Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is presumed dead after a plane crash outside Moscow

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This photograph posted on a Wagner linked Telegram channel @grey_zone on August 23, 2023, shows a burning plane wreckage near the village of Kuzhenkino, Tver region. A private plane crashed in Moscow's Tver region and Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was on the list of passengers, Russian agencies said on August 23, 2023. (AFP/Telegram/@Grey_Zone)
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A private plane crashed in Moscow’s Tver region killing all ten people on board, including Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian agencies said on August 23, 2023. (File/AFP)
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Updated 24 August 2023

Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is presumed dead after a plane crash outside Moscow

  • The jet, en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg, was carrying seven passengers and three crew
  • Prigozhin, 62, spearheaded a mutiny against Russia’s top army brass on June 23-24

TALLINN, Estonia: Mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who led a brief armed rebellion against the Russian military earlier this year, was presumed dead Wednesday after a plane crash north of Moscow that killed all 10 people on board.
Prigozhin was on the plane, according to Russia’s civil aviation agency, which cited the airline. The crash immediately raised suspicions since the fate of the founder of the Wagner private military company has been the subject of intense speculation ever since he mounted the mutiny.
At the time, President Vladimir Putin denounced the rebellion as “treason” and a “stab in the back” and vowed to avenge it. But the charges against Prigozhin were soon dropped. The Wagner chief, whose troops were some of the best fighting forces for Russia in Ukraine, was allowed to retreat to Belarus, while reportedly popping up in Russia from time to time.


The crash also comes after Russian media reported that a top general linked to Prigozhin was dismissed from his position as commander of the air force.

A plane carrying three crew members and seven passengers that was en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg went down almost 300 kilometers (185 miles) north of the capital, according to officials cited by Russia’s state news agency Tass.
Russia’s civilian aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, quickly reported that he was on the manifest and later said that, according to the airline, he was indeed on board.
Earlier, Vladimir Rogov, a Russia-appointed official in the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia region in Ukraine, said he talked to Wagner commanders who also confirmed that Prigozhin was aboard, as was Dmitry Utkin, whose call sign Wagner became the company’s name.
“I don’t know for a fact what happened but I’m not surprised,” US President Joe Biden said.

Keir Giles, a Russia expert with the international affairs think tank Chatham House, had urged caution about reports of Prigozhin’s death. He said “multiple individuals have changed their name to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, as part of his efforts to obfuscate his travels.”

Flight tracking data reviewed by The Associated Press showed a private jet that Prigozhin had used previously took off from Moscow on Wednesday evening and its transponder signal disappeared minutes later.
The signal stopped suddenly while the plane was at altitude and traveling at speed. In an image posted by a pro-Wagner social media account showing burning wreckage, a partial tail number matching a jet previously used by Prigozhin could be seen.
Videos shared by the pro-Wagner Telegram channel Grey Zone showed a plane dropping like a stone from a large cloud of smoke, twisting wildly as it fell. Such freefalls can occur when an aircraft sustains severe damage, and a frame-by-frame AP analysis of two videos was consistent with some sort of explosion mid-flight. The images appeared to show the plane was missing a wing.

ALSO READ: Wagner mercenary leader, Russian mutineer, ‘Putin’s chef’: The many sides of Yevgeny Prigozhin

Russia’s Investigative Committee opened an investigation into the crash on charges of violating air safety rules, as is typical when they open such probes. Interfax, citing emergency officials, reported early Thursday that all 10 bodies had been recovered at the site of the crash and the search operation had ended.
Even if confirmed, Prigozhin’s death is unlikely to have an effect on Russia’s war in Ukraine, where his forces fought some of the fiercest battles over the past 18 months.
His troops pulled back from front-line action after capturing Bakhmut, a city in the eastern Donetsk region, in late May. Bakhmut had been the subject of arguably the bloodiest battles in the entire war, with the Russian forces struggling to seize it for months.
After the rebellion, Russian officials said his fighters would only be able to return to Ukraine as part of the regular army.

