Indonesia sets up team to probe deadly football stampede

Players and officials from Arema Football Club gather to pray on the pitch for victims of the stampede at Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang, East Java on October 3, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 04 October 2022
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Indonesia sets up team to probe deadly football stampede

  • At least 125 people were killed in stampede after weekend match
  • Human rights commission questions use of tear gas to control crowd

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government has set up an independent team to investigate the deadly crush at a football stadium that killed at least 125 people over the weekend, the country’s chief security minister said on Monday.

The stampede in Malang, East Java, on Saturday occurred after frustrated fans from the losing home team, Arema football club, ran onto the pitch at the end of the match. Authorities said anarchy ensued, prompting officers to fire tear gas in an attempt to control the crowd.

Footage circulated on social media showed scuffling between football fans and officers in riot gear, while others rushed toward an exit gate and scaled a fence to flee the clouds of tear gas.

Indonesia’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD, announced on Monday the formation of a 13-member independent fact-finding team to probe the disaster.

“The team will work within two weeks to one month at the latest, and the result of the team’s investigation and its recommendations will be handed over to the president,” Mahfud told a news conference.

Mahfud will lead the team that also includes Sports Minister Zainudin Amali, journalist Anton Sanjoyo from news daily Kompas, sports expert Akmal Marhali, and former commissioner of the Indonesia Anti-Corruption Commission Laode M. Syarif.

President Joko Widodo also instructed the Indonesian police and army to launch an internal probe into their officers’ conduct in Malang, Mahfud added, with legal actions expected against those who had “acted excessively and beyond their authority.”

The Football Association of Indonesia has suspended all games in the Indonesian top league BRI Liga 1 until the investigation has been completed.

Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights, known as Komnas HAM, has also launched its own probe into the tragedy.

“To look into whatever happened in Kanjuruhan, including the use of tear gas, that’s our agenda in Malang,” Komnas HAM commissioner, Choirul Anam, told a press briefing. “This incident must not happen again.”

The Indonesian stadium disaster was one of the worst in the history of football and the deadliest in more than half a century. In 1964, 328 people were left dead after violence broke out at the Estadio Nacional in Lima, Peru.

More than 30 children, whose ages range from three to 17, were among the 125 Indonesian victims, according to a Reuters report quoting an official at the women’s empowerment and child protection ministry.

Arema FC president, Gilang Widya Pramana, apologized to the victims of the stampede on Monday, and said he was ready to take “full responsibility” for the disaster. “Lives are more precious than soccer,” he said at a news conference.

Mohamad Kusnaeni, an Indonesian sports expert, said the tragedy should serve as a uniting moment for the country’s football community.

“We should unite to improve all our shortcomings in organizing the national football competition,” he told Arab News.

Saturday’s incident cast a spotlight on Indonesia’s troubled football history, which in the past had involved violent rivalries. Previous incidents, however, have not been anywhere near as deadly. And with no visiting fans allowed in the stadium on the weekend, many Indonesians are questioning the security approach that day.

The world’s governing body of football, FIFA, has asked Indonesian football authorities for a report on the incident. According to its safety regulations, firearms or “crowd control gas” should not be used at matches.

With Indonesia set to host the FIFA Under-20 World Cup next year, Kusnaeni said the issue of tear gas use must be “seriously anticipated.”

“When it comes to the use of tear gas, it is regrettable that it occurred at a sports competition. Especially when it is strictly prohibited for football games,” he added.


Mali troops redeploy toward rebel stronghold: security officials

Updated 02 October 2023
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Mali troops redeploy toward rebel stronghold: security officials

  • Kidal lies more than 1,500 kilometers from the capital Bamako and hundreds of kilometers from the cities of Gao and Timbuktu

DAKAR: The Malian army began redeploying troops on Monday toward the northern rebel stronghold of Kidal, two security officials said, amid a resumption of hostilities in the region.

“As part of the reorganization of our arrangements in the north, we have begun the redeployment of our forces in the northeastern region of Kidal,” a Mali military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

A convoy left the northern city of Gao, which lies 300 kilometers southwest of Kidal, early Monday, the source added.

Another security official said the convoy was made up of 119 vehicles and was currently stopped on the road to the north of Gao.

National security chiefs made the deployment decision at a meeting late on Sunday, he added.

Kidal is a crossroads region in the north that is not under the control of the Malian state but of a coalition of predominantly Tuareg groups called the Coordination of Azawad Movements.

