Pain lingers

TODAY marks the second anniversary of the MH17 crash. The tragedy took the lives of 283 passengers and 15 cabin crew. The plane, a Boeing 777-200ER, was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014 when it was shot down in Ukraine by a Russian-made BUK missile. Malaysia subsequently declared Aug 22 as a day of national mourning for the victims. Two years on, family members of the deceased are still seeking justice and closure.

IS claims Nice massacre as 50 fight for their lives

NICE — The Islamic State claimed responsibility yesterday for an attack in which a Tunisian drove a truck through a crowd in Nice, killing 84 and leaving at least 50 fighting for their lives, prompting hard questions in France over security failures.

In a statement through Amaq news service, IS said one of its “soldiers” carried out the attack on Thursday night “in response to calls to target nations of coalition states that are fighting (IS)”.

Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31, smashed a 19-tonne truck into crowd in the Riviera city who were celebrating Bastille Day — France’s national day. Police said he had no known connection to militant groups.

French President Francois Hollande met with his defence and security chiefs and cabinet ministers as criticism from the opposition and media mounted over security failings after the third major attack in France in 18 months.

“If we are at war, as the government tells us, then the currency of war is intelligence, learning from experience, analysing failures and victories,” wrote Yann Marec in an editorial for the southern region’s Midi Libre newspaper.

He was one of several calling for action, and not merely “the same old solemn declarations” from the government, as Le Figaro daily said.

Some 30,000 people had thronged the palm tree-lined Promenade des Anglais on Thursday night to watch a fireworks display with their friends and families, but the night turned to horror as the truck left mangled bodies strewn in its wake.

Hollande said the country would observe three days of mourning as he warned the death toll could rise further, with more than 50 still fighting for their lives.

Four more people linked to Mohamed have been arrested. The driver’s estranged wife is also being held by police.

IS also claimed responsibility for Nov 13 attacks in which 130 people were killed in Paris, while gunmen in January 2015 attacks on the Charlie Hebdo weekly and a Jewish supermarket were linked to both IS and Al-Qaeda.

The massacre has once again shaken France to its core, prompting questions about the effectiveness of security measures with the country already under an eight month-long state of emergency.

Presidential contender and former prime minister Alain Juppe said the latest carnage could have been prevented if “all measures” had been taken.

But government spokesman Stephane Le Foll slammed Juppe’s comments, saying there was as much security present for the fireworks display as there had been for the Euro 2016.

He said there were more than 185 police, gendarmes and soldiers on the ground, as well as municipal police and a vast network of surveillance cameras.

“Despite all of that, this man’s decisions … created the drama and horror we experienced.”

A French parliamentary inquiry last week criticised numerous failings by the intelligence services over the Paris attacks.

“We know of course that there are still flaws and shortcomings,” said Hollande.

“Government intervention is imperative in that area in order to better coordinate our intelligence services,” he added.

Anti-terrorism prosecutor Francois Molins said the attack was “exactly in line with” calls from groups for supporters to kill in their home countries.

For several years, extremist groups such as IS and Al-Qaeda have exhorted followers to strike “infidels” — singling out France on several occasions — using whatever means they have to hand.

In September 2014, IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, suggested supporters “run (infidels) over with your car”.

While some attacks on the West — such as the November assault on Paris and the March bombings in Brussels — were carried out by those who have been to the centre of IS operations in Iraq and Syria, others have been led by so-called “lone-wolf” attackers.

In Nice, the seaside streets that would normally be bustling on a summer weekend were near-deserted, with teary residents making their way to the promenade to lay flowers in memory of the dead.

At least 10 children and teenagers were among the dead as well as tourists from the United States, Russia, Ukraine, Switzerland and Germany.

A five-day jazz festival in Nice has been canceled following the incident.

The festival, which had lined up acts such as Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour and British act Massive Attack, was scheduled to run from July 16
until 20. — Agencies

Horror driver suffered from depression, says father

NICE — The driver of a truck who killed scores of people on the Nice seafront was a Tunisian petty criminal described by his father as a violent depressive and by neighbours as a loner.

Investigators were yesterday piecing together a picture of the 31-year-old father of three who slammed into crowds who had been watching a Bastille Day fireworks display, killing 84.

Anti-terrorism prosecutor Francois Molins identified him as Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, “a delivery man, of Tunisian nationality, married and with children” adding he had a criminal record but no known terrorist connection.

His identity papers and a bank card were found in the truck and his identity had been confirmed by fingerprints, he said.

Mohamed was shot dead by police at the wheel of the 19-tonne lorry.

Speaking outside his home in Msaken, eastern Tunisia, the attacker’s father said he had suffered from depression and had “no links” to religion.