Yevgeny Prigozhin and his mercenary Wagner Group soldiers post for a picture in the battlefield of Bakhmut, Ukraine, in May 2023, just days before they mounted a mutiny against the Kremlin. (AFP / file photo)

This week, Prigozhin posted his first recruitment video since the mutiny, saying that Wagner is conducting reconnaissance and search activities, and “making Russia even greater on all continents, and Africa even more free. ”
Also this week, Russian media reported, citing anonymous sources, that Gen. Sergei Surovikin was dismissed from his position of the commander of Russia’s air force. Surovikin, who at one point led Russia’s operation in Ukraine, hasn’t been seen in public since the mutiny, when he recorded a video address urging Prigozhin’s forces to pull back.
As news of the crash was breaking, Putin spoke at an event commemorating the Battle of Kursk, hailing the heroes of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, said on Telegram that “no matter what caused the plane crash, everyone will see it as an act of vengeance and retribution” by the Kremlin, and “the Kremlin wouldn’t really stand in the way of that.”
“From Putin’s point of view, as well as the security forces and the military — Prigozhin’s death must be a lesson to any potential followers,” Stanovaya said in a Telegram post. According to her, after the mutiny, Prigozhin “stopped being the authorities’ partner and could not, under any circumstances, get that status back.”
“He also wasn’t forgiven,” Stanovaya wrote. “Prigozhin was needed for some time after the mutiny to painlessly complete the dismantling of Wagner in Russia.” But overall, “alive, happy, full-of-strength and full-of-ideas Prigozhin was, definitely, a walking source of threats for the authorities, the embodiment of Putin’s political humiliation.”
Stanovaya doesn’t expect much public outcry over Prigozhin’s death. She said those who supported him will be “more scared than inspired to protest,” while others would see it as a “deserved outcome.”


American missing in Russian-controlled east Ukraine, say local police

Updated 3 sec ago

American missing in Russian-controlled east Ukraine, say local police

Bentley went missing on April 8
Mash cited his wife as saying he had gone to see if anyone needed help but had not returned

MOSCOW: Russell Bentley, an American who fought against Ukrainian forces, is missing in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, police there said on Friday, adding that a search was under way.
Bentley went missing on April 8, they said. The online news outlet Mash said he had disappeared after a district in the city of Donetsk was shelled by Ukrainian forces.
Mash cited his wife as saying he had gone to see if anyone needed help but had not returned. She was quoted as saying she had found his car with his baseball cap in it along with his smashed mobile phone and a pair of glasses.
Bentley, 64, is a self-declared supporter of Russian-backed forces in Ukraine.
He joined pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and used the military call-sign “Texas,” the Russian state news agency RIA reported.
It said Bentley had later swapped his gun for journalism and had worked with the Sputnik news agency, another state-owned entity, and obtained Russian citizenship.
In 2022, Rolling Stone magazine ran an interview with Bentley titled “The Bizarre Story of How a Hardcore Texas Leftist Became a Frontline Putin propagandist.”

Four teenagers detained in Germany over ‘Islamist attack’ plot

Updated 28 min 46 sec ago

Four teenagers detained in Germany over ‘Islamist attack’ plot

  • The trio, aged 15 to 16, had also “committed to carrying out a crime — murder and manslaughter,” Duesseldorf prosecutors added
  • Investigators did not provide further details on the alleged plot, saying the inquiry was still under way

