US sanctions Iran-based foundation over Salman Rushdie bounty

Writer Salman Rushdie interviewed during Heartland Festival in Kvaerndrup, Denmark June 2, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 28 October 2022

US sanctions Iran-based foundation over Salman Rushdie bounty

  • Blinken said the United States is designating the group “for providing financial support for an act of terrorism”
  • British-American author lived in hiding for years after Iran’s first supreme leader ordered his killing

NEW YORK: The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on the Iran-based foundation that issued a multi-million-dollar bounty on the life of acclaimed “Satanic Verses” author Salman Rushdie, who was brutally attacked in August.
The sanctions are aimed at the “15 Khordad Foundation,” which the US Treasury Department says is affiliated with deceased Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who originally issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.
A statement from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States is designating the group “for providing financial support for an act of terrorism.”
The foundation “maintains a multi-million dollar bounty on Rushdie,” the Treasury Department said, adding that as recently as 2012 the organization increased the bounty to $3.3 million.
In August Rushdie, 75, was stabbed several times in the neck and abdomen before he was due to give a talk in the state of New York.
He was air-lifted to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery, and though his condition improved in subsequent weeks, his agent has said the writer lost sight in one eye.
The British-American author had lived in hiding for years after Iran’s first supreme leader ordered Rushdie’s killing for what he deemed the blasphemous nature of “The Satanic Verses.”
The main suspect, Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey with roots in Lebanon, was arrested immediately after the attack on Rushdie. He pleaded not guilty during a hearing in New York state in mid-August.
The attack sparked outrage in the West but was praised by extremists in Muslim countries like Iran and Pakistan.
“The infamous fatwa was intended to incite terrorism and violence, bring about the death of Rushdie and his associates, and intimidate others,” Blinken’s statement on Friday read. “The United States condemns such incitement and the attack on Rushdie in the strongest terms as a blatant assault on freedom of speech and an act of terrorism.”


Pope Francis to make historic visit to Mongolia in September

Updated 56 min 46 sec ago

Pope Francis to make historic visit to Mongolia in September

  • Pontiff will tour the vast nation from August 31 to September 4 at the invitation of the country’s president and church authorities

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will go to Mongolia in early September in the first visit by a pontiff to the Buddhist-majority Asian nation, the Vatican announced Saturday.
The 86-year-old pontiff will tour the vast nation, sandwiched between Russia and China, from August 31 to September 4 at the invitation of the country’s president and church authorities, the head of the Vatican’s press service Matteo Bruni said.
The announcement of the trip comes just two months after Francis was hospitalized for three nights with bronchitis, after which he returned to his busy schedule.
Mongolia has one of the world’s smallest Catholic communities, estimated at just 1,500 people among the more than three million residents.
But Francis has long championed trips to smaller or more far-flung nations.
Last August, he made a cardinal Italian missionary Giorgio Marengo, who as apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar is the most senior Catholic official in Mongolia.
China will likely loom large over the visit, given its close economic ties with Mongolia.
Francis led a years-long effort to build ties with Communist Beijing and in 2018 the Holy See reached a two-year agreement on the thorny issue of the appointment of bishops.
The accord was renewed for two years in October, against a backdrop of tensions over the place of the country’s estimated 10 million or so Catholics.
“Mongolia is a peripheral state for China,” said Antoine Maire, a Mongolia specialist at France’s Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique.
But he said he did not see the country playing a mediating role between the Vatican and Beijing, saying it was balanced between its two giant neighbors.
“They are caught in a vice between Russia and China” Maire told AFP, suggesting with the pope’s visit Mongolia allows them to “diversify their external relations.”
Mongolia has struggled with political instability since its first democratic constitution in 1992, when it emerged from the Soviet orbit.
It has been the subject of growing interest in recent years from the United States as part of a strategy to thwart the rise of China.
The Vatican established formal diplomatic relations with Mongolia in 1992.
Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has conducted 41 overseas trips and visited around 60 different countries.
Despite an increasing number of health issues, notably a knee problem that has required him to use a wheelchair for the past year, he continues to travel.
Earlier this year he visited the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, and Hungary, and has trips planned later this year to Portugal and to Marseille.
He has talked about potentially going to India in 2024, while other Asian visits in the past have included trips to Kazakhstan, Japan and South Korea.


