The World Today for April 12, 2024

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Pointillistic Terror

WORLD

Russian officials continue to blame the March 24 terrorist attack on Crocus City Hall in Moscow on Ukraine, PBS News Hour wrote. But American intelligence officials say they told the Russians that the Islamic State terrorist group planned to carry out the massacre. Russian police have since arrested four men from Tajikistan who allegedly carried out the attack.

These developments highlight how the Islamic State, instead of disappearing after being routed in Syria and Iraq, is still a force in the world. A coalition of forces ousted the terror group about three years after it took control over massive swaths of those two countries in 2014 and tried to build a “caliphate.” But the Islamic State adapted and found new places to metastasize.

The Afghanistan-based Islamic State Khorasan, for example, has taken credit for the Moscow attack, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote. The group has deep roots in Tajikistan, an impoverished and deeply corrupt former Soviet republic whose leaders have turned to Russian, American, and Chinese help to combat terror – with little progress to show for it.

In the aftermath of the Moscow attack, wrote the UAE’s The National, Western Europe is bracing for more casualties, especially Sweden, the Netherlands and France: The latter has especially experienced smaller, “lone-wolf” attacks claimed by alleged members of Islamic State for years.

Now, analysts say, the Moscow attack is raising threat levels because it is likely going to attract more funds and recruits to the terror group. At the same time, Islamic State will probably launch more assaults to demonstrate that it is no longer a spent force, analyst Antonio Giustozzi of the UK’s Rusi think tank told the National.

“They realized that they are in terminal decline, they have no ‘caliphate,’ and an image problem of defeats and losses so they are trying to change the narrative … to show that ‘we are still relevant,’” he said.

After the defeat in Syria and Iraq, many Islamic State commanders began shoring up their presence in Africa and allying with terror groups already operating in countries such as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

“They are exploiting the political instability and expanding their radius of influence, their operations and territorial control in the Sahel, with growing concerns for coastal West Africa,” Natalia Gherman, executive director of the United Nations’ Counter-Terrorism Office, told the Arab Weekly. “The African continent now accounts for almost half of terrorist acts worldwide, with central Sahel accounting for about 25 percent of such attacks.”

Part of the reason the group Islamic State-Sahel Province is “surging” in strength in the region, and controlling more territory than ever, is because of the security vacuum created by a drawdown of Western military assistance in the wake of military coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and elsewhere, the Washington Post wrote. Meanwhile, its rival, al-Qaeda-affiliated Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, ceded much of its territory to Islamic State. Now, Islamic State is in such firm control, it is turning away from terror attacks toward governance and education of the young.

Meanwhile, the terror group is also entrenched in parts of East Asia, especially in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, wrote the Hudson Institute: “Radical groups across Southeast Asia are likely to continue to exploit social, economic, and political disenfranchisement in their societies to appeal to new potential recruits.”

The Islamic State, at the same time, continues to operate in Iraq and Syria, seeing it as its most meaningful location, analysts say. Terrorists with the group recently killed a senior Iraqi militant leader, Abu Maria al-Qahtani, in a suicide bombing, Middle East Eye reported. Al-Qahtani was a leader in Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former affiliate of al-Qaeda.

The Islamic State, furthermore, retains power in places like the Al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria near the Iraq border. The camp is a tent city, reported the Jerusalem Post, that houses 43,000 people. Around 40,000 are women and children who are family members of Islamic State militants.

“The ISIS system and way of ruling is implemented in the camp,” said Al-Hawl administrator Jihan Hanan, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. “They are openly carrying weapons in the camp. In the last week, they attacked a tent of the International Red Cross. They cover their faces and just go out and attack. They say that Al-Hawl is one of their bases and an important part of their infrastructure.”

And analysts add, orders for the attack on Moscow almost certainly came from Islamic State commanders currently taking refuge in Syria or Iraq.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Zero Tolerance

VIETNAM

A Vietnamese property tycoon was sentenced to death on Thursday for her role in a fraud case that has caused damages worth $27 billion, a sentence almost unheard of for graft convictions, CBS News reported.

A court in Ho Chi Minh City found Truong My Lan, chair of property developer Van Thinh Phat, guilty of swindling cash from Saigon Commercial Bank (SCB) between 2012 and 2022, and said her actions “eroded people’s trust in the leadership of the (Communist) Party and state.”

After a five-week trial, the court established that Lan had embezzled $12.5 billion. Lan stole the money through fake loan applications with the SCB, a bank in which she owned a 90-percent stake.

As a result, the SCB’s bondholders were unable to withdraw their money or receive interest. The judges said the total damages amounted to $27 billion – equal to six percent of Vietnam’s 2023 gross domestic product.

To cover up her crimes at the SCB, Lan also gave $5.2 million to state bank officials, considered the largest-ever bribe in Vietnam.

The jurors rejected all defense arguments by Lan, who has denied all the charges and blames her subordinates.

“I am so angry that I was stupid enough to get involved in this very fierce business environment – the banking sector – which I have little knowledge of,” she said.

