News & Current Affairs

July 17, 2009

Fatal blasts hit Jakarta hotels

Fatal blasts hit Jakarta hotels

At least nine people have been killed, including two suspected suicide bombers, in two blasts at luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

One explosion hit the Ritz-Carlton, ripping off its facade, and the other the JW Marriott. As many as 50 people were hurt, including many foreigners.

At least one attacker was a guest at the JW Marriott, police said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has visited the scene and condemned “the cruel and inhuman attack”.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts. One foreign national has been confirmed dead – a New Zealander.

Indonesia suffered a number of bomb attacks – mainly linked to the militant group Jemaah Islamiah – in the first years of the century, but has since been praised for its campaigns against militants.

‘Barbaric’

President Yudhoyono said Friday’s attacks were carried out by a suspected terrorist group, though he said it was “too early to say” if Jemaah Islamiah was involved.

He added: “Those who carried out this attack and those who planned it will be arrested and tried according to the law.

I heard two sounds like ‘boom, boom’ coming from the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton – then I saw people running out
Eko Susanto, security guard

“This act of terrorism… will have wide effects on our economy, trade, tourism and image in the eyes of the world.”

The attacks, with homemade bombs, were on the basement car park of the Marriott and a restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton, police said.

Police said that two suicide bombers were involved, and at least one attacker, and possibly more, was staying at the Marriott.

An unexploded bomb and other explosives material were found in room 1808, which officials said was the “control centre” of the attacks.

National police spokesman Nanan Soekarna said: “We still don’t know who booked room 1808.”

Gen Wahyono said a suicide bomber was suspected of carrying out the car park attack as a severed head was found there.

AT THE SCENE
Karishma Vaswani
Karishma Vaswani,Courtesy
BBC News, Jakarta

It was a scene of confusion and chaos outside the Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott hotels this morning. Ambulances and security forces arriving at the hotels came to rescue the injured and treat anyone who was hurt.

People milled around outside, onlookers wondering what had happened as hotel staff and guests stood around shocked on the streets. The blasts took place at breakfast time in one of the most prestigious areas in Jakarta’s commercial centre.

Many Indonesians we spoke to this morning told us how shocked and upset they were by what had happened here today and how worried they are about the damage this will do to the reputation of their country.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key confirmed a New Zealand national was among the dead.

Reuters news agency named him as Tim Mackay, president director of PT Holcim Indonesia, quoting the company’s marketing director Patrick Walser.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd condemned the attacks as “barbaric”.

He said he had “grave concerns” for an embassy official and two other missing Australians.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said they were “senseless” and that the threat of terrorism remained “very real”.

The Manchester United football team was due to arrive in Indonesia on Saturday and was booked to stay at the Ritz-Carlton.

The team have now called off the Indonesian leg of their tour, saying they “cannot fulfil the fixture in Jakarta” against an Indonesia Super League XI on 20 July.

The two blasts, in Jakarta’s central business district, occurred at about 0730 (0030 GMT).

INDONESIA ATTACKS
Dec 2000 – Church bombings kill 19
Oct 2002 – Bali attacks kill 202, many Australian
Dec 2002 – Sulawesi McDonalds blast kills three
Aug 2003 – Jakarta Marriott Hotel bomb kills 12
Sept 2004 – Bomb outside Australian embassy in Jakarta
Sept 2005: Suicide attacks in Bali leave 23 dead, including bombers

Businessman Geoffrey Head, who was in the Ritz Carlton, told the BBC he did not hear the blast but that his colleagues had called him after it happened to tell him to leave the building.

“I looked out of the window – I could see down to ground level and I saw there was a lot of broken glass. I thought it was time to actually get out.”

Mr Head said there had been no warning to evacuate the building.

“The surreal thing was going down in the elevator and walking through the lobby and looking across to my left and noticing the cafe was completely blown out,” he said.

A 50-year-old South Korean man, Cho In-sang, was taken to hospital with minor injuries.

“I don’t remember exactly but suddenly the ceiling is falling down and the sound was big,” he said.

Anti-terror training

Consular staff are trying to track their nationals, and Australia issued a warning against unnecessary travel to Indonesia.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for a series of bombings more than five years ago.

