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News Summary: November 2015

Paris Terror Attacks 

This month’s deadly attacks in Paris by gunmen and suicide bombers which hit a concert hall, a major stadium, restaurants and bars, have left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded with over 100 left in a critical condition. Three days of national mourning followed the attacks.

The attacks have been described by President Francois Hollande as an “act of war” organised by Isis. One of the attackers was said to have shouted “God is great” in Arabic. One witness heard a gunman blaming President Hollande for intervening in Syria. It was the first clear evidence that Paris was once again being targeted by Islamist extremists.


Our story: Paris mourns ‘barbaric’ attacks.

A passport found near one of the suicide bombers at the Stade de France bore the name of Ahmad al-Mohammad. It was used to register a refugee and American intelligence officials have reported that the passport was clearly fake, based on the sequence of its serial number, something not apparently picked up on as its holder made his way through Europe.

However the attacks have increased fears in Europe that militants might be using the refugee crisis to enter the continent. However, Hollande said France would still admit the 30,000 Syrian refugees it had committed to accepting under an EU plan agreed to in September.

In the aftermath of the attack, Paris has mobilized 115,000 security forces, carried out multiple raids, and conducted airstrikes over Raqaa, the Syrian city that serves as the Islamic State’s de facto capital.

Raids have also taken place in the Belgian city of Brussels. The Belgian government declared a state of emergency, warning of an “imminent” terror threat in Brussels. It urged people to stay away from venues such as transport hubs and concert halls. One analyst said that the nation’s capital was effectively shut down.

Many countries have shown that they’re standing side by side with France, by sending messages of support and lighting their iconic buildings with the colours of the French flag – red, white and blue. Social media has also seen trending support.

Syria Airstrikes 

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, warplanes targeted eight ISIS positions, including arms, transportation, communications and control positions.

According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 28 people were killed in the strikes, including women and children. However The Syrian National Coalition reported that 36 people were killed, all civilians.

Russia has also admitted to launching air strikes hitting militant organisations opposed to Assad – not only IS – bolstering Western fears that Vladimir Putin’s real purpose in Syria is to help Assad reclaim lost territory.


Our story: ISIS and airstrikes – is bombing an effective tool?

Russia supports Assad’s regime in the ongoing four-year civil war as the country is one of its few remaining allies in the Middle East. While Western powers have weapon embargoes on Syria’s government, Russia continues to supply Assad with arms.

Russia believes a strong Assad government is needed to repel the threat of Isis in the region but others have spoken of a need for regime change, fearing any support for Assad could inspire rebels to join IS and lead to more refugees fleeing the country.

Syrian state-run news agency ‘SANA’ reported that Russian warplanes had targeted “ISIS dens” in al-Rastan, Talbiseh and Zafaraniya in Homs province; Al-Tilol al-Hmer, in Qunaitra province; Aydoun, a village on the outskirts of the town of Salamiya; Deer Foul, between Hama and Homs; and the outskirts of Salmiya.

Sinai Plane Crash

Everybody on board was killed on the Airbus A321, operated by the Russian airline Kogalymavia, took off from Sharm el-Sheikh airport and was brought down by a bomb.

The plane was carrying 224 people in total, including 219 Russian citizens, four Ukrainians and one Belarus national. Of the 217 passengers, 17 were children. Most of the passengers were tourists. Many of the victims were members of the same families. A large number of them shared the same last name, and it appears that in some cases three generations of the same family perished in what is believed to be the worst air disaster involving a Russian plane.

The British government flew additional consular staff to Sharm on Wednesday to help holidaymakers who might be stranded following its decision to halt all flights to the UK pending security checks at the airport.


Our story: Kogalymavia Flight 9268 crash

Both Egypt and Russia have downplayed suggestions that the crash is linked to terrorism and dismissed claims of responsibility by an Islamist group in Sinai. Egypt’s foreign minister attacked the UK’s suspension of flights as a “premature and unwarranted” step which would damage his country’s tourism industry.

Egypt is leading the investigation, with the help of Russian and other international experts. Air accident investigators from France – home of Airbus, which manufactured the plane – are also involved. Since the plane was registered in Ireland – the home of the company that leased the aircraft to Kogalymavia – a team of Irish investigators have also travelled to Egypt. German experts are also involved because the plane was assembled in Germany, in 1997, and its flight recorders were made there.

Mali Hostages 

Around 10 jihadists attacked a Radisson Blu hotel in the centre of the Mali’s capital, Bamako, while shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and firing at security guards. They took around 170 people hostage and killed 18 people before special forces stormed the building.

Supporters of an al Qaeda-affiliated group have claimed responsibility for the attack. Al Mourabitoun, an African jihadist group made up mostly of Arabs and Tuaregs, posted a message on Twitter saying they were behind the siege. The group is based in the desert, and is led by former al Qaeda fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

Around 20 hostages were freed before troops raided the hotel. A small number of these were released by the attackers, after they proved they could quote verses from the Koran.

As Malian and French troops moved in, the attackers barricaded themselves on the hotel’s seventh floor. Shortly after, the terrorists were ‘holding no more hostages’, according to the security minister.

The jihadists were speaking to each other in English – despite Mali being a Francophone country. A UN official said the attackers arrived at the hotel in vehicles bearing diplomatic license plates.

Malian soldiers, police and special forces stayed on the scene along with some UN peacekeeping troops and French soldiers. They surrounded the hotel and blocked roads leading into the neighbourhood.

Myanmar Elections

Aung San Suu Kyi won Myanmar’s landmark election and claimed a staggering majority in parliament, ending half a century of dominance by the military and providing the symbol of a decades-old democracy movement with a mandate to rule. The National League for Democracy (NLD) party now has control of parliament and can choose the next president.

The government’s election commission in the capital of Naypyidaw said the NLD had won 348 seats across the lower and upper house of parliament, 19 more than the 329 needed for an absolute majority.

Asked why so many people voted for her party, the Nobel laureate earlier told Radio Free Asia: “Our hearts beat in the same note. We struggled together, and we had hopes together. “We dreamed together for nearly 30 years. The NLD and the people are comrades-in-arms. I think that is the reason they supported us.”

The electoral triumph was declared official exactly five years after the world’s most famous political prisoner was released from house arrest for a third and final time.

Long a political favourite of Western leaders, Ms Suu Kyi has received telephone calls of congratulations from David Cameron, Barack Obama and Francois Hollande, the NLD said.

It is 55 years since Burma’s last democratically elected leader, the revered prime minister U Nu, won power at the ballot box. Just two years later, his army commander Ne Win overthrew him in a coup.

More than half a century later, the dominant military and its political proxies have admitted defeat, issuing strikingly magnanimous congratulations to the NLD for its election performance.

Their conciliatory messages appeared to end lingering fears that the military might overturn the result, as it did when the NLD won a previous election landslide in 1990.

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Naina Bhardwaj

Naina Bhardwaj

Naina Bhardwaj

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