Multiple Bomb Hoaxes Flood Moscow

People stand outside the Basmanny Court following an evacuation due to the warning of a planted bomb in Moscow on February 6, 2020. Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP
People stand outside the Basmanny Court following an evacuation due to the warning of a planted bomb in Moscow on February 6, 2020. Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP

 

Moscovites are mystified by a flood of bomb hoaxes forcing the evacuation of courts, schools and malls while authorities appear unable to find the culprits even after months of disruption to public life.

The warnings of planted bombs, all of them false, have been sent to numerous Russian cities, but particularly targeted the capital, where around 16 million live and work, with up to 1,000 threats per day.

Since late November, more than 1.6 million people have been evacuated from buildings in Moscow, the Interfax news agency said citing sources.

Yet, both the authorities and Kremlin-controlled television channels stay mostly clear of the topic.

Yulia Olshanskaya, a local government official, said her daughter Maria’s school was evacuated “sometimes several times a day” throughout December.

“We can’t keep count of how many times it’s happened,” she said.

“Sometimes our lessons were cancelled or postponed on those days and they also evacuated people,” said 13-year-old Maria Olshanskaya.

Another Muscovite, Yulia Grebenchenko, said her daughter’s school has been evacuated 13 times since the start of December.

“Some parents even hired a dog handler to check the school more quickly because you never know how long the sniffer dog units will take,” said the office worker.

Cathedral, metro, swimming pools

The threats are always issued in the same way: a slew of emails are sent from encrypted providers to organisations and companies that according to the law must be inspected or evacuated.

No one has totted up the exact cost of the upheaval, but the financial damage from a similar wave of telephone bomb hoaxes in 2017 amounted to millions of dollars, Russian officials said.

A man jogs along a street in downtown Moscow on February 10, 2020. Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP
A man jogs along a street in downtown Moscow on February 10, 2020.
Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP

 

On a single day, February 5, 1,500 locations were affected including the central Church of Christ the Saviour, some 30 courts, 150 educational institutions, 232 metro stations, more than a dozen clinics, 75 swimming pools and about 50 shopping centres, an “informed source” told the Interfax news agency.

“I’ve just wasted several working hours,” said Sergei, an LGBT rights activist, as he waited for sniffer dogs to arrive at Moscow’s Basmanny district court on Thursday after everyone had been forced to leave.

The authorities have said almost nothing.

At the end of January, the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB, and state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor in terse statements announced that two encrypted email providers based abroad had been blocked after being used to send false threats.

They did not name suspects or give any leads or motive, nor did they issue any reassurance to the public despite the major disruption.

Social media and some media reports have yielded a few more clues.

The Telegram messenger account of Saint Petersburg courts has posted scans of messages referring to a shadowy blackmail scheme involving the Bitcoin virtual currency.

They include demands for the return of 120 bitcoins ($1.2 million at the current rate) that were allegedly stolen by Russian billionaire Konstantin Malofeyev using the now-defunct WEX cryptocurrency platform.

‘Completely powerless’

This ultra-conservative oligarch — targeted by Western sanctions and reportedly close to separatist forces in eastern Ukraine and the Russian security service — has denied any involvement.

Experts suggested that authorities are at an impasse, while Kremlin-controlled television largely ignores the bomb hoaxes.

“This incident shows the Russian state is completely powerless,” said Valery Shiryayev, a former KGB officer who writes on military matters for Novaya Gazeta independent newspaper.

“If they discussed this on national TV, people would have even less confidence in the authorities,” he told AFP.

Even Roskomnadzor admitted that blocking encrypted e-mails only has a limited effect since users can simply use a different provider or a VPN.

“It’s actually possible that technology is so complex today and offer criminals so many tools that even secret services with the best equipment can’t stop them,” said Shiryayev.

And he warned that the same tactic could be used elsewhere.

“Currently this weapon has only been used against Russia… but bear in mind that it could strike anyone.”

 

AFP

Five Malian Soldiers Killed By Roadside Bomb

A file photo of Malian soldier. AFP photo.