Attacks on two nightclubs in Bali in October 2002 killed 202 people, most of them Australian.

The Marriott Hotel was the target of a bomb attack in August 2003 in which 13 people were killed.

Since then, a combination of new laws, anti-terror training, international cooperation and reintegration measures have kept Indonesia peaceful, analysts have said.

Jakarta map


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November 27, 2008

Troops confront Mumbai attackers

Troops confront Mumbai attackers

Employees and guests of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel are rescued by fire crews

Employees and guests of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel are rescued by fire crews

Indian security forces have been exchanging fire with gunmen holding dozens of hostages in two luxury hotels in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay).

Troops surrounded the premises shortly after armed men carried out a series of co-ordinated attacks across the city, killing 101 people and injuring 287.

The hotels were among several locations in the main tourist and business district targeted late on Wednesday.

Police say four suspected terrorists have been killed and nine arrested.

The situation is still volatile in two of the most high-profile targets of Wednesday’s attacks – the Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi Trident hotels, where armed men are believed to be holding about 40 hostages.

Flames and black smoke billow from the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, Mumbai

There are reports of intermittent exchange of fire between security forces and the armed attackers barricaded inside both hotels.

Correspondents say security personnel have so far not stormed the premises perhaps for fear of endangering the lives of hostages, some of whom could be Westerners.

There are also unconfirmed reports that five gunmen have taken hostages in an office block in the financial district of Mumbai.

The city’s main commuter train station, a hospital, and a restaurant were among at least seven locations caught up in the violence.

In other developments:

• Fire crews evacuate people from the upper floors of the Taj Mahal Palace, where police say a grenade attack caused a blaze

• Israel says it is concerned for the safety of its citizens in Mumbai, as a rabbi and his family are feared captured by gunmen

• The head of Mumbai’s anti-terrorism unit and two other senior officers are among those killed, officials say

• The White House holds a meeting of top intelligence and counter-terrorism officials, and pledges to help the Indian government

• Trading on India’s Bombay Stock Exchange and National Stock Exchange markets will remain closed on Thursday, officials say.

Gunmen opened fire at about 2300 local time (1730 GMT) on Wednesday at the sites in southern Mumbai.

“The terrorists have used automatic weapons and in some places grenades have been lobbed,” said AN Roy, police commissioner of Maharashtra state.

Local TV images showed blood-splattered streets, and bodies being taken into ambulances.

One eyewitness told the BBC he had seen a gunman opening fire in the Taj Mahal’s lobby.

“We all moved through the lobby in the opposite direction and another gunman then appeared towards where we were moving and he started firing immediately in our direction.”

One British tourist said she spent six hours barricaded in the Oberoi hotel.

BOMB ATTACKS IN INDIA IN 2008
30 October: Explosions kill at least 64 in north-eastern Assam
30 September: Blasts in western India kill at least seven
27 September: Bomb blasts kills one in Delhi
13 September: Five bomb blasts kill 18 in Delhi
26 July: At least 22 small bombs kill 49 in Ahmedabad
25 July: Seven bombs go off in Bangalore killing two people
13 May: Seven bomb hit markets and crowded streets in Jaipur killing 63

“There were about 20 or 30 people in each room. The doors were locked very quickly, the lights turned off, and everybody just lay very still on the floor,” she said.

Eyewitness reports suggest the attackers singled out British and American passport holders.

If the reports are true, our security correspondent says it implies an Islamist motive – attacks inspired or co-ordinated by al-Qaeda.

A claim of responsibility has been made by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen.

Our correspondent says it could be a hoax or assumed name for another group.

There has been a wave of bombings in Indian cities in recent months which has left scores of people dead.

The timing and symbolism of the latest attacks could not have been worse.

By choosing to target the richest district of India’s financial capital in such a brazen and effective manner, he says those behind the attacks have perhaps dealt the severest blow to date to the morale and self esteem of the Indian authorities.

The attacks have come amidst elections in several Indian states and exposes the governing coalition to the charge that it has failed to combat terror, our correspondent says.

