South Korea fires first submarine-launched ballistic missile

The submarine-launched ballistic missiles were fired from the newly commissioned Ahn Chang-ho. (South Korean Defense Ministry via AFP)
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Updated 15 September 2021

South Korea fires first submarine-launched ballistic missile

  • It is a strategic advance for Seoul, which has been strengthening its military capabilities
  • All other countries with proven SLBM capabilities have nuclear weapons of their own

SEOUL: South Korea successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile on Wednesday, becoming only the seventh country in the world with the advanced technology and raising the prospect of a regional arms race.
The test, supervised by President Moon Jae-in, came hours after nuclear-armed North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea, according to the South’s military, and as China’s foreign minister visited Seoul.
It is a strategic advance for the South, which has been strengthening its military capabilities as it seeks to counter the threat posed by the North, which is under international sanctions for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
“It’s extraordinary timing that you have not one but two Koreas testing ballistic missiles on the same day,” Yonsei University professor John Delury said.
“It does speak to the fact that there’s an arms race in this region that everyone needs to pay attention to.”
The South’s missile was fired underwater from its newly commissioned submarine Ahn Chang-ho, and flew the planned distance before hitting its target, the presidential Blue House said.
All other countries with proven SLBM capabilities have nuclear weapons of their own.
With the successful tests, South Korea now has “sufficient deterrence to respond to North Korea’s provocations at any time,” President Moon said, urging the South to continue increasing its weapons programs to “overwhelm North Korea’s asymmetric power.”
Earlier in the day the North fired “two short-range ballistic missiles” from South Pyongan province into the sea off its east coast, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
They flew about 800 kilometers at a maximum altitude of around 60km.


Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city

Updated 22 sec ago

Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city

PERM, Russia: Yuri Aydarov was about to start an algorithms class at his university in the central Russian city of Perm when he heard people running in the corridor.
Then he saw a gunman.
Aydarov, a lecturer at Perm State University, was one of the witnesses of a shooting spree in which an 18-year-old student killed six people and wounded nearly 30 on campus on Monday morning.
The attack — one of the worst in recent Russian history — has left the Urals city of around one million people reeling from shock.
Aydarov was able to protect his students by telling them to stay away from windows and forcing the auditorium doors shut with the help of a colleague.
He saw the black-clad shooter — identified as Timur Bekmansurov — walk by his auditorium through a window, saying he was wearing a “sort of helmet.”
“We stayed quiet,” Aydarov told AFP.
All 17 students and staff members who locked themselves in Aydarov’s auditorium survived.
Most of Bekmansurov’s victims — mostly aged between 18 and 25 — died in the corridor just outside.
After a day marred by chaos, staff and students at the university struggled to make sense of the violence.
Aydarov said that teachers from “around the world” who have survived similar ordeals have been reaching out to him on social media and it really “helps” him.
School shootings are relatively unusual in Russia due to tight security at education facilities and because it is difficult to buy firearms.
But the country has seen an increase in school attacks in recent years.
With lectures at the university canceled on Tuesday, students slowly emerged late from their dorms, traumatized by the mass shooting.
Holding back tears, they laid red carnations at a makeshift memorial at the gates of the university that they walk through every day.
Some recalled finding out there was an attacker in the building from social media, and not believing it before hearing shots.
Others were anxiously awaiting news from wounded classmates, with several of the most seriously injured airlifted some 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) west for further treatment in Moscow.
The deans of all of the city’s universities also laid flowers at the gates of the campus in a show of solidarity.
“We feel support from the whole of Russia and that really helps,” said politics lecturer Ksenia Punina.
The attacker lay in a hospital across town, heavily injured during his detention. He was reportedly on a ventilator and had his leg amputated.
In May, another teenage gunman killed nine people in a school in Kazan, which lies between Perm and Moscow.
“When this happened in Kazan, I thought this could never happen here in Perm, it’s always calm here,” said medicine student Maria Denisova.
In recent years, similar attacks also took place in Moscow-annexed Crimea and the far eastern city of Blagoveshchensk.
On the day of the Kazan attack, President Vladimir Putin called for a review of gun control laws.
But some in Perm said more should be done to prevent gun violence.
“If it’s so easy for a boy to get hold of (a gun), I think it should be stricter,” said 20-year-old Denisova.
The head of the chemistry department, Irina Moshevskaya, said violence was a “systemic problem in our society,” blaming it on popular online culture.
Just opposite the heavily guarded campus is a shop selling hunting guns. It was closed on the day after the attack.
Moshevskaya said that staff were able to lock students inside science labs, avoiding more deaths.
One chemistry lecturer “used her laptop bag to make sure her auditorium’s doors were tightly shut,” she said.
Some students complained that one lecturer had continued his class despite being told an active gunman was in the building.
On the other side of the city, dozens queued at a blood donation center, responding to calls on social media to help the victims.
Most people in Perm praised the quick response of everyone on the campus.
“From first-aid nurses to senior university staff, everyone rose to the occasion,” said engineering lecturer and former policeman Aleksei Repyakh.

