Indonesia minister stabbed by IS-linked pair

11 October 2019

Indonesia minister stabbed by IS-linked pair
Indonesian police and military carry Indonesia's Security Minister Wiranto (C) to a helicopter to be medevaced after he was stabbed in Pandeglang, Banten province, on October 10, 2019. Photo: Smmy/AFP

Two members of an Islamic State group-linked terror network stabbed Indonesia’s chief security minister Wiranto on Thursday, the intelligence head said, sending the powerful politician to emergency surgery for his wounds.

Television images showed security officers wrestling a man and woman to the ground in Pandeglang on Java island after the attack on Wiranto, who goes by one name, as he was exiting a vehicle.

The suspects were identified as 31-year-old Syahril Alamsyah and Fitri Andriana, 21 — a married couple, according to local media.

They were members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an extremist group responsible for deadly suicide bombings at churches in Indonesia’s second-biggest city Surabaya last year, State Intelligence Agency chief Budi Gunawan told reporters in Jakarta.

JAD is among dozens of radical groups that have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State (IS) group in Indonesia, which has long struggled with Islamist militancy.

Wiranto, 72 — who police have said was one of several targets in an earlier failed assassination plot — was rushed by helicopter to the capital, where he was treated for two knife wounds in his stomach.

A three-hour operation “went well”, Indonesian cabinet secretary Pramono Anung told reporters at Gatot Subroto army hospital. 

Anung said he had just seen Wiranto, whose “operation had finished and he entered the ICU.”

“It is being handled very well by the hospital,” he said in video posted by the news website.

President Joko Widodo earlier said Wiranto was “in surgery and I ask that all Indonesians pray that he gets well soon.”

“And I ask for everyone’s help in fighting radicalism and terrorism because we can only do it together,” he added.

The assassination attempt comes just over a week before Widodo kicks off a second term as leader of the Southeast Asian archipelago of some 260 million people, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation.

Three others — a local police chief and two aides — also suffered knife wounds in Thursday’s attack but authorities said they had non-life-threatening injuries.

– ‘Fought the police’ –

An eyewitness told an AFP reporter that the female attacker was dressed in garments that covered her body and face.

“When the car stopped, there were people circling around, protecting him,” he said.

“But a man got into the circle and stabbed Wiranto. The woman also tried to stab him. He was arrested and the woman fought the police.”

Last year, JAD staged a wave of suicide bombings by families — including young children — at churches in Surabaya, killing a dozen congregants.

Many past attacks by Indonesian militants have been against police and other state symbols.

Authorities routinely arrest suspected IS-loyal militants that they claim were planning bomb and other attacks.

“JAD members are targeting what they call Ansharut Thagut (tyranny) and that includes senior government officials,” said Muhammad Syauqillah, program director of the University of Indonesia’s Terrorism Study Center.

Wiranto, the retired chief of the armed forces and a failed presidential candidate, was appointed to his post in 2016 and oversees several departments, including the foreign affairs and defence ministries.

He has faced controversy over alleged human rights violations and allegations of crimes against humanity linked to Indonesia’s brutal occupation of East Timor.

In May, police said Wiranto and three other top officials were targeted in a failed assassination plot linked to deadly riots in Jakarta after Widodo’s re-election victory.

A group of six people — arrested before they could carry out the killings — planned to murder the officials and an election pollster in a bid to plunge the country into chaos, police said at the time.


Malaysia seeking $100 mn in fines in expanded…

10 October 2019

Malaysia seeking $100 mn in fines in expanded 1MDB probe: official
The 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) logo is seen on a billboard at the funds flagship Tun Razak Exchange under-development site in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: AFP

Malaysian authorities have imposed fines of around $100 million on 80 entities, intensifying their pursuit of people allegedly linked to the massive 1MDB corruption scandal, the anti-graft chief said.

The fines are linked to a wide-ranging probe into billions of dollars that were looted from state investment fund 1MDB between 2009 and 2014, and spent on everything from yachts to expensive artwork, in a fraud allegedly involving the former prime minister.

Claims that Najib Razak and his cronies pilfered massive sums from 1MDB contributed to the defeat of his long-ruling coalition in the election last year.

Latheefa Koya, chief of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, said the agency hoped to recover roughly 420 million ringgit ($100 million) from 80 individuals, companies and political parties — including Nazir Razak, the former premier’s younger brother.