US, Canadian navies stage rare joint mission through Taiwan Strait

Updated 03 June 2023

US, Canadian navies stage rare joint mission through Taiwan Strait

  • While US warships transit the strait around once a month, it is unusual for them to do so with those of other US allies

TAIPEI: A US and a Canadian warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Saturday, the US Navy said, in a rare joint mission in the sensitive waterway at a time of heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington over Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon and Canada’s HMCS Montreal conducted a “routine” transit of the strait “through waters where high-seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law.”
“Chung-Hoon and Montreal’s bilateral transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it said in a statement.
While US warships transit the strait around once a month, it is unusual for them to do so with those of other US allies.
The mission took place as the US and Chinese defense chiefs were attending a major regional security summit in Singapore.
At that event, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin rebuked China for refusing to hold military talks, leaving the superpowers deadlocked over Taiwan and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
There was no immediate response to the sailing from China’s military, which routinely denounces them as a US effort to stir up tensions.
The last such publicly revealed US-Canadian mission in the narrow strait took place in September.
China has been ramping up military and political pressure in an attempt to force Taiwan to accept Beijing’s sovereignty claims, which the government in Taipei strongly rejects.


US, Japan, South Korea aim to share North Korea missile warning data

Updated 03 June 2023

US, Japan, South Korea aim to share North Korea missile warning data

  • Pyongyang has doubled down on military development since diplomatic efforts collapsed in 2019

The United States, Japan and South Korea aim to share North Korean missile warning data before the end of 2023, the three countries said in a statement following a Saturday meeting of their defense chiefs in Singapore.

The three sides “recognized trilateral efforts to activate a data sharing mechanism to exchange real-time missile warning data before the end of the year in order to improve each country’s ability to detect and assess missiles launched” by North Korea, the statement said.

The announcement followed a failed North Korean attempt to launch a spy satellite on Wednesday, which crashed into the sea after a rocket failure.

South Korea’s military said it had managed to locate and salvage a portion of the suspected debris.

Seoul, Tokyo and Washington all slammed the launch, which they said violated a raft of UN resolutions barring Pyongyang from any tests using ballistic missile technology.

Pyongyang has doubled down on military development since diplomatic efforts collapsed in 2019, conducting a string of banned weapons tests, including test-firing multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last year declared his country an “irreversible” nuclear power and called for an “exponential” increase in weapons production, including tactical nuclear weapons.


India train crash kills over 280, hurts 900 in country’s deadliest rail accident in decades 

Updated 03 June 2023

India train crash kills over 280, hurts 900 in country’s deadliest rail accident in decades 

  • Around 12 coaches of one train derailed, hit by another passenger train coming from opposite direction, railway spokesperson says 
  • The accident led to a chaotic scene as rescuers climbed atop the wrecked trains to break open doors, windows to free survivors 

NEW DELHI: Rescuers waded through piles of debris and wreckage to pull out bodies and free people on Saturday after two passenger trains derailed in India, killing more than 280 people. Hundreds of others were trapped inside more than a dozen mangled rail cars overnight in one of the country’s deadliest train crashes in decades. 

The accident, which happened about 220 kilometers (137 miles) southwest of Kolkata on Friday night, led to a chaotic scene as rescuers climbed atop the wrecked trains to break open doors and windows using cutting torches to free survivors. 

About 900 people were injured in the accident in Balasore district in the eastern state of Odisha, said P.K. Jena, the state’s top administrative official. The cause was under investigation. 

More than 288 dead bodies were recovered overnight and into Saturday morning, Sudhanshu Sarangi, director of Odisha’s fire department, told The Associated Press. He said more than 800 injured passengers were taken to various hospitals with many in critical condition. 

Rescuers were cutting through the destroyed rail cars to find people who may still be trapped, but it is unlikely they would still be alive, Sarangi added. 

Ten to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell onto a nearby track, said Amitabh Sharma, a railroad ministry spokesperson. The debris was hit by another passenger train coming from the opposite direction, causing up to three coaches of the second train to also derail, he added. 

A third train carrying freight was also involved, the Press Trust of India reported, but there was no immediate confirmation of that from railroad authorities. PTI said some of the derailed passenger coaches hit cars from the freight train. 

The death toll rose steadily throughout the night as footage showed shattered carriages that had overturned completely. Scores of dead bodies, covered by white sheets, lay on the ground near the train tracks as locals and rescuers raced to help survivors. 

Teams of rescuers and police continued sifting through the ruins on Saturday morning as the search operation carried on, amid fears that the death toll is likely to rise further. Scores of people also showed up at a local hospital to donate blood. 

Officials said 1,200 rescuers worked with 115 ambulances, 50 buses and 45 mobile health units through the night at the accident site. Saturday was declared as a day of mourning in Odisha as the state’s chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, reached the district to meet injured passengers. 

Villagers said they rushed to the site to evacuate people after hearing a loud sound created by the train coaches going off the tracks. 

