Social media ban lifted in Sri Lanka
Colombo : Issuing a media release the Department of Government Information notes that President Maithripala Sirisena has informed the Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka to lift the temporary ban that was imposed on social media platforms and messaging apps.
The temporary ban came into effect following last Sunday’s deadly Easter bombings.
In the press release the Director General of Government Information, Nalaka Kaluwewa calls on the general public to act with responsibility, now that the temporary ban on Social media has been lifted.
Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seen in new video for first time in five years
For the first time in five years, ISIS has released what it says is a new video message from its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In the video, a man purporting to be Baghdadi appeared to be wearing a casual outfit, sitting on the ground next to an assault rifle. He said the "battle for Baghouz is over," referencing the last town held by ISIS in eastern Syria.
Baghouz was liberated from the terror group in late March, marking the collapse of the group's so-called Caliphate. In the video, the man praised recent bombings in Sri Lanka, which killed more than 250 people and wounded at least 500 on April 21. He also referenced recent political events, including Benjamin Netanyahu's election victory in Israel, the resignation of Algeria's president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and the fall of Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir.
The video was published by ISIS media wing al-Furqan on Monday. If authentic, it would be the first time that Baghdadi has been seen since July 2014, when he spoke at the Great Mosque in Mosul. ISIS, also sometimes referred to as Daesh, has since released various audio messages that it claims are from Baghdadi -- most recently, one in August 2018 where the man on the recording admitted that ISIS groups were losing, as ISIS lost its grasp on territory in Syria.
A spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting ISIS told CNN that the US was working to gauge the authenticity of today's video.
"At this time, we are working to independently corroborate the validity of the video posted today reportedly showing Abu Bakr al Baghdadi," Col. Scott Rawlinson said.
Indonesia floods kill at least 19
JAKARTA : Indonesia — Indonesia’s disaster agency says floods and landslides from torrential rains have killed at least 19 people and displaced thousands in the past few days. The agency said Sunday that 17 people have died in Bengkulu province on Sumatra, adding to two deaths from flooding in parts of the capital Jakarta.
It said nine people are missing in Bengkulu and more than 12,000 have fled their inundated homes. The agency said distribution of aid has been hampered by power cuts, inaccessible roads and large distances between various disaster hit areas.
Sri Lanka serial blasts: Two bombers were sons of prominent business tycoon
Colombo [Sri Lanka]: Two of the nine suicide bombers involved in the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka were members of a prominent family in Colombo, sources have told CNN. The brothers, identified as Imsath Ahmed Ibrahim and Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim, were sons of spice merchant Mohamed Ibrahim.
Ibrahim, the founder of Colombo-based Ishana Exports, was among one of the dozen people detained in the wake of the attacks. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government late on Wednesday reimposed a curfew till Thursday morning in the wake of the devastating blasts which have caused multiple casualties in the island nation, a police spokesperson said.
The curfew was imposed from 10 p.m. local time (12.30 p.m. ET) on Wednesday until 4 a.m. Thursday morning, Eight explosions rattled various suburbs in the Sri Lankan cities of Colombo, Negombo, Kochchikade and Batticaloa as the Christian community celebrated Easter Sunday on April 21. Over 350 people have lost their lives until now, as more than 560 people have been injured. Out of the deceased, around 39 people have been identified as foreigners, reported CNN.
Sri Lanka serial blasts: One of nine bombers was a woman, says Sri Lanka’s deputy defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene
On Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s State Defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene told reporters that the culprits of the Easter attacks were well educated, belonged to the upper-middle-class families, and financially independent. “That was a worrying factor,” he added. Meanwhile, British security sources have identified another bomber as Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed, who is said to have been studied in the southeast of England from 2006 to 2007, and was a postgraduate student in Australia before returning to Sri Lanka.
In addition, Sri Lankan authorities claim that Shiral Lakthilaka, an adviser to the President, has been identified as one of the accused. Lakthilaka, who blew himself up at the Shangri-La hotel as Inshan Seelavan, has been described as the “mastermind” of the attacks. Amid intense criticisms raised over the Sri Lankan government for its inaction against curbing the massacre, President Maithripala Sirisena on Wednesday planned to change his Defence Minister and the Inspector General of Police over allegations of mishandling the prior warnings of the attacks.
Most of those killed and wounded were Sri Lankans, including 39 foreigners and 10 Indian. The others included British, American, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals. The United Nations Children’s Fund noted that there were 45 children among the dead.