Nazir was the chairman of CIMB Group Holdings, Malaysia’s second-largest bank and Southeast Asia’s fifth-largest lender. He quit the bank in December 2018.

The people and entities targeted are accused of receiving money pilfered from 1MDB via an account linked to Najib, Latheefa told reporters.

Former PM Najib was arrested last year after he lost power, and hit with dozens of charges related to the 1MDB scandal. He is currently facing two trials.

Latheefa said those targeted in the expanded probe have two weeks to pay the fines or face possible prosecution.
The US Department of Justice, which is seizing assets in America allegedly bought with looted 1MDB money, believes that $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund.


Philippine graft court hands family of former…

09 October 2019

Philippine graft court hands family of former dictator another win
(FILE) - Filipino Former First Lady Imelda Marcos speaks during an election campaign in the town of Batac, Ilocos Norte province, Philippines, 10 May 2019 (issued 02 July 2019). Photo: Bernie Sipin Dela Cruz/EPA

A Philippine court said Tuesday it has thrown out a decades-old civil case against the widow of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, dealing a fresh blow to a protracted effort to recover alleged ill-gotten wealth.

In ruling for Imelda Marcos, the special anti-graft court chastised government lawyers for their “unjustified” absence at court hearings and for submitting “mere photocopies” of documentary evidence that the judge rejected.

Filed shortly after Marcos fled to the US in exile following a bloodless 1986 “people power” revolt, the case sought to seize shares of stocks and real estate which it said were already worth millions of dollars at the time.

“The plaintiff… failed to prove by preponderance of evidence that the defendants by themselves, or in conspiracy with the defendants the Marcoses, obtained ill-gotten wealth,” said the September 25 court ruling made public only Tuesday.

“Of course Madam Imelda is elated,” said Robert Sison, lawyer for the now 90-year-old former first lady Imelda Marcos, one of the seven defendants.

Sison told AFP he expects the government to appeal the court verdict, adding his client is still facing more than a dozen similar cases.

Spokesmen for the Ombudsman, the special anti-graft prosecutor who filed the case, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

After Marcos was overthrown, the successor government accused his family of embezzling at least $10 billion from the national coffers during its 20-year rule and of using business cronies and secret foreign bank accounts to hide its assets.

Marcos’ heirs returned to the Philippines and made a spectacular political comeback after the patriarch died in exile in Hawaii in 1989.

His eldest daughter Imee won a Senate seat in May while the ex-president’s son, also named Ferdinand Marcos, narrowly lost the 2016 vice presidential election contest, a result he is contesting in court.

The family’s efforts to rehabilitate the Marcos patriarch’s image received a boost with the 2016 election as president of political ally Rodrigo Duterte, whose government has publicly floated the idea of winding down the hunt into the family’s wealth.

Despite public protests, Duterte allowed the Marcos remains to be interred at a National Heroes’ Cemetery in Manila seven months after he won the presidency.

In a rare legal setback last year, a court sentenced Imelda Marcos to at least six years in prison for each of the seven charges that the Marcoses funnelled roughly $200 million of embezzled funds through Swiss foundations decades ago.

However, she remains free on bail after filing an appeal with the Supreme Court.


Pollution app pulled in Vietnam after…

08 October 2019

Pollution app pulled in Vietnam after ʻcoordinated campaign’ of abuse
Motorcyclists wearing masks against pollution in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: AFP

A leading air quality monitoring app was removed from Vietnam’s Apple and Google stores after it said it was attacked in a “coordinated campaign” for posting pollution data from the country’s smog-choked capital.

AirVisual’s Facebook page was also taken down in Vietnam after a deluge of messages from users accusing the site of publishing unreliable data in a bid to sell its products.

Air quality levels in Hanoi reached “unhealthy” levels for several days last week, prompting the government to warn vulnerable groups to stay indoors or wear face masks outside.

The Swiss-based air monitoring firm AirVisual said Monday it was bombarded with negative comments online as part of a “coordinated campaign in Vietnam”.

“AirVisual has received abusive and threatening messages posted on Facebook and on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store,” the company said in a statement.

The company was hit with online abuse over the weekend from users accusing it of publishing fake data.