Lan was taken into custody in October 2022 as part of a national crackdown on corruption that also targeted officials and high-profile businesspeople. Hundreds of people protested after her arrest in Ho Chi Minh City and the capital Hanoi – demonstrations are rare in the repressive one-party Communist state.

The severity of Lan’s sentence, too, is rare in graft cases. Analysts believe it’s due to the government’s crackdown and the number of victims, approximately 42,000 individuals.

The ‘Honor of Martyrdom’

ISRAEL/ GAZA

An Israeli airstrike in Gaza on Wednesday killed three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who afterward insisted the deaths would not affect ongoing ceasefire negotiations between the Palestinian group and Israel, CNN reported.

The three brothers were visiting relatives in a refugee camp in Gaza City to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when their car was hit, the Gazan government media office said. Hamas reported that four of Haniyeh’s grandchildren also died in the attack, which came as truce talks in Cairo, Egypt continue to show little signs of progress.

“Whoever thinks that by targeting my kids during the negotiation talks and before a deal is agreed upon that it will force Hamas to back down on its demands, is delusional,” Haniyeh told Al Jazeera. “(I) thank God for bestowing upon us the honor of their martyrdom.”

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed having carried out the attack that killed Amir, Mohammad and Hazem Haniyeh, saying the three “conducted terrorist activity in the central Gaza Strip,” and were on their way to continue that activity, the Times of Israel reported.

However, the IDF did not confirm having killed Mona, Amal, Khalid, and Razan, the four Haniyeh grandchildren that Hamas reported as killed in the attack, while calling them “martyrs.”

Israeli officials said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not made aware of the attack ahead of time and denied carrying out the strike in connection with the ceasefire negotiations. “Israel will continue and eliminate every terrorist operative,” they said.

Hamas and Israeli delegates have met since Sunday in Cairo to discuss a pause in the conflict, now in its seventh month. Israeli negotiators are under pressure from the international community, including Israel’s ally, the United States, to grant a ceasefire and allow aid into Gaza. CIA director Bill Burns has also attended the talks and attempted to broker a deal.

A recent US proposal suggested Israel release more Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 40 Israeli hostages, including all the women and sick and elderly men, held by Hamas in Gaza in the first round of a three-stage truce deal.

However, Hamas on Wednesday said it could not track down 40 hostages meeting the required criteria.

Most of the remaining 96 hostages are still alive, according to Israeli intelligence, and are thought to be male soldiers or reservists.

Message Received

SOUTH KOREA

South Korea’s prime minister and presidential advisers offered to resign on Thursday after the liberal opposition secured a landslide victory in the general election, a major setback to conservative President Yoon Suk-Yeol, the Associated Press reported.

The opposition maintained its control of parliament for another term that will end after Yoon’s expires in 2027. The president will likely face obstacles in advancing his domestic policy agenda in the remaining three years of his mandate, analysts said.

In the aftermath of the ruling People Party’s losses following last week’s vote, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and all presidential officials, except for security advisers, offered to resign. Yoon’s office did not clarify whether he had accepted the resignations.

Yoon said he would “humbly uphold” the lessons from the election and work toward improving Koreans’ economic situation.

Complete results showed that the opposition Democratic Party and its allies had won a combined 187 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, while Yoon’s alliance obtained 108 seats. The election was marked by a turnout of 67 percent, the highest in a general election in three decades.

The election, widely regarded as a confidence vote for the president, came as he faced dwindling approval ratings. Critics of Yoon said he failed to address rising inflation and did not immediately sack top officials involved in scandals. Though his ratings rose when he pushed for an increase in medical school intakes, the ensuing doctors’ strike harmed his popularity.

The new parliament will be inaugurated on May 30 for a four-year term.

DISCOVERIES

Scoring Genius

Is talent innate? According to an analysis of Ludwig van Beethoven’s DNA, not so much.

Scientists reviewed the famed German composer’s genetics and found a low predisposition for beat synchronization, Science Alert reported.

Beat synchronization is the ability to recognize and keep up with rhythm, which previous research has linked to the ability to produce music. It can be a manifestation of genetic variants: It is estimated that around 42 percent of our musicality comes from our parents’ genes.

In their study, the researchers coded Beethoven’s DNA taken from preserved strands of his hair. The analysis rendered a polygenic score – an indication of the effect of given genetic variants on one’s behavior and traits.

Beethoven’s polygenic score was far from being as exceptional as his musical ones.

Though the scientists held no expectations about the outcome, the results of their analysis didn’t really come as a surprise. They wanted to carry out this study “as an example of the challenges of making genetic predictions for an individual that lived over 200 years ago,” they told the outlet.

While admitting that polygenic scores are useful to map out trends among populations in given times and places, the researchers argued that genes alone could not determine one’s genius.

However, genetic analysis did help scientists previously establish that the liver failure that led Beethoven to his death may have been inevitable, no matter how much alcohol he drank.

As for what produces musical talent, the answer lies somewhere between nature and nurture.

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