60 dead, 145 injured in Moscow concert hall attack; Daesh claims responsibility

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Smoke rises above the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue following a reported shooting incident, outside Moscow, Russia, March 22, 2024. (Reuters)
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Ambulances and vehicles of Russian emergency services are parked outside the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue following a shooting incident, outside Moscow, Russia, March 22, 2024. (Reuters)
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Russia’s foreign ministry called the incident a “terrorist attack” that had to be condemned. (AFP)
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Russia’s foreign ministry called the incident a “terrorist attack” that had to be condemned. (AFP)
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Smoke rises above the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue following a reported shooting incident, on the outskirts of Moscow on Mar. 22, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 March 2024
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60 dead, 145 injured in Moscow concert hall attack; Daesh claims responsibility

  • Russian authorities said a hunt had been launched for the attackers
  • Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry issues condemnation of attack

MOSCOW: At least sixty people have been killed after gunmen stormed a concert hall near Moscow on Friday in one of the deadliest attacks on Russia in decades.

Gunmen opened fire at a rock concert leaving dead and wounded before a major fire spread through the theater, Moscow’s mayor and Russian news agencies reported.

Authorities said a hunt had been launched for the attackers and that a “terrorism” investigation had been launched.

Attackers dressed in camouflaged outfits entered the building, opened fire and threw a grenade or incendiary bomb, according to a journalist for the RIA Novosti news agency who was at the scene.

Russian authorities said 145 people were injured in the incident that took place in Crocus City Hall.

The attack has been widely condemned.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had been informed minutes after the assailants went into the large music venue which can accommodate 6,200 people.

“The president is constantly supplied by all relevant services with information about what is happening and the measures being taken,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

US intelligence confirmed a claim by Daesh that it was behind the attack, but a spokesman for investigators said that it was too early to make an assessment on who was behind the incident.

But a source close to the Russian probe told Arab News that investigators are inclined to exclude versions of Ukraine and Daesh involvement.

However, a number of leading Russian experts believe that the terrorist attack is the work of the Ukrainian special services. In their view, without the help of Western intelligence agencies, it is unlikely that Ukrainians would have been able to plan and carry out this attack.

The US presidency called the attack “terrible” but said there was no immediate indication of any link to the war in Ukraine.

A US intelligence official told The Associated Press that US intelligence agencies had learned Daesh’s branch in Afghanistan was planning an attack in Moscow and shared the information with Russian officials.

On March 7, the US Embassy in Moscow said it was “monitoring reports that extremists are planning to attack large gatherings” of people in the Russian capital, “including concerts”.

Putin denounced the Western warnings as an attempt to intimidate Russians. “All that resembles open blackmail and an attempt to frighten and destabilize our society,” he said earlier this week.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin confirmed there were deaths in what he called a “terrible tragedy” at the concert by Russian rock band Piknik.

“I offer my condolences to the families of the dead,” said Moscow’s mayor as a major security operation was launched around the theater and nearby shopping mall.

Sobyanin said he had canceled all public events in Moscow for the weekend.

Russia’s foreign ministry labeled the incident a “terrorist attack” that had to be condemned.

Fire quickly spread through the Crocus City Hall, north of the Russian capital, where the theater can hold several thousand people and has staged several concerts by top international artists, according to the reports.

Automatic gunfire was used on the audience, the RIA Novosti journalist reported.

“People who were in the hall were led on the ground to protect themselves from the shooting for 15 or 20 minutes,” the journalist was quoted as saying.

People started crawling out when it was safe, the journalist reported, adding that security forces were at the scene.

About 100 people escaped through the theater basement while others were sheltering on the the roof, the emergency services ministry said on its Telegram channel.

Telegram news channels Baza and Mash, which are close to security forces, showed video images of flames and black smoke pouring from the concert hall.

 

Other images showed two men walking through the hall with at least one person left on the ground near the entrance.

Spectators were also seen hiding behind seats or trying to escape.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said it had been a “terrorist attack.”

“The whole international community must condemn this odious crime,” she said on Telegram.

The Ministry of Education recommended that all educational institutions in the capital region announce unscheduled holidays in the coming days.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Friday condemning the attack.

TASS news agency said that SOBR and special police forces and the OMON anti-riot squad had been sent to the Crocus hall.
It added that all the members of the rock band had been evacuated safely.

Orthodox church leader Patriarch Kirill was “praying for peace for the souls of the dead,” said his spokesman Vladimir Legoyda.