 

Five Malian soldiers were killed on Monday in roadside bomb attack in the volatile centre of the country, a government spokesperson said.

Malian forces were travelling in the region of Alatona in the centre of Mali Monday morning when their convoy hit the homemade bomb, destroying four vehicles.

“Reinforcements are already in place for the operation to neutralise the enemies,” the spokesperson Yaya Sangare said on Twitter.

Seven Children Among 14 Killed In Roadside Bomb In Burkina Faso

 

 

Seven children and four women were among 14 civilians, killed when a roadside bomb blew up their bus in northwestern Burkina Faso, the government said.

“The provisional toll is 14 dead,” a statement said, adding that 19 more people were hurt, three of them seriously in Saturday’s blast.

The explosion happened in Sourou province near the Mali border as students returned to school after the Christmas holidays, a security source said.

“The vehicle hit a homemade bomb on the Toeni-Tougan road,” the source told AFP.

“The government strongly condemns this cowardly and barbaric act,” the statement said.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack but jihadist violence in Burkina Faso has been blamed on combatants linked to both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State groups.

Meanwhile, the army reported an assault against gendarmes at Inata in the north on Friday, saying “a dozen terrorists were neutralised”.

The deaths came the week after 35 people, most of them women, died in an attack on the northern city of Arbinda and seven Burkinabe troops were killed in a raid on their army base nearby.

Burkina Faso, bordering Mali and Niger, has seen frequent jihadist attacks which have left hundreds of people dead since the start of 2015 when Islamist extremist violence began to spread across the Sahel region.

In a televised address on Tuesday President Roch Marc Christian Kabore insisted that “victory” against “terrorism” was assured.

The entire Sahel region is fighting a jihadist insurgency with help from Western countries but has not managed to stem the bloodshed.

Five Sahel states — Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad — have joined forces to combat terrorism in the fragile region that lies between the Sahara and the Atlantic.

Increasingly deadly Islamist attacks in Burkina have killed more than 750 people since 2015, according to an AFP count, and forced 560,000 people from their homes, UN figures show.

Four Rockets Target Base Housing US Personnel Near Iraq Capital

In this file photo, Iraqi Shiite fighters from the Iran-backed armed group, Hezbollah brigades, burn a US and Israeli flags during a military parade marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) International Day in Baghdad. The US bombed the headquarters of the group in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said today, after a series of attacks in Iraq against American interests.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

 

Four rockets exploded Sunday night near a base housing US troops close to Iraq’s capital, a security official said, shortly after Washington carried out deadly airstrikes against a pro-Iran faction.

“Four Katyusha rockets exploded in the evening around the huge Taji Iraqi military base… which houses American soldiers, without causing casualties”, said the Iraqi official, who did not want to be named.

Unexploded World War II Bomb Discovered In Russia

FILES) This file photo taken on July 09, 2018 shows the Kremlin in Moscow. An unexploded World War II aviation bomb was found on the territory of the Kremlin in Moscow during construction works on August 15, 2019, Russian news agencies reported. Mladen ANTONOV / AFP

 

An unexploded World War II bomb was found in the grounds of the Kremlin in Moscow during construction works on Thursday, Russian news agencies reported. 

“As you know, between 1941 and 1942 the Kremlin was bombed,” Sergei Khlebnikov, the commandant of the Kremlin, told the Ria Novosti agency.

“During construction work, an aviation bomb was found,” he said.

The bomb was taken out of the Kremlin complex and will be liquidated, he said.

“All measures ensuring the Kremlin’s security have been completed,” he added.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman also assured the media that the bomb didn’t disrupt the Russian leader’s schedule.

The Kremlin is one of the oldest medieval fortresses in Europe, having served as the seat of tsars, Soviet leaders and now Russian presidents, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Nazi Germany’s 1941 invasion of the then Soviet Union led to brutal fighting and sieges of Russian cities.

The Kremlin was a primary target for Nazi bombers during the Battle for Moscow when Hitler launched air raids on the city.

The roof of one of its palaces was badly damaged during the raids.