“The local people really went out on a limb to help us. They not only helped in pulling out people, but retrieved our luggage and got us water,” PTI cited Rupam Banerjee, a survivor, as saying. 

Passenger Vandana Kaleda said that inside the train during the derailment people were “falling on each other” as her coach shook violently and veered off the tracks. 

“As I stepped out of the washroom, suddenly the train tilted. I lost my balance. ... Everything went topsy turvy. People started falling on each other and I was shocked and could not understand what happened. My mind stopped working,” she said, adding she felt lucky to survive. 

Another survivor who did not give his name said he was sleeping when the impact woke him up. He said he saw other passengers with broken limbs and disfigured faces. 

The derailed Coromandel Express was traveling from Howrah in West Bengal state to Chennai, the capital of southern Tamil Nadu state, PTI said. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his thoughts were with the bereaved families. 

“May the injured recover soon,” tweeted Modi, who said he had spoken to the railway minister and that “all possible assistance” was being offered. 

Despite government efforts to improve rail safety, several hundred accidents occur every year on India’s railways, the largest train network under one management in the world. 

In August 1995, two trains collided near New Delhi, killing 358 people in one of the worst train accidents in India. 

In 2016, a passenger train slid off the tracks between the cities of Indore and Patna, killing 146 people. 

Most train accidents are blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment. 

More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India every day, traveling on 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) of track. 


India train crash kills over 280, injures 900 in country’s deadliest rail accident in decades

Updated 03 June 2023

India train crash kills over 280, injures 900 in country’s deadliest rail accident in decades

  • About 900 people were injured in the accident in Balasore district in the eastern state of Odisha
  • Ten to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell onto a nearby track

NEW DELHI: Rescuers waded through piles of debris and wreckage to pull out bodies and free people after two passenger trains derailed Friday night in India, killing more than 280 people and leaving hundreds of others trapped inside more than a dozen mangled rail cars, in one of the country’s deadliest train crashes in decades.

The accident, which happened about 220 kilometers southwest of Kolkata, led to a chaotic scene as rescuers climbed atop the wrecked trains to break open doors and windows using cutting torches to free survivors.

About 900 people were injured in the accident in Balasore district in the eastern state of Odisha, said P.K. Jena, the state’s top administrative official. The cause was under investigation.

Ten to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell onto a nearby track, said Amitabh Sharma, a railroad ministry spokesperson.

The debris was hit by another passenger train coming from the opposite direction, causing up to three coaches of the second train to also derail, Sharma said.

A third train carrying freight was also involved, the Press Trust of India reported, but there was no immediate confirmation from railroad authorities. PTI said some of the derailed passenger coaches hit cars from the freight train.

The death toll rose steadily throughout the night. As dawn approached on Saturday, Jena said that at least 233 people were dead. In the aftermath, scores of dead bodies lay on the ground near the train tracks covered by white sheets, as locals and rescuers raced to help survivors.

Television footage on Saturday morning showed teams of rescuers and police sifting through the ruins as the search operation carried on. Scores of people also showed up at a local hospital to donate blood.

Officials said 1,200 rescuers worked with 115 ambulances, 50 buses and 45 mobile health units through the night at the accident site. Saturday was declared as a day of mourning in the state.

Villagers said they rushed to the site to evacuate people after hearing a loud sound created by the train coaches going off the tracks.

“The local people really went out on a limb to help us. They not only helped in pulling out people, but retrieved our luggage and got us water,” PTI cited Rupam Banerjee, a survivor, as saying.

Passenger Vandana Kaleda said that inside the train during the derailment people were “falling on each other” as her coach shook violently and veered off the tracks.

“As I stepped out of the washroom, suddenly the train tilted. I lost my balance. ... Everything went topsy turvy. People started falling on each other and I was shocked and could not understand what happened. My mind stopped working,” she said, adding she felt lucky to survive.

Another survivor who did not give his name said he was sleeping when the impact woke him up. He said he saw other passengers with broken limbs and disfigured faces.

The derailed Coromandel Express was traveling from Howrah in West Bengal state to Chennai, the capital of southern Tamil Nadu state, PTI said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his thoughts were with the bereaved families.

“May the injured recover soon,” tweeted Modi, who said he had spoken to the railway minister and that “all possible assistance” was being offered.

Despite government efforts to improve rail safety, several hundred accidents occur every year on India’s railways, the largest train network under one management in the world.

In August 1995, two trains collided near New Delhi, killing 358 people in one of the worst train accidents in India in decades.

In 2016, a passenger train slid off the tracks between the cities of Indore and Patna, killing 146 people.

Most train accidents are blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment.

More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India every day, traveling on 64,000 kilometers of track.