Argentina seizes passports of grounded plane’s Iranian crew

The grounding of the Venezuelan Boeing 747 cargo plane reportedly came days before Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro visited Tehran on Saturday. (AFP)
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Updated 14 June 2022

Argentina seizes passports of grounded plane’s Iranian crew

  • Judge orders travel documents of five Iranian crew held for an additional 72 hours
  • Information had been received that some among the crew may be linked to companies with ties to the Guards

BUENOS AIRES: Five Iranian crew of a cargo plane grounded in Argentina since last week have had their passports temporarily seized pending a probe into possible links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, officials said Monday.
A judge on Monday ordered their travel documents held for an additional 72 hours after Security Minister Anibal Fernandez said information had been received from “foreign organizations” that some among the crew may be linked to companies with ties to the Guards.
The Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s ideological army, is on a US blacklist of foreign “terrorist organizations.”
A routine check found “things that were not logical,” Fernandez told Perfil radio on Monday.
“They had declared a crew that was smaller than the one that traveled,” he said, adding the matter was “still under investigation.”
He said the five Iranians were in a hotel.
Officials originally said their passports had been taken but would be returned if they left the country on a scheduled flight while investigations continued into the plane’s origins.
The Venezuelan Boeing 747 cargo plane reportedly carrying car parts first landed in Cordoba, Argentina on Monday last week, then tried to travel to neighboring Uruguay, but was denied entry and returned to Ezeiza outside Buenos Aires.
The crew also included 14 Venezuelans, who were free to go.
Neighboring Paraguay had warned of the aircraft’s presence in the area, Paraguayan interior minister Federico Gonzalez said.
“The other intelligence services in the region were alerted and, as a result, Argentina and other countries took action,” he said.
Iran said Monday that Argentina’s move was part of a “propaganda” campaign against Tehran amid tensions with Western countries over negotiations to revive a 2015 nuclear deal.
The grounding of the cargo plane came days before Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro visited Tehran on Saturday for the allies, both subject to US sanctions, to sign a 20-year cooperation pact.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters the grounding of the plane was part of efforts seeking to “cause a feeling of insecurity.”
“These recent weeks are filled with propaganda, are full of psychological operations, these wars of words that want to infiltrate the minds and composure of the people,” said Khatibzadeh.
“This news is one of those.”
The plane was sold by Iran’s Mahan Air to a Venezuelan company last year, he said.
Mahan Air is accused by the United States of links with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Monday’s court ruling to hold the crew’s passports came after a successful bid by the DAIA organization that represents Argentina’s Jewish community to be listed as a plaintiff in the investigation.
Interpol has arrest warrants out for former Iranian leaders suspected of involvement in an attack on a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people and injured hundreds.
It remains the deadliest terror attack in the country with South America’s largest Jewish population.
The grounding of the plane came as a resolution was adopted by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors to censure Iran.
Talks in Vienna, under way since April last year, aim to return the US to a nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that it left in 2018.
The deal had given Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program to guarantee that it could not develop a nuclear weapon — something Tehran has always denied wanting to do.
Iran said Monday that all measures it has taken to roll back on its commitments under the deal are “reversible.”


Greece seeks ways to recover migrant girl’s body from border

Updated 13 min 33 sec ago

Greece seeks ways to recover migrant girl’s body from border

  • Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi: We will move via the International Red Cross and Red Crescent so that the child’s body can be found on the Turkish islet
  • Greek police said that they had found 38 people — 22 men, nine women and seven children — inside Greek territory and away from the Evros river