BERLIN: Police have detained two girls and two boys — all teenagers — in western Germany on suspicion that they were planning an Islamist attack, prosecutors said on Friday.
Three arrested in North Rhine-Westphalia state are “strongly suspected of planning an Islamist-motivated terror attack and of having committed to carrying it out,” Duesseldorf prosecutors said in a statement.
The trio, aged 15 to 16, had also “committed to carrying out a crime — murder and manslaughter,” Duesseldorf prosecutors added.
Separately, prosecutors in Stuttgart said a 16-year-old suspect is in custody on “suspicion that he was preparing a serious crime endangering the state.”
Investigators did not provide further details on the alleged plot, saying the inquiry was still under way.
But Germany’s biggest-selling daily Bild reported that the four youths were allegedly planning to carry out Molotov cocktail and knife attacks in the name of the Daesh group.
Their targets are believed to have been Christians and police officers, according to the report, which said the suspects were also weighing whether to obtain firearms.
Germany has been on high alert for Islamist attacks since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October, with the country’s domestic intelligence chief warning that the risk of such assaults is “real and higher than it has been for a long time.”
The country is also particularly nervous about security breaches as it prepares to host the European football championships from mid-June to mid-July.
Police had already foiled a suspected plot earlier this year.
Investigators in January arrested three people over an alleged plan targeting the cathedral in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.
Bild reported that the suspects were Tajiks acting for Daesh-Khorasan, the same group believed to have been behind March’s deadly massacre in a Moscow concert hall.
“The danger from Islamist terrorism remains acute,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said at the time, describing the Khorasan offshoot as “currently the biggest Islamist threat in Germany.”
Islamist extremists have carried out several attacks in Germany in recent years, the deadliest being a truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016 that killed 12 people.
More recently, two Afghans linked to Daesh were arrested in Germany in March on suspicion of planning an attack around Sweden’s parliament in retaliation for Qur'an burnings.
In October, German prosecutors also charged two Syrian brothers for planning an attack inspired by Daesh on a church in Sweden.
In December 2022, a Syrian-born Islamist was jailed for 14 years for a knife attack on a train in Bavaria in which four people were injured.
The number of people considered Islamist extremists in Germany fell from 28,290 in 2021 to 27,480 in 2022, according to a report from the BfV federal domestic intelligence agency.
However, in presenting the report, Faeser said Islamist extremism “remains dangerous.”
Germany became a target for militant groups during its involvement in the coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, and its deployment in Afghanistan.

German lawsuit calls for end to Israeli arms sales

Updated 50 min 23 sec ago

German lawsuit calls for end to Israeli arms sales

  • Country is second-biggest weapons exporter to Tel Aviv after US
  • Rights groups representing Palestinian plaintiffs say Berlin violating humanitarian conventions

LONDON: A lawsuit filed in Germany is asking judges to demand an immediate end to arms sales to Israel by the national government, The Guardian reported on Friday.

The suit is a sign of growing pressure on Berlin’s ties with Israel amid rising discontent over Tel Aviv’s prosecution of its war in Gaza. Germany is the second-biggest arms exporter to Israel after the US.

The lawsuit is requesting judges to demand that the German government revoke all weapons licenses issued to Israel since Oct. 7 last year.

It was filed by four human rights groups, representing five Palestinian people in Gaza who say they are victims of collective punishment by Israel.

One of the lead litigants, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, said in a statement: “It is reasonable to believe that the German government is in violation of the arms trade treaty, the Geneva conventions and its obligations under the genocide convention — agreements that have been ratified by Germany.”

The center’s general secretary, Wolfgang Kaleck, said: “A basic prerequisite for a rules-based and human rights-oriented German foreign policy is respect for the law in its own decision making.

“Germany cannot remain true to its values if it exports weapons to a war where serious violations of international humanitarian law are apparent.”

One of the major transfers that could be impacted by the suit is the sale of 3,000 anti-tank weapons from Germany to Israel.

Some of the Palestinian plaintiffs have lost relatives in the war, as well as homes and jobs. “All five of my children were killed when Israel fired on the refugee camp where we were staying after fleeing from the north,” one said.

“Germany must stop sending weapons that fuel this war. No other mother should suffer such a terrible loss.”

The country, due to the Holocaust, has described “Israeli security” as “at the heart of its foreign policy.”

In response to the suit, the German government told the court it had received and approved of Israeli assurances that it had taken precautions in the use of German-sold weaponry.

Notre-Dame nears re-opening five years after fire

Updated 51 min 30 sec ago

Notre-Dame nears re-opening five years after fire

  • On the evening of April 15, 2019, the cathedral’s roof burst into flames
  • Macron, whose second and final term ends in 2027, wants the cathedral’s restoration to lift the nation’s mood — and his government’s approval ratings

