MARSEILLE, France/WASHINGTON: The Daesh group on Sunday claimed responsibility for a knife attack that killed two women at the main train station in the French Mediterranean city of Marseille.
The monitoring group SITE quoted an Arabic language report on the group’s Amaq propaganda agency that cited a “security source” as saying: “The executor of the stabbing operation in the city of Marseille… is from the soldiers of the Islamic State.”
Police sources said the suspect had shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) in Arabic as he attacked the women, aged 17 and 20, at Marseille’s main railway station.
The attacker, a man believed to be in his 30s, was shot dead by soldiers serving in a special 7,000-strong force known as Sentinelle set up to guard vulnerable areas in terror-hit France.
The latest deaths came with France still on high alert and under a state of emergency following a string of attacks in recent years by extremists linked to the Daesh group or Al-Qaeda.
“We have until now managed to avoid such dramatic incidents (in Marseille). I think it was a terrorist attack and the individual who was killed seems to have had several identities,” Marseille mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin told reporters.
Paris was rocked in 2015 by multiple attacks that killed 130 people. In 2016 a gunman drove a truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, killing 86 people. Both of these attacks were claimed by Daesh (or Islamic State).
Other countries, including Britain, Germany and Belgium, have also suffered attacks by militants using knives, guns, explosives and driving vehicles at crowds.
Some 200 police officers cordoned off the area and all roads were closed to traffic.
Speaking in Marseille, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the man had initially killed one woman and looked to be running away before returning to attack a second woman and then rush toward soldiers from the Sentinelle force who arrived on the scene quickly and shot him dead.
Two police sources said the attacker had been carrying a butcher’s knife, was around 30 years old and of North African appearance. One source said he was known to police for common law crimes, while another said digital analysis of fingerprints had come up with several aliases.
“This could be an act of terrorism, but we cannot confirm it fully at this stage,” Collomb told reporters.
French troops are part of a US-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and has thousands of soldiers in West Africa fighting Al-Qaeda-linked militants, operations that have made these groups urge their followers to target France.
Security forces have increasingly been targeted by militants in knife attacks. A man wielding a knife attacked a soldier in a Paris metro station on Sept. 15.
President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter he was “disgusted by this barbaric act” and praised the calmness and efficiency of security forces.
French lawmakers are due to vote on a much-criticized anti-terrorism law on Tuesday, which would see France come out of its state-of-emergency in November, although some of the powers would be enshrined into law.
The number of military personnel on the ground is also due to be reduced slightly, although the force is being adapted to make it more mobile and its movements less predictable.
“The presence of Sentinelle soldiers, their speed and efficiency ensured that the death count was not bigger,” police union official Stephane Battaglia told Reuters.
MARSEILLE, France/WASHINGTON: The Daesh group on Sunday claimed responsibility for a knife attack that killed two women at the main train station in the French Mediterranean city of Marseille.
MANILA: The Philippine military was unable to meet its Sept. 30 deadline to end the siege of Marawi, but it has vowed to intensify efforts to defeat the Daesh-backed Maute group and re-establish the government’s writ in the city.
The death toll in the last 132 days of fighting has reached 951, including 749 militants, 155 soldiers and policemen, and 47 civilians, said Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., deputy commander of the Joint Task Force Marawi.
President Rodrigo Duterte had expressed hope in September that the city would be liberated “by the end of the month.” This hope was shared by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. said the offensive will be completed within the next two weeks, but sources on the ground told Arab News that this is unlikely.
Military officials said they believe Isnilon Hapilon, Daesh’s chief in the Philippines, is present on the main battleground along with Omar Maute, another key leader behind the Marawi siege.
“There are reports that the two terror leaders were wounded, but this is yet to be verified,” Col. Edgard Arevalo, the Armed Forces’ public affairs chief, told Arab News.
He said the crisis broke out on May 23 when militants engaged in a firefight with troops who had tried to serve an arrest warrant against Hapilon.