— With input from Reuters, AP, AFP

 


UK uses Rwanda flights for Vietnam, East Timor deportations

Updated 58 min 21 sec ago
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UK uses Rwanda flights for Vietnam, East Timor deportations

  • Home Secretary Yvette Cooper: ‘Today’s flight shows the government is taking quick and decisive action to secure our borders and return those with no right to be here’
  • Cooper called the Rwanda scheme, intended to deter migrants making the Channel crossing in small boats from northern France, ‘the most shocking waste of taxpayers’ money’ she had seen

LONDON: Britain’s new Labour government on Thursday said it had deported 46 people to Vietnam and East Timor, after ditching the previous Conservative administration’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda.
Home Secretary Yvette Cooper this week said flights initially intended to fly undocumented migrants to the east African nation would instead be used to deport foreign criminals and immigration offenders.
The chartered return flight, which took off on Wednesday and arrived on Thursday, is the first ever to East Timor and the first to Vietnam since 2022, her department said.
“Today’s flight shows the government is taking quick and decisive action to secure our borders and return those with no right to be here,” added Cooper.
Labour, elected in a landslide election win this month, has scrapped the Tories’ Rwanda plan, which had been deemed illegal under international law by the UK Supreme Court.
Former prime minister Rishi Sunak had aimed for the first flights to take off this month, after legislating to designate the African nation a safe third country.
Cooper this week called the Rwanda scheme, intended to deter migrants making the Channel crossing in small boats from northern France, “the most shocking waste of taxpayers’ money” she had seen.
The Tories had spent £700 million ($900 million) on the scheme but only four migrants had relocated to Rwanda — and they went voluntarily.
She also told parliament Sunak’s government planned to spend more than £10 billion on the scheme in total.
Labour’s approach is to prioritize returns of failed asylum seekers to designated safe countries to ease a huge backlog in the claims system.
It also wants closer cooperation with European partners to “smash” the people-smuggling gangs behind the Channel crossings, which so far this year have seen nearly 16,000 people brought ashore.
Vietnamese nationals accounted for 20 percent of undocumented migrants intercepted making the journey between January and March this year, Oxford University’s Migration Observatory said.
In March this year, Sunak’s government launched a global social media campaign, aimed at Vietnam in particular, to deter people from using the route.
On Wednesday, a gang of British people-smugglers were jailed after trying to hide two Vietnamese migrants in a hidden compartment of their campervan as they traveled between France and the UK.
Eleven people have been convicted in the UK in connection with the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants who were found in the back of a lorry in 2019 after being smuggled from northern Europe.


Belgium searches 14 houses in terrorism probe, detains 7 for questioning

Updated 25 July 2024
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Belgium searches 14 houses in terrorism probe, detains 7 for questioning

  • The specific targets of the attack had not yet been determined
  • The house searches took place in the cities of Antwerp, Liege and Ghent, among others, and in the Brussels region

BRUSSELS: Belgian police have conducted 14 house searches in a terrorism investigation, the federal public prosecutor’s office said on Thursday, adding seven people were taken in for questioning.
“They are suspected, among other things, of preparing a terrorist attack. The specific targets of the attack had not yet been determined,” it said in a statement.
A judge will decide later if they are to be charged.
The house searches took place in the cities of Antwerp, Liege and Ghent, among others, and in the Brussels region.
The prosecutor’s office did not immediately comment on whether the plans had a link to the Paris Olympics, which commences on Friday.
The Paris anti-terrorism prosecutor did not respond when asked if it was involved in the investigation.
The perpetrators of the 2015 Paris attacks, in which 130 people were killed and 368 wounded, largely planned and coordinated them from Belgium, with several of the attackers being Belgian nationals or residents.
In 2016, bombings at Brussels airport killed 34 people and injured 340. Among those convicted for the attacks was Salah Abdeslam, who was also the main suspect in the Paris attacks trial.


Marcos blames climate change for deadly Manila floods

Updated 25 July 2024
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Marcos blames climate change for deadly Manila floods

  • At least 14 Filipinos were killed, over 1.1 million people affected by Typhoon Gaemi
  • Deadly storm spurred fresh calls for climate action in the Philippines

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Thursday that climate change was to blame for the severe floods that submerged the capital Manila, after heavy rains from Typhoon Gaemi triggered a deadly deluge and landslides.

Gaemi, known as Carina in the Philippines, did not make landfall in the country but has intensified seasonal monsoon rains, causing landslides and flooding over the past few days and forcing authorities to declare a state of calamity in the capital region that is home to roughly 15 million people.

At least 14 people were killed, and more than 1.1 million people were affected by Typhoon Gaemi in the Southeast Asian nation.

Marcos joined relief efforts on Thursday and handed out food parcels to those hardest hit by the floods in Manila.

“I wanted to see what the situation was. I was right; it’s very different reading a piece of paper than actually seeing what the people have to go through,” Marcos said.

“This is what the effects of climate change are.”

Philippine climate activists are now renewing their calls for action, citing the devastating effects of Typhoon Gaemi.

“Typhoon Carina highlights the extreme weather impact being experienced in the world, and especially in the Philippines. It just emphasizes that our country is at the forefront of the climate crisis,” Greenpeace Philippines campaigner Khevin Yu told Arab News.

“It is really important for the Philippines to demand climate justice. So, this has been echoed by President Marcos, but we are pushing him to do more.”

Activists demand that bills related to climate justice and accountability be passed. Yu said Filipinos must also be included in discussions and urged officials to move forward with energy transition plans.