AFP

Four Injured As Bombs Rattle Bangkok During ASEAN Summit

Four Injured As Bombs Rattle Bangkok During ASEAN Summit
Police are seen in a major tourist area in Bangkok on August 2, 2019, after several small bombs exploded across the capital. Mladen ANTONOV / AFP

 

 

Several small bombs exploded across Bangkok on Friday, rattling the Thai capital as it hosted a regional summit attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and leaving four people wounded but not disrupting the diplomatic event.

Thailand, which has a grim history of political violence, remains deeply divided after a controversial March election returned a junta to power as a civilian government.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who led the junta, blamed the bombs on “ill-intended people inciting violence” to “destroy peace and the country’s image”, while top Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) diplomats and their US and Chinese counterparts are in town.

READ ALSO: Trump To Hit China With $300bn Punitive Tariffs In Goods

Small devices — believed to be so-called “ping pong bombs” around the size of a table tennis ball — exploded at several locations across the city, none close to the summit venue.

Urging the public not to panic, Prayut said security had been tightened across the capital.

The blasts appeared to be symbolic attacks aimed at embarrassing the government during the major summit but not designed to cause mass casualties.

“Three people received slight injuries from shrapnel,” said Renu Suesattaya, director of Suanluang district where the first bombs were reported.

“I received a report that they are ‘ping pong bombs’ hidden in bushes by the road.”

An emergency service hotline later said a fourth person had been hospitalised.

Two further explosions shattered glass near a well-known downtown skyscraper, emergency police added.

Bomb disposal experts were deployed around the Mahanakorn Tower — owned by the King Power group that counts Leicester City football club among its assets.

– ‘Democratic fold’ –

The bombings took place just before a keynote speech by America’s top diplomat Pompeo, in which he praised Thailand for rejoining the “democratic fold” after five years of outright junta rule.

Thailand’s government urged the media to avoid speculation on the motive for the bombings.

“We do not know yet how many people are involved,” deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters.

The blasts come weeks after former junta leader Prayut was inaugurated as a civilian prime minister, sparking outcry among many pro-democracy supporters in a kingdom scored by divisions.

The junta manoeuvred itself back into power with the help of a fully appointed senate stacked with army loyalists and an electoral system its critics say was designed to limit the success of the pro-democracy parties.

A slew of court cases since then targeting an emergent anti-military group have rankled government critics, especially younger voters.

The older “Red Shirt” pro-democracy group has also reacted with outrage to the election but has so far remained off the streets with the army seemingly in an unassailable position.

Mass protests, coups, and short-lived governments have defined Thailand’s recent history, which is peppered with deadly bombings and shootings linked to politics, often by shadowy forces that are never held accountable for their crimes.

Thailand’s last hosting of ASEAN in 2009 was also overshadowed by unrest.

Then, “Red Shirt” protesters smashed their way into the summit venue in the resort city of Pattaya demanding elections.

Pandemonium ensued, with a number of leaders having to be rescued from a hotel roof by Thai army helicopters while others fled by boat.

Thailand is also fighting a long-running insurgency in its Muslim-majority southernmost provinces, which occasionally spreads outside the conflict area.

Paul Chambers, a political analyst at Naresuan University, said regardless of who the perpetrators are “they are trying to delegitimise, discredit and destabilise the Thailand summit and embarrass Thailand as hosts.”

AFP

15 Killed As Bomb Hits Restaurant In Somalia

 

At least 15 people died when a bomb exploded on a busy street and ripped into a nearby restaurant in Somalia’s capital on Thursday, medics said.

Security officials and witnesses reported bodies strewn on the ground as plumes of smoke rose high into the air after the bomb detonated on Mogadishu’s Maka Al-Mukarama road, one of the seaside capital’s main thoroughfares, an area busy with businesses and travellers.

It struck as people were eating lunch.

Abdulkadir Abdirahman Adan, director of the Aamin Ambulance service, said that 15 people had been killed, as well as several more wounded by the ferocious blast.

Witnesses described scenes of devastation.

“The car bomb struck a restaurant along the road,” said Abdulahi Osman, who was nearby to the explosion. “This really was a disaster.”