Official sources said foreign fighters entered Marawi under the guise of Tabligh (a convention of Muslim missionaries).
“There was a Tabligh convention a week or two prior to the incident. Being a religious activity, we aren’t inclined to impose restrictions… We have reason to believe that some of them used it as their cover to get into Marawi,” Arevalo said.
Marawi police chief Ebra Moxir, who is also an imam (Muslim prayer leader), told Arab News that thousands of people came for the Tabligh, but some of them “were in the city for something else.”
He said Maute leaders rented a house to stock munitions as fighters from Basilan, Sulu and Maguindanao areas came to Marawi.
At least 25 foreign fighters are believed to have come to the city to join Maute, of whom 15 have been killed in combat, said Arevalo.
Lorenzana said the foreign fighters included Indonesians, Malaysians, Saudis, Yemenis, Indians and Chechens.
Officials said Daesh was attracted to the island of Mindanao, where Marawi is located, as a place to relocate from Iraq and Syria due to the presence of local terrorist groups. Daesh is not gaining strength in the Philippines, the officials added.
“Hapilon is a recognized emir of Daesh (in the Philippines), so this is where they made an initial attempt to establish a wilayah, or province,” said Arevalo.
Brawner Jr. told Arab News that there are only 40-50 Maute fighters left, confined to a small area with nowhere to go.
“All possible escape routes have been sealed, guarded by government forces. Some of the remaining Maute fighters have sent surrender feelers,” he said.
Arevalo told Arab News: “We’ve strategically located our personnel in areas we deem as their most probable avenue of escape, which is Lake Lanao. We’re now closely guarding this area.”
He said the military’s biggest tactical and operational achievement has been to gather the militants and their leaders in one location.
The government is determined to get all Maute fighters in Marawi to “either surrender or die,” he added.
“We’re not expecting that it will spill over into Metro Manila or any other cities in the Philippines.”
LONDON: A knife attack at Marseille’s main train station that left two women dead is being treated as a terror incident French police said on Sunday.
In what has become a grimly familiar story for the French public, where more than 230 people have been killed at the hands of Islamic extremists over the last two years, the suspected knifeman was shot dead by soldiers at the Gare de Marseille-Saint-Charles, officials said.
The prosecutor’s office in Paris said that the investigation would focus on “killings linked to a terrorist organization” and the “attempted killing of a public official,” two terror-related charges, AFP reported.
Police earlier warned the public to stay away from the area.
Marseille is home to one of the largest Arab Muslim populations in France.
France has been on a state of high alert following a spate of attacks since January 2015 when gunmen stormed the Paris office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo killing 12 people. The country has borne the brunt of terror attacks in Europe which have also targeted other European cities including London, Brussels and Madrid.
But some attacks have also been perpetrated by people with severe psychological problems.
In August, a man driving a van killed one person and seriously injured another in Marseille after driving into a bus stop. He was already known to police and had mental health issues.
Terror experts have warned that as Daesh loses ground in Iraq, the group may seek to increase its killing spree in Europe.
The incident in Marseille comes days after Daesh released a recording of what it claimed was its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi urging followers to strike their enemies in the West.
Canadian police also said yesterday they were investigating possible terrorism after a number of incidents in Edmonton in Alberta on Saturday night.
A policeman was struck by a car then attacked with a knife, the BBC reported.
A man driving a van went on to hit another four pedestrians before being arrested following a police chase.
A Daesh flag was found in the Chevrolet Malibu vehicle that struck the officer, Canada’s CTV news reported.
Both France and Canada have deployed troops in the fight against the group which has been losing ground to coalition forces in Iraq and Syria.
BARCELONA: Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was urged to resign on Sunday after national police attacked citizens in the northeastern region of Catalonia who were participating in a referendum that Madrid has declared illegal.
As voting centers started counting the votes cast, Catalonia’s health services also raised the number of people injured by police to 761 people who were treated at hospitals.
The service said two people are in serious condition in hospitals in Barcelona. It also said that another person is being treated for an eye injury that fits the profile of having been hit by a rubber bullet.
