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Young Saudi teen arrives in Canada to official welcome

TORONTO: Saudi asylum seeker Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun smiles as she is introduced to the media at Toronto Pearson International Airport alongside Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland (right) yesterday. – AFP TORONTO: A young Saudi woman who caused a sensation by defying her family and seeking asylum abroad was welcomed with open arms in…

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Young Saudi teen arrives in Canada to official welcome

TORONTO: Saudi asylum seeker Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun smiles as she is introduced to the media at Toronto Pearson International Airport alongside Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland (right) yesterday. – AFP

TORONTO: A young
Saudi woman who caused a sensation by defying her family and seeking asylum
abroad was welcomed with open arms in Toronto yesterday at the end of an
exhausting international odyssey. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland greeted
Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun, 18, after she landed in Toronto, wearing a blue ball
cap and a gray hoodie emblazoned in red with the word “CANADA”.
Smiling broadly, she posed for photographers with Freeland at her side, but
made no statement. “She had a pretty long journey and is exhausted and
prefers not to take questions for the moment,” Freeland said.

Qunun captured
the world’s attention with a trail of Twitter posts that ignited a #SaveRahaf
movement as she fled what she said was an abusive family in ultraconservative
Saudi Arabia. Thai authorities backed down on an attempt to deport her after
she arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait a week ago, turning her over to
the UN’s refugee agency instead. Then on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
made the surprise announcement that Canada would take her in.

The move is sure
to further strain Canada’s relations with the kingdom. That relationship went
sideways last August over Ottawa’s rights criticism of Saudi Arabia, prompting
Riyadh to expel the Canadian ambassador and sever all trade and investment ties
in protest. Canada also sparked fury in Riyadh by demanding the “immediate
release” of jailed rights campaigners, including Samar Badawi, the sister
of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, whose family lives in Quebec.

Qunun’s attempt
to flee Saudi Arabia was embraced by rights groups as a beacon of defiance
against repression. “Ms Al-Qunun’s plight has captured the world’s
attention over the past few days, providing a glimpse into the precarious
situation of millions of refugees worldwide,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “Refugee protection today is often
under threat and cannot always be assured, but in this instance international
refugee law and overriding values of humanity have prevailed.”

Raif Badawi’s
wife Ensaf Haidar also praised Canada, calling Freeland on Twitter “the
real hero” behind efforts to prevent Qunun’s repatriation to Saudi Arabia.
Qunun alleged that she was abused by her family – who deny the allegations –
and rights groups also said she had renounced Islam, risking prosecution in
Saudi Arabia. Qunun first said she was aiming for Australia, where officials
had suggested they would give serious consideration to her claim for asylum,
which was endorsed as legitimate by the UNHCR on Wednesday.

But late Friday
Thailand’s immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn said a smiling and
cheerful Rahaf was bound for Toronto and had left on a flight after 11pm (1600
GMT). “She chose Canada … (and) Canada said it will accept her,”
Surachate told reporters at Bangkok’s main airport. “She is safe now and
has good physical and mental health. She is happy.” Qunun left from the
same airport where her quest for asylum began in a swift-moving process that
defied most norms.

On Friday
afternoon Qunun posted a cryptic tweet on her profile saying, “I have some
good news and some bad news.” Her account was deactivated shortly
afterward in response to death threats she had faced, her friends said. But she
was back online later in the day, tweeting: “I would like to thank you
people for supporting me and saving my life. Truly I have never dreamed of this
love and support.”

Qunun’s skillful
use of Twitter saw her amass tens of thousands of followers within a week,
highlighting her plight at a time when Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is
under heavy scrutiny following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last
year. Her deployment of social media allowed her to avoid the fate of countless
other refugees who are quietly sent back home or left to languish in Bangkok
detention centers. She refused to see her father, who traveled to Thailand and
expressed opposition to her resettlement. Surachate said her father and brother
were due to return home on a flight in the early hours of yesterday.