Aerial map of Mumbai showing sites of shootings


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September 6, 2008

Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

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Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

Bajm

Bajm were popular across Eastern Europe before the Iron Curtain fell

Eight of Poland’s top pop and rock acts perform in front of a 10,000-strong crowd at Wembley Arena on Sunday. Billed as the biggest ever Polish music event on foreign soil, what does it mean for Britain’s Polish community?

Crowds of adoring fans will pack Wembley Arena on Sunday to see their favorite superstars perform to a full house.

But it will not be Madonna, Oasis or Jay-Z entertaining more than 10,000 people.

Bajm and Lady Pank may be largely unheard of in the UK but are household names in Poland, where four million viewers are expected to watch the London Live show’s highlights on state channel TVP2.

Tabloid hellraiser

Described as Poland’s answer to Pink Floyd and Red Hot Chili Peppers, their albums have sold three million copies.

Alongside Bracia’s modern grungy-rock and Natalia Kukulska’s soulfull R’n’B, the show even has its own tabloid hellraiser in Doda, who has posed for Playboy and courted controversy by spitting on stage.

Stanislaw Trzcinski, president of promoter STX Records, said: “This is like the O2 Festival, except for Polish music.”

Natalia Kukulka. Photo Wojciech Wojtczak
Performing at Wembley is a great honor
Natalia Kukulska

Guests on stage include Jan Tomaszewski, the goalkeeper whose heroics at the old Wembley Stadium in 1973 helped secure a 1-1 draw to send Poland to its first World Cup at England’s expense.Mr Trzcinski said: “The name Wembley brings back happy memories for Polish people and it remains a special place, so it was the perfect location.”

Kukulska, 32, has performed with tenor Jose Carreras and duetted with British R’n’B star Lemar at the Sopot festival in Poland in 2005.

She said: “Performing at Wembley is a great honor. I hope I will draw energy from the people who have played there in the past.”

After picking up influences of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston during a year in the US, she blended them with her own style to sell 2.5 million records at home.

Free tickets

“I’m very excited because this is the first time a lot of artists from Poland are performing abroad together,” she added.

Costing almost £1m to stage, the event has been advertised on 30 London buses and is being beamed back to Poland in high definition, thanks to a 100-strong production crew. Tickets were free to those who registered.

More than one million people voted in an internet talent competition giving bands the chance to perform on a second stage outside the arena, where they will be joined by top acts from the UK and Ireland’s Polish communities.

The show’s arrival reflects the remarkable influx of Poles into Britain.

After the Second World War, the Polish Resettlement Act allowed around 200,000 people to remain in the UK. They were mainly Polish troops, who had fought alongside the British, and their dependents.

By 2001, the census recorded just 60,680 Polish-born people living in Britain.

But since Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004, those numbers have swollen to the 405,000 estimated by the government last year, although the numbers arriving has dropped in recent months.

Appetite for rock

At least 100,000 settled in London, with many basing themselves around established Polish communities in western districts like Hammersmith.

There, the Posk cultural centre boasts the largest library of Polish books outside Poland, a gallery, restaurant and 350-seat theatre.

Supermarkets across Britain have started stocking Polish goods and delicatessens have sprung up in many towns.

THE PERFORMERS
Doda
Bajm: Six-piece rock outfit, formed in 1978, their 13 albums all went gold or platinum
Wilki: Hard-rock band, named “Wolves”, have performed in New York and London
Doda (pictured): Daughter of an Olympic weightlifter, gave up athletics to be a pop tearaway
Natalia Kukulska: Began singing aged seven and sold 1.5 million records as a child star
Kayah: Was a backing singer before her solo career in soul, jazz and R’n’B took off
Bracia: Their grunge-rock style made this band – “The Brothers” – favourites with younger fans
Monika Brodka: Her soulful voice was inspired by her idols Erikah Badu and Lauren Hill
Lady Pank: These punk survivors formed in 1982, playing 400 gigs to promote their debut album

But Piotr Grzeskiewicz, station director at Hammersmith-based Polskie Radio Londyn, said there had been little to feed young migrants’ appetite for rock and pop.