Spanish riot police smashed their way into polling stations across the northeastern region to try and stop Sunday’s referendum on independence. Spain’s top court had suspended the vote but local authorities went ahead anyway.
Police used batons, fired rubber bullets, and roughed up voters. Catalan authorities say police even used tear gas once.
Despite the violence, Catalonians declared success in the referendum as voting ended.
At one voting station in Barcelona, in the Joan Miro school, applause broke out Sunday night after 8 p.m. as it was announced that voting had ended. Volunteers opened the plastic ballot boxes, turned them over and started sorting the ballots. The “yes” pile was many times bigger than the “no” pile.
Joan Maria Pique, spokesman for Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, says that polling stations are closing except at those where people are still waiting to vote.
Amid the violence, Barcelona’s mayor called on Rajoy to quit in shame.
Mayor Ada Colau told TV3 that “Rajoy has been a coward, hiding behind the prosecutors and courts. Today he crossed all the red lines with the police actions against normal people, old people, families who were defending their fundamental rights.”
“It seems obvious to me that Mariano Rajoy should resign,” she said.
Colau also said that after the violence Sunday, Catalonia has “earned the right to demand” a proper vote on independence from Spain. She said “the European Union must take a stand on what has happened in Catalonia.”
‘Shame of Europe’
Catalonia’s pro-independence regional government said Spain is “the shame of Europe” for the way it has cracked down on the region’s bid to hold a secession referendum.
Government spokesman Jordi Turull said “what the police are doing is simply savage, it’s an international scandal.”
“Today, Spain is the shame of Europe,” Turull said.
Turull said that despite police actions “the trend we are seeing is that millions have voted,” adding that a recount of votes would take some time. He said police had closed 319 polling stations out of some 2,300.
Spain’s foreign minister said the violence seen Sunday was “unfortunate” and “unpleasant” but “proportionate.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis blamed the violence exclusively on Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his regional government.
“If people insist in disregarding the law and doing something that has been consistently declared illegal and unconstitutional, law enforcement officers need to uphold the law,” he said.
Officials say at least 465 people and 11 police were injured Sunday. Videos showed police roughing up voters, who tried to shield themselves from blows.
Dastis said, however, “it was a proportionate use of force, there was no excessive violence and it was a reaction to the situation they were faced with when they were prevented from doing their job.”
On the streets of Madrid there are mixed reactions to the crackdown.
Francisco Lopez, 53, said the authorities’ use of force to stop the voting was justified. He says “when there is an unlawful act, the security forces are there to prevent this unlawful act.”
Jose Daniel Rodríguez, a 67-year-old university teacher, disagreed, saying the Spanish government should have let the vote go ahead. He says “in a democratic society, everyone has the right to express themselves.”
Others called for both sides to resolve the situation through negotiations, not police operations.
Ignacio Osorio, 51, says “I believe that from today we have to sit and talk, without conditions.”
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said negotiating with North Korea over its nuclear program would be a waste of time Sunday after it emerged that Washington had channels of contact with Pyongyang.
Only hours after his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson revealed that US officials were in touch with North Korean counterparts, Trump undercut his top diplomat by declaring on Twitter that any talks would be futile.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” he said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
“Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!“
Speaking on Saturday after talks with China’s President Xi Jinping, Tillerson said that US officials had “two or three” channels of communication with North Korea despite an escalating war of words between their respective leaders.
Asked how he could know whether the North would even contemplate coming to the table, Tillerson told reporters in Beijing: “We are probing, so stay tuned.”
“We have lines of communication with Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation, a blackout, we have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang.”
“We can talk to them, we do talk to them,” he said.
But the State Department later said in a statement that North Korea “have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearization.”
In a recent speech at the UN General Assembly, Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea in the event of an attack on the US or any of its allies, deriding Kim as a “Rocket Man” who was on a “suicide mission.”
Kim responded by calling Trump a “mentally deranged dotard.”
