himself a former British Army officer, tweeted on Wednesday that there is “still time to prevent civil war” by sending “a 5,000-strong coalition force — enough to give legitimacy to the Afghan government & support to Afghan forces to contain and deter the Taliban.” He added: “Otherwise we face a failed state.”