The Islamic State group (IS) has said it carried out the bomb attack in Iran on crowds marking the anniversary of spymaster Qasem Soleimani’s assassination by the US. The group, which made its claim through Telegram, later released an image on its news outlet Amaq showing two masked men who, it said, were responsible for the attacks. IS named the attackers as “Omar al-Muwahhid” and “Sayfullah al-Mujahid” – generic names that make it hard to ascertain if the attackers were Iranians or foreigners.
IS has attacked civilians and security forces in Iran on a number of occasions in recent years. The attack in Kerman in southern Iran killed 84 people and wounded many more. Footage broadcast by Iranian state TV showed large crowds were taking part in a procession along a road lined with banners featuring Qasem Soleimani when the explosions happened. People could be heard screaming and then seen running away in panic after one of the blasts. Both Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and UN Secretary General António Guterres strongly condemned the attack.
Israeli strikes in Gaza spark fears of regional conflict
The Palestinian news agency Wafa has updated the toll of yesterday’s Israeli bombings on the Gaza Strip: 32 dead in Khan Yunis and five in Rafah. The victims in Khan Younis – where the military claims to have uncovered tunnels used by Hamas and engaged in battles with militants who attacked southern Israel on 7th October – were mostly children as the attack happened in an area designated as a safe zone by the Israeli military. The Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory reports that over 22,400 people have been killed in Gaza, with more than two-thirds being women and children. The ongoing campaign has displaced over 85 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3 million population, with northern Gaza heavily damaged and ground assaults in the south confining most residents to smaller areas.
S. Korea orders islands’ evacuation as North fires artillery
South Korea has ordered civilians on Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong islands to evacuate after North Korea fired around 200 artillery shells off its western coast, the Seoul Ministry of Defence said today. “The North Korean military carried out more than 200 strikes today between 9 and 11 am in the Jangsan-got areas of northern Baengnyeong Island and northern Yeonpyeong Island,” a South Korean official told a news conference. Local authorities in Yeonpyeong specified that civilians were ordered to evacuate as a “preventive measure”. The South Korean island is located in the Yellow Sea, about 80km west of Incheon and 12km south of the coast of North Korea’s Hwanghae province. In 2010, Pyongyang fired 170 artillery shells into Yeonpyeong, killing four people, including two civilians, in the first North Korean attack against civilians since the Korean War (1950-1953).
Kim calls for increase production of missile launchers
Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called for an increase in the production of missile launchers during a visit to an arms factory, in preparation for a “military confrontation” with South Korea and the United States, according to a reports by the state agency Kcna. The White House said yesterday that Pyongyang supplied Moscow with ballistic missiles and delivery systems used in major attacks in recent days against Ukraine. Historic allies, Russia and North Korea are both subject to international sanctions: the former for its invasion of Ukraine and the latter for its banned missile and nuclear weapons programmes. At the end of a five-day meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in late December, Kim had already ordered the acceleration of military preparations for a “war” that could “be launched at any time” on the peninsula.
Houthis attack ships hours after US, allies issue final warning
An armed unmanned surface vessel launched from Houthi-controlled Yemen got within a “couple of miles” of US Navy and commercial vessels in the Red Sea before detonating on Thursday, just hours after the White House and a host of partner nations issued a final warning to the Iran-backed militia group to cease the attacks or face potential military action. It was the first time the Houthis had used an unmanned surface vessel, or USV, since their harassment of commercial ships in the Red Sea began after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. They have, however, used them in years past – especially as suicide drone boats that explode upon impact.
Europe hit by extreme cold causing floods, power cuts
Thousands have been left without power in the Nordic countries as extreme cold hits the region and much of western Europe, causing floods in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Gusty winds and snow wreaked havoc in the region, leaving many drivers stuck in their cars on the hazardous, clogged highways.
Finland and Sweden recorded temperatures of below 40OC earlier this week, the coldest of the winter, forcing school closures and causing travel disruptions. In Sweden, some 4,000 homes were left in the dark on Thursday as temperatures plunged to -38OC, according to Swedish public radio. The day before, the mercury had dropped to -43.6 OC, the lowest January temperature recorded in Sweden in 25 years. The municipality of Enontekio in Finnish Lapland, near the border with Norway and Sweden, reported a record temperature of -42.5 OC on Thursday. Denmark and Norway, both battered by wind and snow, were also similarly affected.