His administration has also been at the forefront of a drive to impose a series of sanctions against North Korea in response to its sixth nuclear test — the largest yet — and the firing of two missiles over Japan.
Uneasy over Trump’s bellicose tone, China and Russia have both appealed to the US to have talks with North Korea, and Tillerson’s revelation was welcomed on Sunday by Germany.
“This is exactly the right course and a courageous step,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a statement.
“North Korea would be well advised to take this offer of talks seriously.”
Gabriel also urged the US to have dialogue with Iran over a nuclear accord which Trump appears on the verge of scrapping, adding that such a move “would undermine the credibility of the offer to North Korea.”
Trump has previously kept the door open to possible talks with North Korea.
In a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the UN, Trump responded “Why not?” when asked whether there could be talks.
ABUJA: President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday railed against separatists seeking Nigeria’s “dismemberment” as it marked its 1960 independence from Britain and said corruption remained the African oil giant’s “number one enemy.”
Buhari, who fought in the 1967-70 Biafran war, said those seeking to carve up the country had no idea of the havoc they could potentially wreak.
“As a young army officer, I took part from the beginning to the end in our tragic civil war costing about two million lives, resulting in fearful destruction and untold suffering.
“Those who are agitating for a rerun were not born by 1967 and have no idea of the horrendous consequences of the civil conflict which we went through,” he said.
“I am very disappointed that responsible leaders of these communities do not warn their hot-headed youths what the country went through. Those who were there should tell those who were not there, the consequences of such folly.”
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement wants an independent state for the Igbo people who dominate the southeast region.
Tension has been building since October 2015 when the group’s leader Nnamdi Kanu was arrested and held in custody until he was released on bail in April this year.
His trial on charges of treasonable felony is expected to resume this month.
The army earlier this month flooded Abia state with troops, ostensibly as part of an operation against violent crime, but IPOB suspected it was an attempt to curb its activities.
Supporters clashed in Abia and neighboring Rivers state, while the violence threatened to take on a wider ethnic dimension when unrest flared in the central city of Jos.
Nigeria’s government has since formally proscribed IPOB as a terrorist organization and accused it of stoking tensions by making false claims online of genocide against Igbos.
Buhari called for “proper dialogue” in the provincial and national legislatures to defuse the tensions, saying: “These are the proper and legal fora for national debate, not some lop-sided, un-democratic body with pre-determined set of objectives.”
Buhari, who was elected in 2015 on an anti-corruption platform, also said endemic graft remained a major scourge, recalling the period from 1999 to 2015, when Nigeria reverted from military to democratic rule.
“In spite of oil prices being an average of $100 per barrel and about 2.1 million barrels a day, that great piece of luck was squandered and the country’s social and physical infrastructure neglected,” he said.
Nigeria is ranked by Transparency International as one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Last year it was placed 136 in a list of 176 nations.
“The economy must be rebalanced so that we do not depend on oil alone. We must fight corruption which is Nigeria’s number one enemy. Our administration is tackling these tasks in earnest.”
BISHOFTU, Ethiopia: An Ethiopian religious festival transformed on Sunday into a rare moment of open defiance to the government one year after a stampede started by police killed dozens at the gathering.
The Irreecha festival is held annually by the Oromos, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, which in late 2015 began months of anti-government protests over claims of marginalization and unfair land seizures.
Parliament declared a nationwide state of emergency aimed at quelling the unrest shortly after the bloodshed at last October’s Irreecha, but the protests at this year’s gathering show that dissatisfaction still runs deep.
“The government is trying to control us and deny our rights, lives and security,” said Sabana Bone, who was among the tens of thousands clad in traditional white clothing who gathered by a lake in a resort town of Bishoftu, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) southeast of the capital Addis Ababa.
“We are remembering what happened last year and it makes us angry. We need freedom,” Bone said.
The Oromo protests were triggered by a government plan to expand Addis Ababa’s boundaries, which community leaders denounced as an attempt to steal their land which surrounds the capital.