Vehicles were tossed into the air by the blast, which also damaged surrounding buildings. Witnesses said several cars and three-wheeler motorbikes were destroyed by the force of the explosion.

READ ALSO: Workers Jump To Their Deaths As Dhaka Office Block Fire Kills 19

“I saw 16 people carried from the blast scene — and more than 10 of them were already dead,” Osman added.

Ambulance workers rushed in to help take the wounded to hospital.

“I don’t know whether they were dead or wounded, but I could see several people strewn in the street — some of them were motionless,” said Suado Ahmed, another witness who was at the scene moments after the blast.

Teams of ambulance workers carried away those killed and wounded on stretchers, while volunteers also helped by using plastic sheeting to lift the bodies away.

The bombing is the latest in a recent string of blasts in Mogadishu, which has been hit regularly by Al- Shabaab attacks.

At least four people were killed earlier this week in three blasts, including car bombs and roadside explosions.

There was no immediate claim of responsiblity for Thursday’s bombing.

However, Mogadishu is a target of the Al-Qaeda affiliated Shabaab insurgents, who have been fighting for over a decade to topple the government.

Shabaab fighters fled fixed positions they once held in Mogadishu in 2011, and have since lost many of their strongholds.

But they retain control of large rural swathes of the country, and continue to wage a guerrilla war against the authorities.

On Saturday, Shabaab gunmen attacked a complex housing government ministries in Mogadishu, killing 11 people including the deputy labour minister.

The Shabaab continue to strike at the heart of Somalia’s government, despite years of foreign military support.

AFP

Grenade Attack In India’s Jammu Injures 18: Police

Indian flag

 

Eighteen people were injured on Thursday when a grenade exploded at a bus stop in the Indian city of Jammu, in the restive state of Jammu and Kashmir, police said.

The blast comes amid heightened tension between India and Pakistan after 40 Indian troops were killed on February 14 in the part of Kashmir that New Delhi controls, sparking the biggest standoff between the countries in years.

“It seems that the grenade was lobbed from outside (the premises) and it rolled under the bus and caused injuries to approximately 18 people,” police official MK Sinha told journalists.

“A grenade was hurled by an unidentified person which exploded under a bus in the main terminal. Four people are critical,” a second police officer told AFP.

“The bus was about to leave to Pathankot city in Punjab.”

Purported videos of the incident circulating on social media showed injured people lying on the ground with locals trying to help them.

The February 14 suicide bombing was the deadliest attack in Kashmir on Indian forces in a 30-year insurgency by militants wanting independence or to be part of Pakistan in which tens of thousands have died.

India has long accused Islamabad of supporting the insurgents and the attack was claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a militant group based in Pakistan.

In response, India said it carried out on February 26 air strikes on what it called a JeM training camp at Balakot inside Pakistan.

Vijay Keshav Gokhale, Indian foreign secretary, said that “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated”.

READ ALSO: Ambush Kills Six Iraqi Paramilitary Forces South Of Mosul

The Pakistani government said that no sites or targets had been hit, and on February 27 Islamabad launched its own air strike.

In an ensuing dogfight, at least one Indian aircraft was shot down and the pilot captured by Pakistan.

As fears rose that the two nuclear-armed nations might enter their fourth war, Pakistan released the pilot in what it called a “gesture of peace”.

This helped ease tensions, although both countries have continued to fire artillery and mortars over their de-facto border, the Line of Control, killing civilians on both sides.

Indian forces have also fought gun battles with militants and arrested hundreds of people.

Hindu-dominated

Jammu is largely a Hindu-dominated area of the disputed Himalayan region that is ruled by India and Pakistan in parts but claimed by both.

Jammu has witnessed several incidents of militant attacks in the past despite little to no support to armed rebels that enjoy widespread public backing in the Kashmir region.

Most of the attacks have been targeted at military installations, including a strike by militants of JeM on an army base in Sunjuwan area in February 2018 that left 11 people dead, including six soldiers and four attackers.

Police suggested that the blast could be aimed at fomenting tensions between different communities in Jammu city, home to around half a million people.