French court lengthens jihadist’s sentence on appeal

Updated 34 min 5 sec ago

French court lengthens jihadist’s sentence on appeal

PARIS: A French appeal court on Tuesday increased an extremist’s sentence for his senior role with Daesh group in Syria from 30 years to life in prison.
Frenchman Tyler Vilus had already been convicted for his work with the Daesh group there between 2013 and 2015.
On appeal, the court also ordered that the 31-year-old serve a minimum of 22 years in jail.
He was deemed a “major risk” to re-offend and still denied some of the charges.
Vilus led the “Al-MuHajjireen” (the immigrants) brigade, a squadron that tortured and carried out summary executions.
He was deported to France after being arrested at an Istanbul airport with a Swiss passport in July 2015 en route to Europe to carry out an attack.
His mother, dubbed “Mama Jihad” in the French press, traveled three times to Syria in support of her son and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2017 for her “unfailing commitment” to jihad.
Among the charges, Vilus was found guilty of taking part in the public execution of two blindfolded prisoners, which was filmed for a propaganda video.
Vilus stood, head bowed, behind a glass screen to hear the verdict after an eight-day hearing under tight security in central Paris.

Wray: Afghanistan unrest could inspire extremism inside US

Updated 53 min 21 sec ago

Wray: Afghanistan unrest could inspire extremism inside US

  • FBI is confronting increasing threats from individuals motivated by racial and political grievances
  • The danger posed in Afghanistan by groups like al-Qaida and the Daesh is at the moment primarily a regional threat

WASHINGTON: The possibility of a 9/11-type attack has diminished over the last 20 years, but the Taliban victory in Afghanistan could embolden US-based extremists.
At the same time that the FBI is confronting increasing threats from individuals motivated by racial and political grievances, top national security officials warned Tuesday.
Christine Abizaid, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee that the terrorism threat to the country is less “acute” than it was two decades ago, and that the danger posed in Afghanistan by groups like Al-Qaeda and the Daesh is at the moment primarily a regional threat. And FBI Director Christopher Wray said that though extremist groups have never stopped plotting attacks against the US, the FBI is better positioned to stop them.
Even so, the officials said, the collapse of the Afghanistan government and the potential ascendancy of foreign terror groups there could inspire Westerners to commit acts of violence. That’s on top of a domestic terrorism caseload that Wray said has “exploded” since the spring of 2020 from about 1,000 investigations to around 2,700.
“We are concerned that, with developments in Afghanistan — among other things — that there will be more inspiration to the first bucket,” Wray said of the international terrorism threat. “So I think we anticipate, unfortunately, growth in both categories as we look ahead over the next couple of years.”
US officials say they’re monitoring the situation in Afghanistan following the speedy Taliban blitz, particularly with an eye on how Al-Qaeda or IS could rebuild to the point of being able to conduct an attack targeting the US
“I think it is fair to assess that the development of those groups’ external operations capability, we’ve got to monitor and assess whether that’s going to happen faster than we had predicted otherwise,” Abizaid said. “Afghanistan is a very dynamic environment right now.”
Officials also defended the vetting process they have in place to screen the backgrounds of Afghanistan refugees seeking entry into the US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the number of refugees denied entry has been minimal because “we have not found many people with derogatory information relative to those who qualify for admission to the United States by reason of their status.”
“The (screening) architecture that has been built over 20 years since 9/11 remains in place and has only strengthened,” he said. “We have a screening and vetting architecture. We have greater cooperation among the federal agencies in the counterterrorism, intelligence and law enforcement communities. We remain ever vigilant in that regard.”

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Qatar's ruler urges world leaders not to boycott Taliban

Updated 21 September 2021

Qatar's ruler urges world leaders not to boycott Taliban

  • The emir of Qatar says the international community must not to repeat the past mistakes in Afghanistan by imposing a 'political system from outside'
  • Sheikh Tamim says the world must continue to support Afghanistan and 'separate humanitarian aid from political differences'

DUBAI: The ruling emir of Qatar, whose nation has played a pivotal role in Afghanistan in the wake of the US withdrawal, urged world leaders gathered at the United Nations on Tuesday against turning their backs on the country's Taliban rulers.

Speaking from the podium of the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani stressed “the necessity of continuing dialogue with Taliban because boycott only leads to polarization and reactions, whereas dialogue could bring in positive results.”

His warning was directed at the many heads of state worried about engaging with the Taliban and recognizing their takeover of Afghanistan.