Although Qunun’s
asylum case moved quickly, the final maneuvers that led to her flight to Canada
remain largely a mystery. Surachate had told reporters earlier Friday that
“two or three” countries were ready to offer her asylum. The
Southeast Asian country is not a signatory to a convention on refugees, and
asylum seekers must be referred to a third country. – AFP

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UK spy chief warns China, Russia racing to master AI

MI6 chief Richard Moore says Beijing and Moscow ‘pouring money’ into technological advances that will reshape espionage and geopolitics.The chief of the United Kingdom’s foreign spy service is to warn that China and Russia are racing to master artificial intelligence in a way that could revolutionise geopolitics over the next 10 years. Richard Moore, who…

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UK spy chief warns China, Russia racing to master AI

MI6 chief Richard Moore says Beijing and Moscow ‘pouring money’
into technological advances that will reshape espionage and geopolitics.The chief of the United Kingdom’s foreign spy service is to warn that China and Russia are racing to master artificial intelligence in a way that could revolutionise geopolitics over the next 10 years.
Richard Moore, who heads the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, is due to make his first public speech since becoming chief of the organisation on Tuesday.
In extracts of the speech released in advance by the British government he will say quantum engineering, engineered biology, vast troves of data and advances in computer power pose a threat that needs to be addressed by democratic powers.
“Our adversaries are pouring money and ambition into mastering artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology, because they know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage,” Moore, who rarely makes public speeches, will say when he sets out his view of current threats.
The world’s spies are trying to grapple with seismic advances in technology that are challenging traditional human-led spying operations, which have dominated espionage for thousands of years.
Moore, a former diplomat, became MI6 chief in October 2020.
Speaking at the Institute for International and Strategic Studies think tank, he will stress that technological progress over the next decade could outstrip all the tech advances made over the past century.
“As a society, we have yet to internalise this stark fact and its potential impact on global geopolitics. But it is a white-hot focus for MI6,” he will say.
Of particular concern to the spies in the world’s liberal democracies are Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies, which have rushed to harness the power of a range of sophisticated technologies, sometimes at a faster pace than in the West.
Western intelligence agencies fear Beijing could dominate all key emerging technologies within decades, particularly artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and genetics.
China’s economic and military rise over the past 40 years is considered one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, which ended the Cold War.
MI6, depicted by novelists as the employer of some of the most memorable fictional spies from John le Carré’s George Smiley to Ian Fleming’s James Bond, operates overseas and is tasked with defending the UK and its interests.
Moore says the service will have to give up some of its deep-rooted secrecy and work with technology firms to combat the rapidly developing threats.
MI6 and western intelligence agencies will have to “become more open to stay secret” in a world of destabilising technological change, he will say.
“We cannot hope to replicate the global tech industry, so we must tap into it.”
The agency has become more open in recent years, even allowing publication of an authorised history although it only covers the period up until 1949.
MI6 began publicly naming its chief, who uses the code name C and is the only publicly identifiable member of the organisation, in the 1990s.

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Pentagon to review deadly 2019 US bombings in Syria

US will look into whether procedures were followed after NY Times reported dozens of civilians were killed in bombings.United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered a review into US military bombings in Syria in March 2019 that the New York Times recently reported killed dozens of civilians during the battle for the final…

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Pentagon to review deadly 2019 US bombings in Syria