“AirVisual is a company selling expensive face masks and air purifiers, for sure they got a lot of money in Vietnam over the last week,” Facebook user Vu Khac Ngoc wrote in a post Sunday shared more than 7,400 times.

“Poor application, incorrect data. Does not differentiate between dust and fog,” Han Phung wrote in the Google Play store.

Online abuse in support of the government is common in Vietnam, with so-called “Red Flag” trolls frequently attacking activist pages and posting patriotic content on Facebook and YouTube.

AirVisual publishes air quality data around the world, often in places where no reliable official readings are available. It also sells air monitoring equipment, air purifiers and face masks.

Countries across Southeast Asia have seen a steady rise in air pollution in recent years thanks to the growth of carbon-heavy industries, vehicle emissions, agricultural burning and construction dust.

Vietnam’s government said last week that children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with respiratory problems should limit outdoor activities in Hanoi following several days of bad air.

The city’s air quality index (AQI) reached above 150 — unhealthy — for several days in a row, making it at certain points the most polluted city on AirVisual’s list of 90 major cities.


Top Bangladesh politician snared in anti-…

07 October 2019

Top Bangladesh politician snared in anti-corruption crackdown
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) escort ruling party leader Ismail Hossain Samrat following his arrest in Dhaka on October 6, 2019. Photo: AFP

A prominent Bangladesh ruling party politician with alleged links to the capital’s underworld was arrested on Sunday in a sweeping anti-graft drive championed by the prime minister, amid corruption accusations against her government.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last month launched the crackdown, saying it was necessary to prevent a repeat of the January 2007 coup by the powerful military, which said tackling corruption was one of its key goals.

The high-profile head of the Dhaka youth wing of Hasina’s Awami League party, Ismail Hossain Samrat, was arrested with one of his associates, Bangladesh’s elite security force said.

“Samrat was arrested over concrete charges,” the Rapid Action Battalion spokesman Mizanur Rahman Bhuiyan told AFP, but did not reveal what he was accused of.

“He has been linked with operating casinos in sports clubs in Dhaka,” a senior RAB officer told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Local media allege Samrat is an underworld kingpin who uses his political influence to run a network of illegal casinos and extortion rackets.

He is the most senior politician to be caught in the new graft dragnet, which has also nabbed 260 others — including at least three ruling party officials.

As part of the drive, security forces have also sealed off nearly a dozen illegal casinos in the capital.

Gambling is illegal in the conservative Muslim majority country, but gangsters are accused of introducing casino equipment such as gaming tables in some well-known sports clubs.

Immediately after his arrest, the youth wing of the ruling party expelled him for anti-social activities and breaching party discipline.

The government banned him from travel last month.

Last month, Hasina sacked two senior members of the powerful student wing of her party after they were accused of extorting large sums from a state-run university.

Since coming to power for the second time in 2009, Hasina has run the country with an iron fist, cracking down on opposition parties and jailing her main rival Khaleda Zia, who has led Bangladesh twice.

Her government has also tried and executed top Islamist leaders over war crimes.

But in recent months, opposition parties have accused Hasina’s administration and ruling party of unbridled corruption and of extorting money from government projects and laundering billions to offshore accounts.


Malaysia threatens ride-hailing firm Grab with $…

04 October 2019

Malaysia threatens ride-hailing firm Grab with $21 million fine
Cars move slowly during morning rush hour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo: EPA

Malaysia’s competition watchdog on Thursday threatened to hit Grab with a $21 million fine for practices that allegedly reduce competition, the latest problem for the ride-hailing giant.

Grab is the biggest ride-hailing firm in Southeast Asia, and has strengthened its hold on the market since buying US rival Uber’s operations in the region last year.

But the Singapore-headquartered firm has come under scrutiny from regulators in several countries due to concerns about its dominant position.

The Malaysia Competition Commission proposed fining Grab almost 87 million ringgits ($21 million) for preventing its drivers from providing advertising services for the company’s competitors.

This had the effect of “distorting competition” by creating barriers to Grab’s rivals, it said.

“It is important that barriers to entry for new players remain low, and for existing players to have the ability to grow and compete on merits to ensure that competition can remain healthy,” said Iskandar Ismail, the watchdog’s chief executive.

In addition, a daily penalty of 15,000 ringgit will be imposed should Grab fail to take action to address the competition concerns.

