Sri Lanka serial blasts: Two bombers were sons of prominent business tycoon


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


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


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


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


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


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


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).




Saturn’s moon Titan has deep methane lakes


Saturn’s moon Titan has deep methane lakes

Washington: Saturn’s largest moon Titan has small liquid lakes that run more than 100 metres deep, perched atop hills and filled with methane, scientists have found using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The findings are the first confirmation of just how deep some of Titan’s lakes are (more than 300 feet, or 100 meters) and of their composition.

They provide new information about the way liquid methane rains on, evaporates from and seeps into Titan – the only planetary body in our solar system other than Earth known to have stable liquid on its surface.Scientists have known that Titan’s hydrologic cycle works similarly to Earth’s – with one major difference. Instead of water evaporating from seas, forming clouds and rain, Titan does it all with methane and ethane.

We tend to think of these hydrocarbons as a gas on Earth, unless they’re pressurised in a tank. However, Titan is so cold that they behave as liquids, like gasoline at room temperature on our planet. Scientists have known that the much larger northern seas are filled with methane, but finding the smaller northern lakes filled mostly with methane was a surprise.

Previously, Cassini data measured Ontario Lacus, the only major lake in Titan’s southern hemisphere. There they found a roughly equal mix of methane and ethane. Ethane is slightly heavier than methane, with more carbon and hydrogen atoms in its makeup. “Every time we make discoveries on Titan, Titan becomes more and more mysterious,” said Marco Mastrogiuseppe, Cassini radar scientist at California Institute of Technology in the US. –PTI




Pakistan army says India should accept no surgical strike happened in 2016


Pakistan army says India should accept no surgical strike happened in 2016

Islamabad: Pakistan Army took a jibe at India on Thursday after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj acknowledged that no civilian or soldier was killed in the Balakot attack, saying New Delhi should also take back its claim about the shooting down of a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet and the 2016 surgical strike.

The statement by army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor came hours after Swaraj said that no Pakistani soldier or civilian died in the air strike on a terror camp at Balakot in Pakistan in February. “Hopefully, so will be about other false Indian claims i.e. surgical strike 2016, denial of shooting down of 2 IAF jets by PAF and claim about F16. Better late than never,” Ghafoor said in a tweet.

No Pakistani soldier or civilian died in Balakot air strike: Sushma Swaraj
Pakistan has denied that the Indian Air Force jets attacked terrorists in Balakot. In Ahmedabad, addressing BJP’s women workers, Swaraj said that the Indian military was given a “free hand” in the operation but was clearly told that no Pakistani civilian should be killed and also there be “not even a scratch” on the Pakistani army. “We told them (the international community) that our air strike was in self-defence…we had given a free hand to the Army but had also given two directions too – no civilian of Pakistan (Pakistan ka koi nagrik) should die. Pakistan’s Army should not be touched.

“Your target should is those terrorists of JeM which had taken responsibility for killing 40 persons in Pulwama,” she said. The IAF had struck a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror training camp in Pakistan on February 26, in response to the February 14 Pulwama attack in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed. Pakistan had categorically said that no F-16 fighter jets were used and denied that one of its planes had been downed by the IAF.

Tensions between India and Pakistan escalated after the Pulwama attack. India launched a counter-terror operation against a JeM training camp in Balakot. The next day, Pakistan Air Force retaliated and downed a MiG-21 in an aerial combat and captured its pilot, who was handed over to India on March 1.




Notre-Dame esplanade to get ‘ephemeral’ wooden cathedral


Notre-Dame esplanade to get ‘ephemeral’ wooden cathedral

Paris: Catholic worshippers feeling orphaned by the fire that ravaged part of Notre-Dame will be welcomed in an “ephemeral cathedral” of wood in front of the Paris monument until it reopens, Notre-Dame’s chief priest said Thursday.  Speaking to France’s CNews television channel Monsignor Patrick Chauvet said: “We mustn’t say ‘the cathedral is closed for five years and that’s it’.

To give the faithful somewhere to congregate next to Notre-Dame, he suggested: “Can I not build an ephemeral cathedral on the esplanade (in front of Notre-Dame)?” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo had backed the idea and agreed to give over part of the esplanade to the church for a wooden structure, he said.  Chauvet said the wooden “cathedral” would host priests who could address some of the millions of tourists who throng the original 850-year-old Gothic cathedral each year. On Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron said he aimed to rebuild Notre-Dame within five years.

The government said it would launch an international architecture contest to replace the burning steeple which came crashing down during Monday’s inferno, along with a large part of the roof.  Chauvet said the surrogate “cathedral” would be erected quickly, as soon as the esplanade reopens after work to secure the cathedral is completed.  The fire is believed to have been accidentally triggered by restoration work which was being carried out on the steeple.




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