Sri Lanka admits ‘major’ intelligence lapses; President asks Defence Secretary, top cop to resign
Colombo: Sri Lankan govt on Wednesday admitted “major” intelligence lapses led to the horrific Easter Sunday blasts and asked two top security officials to resign, even as the death toll in the coordinated attacks rose to 359 amidst a nationwide manhunt to nab the perpetrators. Nine Suicide bombers, believed to be members of local Islamist extremist group called National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and three luxury hotels.
President Maithripala Sirisena has asked Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara to quit after their failure to prevent the blasts despite having prior intelligence. Sirisena on Tuesday night pledged he will make changes in top positions in the security establishment within the next 24 hours, saying the people were questioning why action had not been taken by the top security officials despite the availability of intelligence support from a friendly neighbouring country.
Meanwhile, several people succumbed, taking the toll to 359. “The number of death now is 359,” police spokesman Ruwan Guansekera said. He said the search operations were being carried out and so far 60 people, all Sri Lankan nationals, have been arrested in connection with the attacks. Most arrested people have suspected links to the NTJ, the group blamed for the bombings. However, the NTJ has not claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks and identified the seven suicide bombers who carried out the devastating blasts. Guansekera said there were nine suicide bombers, including a woman involved in the bombings. “Eight of them have been identified,” he added. Top officials have acknowledged Sri Lanka received intelligence about possible terror strikes ahead of the attacks, but both President Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe have said they did not receive the information. State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene acknowledged there had been “major” lapses in the security arrangements.
“We (the govt) have to take the responsibility,” he said. “Some (the attackers), in earlier incidents, had been taken into custody (after) small skirmishes, but nothing of this magnitude,” Wijewardene told reporters. Wijewardena said the multiple bomb attacks were carried out by a splinter group of the NTJ. The group had differences and the final attack was carried out by a group that left the main NTJ, he added. Local and international media reported India and the US provided specific warnings about terror attacks to Lanka, ahead of the Easter Sunday bombings. However, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz said, “We had no prior knowledge of these attacks.”
Meanwhile, police said as many as 34 foreign nationals who lost their lives have been identified. Of them, 10 are from India, three from Denmark, one each from Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Bangladesh, Spain, two each from China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, six from the UK, two holding the US and the UK nationalities and two holding Australian and Sri Lankan nationalities, officials said. The mortal remains of nine out of 10 Indians have been sent to India, according to the Indian High Commission in Colombo. The police on Wednesday carried out a controlled explosion of a motorcycle parked under suspicious circumstances near a cinema hall in South Colombo.
At a Glance
The terror attacks at the Cinnamon Grand and Shangri La Hotels were carried out by two brothers.
The Cinnamon Grand Hotel bomber had booked himself into the hotel on the previous night. CCTV footages have shown his breakfast table where he was seen consuming pieces of fruit and taking a walk around the restaurant before exploding himself.
Their younger brother has also been nabbed. The house search had led to the discovery of extremist literature, a computer hard disk and SIM cards, thought to have been used to coordinate the blasts.
Police have already nabbed the accomplices of the bomber of the lodging house near the National Zoo at Dehiwela, a Colombo suburb.
The taxi driver who had taken him to the lodge was also arrested. Police suspected the bomber may have been targeting the nearby St Mary’s Church where a large gathering was present.
However, the presence of police at the church, who were there due to a previous break into the church by thieves, had prevented the bomber’s entry into the church, officials said.
Israel to name Golan Heights town after Donald Trump
Jerusalem: Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said he intends to name a new settlement in the Golan Heights after US President Donald Trump to honour his recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau.Netanyahu, who is on a trip to the region with his family for the week-long Jewish Passover holiday, said on Tuesday there was a “need to express our appreciation” to the President, the BBC reported. “All Israelis were deeply moved when President Trump made his historic decision to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Two teens held after killing of Northern Irish journalist
London: Two teenage men have been arrested after the shooting dead of a journalist in Northern Ireland, police said Saturday. The 18 and 19-year-olds were arrested in Londonderry under anti-terror laws and taken to Belfast for questioning, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said. Journalist Lyra McKee was shot in the head late Thursday in Derry by, police believe, dissident republicans linked to the New IRA paramilitary group as they clashed with police on the Creggan estate in Northern Ireland’s second city.
Tributes to the 29-year-old were led by her partner, Sara Canning, who said McKee’s “amazing potential was snuffed out by this single barbaric act”. Detectives hunting the gunman had released footage of the unrest, hoping that the community would help trace her killers. Belfast-born McKee, 29, had posted an image from the riots, accompanied by the words “Derry tonight. Absolute madness”.