Grab has 30 days to respond to the watchdog, after which a final decision will be made.

The company said they had complied fully with competition laws and were “surprised” by the proposed fine.

“We believe that it is common practice for businesses to decide upon the availability and type of third-party advertising on their respective platforms,” a Grab statement said.

Last year, Singapore fined Grab and Uber $9.5 million for breaking competition rules when they merged.


Philippines’ Duterte reveals new health problem

07 October 2019

Philippines’ Duterte reveals new health problem
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte revealed he was suffering from an autoimmune illness during a visit to Russia (AFP Photo/Mikhail Klimentyev)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has disclosed that he suffers from an autoimmune disease that can potentially have serious complications, the latest condition for a leader whose health has been subject to speculation.

Duterte, 74, was the oldest person to be elected president of the country and questions about his health have swirled since taking office in 2016.

His occasional skipping of events and meetings, as well as him discussing his ailments, has only added to the speculation.

Duterte revealed the condition, myasthenia gravis, at an appearance before the Philippine community late Saturday during a visit to Russia.

“One of my eyes is smaller. It roams on its own,” he said, according to a transcript released Sunday by his office.

“That’s myasthenia gravis. It’s a nerve malfunction. I got it from my grandfather,” he added.

The condition causes muscle weakness, and can result in drooping of eyelids, blurred vision as well as weakness in one’s extremities, according to the US National Institutes of Health.

The condition can generally be managed with treatment, but up to 20 percent of people who have the disease experience at least one “crisis” that requires them to use a ventilator to help breathe, the NIH said.

Duterte gave no indication as to whether he has had any serious incidents as a result of the disease.

His administration gives out very little information about his health and consistently says the president is in good shape.

Duterte himself, however, has discussed his ailments in his frequent, rambling speeches. In October 2018 he told an audience how he was awaiting the results of a cancer screening.

His comments sparked immediate concern and speculation, but days later he said the tests had come back negative.

Duterte has also said previously that he suffers from daily migraines and ailments including Buerger’s disease, an illness that affects the veins and the arteries of the limbs, and is usually due to smoking.

He has cited his ill health as the reason for skipping events during summits abroad.

The president, known for his deadly crackdown on drugs, also revealed in 2016 that he used to take fentanyl, a powerful painkiller, because of a spinal injury from motorcycle accidents.


Bangladesh troops accused of raping refugee girl

04 October 2019

Bangladesh troops accused of raping refugee girl
Around a million Rohingya in vast camps in Bangladesh face increasing hostility two years after fleeing a military offensive in Myanmar (AFP Photo/MUNIR UZ ZAMAN)

The Bangladesh military said Thursday it has ordered an investigation after a Rohingya family in a refugee camp accused army troops of raping a 12-year-old girl.

The inquiry comes as around a million Rohingya in vast camps in Bangladesh face increasing hostility two years after fleeing a military offensive in Myanmar.

Mohammad Osman, an elder brother of the alleged victim, said three soldiers entered their shanty at the Nayapara Rohingya camp on Sunday evening and sexually assaulted his sister.

“She was raped as one of them tightly held her mouth,” he told AFP by phone, referring to the border district where the refugee camps are located.

A spokesman of the Bangladesh Armed Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Abdullah ibn Zaid, said they were investigating.

“We have formed a probe committee to investigate the incident and find out the facts. If (they are) found guilty, exemplary punishment will be given,” ibn Zaid told AFP.

Doctor Shaheen Abdur Rahman said the girl was examined at the central hospital in Cox’s Bazar but he refused to comment on the findings due to court restrictions.

A spokesman of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said they were also investigating the incident.

“We are aware of the reports. In such cases, individuals are entitled to medical, physical and psychological support, as well as access to due process,” UNHCR spokesman Joseph Tripura said in a statement to AFP.

– Tensions –

Tensions have risen in recent weeks with an increasingly frustrated Bangladeshi government enacting several measures making life harder for the refugees.

These include blocking mobile internet, confiscating SIM cards and mobile phones and filing hundreds of cases for illegally obtaining citizenship cards.

UN experts have expressed “serious concerns” about the restrictions.

Last week Bangladesh’s home minister said that barbed-wire fencing, guard towers and cameras would be erected around the Rohingya camps, sparking criticism from rights groups.