“From 2002 to 2004, he had problems that caused a nervous breakdown. He would become angry and he shouted … he would break anything he saw in front of him,” Mohamed Mondher Lahouaiej-Bouhlel said.

“We are also shocked,” he said, adding he had not seen his son since he left for France but was not entirely sure when this was.

And as forensic scientists, backed by armed police, searched his apartment in a four-storey block in a working-class neighbourhood of Nice, neighbours said they had little to do with him.

They portrayed him as a solitary figure who rarely spoke and did not even return greetings when their paths crossed.

Sebastien, a neighbour who spoke on condition his full name was not used, said Mohamed did not seem overtly religious and often dressed in shorts.

Only one neighbour said she had any concerns about him, describing him as “a good-looking man who kept giving my two daughters the eye”.

He was often seen drinking beer and never attended the small mosque near his home, other residents of his home district said.

“I never saw him at the mosque,” said a caretaker of an apartment building.

Molins said although Mohamed had never been investigated by the security services, he was known to police.

“He had a police and judicial record for threats, violence, theft and acts of criminal damage between 2010 and this year. He had been sentenced by the Nice criminal court to a six-month term, suspended, on March 24 for violence with arms, committed in January.

“On the other hand, he was totally unknown to intelligence services, nationally and locally, and was never flagged for signs of radicalisation,” he said.

Mohamed’s wife was brought in for questioning yesterday morning, Molins said.

Neighbours said the couple had three children, including a baby, but were separated.

One resident of the apartment block where the family had lived until 18 months ago before they split up said Mohamed was a violent man who had an extreme reaction to his wife’s request for a divorce.

“His wife had asked for a divorce after a violent argument,” said the man, who also asked not to be identified.

“He defecated everywhere, he cut up his daughter’s teddy bear and slashed the mattress.

“I don’t think there was a radicalisation issue, I think there was psychiatric problem,” he said. — AFP

Govt app sends warning 
3 hours late

PARIS — A mobile application, launched last month by the French government to alert users to attacks, failed to flash a warning until more than three hours after a truck rammed into crowds in the Riviera city of Nice on Bastille Day, the Interior Ministry said.

The app, called SAIP, was launched by the ministry just before the Euro 2016 and was supposed to flash a warning on a user’s mobile phone screen if there was an attack close to their location or suspicion of an imminent strike.

The app did not send its first notification until 1.34am local time, more than three hours after a 31-year Tunisian drove down the Promenade des Anglais seaside boulevard, killing 84 and injuring scores more.

“Information related to the attack in Nice on July 14 was sent out much too late by the app,” the ministry said in a statement, adding the app’s designers had been summoned to a crisis meeting on Friday afternoon.

“An action plan has been demanded without delay so that such an incident cannot happen again,” the ministry said.

The message prepared by the local prefecture was ready to go at about 11.15pm, but a technical glitch prevented the app designed by French company Deveryware to send out the warning, Les Echos newspaper said, citing government sources.

Deveryware did not immediately return a request for comment.

Nice-based Twitter user Nathan Lellouche, who posted a picture of the app showing a “no incident ongoing” message the night of the attack, tweeted: “This app had one job and it doesn’t even do it.”
— Reuters

Five children fighting for life

NICE — Five children are fighting for their lives after the truck attack in Nice, including an unidentified eight-year-old boy who is possibly a foreigner, a hospital spokesman said.

The children were being treated at the Fondation Lenval paediatric hospital, following the deadly massacre in the French Riviera city, which killed 84.

Ten children and teenagers were among the dead.

Lenval spokesman Stephanie Simpson said “five children are still in critical condition and one child has stabilised”, adding the hospital had received 30 children the night of the attack.

She said the youngest to be treated was six months old, with most of the children being treated for head trauma and fractures.

“We are used to treating lots of children, what has been difficult to manage is the psychological aspect,” Simpson said.

A team of trauma counsellors has been working at the hospital, seeing over 50 families since the attack.

Malaysians stranded at Turkey airports

ULAANBAATAR (Mongolia) — More than 127 Malaysians are now stranded at international airports in Turkey, following a military coup attempt and a no-fly zone imposed over the country’s airspace, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.

Of this figure, he said 27 Malaysians were from the Kelantan Islamic Foundation. They were stranded at the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, while over 100 others, on transit after an umrah trip, were now at the Esenboga International Airport in Ankara.

Most of those stranded were either on transit to a third country such as Egypt or returning from performing the umrah.

“These figures are what we have (as of 12pm Malaysian time). They were stranded after flight cancellations and a no-fly zone was declared in the country,” he told Malaysian journalists who were covering the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) Summit, which ended yesterday.

