EU report: Illicit drug sales moved online during lockdowns

Criminal groups relied less on human couriers and turned instead to shipping containers and commercial supply chains to smuggle illicit substances. (File/AFP).
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Updated 09 June 2021

EU report: Illicit drug sales moved online during lockdowns

  • The coronavirus pandemic helped move drug sales from streets to encrypted messaging and social media platforms.
  • Criminal groups also adapted to travel restrictions and border closures by relying less on human couriers and turning instead to shipping containers.

MADRID: Illegal drug production on European soil increased during the coronavirus pandemic last year as lockdowns helped move drug sales from streets to encrypted online platforms, according to an analysis of continental drug trends released Wednesday.

The 2021 European Drug Report says criminal groups also adapted to travel restrictions and border closures by relying less on human couriers and turning instead to shipping containers and commercial supply chains to smuggle illicit substances.

The report is produced annually by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction drawing data from the European Union’s 27 member countries, Turkey and Norway.

Its authors said that while strict stay-at-home orders in most countries disrupted street drug sales, the market moved to encrypted messaging and social media platforms for negotiating purchases and to home delivery services for distribution.

“This draws attention to whether a long-term impact of the pandemic could be the further digitalization of drug markets,” the EMCDDA report states..
There were 46 new drugs detected in 2020 alone, including new synthetic cannabinoids and opioids, the report said.

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said “the highly pure and potent substances” found in the surveyed countries were a cause of special concern.

Illegal drug usage in general, she warned, carries environmental, health and security risks for the EU.

The issue “corrupts the fabric of our society, fueling violence and risking the health and security of our citizens,” Johansson said in a statement.

The EMCDDA described the European drug market as “dynamic and adaptive,” as well as “resilient to COVID-19 restrictions,” with patterns of drug use “increasingly complex.”

The report raises specific concerns around the misuse of benzodiazepines, which are prescribed for treating anxiety but have been linked to poisonings and deaths from unauthorized use.

Amphetamine and methamphetamine production is on the rise, the report said. Cannabis availability did not decline during the pandemic, according to 2020 preliminary data, it said.

Although cannabis use remained stable at high levels, authorities across Europe seized a record 235 tons of cocaine in 2019, up from 195 tons the year before.


Al Arabiya crew caught in a Daesh ambush in Al-Hasakah

Updated 27 January 2022

Al Arabiya crew caught in a Daesh ambush in Al-Hasakah

  • “We have been caught in crossfire, Al Arabiya crew has been caught in crossfire after Daesh fighters moved in the vicinity of the prison.”

LONDON: The dramatic moment when an Al Arabiya TV crew was caught in a Daesh ambush on Thursday in the northwestern Syrian city of Al-Hasakah was captured live on air.

The channel broadcast the video of Daesh fighters firing on the news team, Kurdish, and US forces with footage showing members of the film crew taking refuge behind a car.

The news presenter is heard saying, “we have been caught in crossfire, Al Arabiya crew has been caught in crossfire after Daesh fighters moved in the vicinity of the prison.”

The incident came after Kurdish forces, backed by US-led anti-Daesh coalition forces, recaptured Ghwayran prison in Al-Hasakah after six days of fighting sparked by a Daesh attempt to free jailed fighters.

Al Arabiya footage shows Kurdish forces engage in a fierce gun battle with Daesh fighters in Al-Hasakah. (Al Arabiya)

The jail held about 3,500 Daesh prisoners when the initial attack was launched on Jan. 20 using explosive-laden vehicles driven by suicide bombers.

The prison break bid and the fighting that ensued immediately after resulted in the death of more than 200 people, including 124 Daesh militants, 50 Kurdish fighters, and seven civilians. More casualties were expected to be found as Kurdish forces gained access to all parts of the jail.

The heavy fighting saw Daesh fighters seize control of a north wing in the prison, using child inmates as human shields. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 850 children and minors were caught in crossfire when Kurdish forces stormed the jail.

Ghwayran prison is one of the largest facilities where the Kurdish administration holds Daesh detainees.


Bloomberg announces 2022 Gender-Equality Index, names WPP for 4th consecutive year

Updated 27 January 2022

Bloomberg announces 2022 Gender-Equality Index, names WPP for 4th consecutive year

  • GEI tracks the performance of public companies committed to advancing gender equality in the workplace

DUBAI: Multinational advertising and communication group WPP has been named in the 2022 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI) for the fourth consecutive year.

WPP CEO Mark Read said that the company is a “people business” and its “client work directly benefits from having diversity in our teams.”

He added: “We’re proud of our recognition in the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index, which reflects our continued investment in our people and culture, and our progress in driving greater gender balance throughout the company.”

Peter T. Grauer, chairman of Bloomberg, said: “We are proud to recognize WPP and the other 417 companies included in the 2022 GEI for their commitment to transparency and setting a new standard in gender-related data reporting.”

The Index tracks the performance of public companies committed to advancing gender equality in the workplace, and helps bring transparency to gender-related practices and policies at publicly-listed companies around the world, increasing the environmental, social, governance (ESG) data available to investors.

This year, Bloomberg lost a total of 418 companies representing a combined market capitalization of $16 trillion from across 45 territories.

A record number of companies disclosed their data for this year’s GEI by using the GEI Framework, marking a 20 percent increase year-over-year.