Checkpoints set up on the main highways leading to the camps have stopped Rohingya and sent them back to the settlements when they try to travel to other parts of Bangladesh.

Hundreds of Rohingya found elsewhere in the South Asian nation have also been detained and returned to the camps.

Authorities say the internet ban was sparked by security fears after the Rohingya were blamed for the murder of a local politician and drug smuggling.

More than a dozen Rohingya — most accused of involvement in the murder of the politician — have been shot dead by security forces in recent weeks.

Officials also said on Thursday that 45 Rohingya have been charged with infiltration after they were detained illegally working in a ship-breaking yard.

Rights activists said this could be the first time Rohingya have been charged with infiltration — an offence that carries five years in jail.


Bangladesh to fence refugee camps in further…

27 September 2019

Bangladesh to fence refugee camps in further crackdown
(FILE) Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Bangladesh is set to erect barbed-wire fencing, guard towers and cameras around Rohingya camps, the home minister said Thursday citing security concerns, in a move critics said would turn the refugee settlements into prisons.

Dhaka has been growing frustrated with the Rohingya in Bangladesh — who number nearly a million — since the collapse of a recent repatriation attempt to encourage them to return home to Myanmar.

The stateless Muslim minority live in large camps in southeastern border towns, with the majority having fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown.

“There are three large camps. We’ll fence the three camps with barbed wires,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters Wednesday.

“Watch towers and CCTV cameras” would also be set up to monitor activity in the Cox’s Bazar district settlements, he added.

A rights activist, who asked to remain anonymous, condemned the move and said the fencing would “transform the camps into a big prison”.

Refugees are already forbidden to leave the squalid camps, although their sprawling nature means authorities have been unable to police the Rohingya’s movements.

Checkpoints set up on the main highways leading to the camps have stopped Rohingya and sent them back to the settlements when they try to travel to other parts of Bangladesh.

Hundreds of Rohingya found elsewhere in the South Asian nation have also been detained and returned to the camps.

Dhaka has been tightening the screws on the Rohingya amid rising impatience with their presence in the country, enacting several measures to restrict their activities in recent weeks.

These include blocking 3G and 4G mobile networks, confiscating SIM cards and mobile phones, and filing cases against hundreds of refugees for illegally obtaining citizenship cards.

Authorities say the internet ban was sparked by security fears after the Rohingya were blamed for murders and drug smuggling.

But the refugees fear they are being punished for refusing to move back to Rakhine unless their safety is guaranteed and they are given citizenship status in Myanmar.

UN experts have expressed “serious concerns” about the restrictions.


Strong 6.5 magnitude quake strikes eastern…

26 September 2019

Strong 6.5 magnitude quake strikes eastern Indonesia: USGS
People were panicking as they fled their homes. Photo: AFP

A strong 6.5-magnitude earthquake hit off the remote Maluku islands in eastern Indonesia Thursday, US seismologists said, but no tsunami warning was issued.

The quake struck about 37 kilometres (23 miles) northeast of Ambon in Maluku province at 8:46 am local time, at a depth of 29 kilometres, according to the US Geological Survey.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage in the area, which has been rocked by strong quakes in the past.

“I was asleep with my family when suddenly the house started to shake,” said an AFP reporter in Ambon.

“The quake was really strong. We ran from our house and saw the neighbours fleeing too. Everybody was panicking.”

Multiple aftershocks have rippled across the area, he added.

Initial reports said the quake struck offshore, but later analysis found it hit onshore, raising the potential for damage, according to Indonesia’s national disaster mitigation agency.

Local disaster agency head Oral Sem Wilar called for calm.

“People were panicking and started to evacuate in some places, but we are trying to tell them there’s no need to panic because there’s no tsunami threat,” he told AFP.

“We are still checking on damage and any casualties.”

Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide.

In August, five people died and several were injured after a powerful undersea earthquake rocked Indonesia’s heavily populated Java island.

Last year, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi island left more than 4,300 people dead or missing.

The force of the impact saw entire neighbourhoods levelled by liquefaction — a process where the ground starts behaving like a liquid and swallows up the earth like quicksand.

Nearly 60,000 people are still living in makeshift accommodation nearly a year after the double disaster, the Red Cross said this week.

On Boxing Day 2004, a devastating 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 throughout the region, including around 170,000 in Indonesia.