Wisma Putra, he added, would coordinate with the Malaysian Embassy in Ankara to ensure the welfare and safety of those stranded.

Zahid also advised Malaysians, including students in Turkey, not to leave their residence.

“They have to follow instructions issued by the Malaysian embassy there. Officials will contact them, if they have not been contacted, they have to contact the embassy,” said the deputy prime minister.

Following the restive situation in Turkey, Zahid asked Malaysians who intended to go there to postpone their travel plans.

In a related development, the Foreign Ministry said that a total of 260 Malaysians, including 180 students in Turkey are reported to be safe following Friday’s attempted coup.

Wisma Putra, in a statement, said the Malaysian Embassy in Ankara had been in contact with all Malaysians there.

“Malaysians requiring consular assistance due to the coup attempt may contact the embassy at +903124463547 or +903124463548 or e-mail for information,” according to the statement.

The Foreign Ministry has also opened a 24-hour hotline at 03-88874570 for the public to obtain updates.

Malaysian Students Association in Turkey (Masat), in a Facebook posting, said Masat would issue an official statement on the incident after updating information on Malaysian students there.

“It is hoped that everybody will be careful in selecting news and refer to verified news from trusted local news portal (in Turkey),” it said. — Bernama

NGO participant recalls frightening moments

KUALA LUMPUR — The situation in Istanbul was scary, with tanks patrolling everywhere and the sound of fighter jets heard all the time, said a Malaysian who is currently in Turkey.

Recounting the tense moments on the attempted coup, Aizat Shamsuddin, 24, said he was travelling by bus to Ataturk Airport in Istanbul and was detained by the military.

“The bus driver ordered us all to get out of the bus because the soldiers did not allow us to go to the airport.

“They put up roadblocks in all areas and were not allowing civilians back. I took a taxi and used another route but still could not get back,” he told Bernama via WhatsApp.

Aizat, who was on his way to Durban, South Africa, to attend a conference organised by a non-governmental organisation, was on transit in Istanbul for seven hours.

He said there was a small group of Turks who tried to provoke military personnel, adding that the group’s actions caused the soldiers to fire several warning shots into the air.

“I was with some of the locals and we fled after the shooting.

“It was a scary experience,” he said.

Aizat said he contacted the Malaysian Embassy in Turkey and then went to the lobby of a hotel located five kilometres from Ataturk Airport.

“I got into a car belonging to Turkish Airlines’ flight attendants to get to the hotel.

“We were willing to squeeze into the car in order to save ourselves. There were soldiers everywhere and it was a horrific experience,” he said.

Chinese news agency Xinhua reported heavily armed soldiers could be seen in Ankara, the Turkish capital, and Istanbul, the most populous in the country yesterday morning.

In a press conference in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly said those involved in the coup attempt would be punished. — Bernama

Messi cancels trip to Turkey for charity game

PETALING JAYA — Lionel Messi, the world’s best player, has cancelled a scheduled flight to Turkey yesterday after the military coup attempt in the country.

He was due to take part in former teammate Samuel Eto’o’s benefit match in Antalya along with a host of other stars.

Turkish president Recep Erdogan was also reportedly set to attend and play in the star-studded event.

“We will contribute to the promotion of Turkish tourism, thanks to this organisation,” Messi was quoted in The Daily Mirror yesterday.

“President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the other government officials have supported us.”

Apart from Messi and Erdogan, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Diego Maradona, Eden Hazard, Francesco Totti, Michael Essien, Xavi, Jay Jay Okocha, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Andres Iniesta, Demba Ba, Didier Drogba and Arda Turan were also expected to attend the game.

Messi was supposed to fly in from his holiday in Ibiza but will now remain on the Balearic Island.

Proceeds from the now cancelled match were to go to the Samuel Eto’o Private Foundation.

Established 10 years ago, the charity was created as a non-profit organisation to raise awareness on the needs of the African continent.

According to its website, its goal is the protection of children and young people, providing emergency aid and encouraging education, basic health and social inclusion for the disadvantaged in order to help them create opportunities for the future.

Erdogan receives global support

WASHINGTON — The United States called on all parties in Turkey to support President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government against a coup attempt as world leaders expressed concern about the upheaval in a Nato member country which bridges Europe and the Middle East.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone and gave their support to Erdogan after Turkey’s military said it had seized power on Friday.

“The President and Secretary agreed all parties in Turkey should support the democratically-elected government of Turkey, show restraint, and avoid any violence or bloodshed,” the White House said in a statement.

Erdogan has ruled Turkey since 2003 and if the coup against him was successful, it would have been one of the biggest shifts in the Middle East in years.