Since the end of August, the north of Mali has seen a resumption of hostilities by the CMA and an intensification of militant attacks against the army. The fact that Kidal is still controlled by the ex-rebels continues to pose a sovereignty issue and remains a source of irritation for Bamako, including for the junta. Junta leaders have made re-establishing state control across the whole country one of their main messages.

Kidal lies more than 1,500 kilometers from the capital Bamako and hundreds of kilometers from the cities of Gao and Timbuktu.

It is a crucial stopover between Mali and Algeria.

When an insurrection broke out in 2012, the region was one of the first in Mali to fall into the hands of the rebels.

It was taken over by the CMA in 2013 following military intervention by France, and has remained in their hands despite a 2014 attempt by the Malian army to regain control.

In 2015, the rebels signed the so-called Algiers peace agreement with pro-government armed groups and the state.

The 2012, insurrection paved the way for armed groups linked to Al-Qaeda to conquer most of the north, triggering France’s intervention and plunging the Sahel into war that has left thousands dead.

The Al-Qaeda-affiliated militant alliance now operates over large swathes of the north and center of Mali as well as on the outskirts of the capital Bamako.

In the northeast, groups affiliated to Daesh have extended their hold over almost all of the Menaka region.

The insurgency that erupted in northern Mali in 2012 spread to Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.

Following back-to-back coups in 2020 and 2021, the Malian junta pushed out France’s anti-rebel force in 2022.

Northern Mali has seen a series of attacks on the army in recent weeks which coincides with the ongoing withdrawal of the UN stabilization force MINUSMA.

MINUSMA has been handing over its camps to Malian authorities, but the separatists claim they should be returned to their control.

The UN mission has still to vacate its camp at Kidal and two other sites further north by the end of December.

Mali’s junta chief Col. Assimi Goita, speaking on the anniversary of the West African nation’s 1960 independence from France last month, pledged to retake control of the country from militant groups and rebels.


Ex-Nigerian oil minister faces bribery charges

Updated 02 October 2023
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Ex-Nigerian oil minister faces bribery charges

  • Diezani Alison-Madueke is the second high-profile Nigerian politician to face prosecution in Britain in recent years

LONDON: A former Nigerian oil minister appeared in court in London on Monday charged with receiving bribes in the form of cash, luxury goods, flights on private jets and the use of high-end properties in Britain in return for awarding oil contracts.

Diezani Alison-Madueke was Nigeria’s minister for petroleum resources between 2010 and 2015, during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Appearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, she spoke only to give her name, date of birth and address. She was not asked to formally enter a plea, although her lawyer Mark Bowen told the court she would be pleading not guilty.

She is the second high-profile Nigerian politician to face prosecution in Britain in recent years, following James Ibori, a former state governor who was convicted of fraud and money laundering in 2012 and received a 13-year jail sentence. Nigeria is Africa’s top oil producer but it suffers from systemic corruption in the political class which has hampered development and prevented its oil wealth from benefitting wider society.

Alison-Madueke was arrested in London in 2015, shortly after stepping down as minister, and was charged in August with six bribery offenses. She has spent the past eight years on police bail, living in St. John’s Wood, an expensive area of London.

The charges against her, read out in court, all related to events alleged to have taken place in London.

Prosecutor Andy Young said she was alleged to have accepted a wide range of advantages in cash and in kind from people who wanted to receive or continue to receive the award of oil contracts which he said were worth billions of dollars in total.

The advantages included a delivery of £100,000 ($121,620) in cash, the payment of private school fees for her son, and the use and refurbishment of several luxurious properties in London and in the English countryside.

They also included the use of a Range Rover car, payment of bills for chauffeur-driven cars, furniture, and purchases from the upmarket London department store Harrods and from Vincenzo Caffarella, which sells Italian decorative arts and antiques.


Pakistan launches anti-polio vaccine drive targeting 44m children

Updated 02 October 2023
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Pakistan launches anti-polio vaccine drive targeting 44m children

  • 350,000 health workers will be going door-to-door to administer vaccine drops to children amid security

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan launched its second nationwide anti-polio campaign of the year Monday in an effort to inoculate 44 million children under the age of 5 amid signs the country was close to eradicating the disease.

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul-Haq-Kakar launched the five-day vaccination campaign in the capital, Islamabad, and urged parents in a televised address to cooperate with the 350,000 health workers who are going door-to-door to administer vaccine drops to children.

The campaign was taking place under heavy security. The government deployed police and security forces to ensure the safety of the inoculation drive workers.

Vaccine providers and the police assigned to protect them have been attacked during past anti-polio campaigns, which militants falsely claimed were a Western conspiracy to sterilize children.