Yellow vest anger mixes with Notre Dame mourning
Paris: French yellow vest protesters marched a new Saturday to remind the government that rebuilding the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral isn’t the only problem the nation needs to solve. Security was extra-high in Paris as authorities braced for resurgent yellow vest anger, and Paris police said some 70 people were detained by mid-morning.
Multiple protest events are being held around Paris and other cities Saturday for the 23rd weekend of the yellow vest movement against wealth inequality and President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership. One group of about 200 people tried to march on the president’s Elysee Palace in central Paris, but riot police blocked them at the neo-classical Madeleine Church.
Another group gathered around the Finance Ministry in eastern Paris to demand lower taxes on workers and pensioners and higher taxes on the rich.
Yet another group is trying to demonstrate yellow vest mourning over the Notre Dame blaze while also keeping up pressure on Macron. The group wanted to march to Notre Dame itself, but were banned by police, who have set up a large security perimeter around the area. Many protesters were deeply saddened by the fire at a national monument. But at the same time they are angry at the USD 1 billion in Notre Dame donations that poured in from tycoons while their own demands remain largely unmet and they struggle to make ends meet.
Some 60,000 police officers were mobilised for Saturday’s protests across France as the interior minister warned of the risk of resurgent violence. The movement is largely peaceful but extremists have attacked treasured monuments, shops and banks and clashed with police. The heavy police presence meant subway stations and roads around Paris were closed Saturday, thwarting tourists who converged on the French capital for an exceptionally warm spring day.
Suicide blast rocks Kabul, 7 killed
Kabul: A suicide blast rocked Afghanistan’s capital Saturday during a gun battle with security forces, officials said, killing at least seven people a day after hopes for all-encompassing peace talks collapsed. At least eight people were wounded. Police chief Gen. Sayed Mohammad Roshandil said the bomber blew himself up outside the Telecommunications Ministry, clearing the way for four gunmen to enter the building and the heavily guarded government compound in central Kabul. Nasart Rahimi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said four civilians and three soldiers were killed during the attack. Eight civilians were wounded, he said.
Wahidullah Mayar, spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, said the wounded people were evacuated to hospitals, three of them women. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Both Taliban insurgents and the Islamic State group are ac tive in eastern Afghanistan and have previously claimed attacks in Kabul. The Taliban denied involvement. Rahimi said the security operation ended at the Ministry of Telecommunication “after all four attackers were shot and killed by Afghan security forces.”
The attack came a day after Afghan-to-Afghan peace talks in Qatar were cancelled. It would have marked the first time that Taliban and Kabul government officials sat together to negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan and a withdrawal of U.S. troops. Afghan president Ashraf Ghani strongly condemned the attack in a statement, saying the enemies of Afghanistan, by targetin g civil servants, are trying to create terror among the people.
Rahimi said security forces blocked all roads near the attack site and that forced shot and killed four additional suicide bombers before the attackers could reach their target of the nearby central post office. He said as many as 2,700 government employees and civilians were rescue d by security forces after being stuck in several government buildings including the central post office.
Pakistan PM Imran Khan reshuffles Cabinet amidst mounting criticism over government performance
Islamabad [Pakistan]: Announcing his first major cabinet reshuffle after taking office, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday brought in five new aides and changed the portfolios of four ministers, including that of Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who has now been assigned Science and Technology ministry.
Chaudhry will be replaced by Firdous Ashiq Awan, an erstwhile Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) stalwart who switched to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in May 2017. Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, former finance minister in the PPP government from 2010 to 2013, has been appointed Advisor Finance. He will replace Asad Umar, who resigned hours before the announcement of the reshuffle, saying Imran Khan offered him energy ministry but he did not want it.
Moreover, a loyalist of former President General Pervez Musharraf and ex-spymaster Brig Ijaz Ahmed Shah, whose appointment last month as Parliamentary Affairs minister came as a big surprise, has been chosen as federal interior minister. Notably, the portfolio was so far kept by Prime Minister Khan himself. Meanwhile, Minister of state for Interior, Shehryar Afridi, has now been named the Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron).
Ghulam Sarwar Khan, who was the petroleum minister, has been shifted to aviation ministry. Reportedly, Sarwar had threatened to quit the party if removed from the cabinet. Therefore he was shifted to Aviation portfolio which was until then held by Federal Minister for Privatisation Muhammad Mian Soomro. The reshuffle comes as the South Asian nation is going through a serious economic crisis. Despite owing around USD 10 billion to Beijing and Riyadh, Islamabad is seeking another bailout package of USD 8 to 10 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).