Jashaf Shamir Lorenzo, head of policy development and research at BAN Toxics Philippines, said Typhoon Gaemi sent a “very clear” message.

“Climate targets that have long been ignored by developed countries are impacting our countries … and this will only get worse unless we call for accountability. We call for actions on the end of not only the Philippines, but these developed countries who are contributing a lot to climate change,” Lorenzo told Arab News.

“Extreme weather conditions have been becoming more common,” he said. “This is only going to get worse if we do not address all the fundamental issues that we have.”

The Philippines sees about 20 storms and typhoons every year, but the changing climate is making the storms more unpredictable and extreme.

In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded, left more than 6,000 people dead or missing and displaced millions in central Philippines, while in 2021, Super Typhoon Rai, known locally as Odette, killed over 200 people.


UN experts urge halt to violence against Ahmadis in Pakistan

Updated 25 July 2024
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UN experts urge halt to violence against Ahmadis in Pakistan

  • “We are alarmed by ongoing reports of violence and discrimination against the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan,” said the nine independent experts
  • The experts highlighted a number of specific incidents over recent months

GENEVA: United Nations experts on Thursday voiced grave concern at reports of surging discrimination and violence against Pakistan’s Ahmadi minority community, including extrajudicial killings and attacks on places of worship.
The Ahmadiyya sect, considered heretics by fundamentalist groups, has been persecuted for decades in Pakistan but threats and intimidation have risen in recent years.
“We are alarmed by ongoing reports of violence and discrimination against the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan,” said the nine independent experts, including the special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, on freedom of expression and on freedom of religion.
“Urgent measures are necessary to respond to these violent attacks and the broader atmosphere of hatred and discrimination which feeds it,” they said in a statement.
The experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but who do not speak on behalf of the United Nations, highlighted a number of specific incidents over recent months.
Those included the extrajudicial killing of two Ahmadis in Saad Ullah Pur on July 8 and the killing on March 4 of the president of the Ahmadiyya community in Bahawalpur district.
They also noted reports of an alarming number of attacks on Ahmadi places of worship and cemeteries since the beginning of the year, including some that had led to the serious injury of worshippers.
The statement also highlighted a number of alleged arbitrary arrests of Ahmadi worshippers over religious holiday periods “to obstruct their participation in their religious practices.”
Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, and their faith is identical to mainstream Islam in almost every way.
But their belief that the movement’s founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the “mahdi” or messiah has marked them as blasphemous unbelievers, particularly in Pakistan. There are around 500,000 Amadis in Pakistan according to their community leadership.
The constitution has branded them non-Muslims since 1974, and a 1984 law forbids them from claiming their faith as Islamic or openly practicing Islamic rituals.
“Ahmadis’ right to peacefully manifest their beliefs must be respected,” the experts insisted, warning that “judicial harassment serves to normalize violence against Ahmadis by non-State actors.”
They welcomed Pakistan National Assembly’s adoption last month of a resolution urging federal and provincial governments to ensure the safety and security of all Pakistani citizens including religious minorities.
But, they cautioned, “such good-faith efforts to counter discriminatory discourse will be ineffective unless they address its structural drivers, (including) blasphemy laws and discriminatory legal provisions.”


Sheep ‘buried alive’ in Greece amid disease cull: official

Updated 25 July 2024
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Sheep ‘buried alive’ in Greece amid disease cull: official

  • Officials since early July has been trying to contain an outbreak of sheep and goat plague
  • The disease known as Peste des Petits Ruminants, or PPR, is highly contagious to sheep and goats

ATEHNS: A senior veterinary official in Greece was replaced after it emerged that sheep had been “buried alive” in a disease control move, a regional governor said Thursday.
“We received a complaint concerning live animals in the burial process,” Dimitris Kouretas, governor of the central region of Thessaly, told reporters.
“This merits further investigation. For this reason I replaced the veterinary supervisor” responsible for the area of the incident, Kouretas said.
Officials since early July has been trying to contain an outbreak of sheep and goat plague near the central city of Trikala.
The disease known as Peste des Petits Ruminants, or PPR, is highly contagious to sheep and goats but does not affect humans. Meat and pasteurised milk are also safe to consume, officials said.
The Greek agriculture ministry has said it is the first time the disease has been detected in the country.
Over 2,400 sheep have been culled since the first case was detected on July 11 near the town of Kalabaka, according to the agriculture ministry.
Farmers and officials have said the disease was likely brought into the country by imported livestock.
“Non-stop checks are underway” by scores of vets, Agriculture Minister Kostas Tsiaras told Skai radio, adding that some had interrupted their summer holidays.
Tsiaras noted that Greek farmers had increased animal imports after local flocks were decimated in last year’s disastrous floods caused by Storm Daniel.
Tens of thousands of sheep perished at the time.
Non-EU imports “are mainly from Romania, Turkiye and Albania,” the minister said, adding that the animals’ origin would be investigated.
The governor’s office has temporarily shut down local abattoirs and farmers have been instructed to keep their flocks indoors.