PARIS: Five years after a devastating fire, the restoration of Notre-Dame cathedral is nearing completion as the world’s eyes turn to Paris for the Olympic Games.
On the evening of April 15, 2019, the cathedral’s roof burst into flames. Soon, it had engulfed the spire and almost toppled the main bell towers. Around the world, TV viewers watched with horror as the medieval building burned.
Macron, whose second and final term ends in 2027, wants the cathedral’s restoration to lift the nation’s mood — and his government’s approval ratings. “Only once in a century does one host Olympic and Paralympic Games, only once in a millennium does one rebuild a cathedral,” Macron said in his 2024 New Year speech.
It remains unclear what exactly caused the fire. French authorities have said an electrical fault or a burning cigarette may have been responsible.
“A firefighter told me ‘Sir, take a close look at the facade because if we don’t manage to put out that fire, it will all go to ruin’,” remembered Laurence Alsina, who owns a bookselling stand close to the cathedral on the banks of the River Seine.
The facade held, but the damage has needed five years of intense stabilization and restoration works.
The pride of those working on the project shines through.
“This is the construction work of a lifetime, because restoring an entire monument in all its three-dimensionality, that’s quite exceptional.” Emma Roux, an artisan working on the iconic stained glass windows said.
The re-opening is scheduled for December, and is currently running on schedule, according to the official leading the project.
“We are on time and on budget,” Philippe Jost said last month at a Senate hearing. Jost told lawmakers that the project had so far cost 550 million euros ($587 million), funded in part by massive donations, including from luxury sector billionaires Francois Henri Pinault and the Arnault family. So much money has been donated that there will even be funds left over for further investment in the building, he said.
“An additional 150 million euros should be made available and — provided the approval of our sponsors — it will be used to restore the cathedral and tackle problems that predate the fire, which mainly concern the exterior stonework,” Jost added. Jost, 63, a trained engineer who spent much of his career in the defense ministry, took over the job after his predecessor, General Jean-Louis Georgelin, died in a hiking accident in August 2023.

Pope Francis will travel to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore in longest trip of papacy

Updated 12 April 2024

Pope Francis will travel to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore in longest trip of papacy

  • Pope Francis’ health has become a source of increasing concern and speculation
  • Pontiff wants to return to his native Argentina, but no plans or dates have been announced

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will visit Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and Singapore in September, the Vatican announced Friday, confirming the longest trip of Francis’ papacy that is sure to test his health, stamina and mobility.
The Vatican confirmed the Sept. 2-13 visit, saying the 87-year-old pope would visit Jakarta, Indonesia; Port Moresby and Vanimo, Papua New Guinea; Dili, East Timor; and Singapore. Further details will be announced later.
Francis’ health has become a source of increasing concern and speculation, even though the pontiff is able to carry on with a rigorous schedule of meetings at the Vatican and even excursions to local parishes.
Francis, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, had to cancel a planned visit to Dubai late last year after he came down with a bad case of bronchitis. He suffered from respiratory problems all winter and had to curtail his participation in Holy Week events to save his energy for Easter.
Francis has also been using a wheelchair for nearly two years because of bad knee ligaments, and has said that traveling has become increasingly more difficult.
And yet at 11 days, the trip would be the longest of Francis’ papacy, outpacing by a few days some of his long trips to the Americas early on in his 11-year papacy. It will bring the Argentine Jesuit to the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, as well as the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, where the Catholic Church wields enormous influence.
In a statement announcing the visit, the Indonesian foreign ministry welcomed the visit and recalled that it had originally been scheduled for 2020 but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The visit of Pope Francis to Indonesia holds significant importance to the Indonesian people, not only for Catholics but also for all religious communities. The visit is also expected to strengthen the message of tolerance, unity and world peace,” the statement said.
Indonesia is home to roughly 242 million Muslims and 29 million Christians — 8.5 million of whom are Catholics — according to a 2022 report by the Religious Affairs Ministry.
East Timor, which today has a population of about 1.2 million people, is Southeast Asia’s only predominantly Christian nation with the exception of the Philippines. According to the 2015 census, 97.6 percent of East Timor’s population is Catholic.
The visit to East Timor will likely reignite attention over a clergy sex abuse scandal involving its revered independence hero and Nobel Peace Prize winner. The Vatican confirmed in 2022 that it had sanctioned Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo following allegations that he sexually abused boys there during the 1990s. Belo is believed to now be living in Portugal.
Francis will be the first pope to visit Papua New Guinea since St. John Paul II went there in 1984. The country, in a strategically important part of the South Pacific, has struggled with tribal violence and civil unrest.
John Paul also visited Singapore, in 1986. The country today is home to some 395,000 Catholics.
The Vatican has planned only one other papal trip this year — to Belgium to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s Catholic university. Francis has also said he wants to return to his native Argentina, but no plans or dates have been announced.