“Hundreds of thousands of Polish people in Britain have limited access to modern Polish culture and this is their best opportunity in many years to see some really big Polish bands,” he said.

Organizers hope many Britons will be at Wembley.

However, Mr Grzeskiewicz said: “The language barrier is huge. Only a few of these bands have played abroad and usually only for Polish fans.”

Warsaw-based bank PKO BP financed the event to promote its central London branch, which opened last December to cater both for migrants and British businesses investing in Poland.

Branch manager Katarzyna Cal said the move demonstrated the growing confidence in Poland’s economy and the number of investors keen to do business in the country.

Meanwhile, Dr Jan Mokrzycki, chairman of the UK’s Federation of Poles, admits he prefers the classical works of Chopin to today’s rock.

Vibrant

But the 75-year-old said the event would help build understanding between the established and newly-arrived Polish communities.

Initial tensions between the groups are diminishing, said the dental surgeon whose mother – a former Nazi concentration camp detainee – brought him to Britain in 1948 to escape communism.

“A combination of their youth, enthusiasm and education and our knowledge of the laws and customs of Britain is helping integration,” said Dr Mokrzycki.

“Cultural events of the old community have been traditional, forged from our experiences of pre-war Poland, so involve mostly classical or folk music.

“The new culture is vibrant with jazz and pop and it’s important younger people have access to that.”

August 14, 2008

Murdered couple in ‘scam’ probe

Murdered couple in ‘scam’ probe

Xi Zhou and her boyfriend Zhen Xing Yang

Xi Zhou and her boyfriend Zhen Xing Yang studied at Newcastle University

A Chinese couple murdered in Newcastle may have been involved in a range of internet scams, including betting and providing false visas, police said.

Zhen Xing Yang and girlfriend Xi Zhou died after a “frenzied” knife attack at a flat in Newcastle’s West End.

Detectives revealed information on a seized computer and three mobile phones showed the pair may also have arranged forged professional qualifications.

The 25-year-old Newcastle University graduates, were found dead on 9 August.

Det Supt Steve Wade, leading the murder investigation, said: “A possible motive for the killings is beginning to emerge concerning the lifestyle of Xi Zhou and Zhen Xing Yang.

“Community intelligence supported by the examination of computer equipment and mobile call data has shown that both of the victims have been involved in fraudulent activity which has angered and upset a number of people.

Televised matches

“We are currently investigating this as a possible motive for the killings.”

One line of inquiry involves claims Mr Zhen recruited spectators online to send live updates from UK football matches.

It is claimed syndicates in China, where matches are televised a minute behind, could take advantage of this.

Information passed to Northumbria Police includes details of adverts placed on UK-based Mandarin-language websites, recruiting people to watch football matches around the world.

One reads: “It is a very simple job, any student who is interested, please contact Zhen Xing Yang.”

An ad posted under the name CICI-UK, his girlfriend’s nickname, on the powerapple website last October, reads: “Work: Watch football games and send live information to people.

“Requirement: Basic understanding of football rules, no professional background needed, advantage if you have a car.

“Location: Sheffield, London, Blackpool, Portsmouth, York, Hull and many other places.”

Similar adverts requested live information from the Mexican League.

CCTV of Xi Zhou in street

Xi Zhou was caught on CCTV travelling home from work

The couple were found dead in separate bedrooms at the downstairs flat by friends on the afternoon on 9 August.

Police said Mr Zhen was “assaulted for more than an hour” before being stabbed. They believe passers-by may have heard his screams.

A post-mortem examination revealed he suffered extensive bruising to his arms before he died.

Examinations also showed Miss Xi may have been asphyxiated as well as stabbed during the attack.

The body of a cat, which had been drowned and hidden in a washing bowl underneath the bathroom sink, was probably killed by the couple’s murderer, said police.

An offender profiler has been brought in to help establish a motive for the killings.

Police have also released CCTV images taken as Miss Xi traveled home from work at the Wagamama restaurant in Newcastle last Thursday afternoon.

Police have not been able to find any occupation for Mr Zhen since he completed his degree in September 2006.

A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “We continue to look into the lifestyle of both victims and internet websites form part of this investigation.

“We cannot comment further at this stage.”

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