THESSALONIKI, Greece: Greece says it will work with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent to seek the body of a child who a group of asylum-seekers said had died of a scorpion sting while they were stranded for days on the Greek-Turkish border.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said Tuesday that the islet on the Evros River — which runs along much of the land border — where the group said the young girl’s body was, was Turkish territory.
“We will move via the International Red Cross and Red Crescent so that the child’s body can be found on the Turkish islet and can come to be buried with dignity by her family,” Mitarachi said.
Greek police said on Monday they had found 38 people — 22 men, nine women and seven children — inside Greek territory, away from the river and about four kilometers (2.5 miles) south of where the group had been reported to be stranded. Mitarachi, who on Tuesday visited the migrant reception center where the group were taken in northeastern Greece, said the 35 Syrians and three Palestinians were in good health, and that one pregnant woman among them had been taken to hospital for precautionary reasons.
Greek authorities had come under withering criticism for days after aid organizations had said a group of people was stranded in increasingly precarious conditions on an islet in the Evros river, known as the Meric in Turkish. Greek police said last week that they had chased successive reports of migrants stranded on islets in the river but had found nobody. Greece had said the coordinates given to them placed the group in Turkey, not Greece.
Late Monday, Turkish authorities said a search mission had been launched following media and social media reports that 39 irregular migrants were trapped on an islet in the river.
The governor’s office for the border province of Edirne said nobody was found after a four-day search by Turkey’s emergency agency AFAD, and by border units in the area corresponding to coordinates given for the islet.
“A search activity was carried out and no immigrant or group of immigrants was found,” the statement said.
The head of the Greek Council for Refugees, Vassilis Papadopoulos, said his group first heard about the migrants in mid-July. He said about 50 people had allegedly crossed to the Greek side but were then forced back to Turkey. Migrants also told his organization that Turkish authorities allegedly returned them to one islet after another, until they ended up stuck on a Greek islet mid-river.
Speaking from northeastern Greece on Tuesday, Mitarachi said the group told Greek authorities they had entered Greek territory on Aug. 14 and hid for a day before sending their location details. He said the migrants told Greek authorities they had been taken to the river by Turkish authorities, who had forced them to attempt the crossing to Greece.
“Officially the Turkish authorities arrested these migrants within Turkey, they did not give them the right to apply for international protection, as Turkey is bound to do by international law,” Mitarachi said. “To the contrary, the Turkish gendarmerie brought them to the banks of the Evros and, with the threat of the use of violence, pressured them to come to Greece.”
Thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa try to cross into Greece from Turkey each year, hoping for a better life in Europe. Greece denies that it carries out pushbacks — summarily deporting those who reach its territory back to Turkey without allowing them to request asylum — both at sea and across the Evros River, despite persistent allegations from both rights organizations and migrants themselves. Pushbacks are illegal under international law.


Jill Biden tests positive for COVID-19, ‘mild’ symptoms

Updated 16 August 2022

Jill Biden tests positive for COVID-19, ‘mild’ symptoms

  • She has been prescribed the antiviral drug Paxlovid and will isolate at the vacation home for at least five days

KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina: First lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing “mild symptoms,” the White House announced Tuesday.
She had been vacationing with President Joe Biden in South Carolina when she began experiencing symptoms on Monday. She has been prescribed the antiviral drug Paxlovid and will isolate at the vacation home for at least five days.
Joe Biden tested negative for the virus on Tuesday morning, the White House said, but would be wearing a mask indoors for 10 days in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. He recovered from a rebound case of the virus on Aug.7.


Bus falls in gorge in Indian-administered Kashmir, kills six border policemen

Updated 16 August 2022

Bus falls in gorge in Indian-administered Kashmir, kills six border policemen

  • Police said 35 people survived the crash but some were badly injured
  • The bus was carrying members of the Indo Tibetan Border Police Force

SRINAGAR: A bus carrying personnel from India’s high-altitude border police rolled off a mountainous road and fell into a gorge in Indian-administered Kashmir on Tuesday, killing at least six officers, police said.

Kashmir police said on Twitter the injured were being flown to an army hospital in the Himalayan region’s main city of Srinagar, some 90 km (55 miles) from the accident site in Anantnag district.

A police officer told Reuters that 35 people survived the crash but some were badly injured.

The bus was carrying members of the Indo Tibetan Border Police Force, a federal force specializing in high-altitude operations, mainly on the Indo-China border.

Pictures from the site showed mangled remains of the bus by a fast-flowing river.


Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities

Updated 16 August 2022

Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities

  • Minister for higher education said they are adding five more religious subjects to the existing eight
  • Many conservative Afghan clerics in the hard-line Islamist Taliban are skeptical of modern education

KABUL: Afghan university students will have to attend more compulsory Islamic studies classes, education officials said Tuesday while giving little sign that secondary schools for girls would reopen.
Many conservative Afghan clerics in the hard-line Islamist Taliban, which swept back into power a year ago, are skeptical of modern education.
“We are adding five more religious subjects to the existing eight,” said Abdul Baqi Haqqani, minister for higher education, including Islamic history, politics and governance.
The number of compulsory religious classes will increase from one to three a week in government universities.
He told a news conference that the Taliban would not order any subjects to be dropped from the current curriculum.
However, some universities have altered studies on music and sculpture — highly sensitive issues under the Taliban’s harsh interpretation of sharia law — while an exodus of Afghanistan’s educated elite, including professors, has seen many subjects discontinued.
Officials have for months insisted that schools will reopen for girls, swaying between technical and financial issues as reasons for the continued closures.
Abdulkhaliq Sadiq, a senior official at the education ministry, on Tuesday said families in rural areas were still not convinced of the need to send girls to secondary school.
Under the Taliban’s last regime between 1996 and 2001, both primary and secondary schools for girls never reopened.
“We are trying to come up with a sound policy in coordination with our leaders... so that those in rural areas are also convinced,” he said.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women to comply with their austere vision of Islam — effectively squeezing them out of public life.
Although young women are still permitted to attend university, many have dropped out because of the cost or because their families are afraid for them to be out in public in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, without a secondary school certificate, teenage girls will not be able to sit future university entrance exams.
The international community has made the right to education a key condition for formally recognizing the Taliban government.
Despite being in power for a year, no country has so far recognized the government.


Father and son linked to murders of Muslims, including two Pakistanis, in New Mexico

Updated 16 August 2022

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims, including two Pakistanis, in New Mexico

  • Police charged Afghan Muhammad Syed with two  murders, linked four killings to personal grudges
  • Son Shaheen Syed was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico: Police believe the son of the prime suspect in the killings of four Muslim men may have played a role in the murders, which have shaken the Muslim community in New Mexico's largest city.

Cellphone data shows Shaheen Syed, 21, was in the same "general area" of Albuquerque as his father at the time of the Aug. 5 killing of 25-year-old trucking entrepreneur Naeem Hussain, according to a filing by federal prosecutors for a Monday detention hearing during which Syed was denied bail.

Syed's attorney John Anderson said the allegations were "exceedingly thin and speculative."

Police last week charged Shaheen Syed's father, Muhammad Syed, 51, with two of the murders and linked the four killings to personal grudges, possibly fueled by intra-Muslim sectarian hatred. Shaheen Syed was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address.

"Law enforcement officers also have recently discovered evidence that appears to tie the defendant, Shaheen Syed, to these killings," the filing said.

Agents believe Shaheen Syed observed Naeem Hussain leaving an Aug. 5 funeral service for two of the murdered Muslim men, based on FBI analysis of cell tower data. He then followed Hussain to the area of a parking lot where he was shot dead.

"Telephone calls between Muhammad Atif Syed and the defendant (Shaheen Syed) would be consistent with quick surveillance calls, both before and after the shooting," the filing said.

Prosecutors did not provide evidence on the other shootings.

Imtiaz Hussain said he believed at least two people were involved in the Aug. 1 murder of his brother Muhammad Afzaal Hussain.

A pistol and rifle were used to shoot Afzaal Hussain, a city planning director, 15 times in around 15 to 20 seconds, according to police records and Imtiaz.

“For one suspect it is difficult to use two weapons in that short an interval,“ said Imtiaz Hussain.

The victims Naeem Hussain and Afzaal Hussain were not related.

Muhammad Syed, an Afghan refugee, has been charged with killing Afzaal Hussain, who was from Pakistan, and cafe manager Aftab Hussein, 41, who had ties to Afghanistan and Pakistan. A fourth man, supermarket owner Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, was shot dead on Nov. 7, 2021.

Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain and Ahmadi.