They later spread to other ethnic groups like the Amharas who have long felt marginalized by Ethiopia’s ruling party, which controls every seat in Parliament and wields virtually unchecked power.
The months of protest resulted in 22,000 arrests and at least 940 deaths, according to the government-linked human rights commission.
Also known as thanksgiving and meant to mark the end of the months-long rainy season and start of the harvest, last October’s Irreecha became a turning point in the unrest when police shot tear gas at people chanting protest slogans, sparking a panic that left at least 50 people dead, although activists claim a much higher toll.
The state of emergency, which was repealed in August, succeeded in stopping the demonstrations by criminalizing gatherings and allowing police to hold people without trial, provisions that scared off most protesters.
That changed at this year’s Irreecha, as hundreds of people climbed onto a stage, crossed their arms over their head in a gesture of protest and chanted “Down, down, Woyane,” a derogatory term for Ethiopia’s government.
Such actions would normally invite arrest.
Police were nowhere to be seen at the festival grounds, while the elders who traditionally preside over the ceremony stayed away.
The anti-government sentiment at the festival was further amplified by bouts of ethnic fighting in September between Oromo and Somali communities in southern and eastern Ethiopia.
“There is Somali expansionism against the Oromo people, and the government is supporting the Somalis,” said Doyo Wako, from the Borana area where fierce fighting occurred.
After hours of chanting, the crowd dispersed to board buses back home.
Some attendees ran through the streets of Bishoftu yelling protest slogans, as armed police stood by, watching.
BUEA, Cameroon: A young man from Cameroon’s English-speaking region was shot dead by security forces on the eve of an expected symbolic declaration of independence by anglophone separatists, medical and security forces told AFP Sunday.
“They fired at him during a security operation” in the city of Kumba, a nurse who requested anonymity told AFP. The incident was confirmed by a security source and several local residents contacted by phone.
Kumba is known as a rebellious city since the start of protests by the anglophone minority last November, with clashes erupting between security forces and the local population.
The majority of Cameroon’s 22 million people are French-speaking, while about a fifth is English-speaking.
The legacy dates back to 1961, when a formerly British entity, Southern Cameroons, united with Cameroon after its independence from France in 1960.
The anglophone minority has long complained about disparities in sharing out Cameroon’s oil wealth.
On Sunday, the date of the official reunification of the anglophone and francophone parts of Cameroon, the anglophone separatists are expected to make a symbolic proclamation of independence for Ambazonia, the name of the state they want to create.
On Thursday, the Cameroonian authorities announced a temporary curb on travel and public meetings across the Southwest Region, adding to a curfew in the neighboring Northwest Region, also English-speaking.
In Buea, the southwest’s main city, the streets were mostly deserted early Sunday as security forces patrolled the area including where the separatists are expected to gather, an AFP correspondent reported.
“I can’t go out, they asked us to stay home,” said one city resident who identified herself just as Nancy.
“Everyone is afraid… it’s not good,” added another resident Thom.
Since November 2016, the anglophone minority has been protesting against perceived discrimination, especially in education and the judicial system, where they say the French language and traditions are being imposed on them, even though English is one of the country’s two official languages.
Most anglophone campaigners want the country to resume a federalist system — an approach that followed the 1961 unification but was later scrapped in favor of a centralized government run from the capital Yaounde. A hard-line minority is calling for secession.
Both measures are opposed by the country’s long-ruling president, 84-year-old Paul Biya.
AMIENS, France: The owner of French top-flight club Lille hit back at his rival at Amiens SC on Sunday, suggesting safety lapses were to blame for the collapse of a stadium barrier which left 29 fans injured during a game between the teams.
The chairman of Amiens, Bernard Joannin, initially blamed hundreds of “hardcore fans” among Lille supporters for the shocking scenes during Saturday’s Ligue 1 encounter in Amiens in northeast France.
“They surged forward, chaotically, more than 500 people, against this barrier, which was in perfect condition,” Joannin said after the accident which led the game to be abandoned.