Indian police imposed a curfew for several days in Jammu in the wake of the February 14 attack after mobs attacked and set fire to properties belonging to Kashmiri Muslims.

AFP

Bomb Hidden On Corpse Kills Burkina Faso Soldiers

 

A bomb hidden on a corpse dressed in military uniform has killed two soldiers in Burkina Faso, the military said Friday.

The booby-trapped male body had been left just outside the northern town of Djibo, near the border with Mali, and a team was sent to investigate, a statement from the armed forces general staff said.

“The body, which turned out to be a trap, exploded when it was handled, killing two soldiers and wounding six, three of them seriously,” it said.

A security source told AFP that the corpse exploded on Thursday when soldiers tried to turn it over, killing an army doctor on the spot, and wounding others.

Burkina Faso, in the heart of Africa’s vast Sahel region, is struggling with a bloody Islamist insurgency as well as bouts of social unrest.

More than 300 people have been killed in Burkina Faso in four years of jihadist attacks, according to an AFP count.

Last week there were three attacks, one of which killed five members of the security forces on the same day President Roch Marc Christian Kabore hosted a regional summit on the fight against terrorism.

The capital Ouagadougou has been hit three times, most recently in March 2018.

On Thursday, the United Nations said 1.2 million people in the country are in need of humanitarian aid.

About 83,000 people have been forced to flee their homes because of the violence, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. More than 1,000 schools have been closed, depriving 150,000 children of an education.

About 120,000 people do not have access to medical care in areas most affected by the violence.

Grenade Attack Kills Two At Southern Philippines Mosque

Belongings are seen inside a mosque in Zamboanga city on the southern island of Mindanao on January 30, 2019, after a grenade attack. A grenade attack on a mosque in the troubled southern Philippines killed two people early on January 30, 2019, authorities said, just days after a deadly Catholic cathedral bombing and a vote backing Muslim self-rule. STR / AFP

 

 

A grenade attack on a mosque in the troubled southern Philippines killed two people early Wednesday, authorities said, just days after a deadly Catholic cathedral bombing and a vote backing Muslim self-rule in the region.

The blast tore through the building as the victims were sleeping in the predawn darkness on the insurgency-plagued island of Mindanao, which is home to the Philippines’ Muslim minority.

Blood-streaked prayer mats and shattered glass could be seen on the floor inside the mosque where heavily armed security forces were standing guard, footage from the scene showed.

The blast came as the Catholic-majority nation was on high alert after a cathedral bombing claimed 21 lives at Sunday mass in an assault claimed by the Islamic State.

Two people were killed and four others wounded in the mosque attack in Zamboanga City, authorities said, adding they had no indication so far it was retaliation for the cathedral bombing.

READ ALSO: Five Dead, 130 Missing As Migrant Boats Sink Off Djibouti – IOM

“We’re still looking at it, but we have not found any connection,” Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters. “In the past when churches were bombed… there were no revenge attacks.”

Authorities have not publicly identified any suspects and no one has claimed responsibility for the mosque attack.

‘Pray for peace’

Security forces are also hunting for the bombers behind the cathedral assault on the overwhelmingly Muslim island of Jolo, which security forces initially said was not a suicide bombing.

However, on Tuesday President Rodrigo Duterte contradicted them saying one of the bombers had blown himself up outside the cathedral.

On Wednesday Lorenzana appeared to walk back the president’s comments, saying: “The final conclusion is not there yet. It’s still being investigated.”

The probe was zeroing in a group tied to the notorious Islamist kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Police said they tried to arrest one of the suspects on Tuesday, but he got away and an armed man was shot dead by officers in the process.

The attacks have cast a shadow over hopes that voters’ decisive push to give Muslims in the south more control over their own affairs would help quell long-running separatist violence.

Rebels and the government in Manila have expressed hope the new so-called Bangsamoro area will finally draw the investment needed to pull the region out of the brutal poverty that makes it a hotspot for recruiting radicals.