Pakistan has registered two new polio cases since January, a blow to the goal of eradicating a disease that affects the nervous system and can cause severe paralysis in children.

Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where polio continues to threaten the health and well-being of children.

Pakistan came close to eradicating polio in 2021, when only one case was reported, and last year reported about two dozen cases.

The cases so far this year were reported from northwestern Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, where the Taliban rulers last week launched a four-day polio vaccine drive targeted at children under 5. The health ministry said 11 million children were inoculated.

In 2022, only two polio cases were reported from Afghanistan, raising hopes for the eradication of disease. Five cases have been reported so far this year.

Before taking control of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban had barred UN-organized vaccination teams from doing door-to-door campaigns in parts of the country under their control. The group apparently was suspicious the team members could be spies for the previous government or the West.


France hijab ban ‘against Olympic spirit’ — Islamic sports body 

Updated 02 October 2023
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France hijab ban ‘against Olympic spirit’ — Islamic sports body 

  • ISSF said in its statement on Monday French ban could prevent some French Muslim athletes from competing
  • French sports minister said last month French government was opposed to any display of religious symbols during sports

A group of sports federations from Muslim-majority countries said on Monday that France’s move to bar its Olympic athletes from wearing the hijab would “send a message of exclusion.” 

The 57-member Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation (ISSF), based in the Saudi capital Riyadh, voiced “profound concern” over the French decision, which was taken in line with the country’s strict rules on secularism. 

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said last month the French government was opposed to any display of religious symbols during sporting events. 

“What does that mean? That means a ban on any type of proselytising. That means absolute neutrality in public services,” she told France 3 television. 

“The France team will not wear the headscarf.” 

The ISSF said in its statement on Monday that the hijab was “an aspect of many Muslim women’s identity and should be respected,” adding that the French ban could prevent some French Muslim athletes from competing. 

“The Olympics have historically celebrated diversity, unity and athletic excellence,” the statement said. 

“By implementing a hijab ban for their athletes, a host would send a message of exclusion, intolerance and discrimination that goes against the Olympic spirit.” 

The statement urged French authorities “to reconsider this ban” and called for “meaningful engagement with the Muslim sports community in France.” 

The ISSF was founded in 1985 to serve members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, based in the Saudi city of Jeddah, “in all aspects of sports activities,” according to its website. 

It has organized five editions of the Islamic Solidarity Games, most recently last year in Turkiye. 

The UN human rights office has not addressed France’s hijab ban for its athletes directly, but a spokeswoman said last week that “no-one should impose on a woman what she needs to wear or not wear.” 


Iraqi-born taxi bomber angry over asylum rejection, say UK police

A specialist in a white suit carries a fuel can and a funnel as he arrives to inspect the scene of a car blast.
Updated 02 October 2023
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Iraqi-born taxi bomber angry over asylum rejection, say UK police

  • A police investigation has concluded that there was no evidence that Al-Swealmeen held extremist views
  • He had previous convictions and had falsely claimed asylum as a Syrian refugee in the UK after arriving legally on a Jordanian passport

LONDON: An Iraqi-born man who detonated a bomb outside a UK hospital two years ago held a grievance against the British state for rejecting his asylum claim, police said Monday.
Emad Al-Swealmeen, 32, was killed when he set off the homemade device in a taxi outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital in northwest England in November 2021.
No one else died in the botched attack, with the taxi driver managing to escape with minor injuries.
The explosion occurred shortly before events to honor military war dead on Remembrance Sunday and was quickly declared a terrorist incident by police.
A police investigation has concluded that there was no evidence that Al-Swealmeen held extremist views.
“It seems most likely that Al-Swealmeen’s grievance against the British state for failing to accept his asylum claim compounded his mental ill health which in turn fed that grievance and ultimately a combination of those factors led him to undertake the attack,” the police report said.
Detective Superintendent Andy Meeks, of the counter-terrorism unit for England’s northwest, said it was believed Al-Swealmeen planned to detonate his bomb in the hospital, but that it likely exploded earlier than planned.
The explosion came a month after a British MP was stabbed to death as he met constituents in southeast England.
The two attacks prompted the government to raise the terror threat level from “substantial” to “severe” — the second-highest — meaning an attack was “highly likely.”
Al-Swealmeen had previous convictions and had falsely claimed asylum as a Syrian refugee in the UK after arriving legally on a Jordanian passport.
His asylum claims had been refused and counter-terrorism police have suggested that Al-Swealmeen may have converted to Christianity in the hope of strengthening his case to stay.