US will look into whether procedures were followed after NY Times reported dozens of civilians were killed in bombings.United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered a review into US military bombings in Syria in March 2019 that the New York Times recently reported killed dozens of civilians during the battle for the final stronghold of ISIL (ISIS).
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced the probe on Monday, saying it would be led by General Michael Garrett, the head of US Army Forces Command.
Earlier this month, the US military acknowledged that civilians may have been killed in the bombings in Baghouz, near the Iraqi border in 2019. At the time, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were leading the fight on the ground with American air support.
“Likely a majority of those killed were also combatants at the time of the strike. However, it is also highly likely that there were additional civilian casualties,” Bill Urban, a US military spokesman, said in a statement on November 14.
He added that “investigations were unable to conclusively characterize the status of more than 60 other casualties that resulted from these strikes”.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the review into the 2019 US military bombings, the Pentagon spokesman announced [File: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]Urban’s statement came a day after the New York Times, citing anonymous sources and classified documents,  published a report that accused the US military of concealing the bombings.
The newspaper reported that the bombing struck a “crowd of women and children”, killing 64 people.
“Without warning, an American F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a shuddering blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors,” the Times wrote.
On Monday, Kirby said the review would look into “record keeping and reporting procedures” and “whether mitigation measures identified in previous investigations into the incident were in fact implemented effectively”.
The probe, which is due in 90 days, will also assess whether “accountability measures” will be appropriate, Kirby added.
The US-led coalition started a bombing campaign against the ISIL (ISIS) group in Syria and Iraq in 2014, and the American military maintains troops in both countries with the stated goal of preventing the group’s resurgence.

Former US President Donald Trump touted the territorial defeat of ISIL (ISIS) as a major policy achievement in his failed 2020 re-election bid.
Rights groups previously accused the US-led coalition of killing civilians during their bombing campaign. A 2019 investigation by Amnesty International, for instance, found that the coalition had killed 1,600 civilians in Raqqa, the ISIL (ISIS) group’s former de-facto capital.
The Associated Press news agency reported on Monday that after the New York Times story was published, Austin received a briefing on the Syria bombings from General Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command.
AP reported that McKenzie’s command said “an initial investigation concluded that the strike constituted legitimate self-defence in support of Syrian partner forces under fire from ISIL”.
The probe into the Syria bombings comes after the Pentagon admitted in September that a US drone attack previously described as “righteous” by a top general had killed 10 civilians, including children, in Kabul during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But a subsequent internal review by the Pentagon concluded that the bombing did not violate the laws of war or amount to criminal conduct or negligence, prompting outrage.

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Arab Coalition carries out 15 strikes against Houthi militants in Marib

JEDDAH: An influential watchdog body of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine as the only way to stop ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians. The OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission made its appeal on Monday to coincide with the UN-run International Day of Solidarity with…

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Arab Coalition carries out 15 strikes against Houthi militants in Marib

JEDDAH: An influential watchdog body of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine as the only way to stop ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians.

The OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission made its appeal on Monday to coincide with the UN-run International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People 2021.

In a statement, the IPHRC pointed out that the solidarity day highlighted the urgent need for the global community to recognize the inalienable right to self-determination of Palestinian people.

“Today is not only an opportunity for the international community to remember that the question of Palestine remains unresolved, but it is also an opportunity to focus attention on the increasing suffering of the Palestinian people, under the Israeli occupation, and to unify all efforts for assisting them to attain their fundamental rights, including the right to self-determination and the right to return for Palestinian refugees to their homes and property, from which they have been displaced,” the commission said.

It also expressed grave concerns over the increasing, “range of violations committed by Israel … particularly the recent draconian measures against Palestinian prisoners and detainees as well as the harassment of Sheikh Jarrah (neighborhood of East Jerusalem) families who remain under the threat of eviction from their houses under baseless and illegal arguments.”

The IPHRC statement urged all human rights groups to raise awareness of what it described as “egregious human rights violations” aimed at “separating Al-Quds (Jerusalem) from its original inhabitants, which is yet another vicious attack on the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.”

In addition, commission members condemned the recent Israeli designation of six Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations, a move the IPHRC claimed represented Israel’s misuse of counterterrorism and security legislation to silence opponents and innocent Palestinians.

Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes and forced evictions of residents in Jerusalem and other areas was also slammed by the commission.

It added that there was a “need to investigate these abuses by relevant international mechanisms with a view to holding Israel, the occupying power, accountable for violating international human rights and humanitarian laws.”

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