The World Today for December 22, 2022

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Nowhere To Go But Up


Somali government forces and local militias recently won a pitched battle against al-Shabab, the al Qaeda-linked terrorist group that has sown fear and violence throughout the Horn of Africa for years. The allied forces managed to kill around 700 militants and push the group out of the strategic town of Adan Yabal, which they had used as a base for six years, Reuters reported.

Al-Shabab gained international recognition after the attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013 in retaliation for Kenyan help fighting the group in Somalia: recently featured the fascinating story of a local journalist who shared Cokes and coffee with the perpetrators, who wanted to set the record straight about police claims that all the mall’s attackers had been killed. Meanwhile, the group has still launched attacks in churches, schools and against other targets neighboring Kenya, the Star, a Kenyan newspaper, explained.

But the group’s real power center is in Somalia, a war-torn nation where the central government is extremely weak. Al-Shabab, for example, controls much of the country’s south. It is one of the best-funded Islamist terror groups in the world because of its effective taxation of much of southern Somalia, claimed the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

The reconquest of Adan Yabal came after al-Shabab militants attacked a hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu where many government officials live and frequently meet, noted Al Jazeera. That violence came a month after the group killed 100 people in two car bombings in the capital. New Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud appeared to have had enough.

“Our people who were massacred … included mothers with their children in their arms, fathers who had medical conditions, students who were sent to study, businessmen who were struggling with the lives of their families,” he said.

Now Mohamud is doubling down on efforts to crush al-Shabab, a position that has made him popular among Somalis, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Among his most potent tools is the elite, US-funded and US-trained Danab, or “lightning” brigade, that has gained momentum against the militants in recent months, the BBC wrote. The brigade moves extremely fast through the Somali interior, never giving the militants time to exploit their guerilla tactics, such as setting traps and ambushes.

Mohamud has also welcomed a former (and repentant) jihadist in the group, Mukhtar Robow, to become his minister for religious affairs, a move signaling how he is prepared to work with ultraorthodox Islamic Somalis who support peaceful politics, as the Guardian explained.

The fight could hurt Mohamud’s standing sooner or later. While condemning Al-Shabab’s indiscriminate targeting of civilians, human rights group Amnesty International said that government forces were also violating Somalis’ human rights as they cracked down on the militants, with few mechanisms to call government officials into account.

Juggling human rights while waging a war on terror is no easy task. But Somalis have little choice but to try.


True Colors


The Taliban government banned women from attending universities this week, a move that received widespread condemnation and hurts the armed group’s efforts to win international recognition following their takeover of the country last year, CBS News reported Wednesday.

On Tuesday, officials announced that all women must stop attending private and public universities until further notice but failed to provide a reason for the decision.

Taliban security forces began blocking female students from entering university premises Wednesday, while allowing only a few to enter campuses for paperwork and administrative reasons.

Authorities also tried to prevent any photos, filming and protests from taking place.

Regardless, members of an activist group protested outside the private Edrak University in Kabul against the government’s move. Videos and photos of the gathering showed women weeping and consoling each other outside the campus.

Meanwhile, reports also emerged of male university teachers resigning in protest over the decision, while male students walked out of their exams in opposition to the ban.

The ban comes more than a year after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of foreign troops. The armed group initially pledged a more moderate rule and respect for women’s rights.

But since the takeover, they have banned girls from middle and high schools, barred women from most jobs and ordered them to wear clothing in public covering themselves from head-to-toe. Women have also been prohibited from going to parks and gyms.

The university ban sparked condemnation from human rights groups and the international community.

Analysts explained that the move will further damage the Taliban’s international standing. This could particularly affect the delivery of international aid in Afghanistan at a time when the country is facing a dire humanitarian crisis.

Closing an Era


A German court convicted a 97-year-old woman who worked as a secretary at a Nazi concentration camp of accessory to murder in the killing of thousands of people, following a trial considered the last of its kind against Nazi war criminals, NBC News reported.