The sharp-tongued Erdogan is often accused of authoritarian rule at home and has frequently fallen out with neighbours such as Israel, Iran, Russia and the European Union as he tried to carve out a greater role for Turkey in the Middle East.

But Turkey is a key ally for Washington, which has often pointed to the country as a good example of a free-market democracy in the Muslim world, even though it has a poor record on freedom of expression.

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she supported Turkey’s civilian government and was following the events in Turkey “with great concern.”

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said the mass turnout of Turks on the streets overnight which played a critical role in thwarting a coup attempt against Erdogan.

“I welcome the strong support shown by the people and all political parties to democracy and to the democratically elected government of Turkey,” Stoltenberg said on Twitter.

The Nato chief called for “calm, restraint & full respect for Turkey’s democratic institutions and constitution.”

European Council President Donald Tusk called for a swift return to Turkey’s constitutional order, saying tensions there could not be resolved by guns.

“Turkey is a key partner for the European Union. The EU fully supports the democratically elected government, the institutions of the country and the rule of law,” Tusk said at a regional summit in Mongolia.

Those sentiments were echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The democratic order in Turkey must be respected. Everything needs to be done to protect human lives,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Twitter.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak condemned the attempt to overthrow the government of Turkey.

“We stand together in opposing unconstitutional attempts to undermine the people’s will, as expressed through the ballot box. Coups in any form must never be tolerated. Democratic process is the foundation of our freedom, security and prosperity,” he said.

“We hope to see stability and calm return to Turkey as soon as possible, and welcome the news President Erdogan has declared the attempted coup over.”

Israel, which last month approved a deal to restore ties frozen after a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish ship in 2010, also condemned the coup attempt.

“Israel respects the democratic process in Turkey and looks forward to the continuation of the reconciliation process between Turkey and Israel,” foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said.

Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers, who have friendly ties with Qatar as well as Turkey’s ruling Islamic-rooted AKP party “condemned the failed coup attempt” and “congratulated the people and the Turkish leadership for successfully protecting democracy.”

Britain’s new Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said he was “very concerned” by events in Turkey, where many thousands of British and other European holiday-makers were spending summer vacations.

Pakistan condemned the attempt to undermine democracy and rule of law and China’s Foreign Ministry called on Turkey to restore order and stability as soon as possible.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Turkey’s democracy must be respected, according to the Kyodo news agency.
— Agencies

What next for Turkey?

ISTANBUL — He weathered anti-government protests that lasted for months in 2013.

He escaped the flames that engulfed some of his ministers in a corruption investigation nearly three years ago.

And now Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has survived a military coup — a boast many of his predecessors ousted in previous army takeovers cannot share.

In recent years, critics, foreign governments and Turkish citizens have expressed concerns about a steady decline into authoritarianism under Erdogan.

Although he won much praise in the first few years after becoming prime minister in 2003, since becoming Turkey’s first directly-elected president in August 2014, Erdogan has been accused of dictatorial ambitions.

Erdogan wants to change Turkey’s constitution, which was installed in 1980 following the last successful military coup, to adopt an American-style presidential system which would give him greater power.

Senior fellow at Foundation for Defence of Democracies in Washington Aykan Erdemir said one of the many factors of the coup was the military’s fear of the new system.

He explained the reasons for the coup included “one of the latest developments (that) has been the bill redesigning the high courts as well as Erdogan’s refusal to be impartial”.

For Sinan Ulgen, director of the Edam think tank and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, this was not a coup by the full army as in previous cases, but undertaken by a clique who held the top general hostage.

“This was beyond the chain of command — a relatively small group in the army, who even hijacked the military top brass,” he said.

“Without the full support of the army, they lacked the assets and capabilities.”

Erdemir said the era of successful coups — as in 1960, 1971 and 1980 — is over with the public largely hostile to the prospect.

This time the country put on more of a show of solidarity, with even the three opposition parties in Parliament swiftly condemning the attempted putsch.

Erdogan, a consumate political tactician, will sense the failed coup has created opportunities to tighten his control over Turkey but faces a critical choice.

“He can build on the fact that all parties got behind him and build an era of consensus or he can use this as an opportunity to consolidate his one-man rule,” Erdemir said.

“It’s almost fully up to Erdogan — the path he chooses will have enormous consequences. The optimist in me goes for the democratic way but the realist and pessimist says Erdogan would never miss such an opportunity.”

Erdogan will come out of this stronger, Ulgen said, but “the question is whether he is willing to use that to drive towards a more consensual politics”.

“This is a unique opportunity to advance a more ambitious democracy agenda. But the more likely scenario is Erdogan using it to drive his personal ambitions and create a presidential system.” — AFP

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