Most of the victims were discharged from hospital on Sunday morning except six people who sustained serious injuries when the pitch-side barrier gave way, sending dozens of people tumbling on top of each other.
The Lille supporters — no more than a few hundred — pressed against the barrier early in the first-half as fans moved forward to celebrate their team’s opening goal against newly promoted Amiens.
Gerard Lopez, the chairman and owner of Lille, told AFP he was “shocked” by Joannin appearing to blame hooligans for the accident.
“What’s serious is that supporters are celebrating a goal and at the end there are injured people. It’s very serious to talk about aggressiveness,” he said in a an interview on Sunday.
He also raised worries allegedly mentioned by supporters from Strasbourg, Marseille and Nice who had claimed the stadium was “not very solid.”
“I’ve seen photos of the stadium, the supports for the barriers,” he added.
Joannin said Sunday he regretted his initial reaction.
Referee Thomas Leonard suspended the match in the 16th minute as Red Cross and emergency workers rushed to help the injured, while prosecutors have since opened an investigation.
“It happened all of a sudden. I don’t even know who scored. It just suddenly fell on me. I couldn’t hear anything, I couldn’t see anything and then the emergency workers took me away,” said Georges Penel, a 21-year-old Lille fan who suffered injuries to his leg and back.
Built in 1999, the Stade de la Licorne (“Stadium of the Unicorn“) is the smallest of the 20 French Ligue 1 clubs, with a capacity of only 12,000.
Renovation work is taking place throughout the 2017-18 season, but chairman Joannin ruled out any link between improvements to the stadium and Saturday’s accident.
“We shouldn’t mix up work being done on the roof and the rest of the stadium, which has been checked and approved by all of the security commissions,” he told a press conference on Sunday morning.
In May, local politician Alain Gest had suggested that upkeep of the stadium had been neglected by previous local administrations but was now “perfectly in line with regulations” and “up to standards for playing in Ligue 1.”
The mayor of Lille, leading Socialist party figure Martine Aubry called for calm on Twitter, saying: “Let’s stop the arguments. Think about the victims first and let’s wait for the enquiry results.”
BANGKOK: Thailand’s foreign ministry, in a rare statement on an ongoing crisis in neighboring Myanmar’s Rakhine state, said late on Saturday that it was “closely following the situation” and would provide aid to the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Violence erupted in Rakhine last month when Rohingya militants attacked security posts, triggering a crackdown by the Myanmar army.
More than half a million ethnic Rohingya — a mostly Muslim minority who are denied citizenship by Myanmar — have fled to Bangladesh since then.
Those who fled accuse Myanmar’s army, backed by Buddhist mobs, of a brutal killing campaign. The United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing a sweeping government offensive in the north of Rakhine State in response to those attacks.
“Thailand is closely following the situation in the Rakhine State with concern,” the ministry said.
“The Royal Thai Government has always placed great importance to providing care and protection to Myanmar displaced persons,” it added, pointing to some 100,000 refugees from Myanmar who live in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border.
But many of those living in the camps are long-term residents who fled conflict decades ago. None are Rohingya, according to non-governmental organizations who work there.
The Thai foreign ministry said its statement was in response to views raised by some human rights groups regarding Thailand’s position on the unrest in Rakhine.
Amnesty International last week said Thailand must not “push back” Rohingya fleeing violence and that it should provide refugees formal legal status and protection.
Thailand does not recognize the status of any refugees or recognize the Rohingya as legitimate migrant workers.
Thailand said it supported a statement on the issue by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a grouping of 10 nations.
In the statement, ASEAN foreign ministers condemned the attacks on Myanmar’s security forces and “all acts of violence which resulted in loss of civilian lives.”
Malaysia, an ASEAN member, disassociated itself from the statement, saying it misrepresented issues relating to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya.
So far, “none of the affected victims from the August unrest in Rakhine State have been found in Thailand,” the Thai foreign ministry said.