The court handed Irmgard Furchner a two-year suspended sentence for assisting in the function of the Stutthof concentration camp during World War II. It said Furchner was an accessory to 10,505 counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder while working as a shorthand typist at the camp based in Poland between June 1943 and April 1945.

The verdict was in line with what prosecutors requested. Survivors of the camp and victims’ relatives said it was not in their interest for Furchner to serve time in prison.

Furchner’s lawyers asked for her acquittal, saying that evidence did not show beyond reasonable doubt that she had known about the systematic killing at the concentration camp. The defendant herself admitted that she was sorry for what happened and regretted her presence at the death camp.

According to the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, about 60,000 people died at the camp near Gdansk, in northwestern Poland, some by lethal injection and others in the camp’s gas chamber. Others perished because of disease or malnutrition.

The victims included Jews, political prisoners, alleged criminals, people suspected of homosexual acts and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This conviction was not the first time that defendants who were not directly involved in killings in death camps were found guilty of aiding and abetting murder.

Both Oskar Gröning, an accountant at Auschwitz, and John Demjanjuk, a guard at Sobibor, were found guilty of accessory to murder in German courts.

Coming Clean


Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir took “full responsibility” for the 1989 coup in proceedings that are part of a trial relating to the takeover that brought the now-ousted leader to power, the Associated Press reported.

The autocratic president made his admission in televised testimony during court proceedings relating to the overthrow of the former elected government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi.

Al-Bashir added that other non-military factions were involved in the coup.

His testimony comes amid reports that the aging former leader is experiencing health problems.

Al-Bashir was ousted in April 2019 following popular protests and has been imprisoned on corruption charges ever since.

During his three-decade rule, he brutally suppressed dissent and monopolized the economy through his allies. He also oversaw the violent crackdown of a rebellion in Sudan’s western Darfur region in the early 2000s that saw the deaths of around 300,000 people.

The former president remains wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and genocide related to the Darfur conflict.

His government also hosted Osama bin Laden in the years leading up to the formation of al Qaeda, putting Sudan on the US list of countries supporting terrorism.

But even after his removal, Sudan remains mired in a political crisis as the country’s efforts to transition to democracy failed last year following another military coup.

Earlier this month, the military and one of the country’s main democracy groups signed a framework deal to install a new civilian government and remove the military from power.

Even so, the deal only provides an outline of how the country will restart its democratic transition and many political groups have rejected the agreement.


Pandora’s Pox

Scientists recently revived a record-setting 48,500-year-old virus that had been buried under the Siberian permafrost for millennia, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

In their study, the research team said the ancient pandoravirus was revived along with a group of other viruses found in the permafrost.

They noted that all the viruses only infect tiny amoebas and do not pose any direct threats to humans. But the team cautioned that as these pathogens are alive and able to replicate, this means that other viruses – including ones dangerous to humans – could be buried beneath layers of ice.

Known as “zombie viruses,” these pathogens have been able to reawaken due to the rising global temperatures that are thawing the permafrost.

Permafrost covers around 24 percent of the landmass in the Northern Hemisphere and makes up nearly 50 percent of all carbon stored in Earth’s soil. It’s not exactly clear how many trapped microbes and viruses could emerge as permafrost layers disappear.

Russia experienced a deadly outbreak because of this melting in 2016: At the time, a heatwave thawed a 75-year-old frozen reindeer carcass infected with anthrax. The bacterium then spread to other reindeer and people, hospitalizing dozens and killing one child.

Researchers warn this may become more common.

“We really don’t know what’s buried up there,” microbiologist Birgitta Evengård, who was not involved in the current study, told NPR in 2016. “This is Pandora’s box.”

Clarification: In Wednesday’s DISCOVERIES section, we said in our “The Royal Flush” item that most of the Western world has removed toilet seats from public restrooms. We would like to clarify that the West has removed toilet seat lids from public restrooms. We apologize for the confusion.

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