To date, no nation has yet formally recognized the Taliban’s ascension by force to power or its all-male Cabinet, which is stacked with senior figures who were previously detained in the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or are on a United Nations sanctions list. The group has said this exclusively Taliban-run Cabinet is only interim, offering hope that a future government could be more inclusive.

President Joe Biden, who also spoke earlier at the UN on Tuesday, said the end of American military operations in Afghanistan last month would be followed by "a new era of relentless diplomacy" with the rest of the world.

In that same spirit of diplomacy, Sheikh Tamim said Qatar agreed years ago to host the Taliban's political leadership in exile because “we were confident that war offers no solution and that there would be dialogue in the end.”

Qatar is a close US ally and hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East, but the tiny Gulf Arab state also has some sway with the Taliban. Because of its unique role, Qatar hosted direct US-Taliban talks around the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and helped facilitate evacuations from Kabul.

Now, countries like the US and Japan have relocated their diplomatic staff in Afghanistan to Qatar to continue diplomacy from there. Qatar is also assisting with the facilitation of needed humanitarian aid and with operations at Kabul airport.

Sheikh Tamim on Tuesday urged against repeating past mistakes in Afghanistan “to impose a political system from outside.”

“Regardless of intentions, efforts made and money invested, this experience in Afghanistan has collapsed after 20 years,” Sheikh Tamim said.

The 41-year-old leader said the international community must continue to support Afghanistan at this critical stage and “to separate humanitarian aid from political differences.” Afghanistan is among the world’s poorest countries and receives billions of dollars in foreign aid a year, though that could change with the US-backed government out of power and the Taliban now in charge.

Uzbekistan, another neighboring country to Afghanistan, has resumed the supply of oil and electricity to the war-torn country, according to President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

“It is impossible to isolate Afghanistan and leave it within the range of its problems,” he said in remarks at the UN on Tuesday. He called for a permanent UN Committee on Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, Pakistan’s foreign minister told reporters at UN headquarters that Taliban rulers should understand that if they want recognition and assistance in rebuilding the war-battered country “they have to be more sensitive and more receptive to international opinion and norms.” The top leadership of the Taliban for years has operated out of Pakistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan and is home to large numbers of Afghan refugees.

The Taliban say they want international recognition and have promised an open and inclusive system, one that would offer amnesty to all Afghans. They say it is the responsibility of the United Nations to recognize their government and for other countries to have diplomatic relations with them.

Despite their pledges of tolerance, there have been numerous troubling signs that the Taliban are restricting women’s rights and targeting activists and those they battled against as they settle into government after taking control of the capital of Kabul last month. During their previous rule of Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban had denied girls and women the right to education and barred them from public life.

Sheikh Tamim said it is up to the Afghan people to achieve a comprehensive political settlement and pave the way for stability. He touted Qatar's outsized role in assisting with the chaotic US-led evacuation of more than 100,000 Afghans and others from Kabul in August.

“This was our humanitarian duty,” he said.


UK minister sorry over Afghan interpreters’ data breach

Updated 21 September 2021

UK minister sorry over Afghan interpreters’ data breach

  • British media reports said the people whose email addresses were distributed included some individuals who are in hiding from the Taliban
  • “On behalf of the Ministry of Defense, I apologize," Defense Minister Ben Wallace told Parliament

LONDON: Britain’s defense minister apologized and his ministry suspended an official Tuesday after a “significant” data breach involving the email addresses of dozens of Afghan interpreters hoping to settle in the UK
A Defense Ministry email to more than 250 Afghans who are eligible for relocation and still remain in Afghanistan was mistakenly copied to all applicants Monday instead of blind copied. British media reports said the people whose email addresses were distributed included some individuals who are in hiding from the Taliban.
“It is an unacceptable level of service that has let down the thousands of members of the armed forces and veterans. On behalf of the Ministry of Defense, I apologize,” Defense Minister Ben Wallace told Parliament.
Investigations are taking place, and officials will help provide security advice to those affected, Wallace added. He told lawmakers that authorities believe there are 900 “credible cases” of Afghan resettlement currently being processed.
The opposition Labour Party welcomed Wallace’s apology but said actions matter more than words.
“These Afghan interpreters worked alongside our British forces and the Government rightly pledged to protect them,” lawmaker John Healey said. “Ministers must make good on those promises now.”
Defense Committee Chairman Tobias Ellwood, who like Wallace is a member of the governing Conservative Party, said: “The Taliban haven’t changed, they seek to exact revenge on anybody that worked for NATO. We must get these interpreters out or they’ll be hunted and killed.”
Britain’s government dispatched over 1,000 soldiers, diplomats and officials to Afghanistan in August to evacuate some 15,000 British nationals and Afghan allies after the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul.

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