The GEI Framework scores companies across five pillars: Female leadership and talent pipeline, equal pay and gender pay parity, inclusive culture, anti-sexual harassment policies, and pro-women brand. Bloomberg also requests information from other expanded areas to support the broader goal of providing more robust ESG data to investors.

“Even though the threshold for inclusion in the GEI has risen, the member list continues to grow. This is a testament that more companies are working to improve upon their gender-related metrics, fostering more opportunity for diverse talent to succeed in their organizations,” said Grauer.


Iran state TV shows dissidents’ images after apparent hack

Updated 27 January 2022

Iran state TV shows dissidents’ images after apparent hack

  • The hack represented a major breach of Iranian state television
  • For several seconds, graphics flashed on screen showing the leaders of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq

DUBAI: Channels of Iran’s state television broadcast images Thursday showing the leaders of an exiled dissident group and a graphic demanding the country’s supreme leader be killed, an incident that state TV later described as a hack.
For several seconds, graphics flashed on screen showing the leaders of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and the name of a social media account, which claimed to be a group of hackers who broadcast the message honoring the dissidents.
The MEK, now largely based in Albania, did not immediately answer telephone calls seeking comment.
The hack represented a major breach of Iranian state television, long believed to controlled and operated by members of the Islamic Republic’s intelligence branches, particularly its hard-line Revolutionary Guard. Such an incident hasn’t happened for years.
Iran’s state TV acknowledged the breach as a “hack,” saying the case was “under investigation.”
A clip of the incident seen by the AP showed the faces of MEK leaders Massoud Rajavi and his wife, Maryam Rajavi, suddenly superimposed on the channel’s regular 3 p.m. news programming. A man’s voice chants, “Salute to Rajavi, death to (supreme leader) Khamenei.”
Then, a speech from Rajavi briefly plays over the images. He can be heard saying, “Today, we still honor the time that we declared death to the reactionary. We stood by it ...”
Massoud Rajavi hasn’t been seen publicly in nearly two decades and is presumed to have died. Maryam Rajavi now runs the MEK.
The MEK began as a socialist organization against the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It claimed and was suspected in a series of attacks against US officials in Iran in the 1970s, something the group now denies.
It supported the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but soon had a falling out with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and turned against the clerical regime. It carried out a series of assassinations and bombings targeting the young Islamic Republic.
The MEK later fled into Iraq and backed dictator Saddam Hussein during his bloody eight-year war against Iran in the 1980s. That saw many oppose the group in Iran, though to this day it claims to operate a network inside of the country.


Spotify removing Neil Young’s music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum

Updated 27 January 2022

Spotify removing Neil Young’s music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum

  • ‘Spotify has become the home of life threatening COVID misinformation. Lies being sold for money’

Neil Young’s music is being removed from Spotify’s streaming service after the singer-songwriter objected to his songs playing on the same platform that offers Joe Rogan’s podcast, the company and the musician said on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, Young had released a letter addressed to his manager and record label, Warner Music Group , demanding that Spotify no longer carry his music because he said Rogan spreads misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
On Wednesday, the “Heart of Gold” and “Rocking In the Free World” singer thanked his record label for “standing with me in my decision to pull all my music from Spotify,” and he encouraged other musicians to do the same.
“Spotify has become the home of life threatening COVID misinformation,” he said on his website. “Lies being sold for money.”
The Swedish company said it worked to balance “both safety for listeners and freedom for creators” and had removed more than 20,000 podcast episodes related COVID-19 in accordance with its “detailed content policies.”
“We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to welcome him back soon,” Spotify said in a statement.
Rogan, 54, is the host of “The Joe Rogan Experience,” the top-rated podcast on Spotify, which holds exclusive rights to the program.
He has stirred controversy with his views on the pandemic, government mandates and vaccines to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Earlier this month, 270 scientists and medical professionals signed a letter urging Spotify to take action against Rogan, accusing him of spreading falsehoods on the podcast.
Young, 76, said Spotify accounted for 60 percent of the streaming of his music to listeners around the world. The removal is “a huge loss for my record company to absorb,” he said.


Germany: Telegram becoming a ‘medium for radicalization’

Updated 26 January 2022

Germany: Telegram becoming a ‘medium for radicalization’

  • The app is being used to target politicians, scientists and doctors for their role in tackling the coronavirus pandemic
  • The task force would seek Telegram's cooperation but also take measures if it doesn't

BERLIN: A top German security official said Wednesday that his agency has created a task force to investigate individuals suspected of using Telegram to commit crimes.
This comes amid growing concerns that the messaging app is becoming a “medium for radicalization.”
Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office warned that the app is being used to target politicians, scientists and doctors for their role in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
“The coronavirus pandemic in particular has contributed to people becoming radicalized on Telegram, threatening others and even publishing calls to murder,” the agency’s chief, Holger Muench, said in a statement.
He said the task force would seek Telegram’s cooperation but also take measures if it doesn’t.
The German government has tried for years, with little success, to get Telegram to abide by the country’s rules on taking down illegal content.
The company behind the app, which claims to have hundreds of millions of users worldwide, is based in the United Arab Emirates.
Last month, German police carried out raids in Saxony after media reports that a group of people on Telegram had discussed plans to kill the state’s governor, Michael Kretschmer, and other members of the state government. The group’s members shared a rejection of vaccinations, the state and the government’s coronavirus policies.