However, hardline factions aligned with IS were not part of the decades-long peace process with the nation’s largest separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, that culminated January 21 with the resounding approval of a new Muslim led-region in the south.

Jolo, which is home to hardline Islamist factions, is the only area in the southern Philippines that voted against the Bangsamoro.

The grenade attack on Wednesday drew immediate condemnation from authorities.

“There is no redeeming such blasphemous murder. It is the highest form of cowardice and obscenity to attack people who at prayer,” said regional leader Mujiv Hataman.

“We call on people of all faiths… to come together to pray for peace.”

Philippines Vows To Crush ‘terrorists’ After Church Bombs Kill 20

 

The Philippines vowed to destroy those behind twin bombings that killed 20 people during a Sunday church service in the country’s restive south, six days after a referendum on autonomy for the mainly Muslim region returned an overwhelming “yes” vote.

The attack wounded 81 and was one of the deadliest in recent years in a region long plagued by instability. It came amid hope and excitement about the ratification of a devolution plan that aims to bring development, jobs and peace to one of Asia’s poorest and most volatile places.

READ ALSO: One Killed As Protesters Storm Turkish Military Camp In North Iraq

The first explosion went off inside the cathedral on Jolo island, in Sulu province, and was followed by a second blast outside, which was detonated as security forces raced to the scene, officials said.

“The enemies of the state have boldly challenged the capability of the government to secure the safety of the citizenry in that region,” said Salvador Panelo, spokesman of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

“The armed forces of the Philippines will rise to the challenge and crush these godless criminals.”

 

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but police suspect the bombings were the work of Abu Sayyaf, a militant group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State and is notorious for its bombings and brutality.

“They want to show force and sow chaos,” national police chief Oscar Albayalde told DZMM radio, suggesting Abu Sayyaf was the prime suspect.

Jolo is a stronghold of the group, which runs a lucrative piracy and kidnapping operation that successive governments have failed to break up. The group, which operates in the waters and islands of western Mindanao, has beheaded numerous foreign captives when ransom demands were not met.

Pictures distributed by the military of the inside of the Jolo church showed several rows of wooden pews destroyed, with debris strewn across a blackened floor.

 

Four Killed, 44 Wounded In Kabul Car Bomb Attack

Bomb Blast In Kabul
Bomb Blast In Kabul (file photo)

 

A car bomb exploded near a heavily fortified foreign compound in Kabul on Monday, killing at least four people and wounding 44, officials said, in the latest attack to rock the Afghan capital.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the huge blast, which shook the city, but it comes as diplomatic efforts to end the 17-year war with the Taliban gather pace.

Militants targeted Green Village, located near a busy road in the east of the city and where some foreign workers are based, said interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish.

At least 10 children were among the wounded, he added.

Until recently some United Nations’ staff had lived and worked at the highly secure compound, but Danish said the area was now largely empty and “only a number of guards” were left.

“Residential houses nearby have sustained heavy damage,” Danish said.

“Special police forces’ units have been deployed to the site to check if there are more attackers.”

The explosion happened in the early evening when traffic is normally heavy.

The last assault on a foreign compound was in late November when a Taliban-claimed vehicle bomb exploded outside the compound of British security firm G4S, killing at least 10 people.

Five G4S employees were among the dead.

That was followed by a suicide and gun attack on a government compound in Kabul on December 24 that killed at least 43 people, making it one of the deadliest assaults on the city last year.

The latest bombing comes as US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad visits the region for meetings aimed at bringing an end to the 17-year war in Afghanistan, which by some estimates was the world’s deadliest conflict zone in 2018.

Khalilzad, who met Taliban representatives last month in Abu Dhabi, is travelling to Afghanistan as well as China, India and Pakistan on the trip lasting through January 21.

The leaking of US President Donald Trump’s plan to slash troop numbers in Afghanistan, however, has threatened to derail those efforts.

The recent flurry of activity to get the Taliban to the negotiating table has caused disquiet in Afghanistan, with the government feeling sidelined from the discussions.

The Taliban has repeatedly refused to talk to Kabul, which it sees as a US puppet and ineffective.

AFP