The extreme cold that hit the Scandinavian region is part of a storm that has also impacted Western Europe. Heavy rains have led to floods in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, adding to the ongoing flooding in these regions over the past two weeks. One death linked to the weather was reported in France. The cold wave from Siberia and the Arctic region has also swept down over western Russia, with temperatures in Moscow and other areas plummeting to -30 OC – well below the average temperature for early January. Officials in Moscow, St Petersburg, and other areas have issued orange weather warnings, cautioning residents against possible health risks.
A storm, which has been named Henk by the official weather services of Britain, Ireland, and the Netherlands, has caused power cuts, transport troubles, property damage and disruption across the UK. More than 300 flood warnings were in place across England and Wales on Wednesday, while 10,000 homes remained without power. The strongest gales in the UK were recorded on the Isle of Wight, just off the coast in southern England, where wind speeds reached 151 kilometres per hour.
One dead, 6 injured in German hospital fire
One person died and many others were injured in a fire that occurred yesterday evening in a hospital in the German city of Uelzen, south of Hamburg in Lower Saxony. Local police said six people had life-threatening injuries and “many others” had minor injuries. The fire broke out at 10.45pm and, when emergency services personnel arrived, flames and a lot of smoke were visible on the third floor. Calls for help were heard from the building and the hospital was evacuated as soon as the fire was brought under control, authorities added. The police have launched an investigation into the cause of the fire, which is estimated to have caused damage of over one million euros.
One student killed, 5 injured at Iowa high school
One student was killed and five others were injured after a shooter opened fire at Perry High School in Iowa on Thursday. The suspect, identified as a 17-year-old student at the high school named Dylan Butler, then turned the gun on himself, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The official also said that at least one of the victims is a school administrator.
Putin offers citizenship to foreign fighters joining Russia
The Kremlin has issued a new decree saying that foreigners who sign contracts to serve in or alongside the Russian army will have the right to apply for Russian citizenship. TASS reports that both fighters themselves and their relatives are covered by the decree, which was cleared by President Vladimir Putin and published on Thursday. Having lost an estimated 300,000-odd troops in Ukraine in less than two years, the Russian armed forces are increasingly turning to foreign joiners for reinforcements. The recent Ukrainian attacks on the Russian border region of Belgorod have raised the prospect that Russians might begin to feel blowback from what was originally intended to be a brief invasion but has turned into a two-year conflict.
Glynis Johns dies aged 100
Glynis Johns, impish British actress of stage and screen, has died of natural causes aged 100. The actress, dancer, musician and singer had a career spanning eight decades on stage and screen, appearing in more than 60 films and 30 plays. She has received various accolades throughout her career, including a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award as well as nominations for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Laurence Olivier Award. She was considered as being one of the last major stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood and classical years of British cinema. Renowned for the breathy quality of her husky voice, Johns sang songs written specifically for her both on screen and stage, including “Sister Suffragette”, written by the Sherman Brothers for Disney’s Mary Poppins (1964), in which she played Winifred Banks and for which she received a Laurel Award, and “Send In the Clowns”, composed by Stephen Sondheim for Broadway’s A Little Night Music (1973), in which she originated the role of Desiree Armfeldt and for which she received a Tony Award and Drama Desk Award.
Oscar Pistorius to be released on parole today
Former Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius will be released from prison today, nearly 11 years after murdering his girlfriend. Pistorius – once celebrated as the ‘blade runner’ – shot Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013 at his home in Pretoria, South Africa. He said he fired his gun through a bathroom door after mistaking her for an intruder in the early hours. His trial was one of the most publicised trials in years. The decision to grant the 37-year-old parole was made in November. The parole will last until December 2029 and Pistorius will be supervised by a correctional services official and subject to restrictions. He must attend therapy for anger issues and “gender-based violence issues” and will do community service. Britain’s The Standard says details of Pistorius’ release from prison is being kept secret over “security fears”.
Main photo: AP Photo/Vahid Salemi