Government, international media websites down

The websites of the White House, the British government and international media were hit by outages on Tuesday.

Messages such as “Error 503 Service Unavailable” and “connection failure” appeared on the websites of CNN, the Financial TimesThe Guardian and France’s Le Monde newspaper.

The White House website had an error message but was available again later.

The websites remained unavailable at around 1030 GMT.

The BBC and the New York Times were temporarily inaccessible, but also later returned.


Pakistan-origin Muslim family of 4 killed in ‘premeditated’ attack in Canada

A man driving a pickup truck rammed into and killed four members of a Muslim family in the south of Canada’s Ontario province, in what police said on Monday was a “premeditated” attack.

A 20-year-old suspect wearing a vest “like body armour” fled the scene after the attack on Sunday evening, and was arrested at a mall seven kilometres from the intersection in London, Ontario where it happened, said Detective Superintendent Paul Waight.

“There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate. It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim,” he told a news conference.

The names of the victims were not released, but they include a 74-year-old woman, a 46-year-old man, a 44-year-old woman and a 15-year-old girl — together representing three generations of the same family, according to London Mayor Ed Holder.

A nine-year-old boy was also hospitalised following the attack and is recovering.

“Let me be clear, this was an act of mass murder perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, rooted in unspeakable hatred,” said Holder.

Holder said flags would be lowered for three days in London, which he said has 30,000 to 40,000 Muslims among its more than 400,000 residents.

Identified as Nathaniel Veltman, the suspect has been charged with four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

Police said Veltman, a resident of London, did not know the victims.

Waight said local authorities are also liaising with federal police and the attorney general about adding “possible terrorism charges”.

He offered few details of the investigation, but noted that the suspect’s social media postings were reviewed by police.

Waight said police did not know at this point if the suspect was a member of any specific hate group and declined to detail evidence pointing to a possible hate crime, but said the attack was planned.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that he was “horrified” by the attack.

“To the loved ones of those who were terrorised by yesterday’s act of hatred, we are here for you,” he said, singling out the nine-year-old in hospital.

“To the Muslim community in London and to Muslims across the country, know that we stand with you. Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities. This hate is insidious and despicable — and it must stop,” he added.

‘Condemnable act of terrorism’

Calling it a “condemnable act of terrorism”, Prime Minister Imran Khan said the incident revealed growing Islamophobia in Western countries. “Islamophobia needs to be countered holistically by the international community,” he said.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said three generations of Pakistani-Canadians were killed in a “brutal act of mass murder for their Muslim faith”.

“This is an act of terror rooted in unspeakable hatred and Islamophobia. Extend our deepest sympathy to the family members and pray for recovery of the only survivor; a little boy,” he said.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Foreign Office (FO) condemned the Islamophobic incident that resulted in the deaths of the four victims.

“The High Commission for Pakistan in Ottawa and the Consulate General in Toronto are in close contact with the relevant Canadian authorities to ascertain the facts of the case and to ensure that the perpetrators of this heinous act are brought to justice,” the FO statement said.

The consul general in Toronto also visited the family of the deceased to offer condolences and all possible assistance, it added.

“This tragic incident is yet another manifestation of the systematic rise in Islamophobia. The Canadian prime minister has stated that Islamophobia has no place in any of their communities. Events like these further reinforce the imperative for the international community to work together for interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence,” the statement said.

‘Out for a walk’

At about 8:40pm on Sunday, according to police, the five family members were walking together along a sidewalk when a black pickup truck “mounted the curb and struck” them as they waited to cross the intersection.

One woman who witnessed the aftermath of the deadly crash said she couldn’t stop thinking about the victims. Paige Martin said she was stopped at a red light around 8:30pm when a large pick-up roared past her. She said her car shook from the force.

“I was shaken up, thinking it was an erratic driver,” Martin said.

Minutes later, she said, she came upon a gruesome, chaotic scene at an intersection near her home, with first responders running to help, a police officer performing chest compressions on one person and three other people lying on the ground. A few dozen people stood on the sidewalk and several drivers got out of their cars to help.

“I can’t get the sound of the screams out of my head,” Martin said.

From her apartment, Martin said she could see the scene and watched an official drape a sheet over one body about midnight. “My heart is just so broken for them,” she said.

Zahid Khan, a family friend, said the three generations among the dead were a grandmother, father, mother and their teenage daughter. The family had immigrated from Pakistan 14 years ago and were dedicated, decent and generous members of the London Muslim Mosque, he said.

“They were just out for a walk that they would go out for every day,” Khan said through tears near the site of the crash.

A fundraising webpage said the father was a physiotherapist and cricket enthusiast and his wife was working on a PhD in civil engineering at Western University in London. Their daughter was finishing ninth grade, and the grandmother was a pillar of the family, the page said.

Qazi Khalil said he saw the family on Thursday when they were out for their nightly walk. The families lived close to each other and would get together on holidays, he said.

“This has totally destroyed me from the inside,” Khalil said. “I can’t really come to the terms they are no longer here.”

The attack, which brought back painful memories of a Quebec City mosque mass shooting in January 2017 and a driving rampage in Toronto that killed 10 people in April 2018, drew swift condemnation.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims said in a statement it was “beyond horrified and demands justice” for the family who were just “out for a walk” on a warm spring evening.

“This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil and must be treated as such,” its president, Mustafa Farooq, told Radio Canada.

The Muslim Association of Canada also called on authorities to “prosecute this horrific attack as an act of hate and terrorism”.

a 27-year-old white supremacist burst into a Quebec City mosque and unleashed a hail of bullets on worshippers who were chatting after evening prayers, killing six men and seriously wounding five others.

At the time, prior to New Zealand mosques shootings in March 2019, it was the worst ever attack on Muslims in the West.

The shooter, Alexandre Bissonette, was sentenced to 40 years in prison, but that was lowered on appeal, and the Supreme Court is now reviewing his punishment.

Meanwhile, a 28-year-old man who ploughed a rented van into pedestrians at high speed three years ago in Toronto was found guilty in March of murdering 10 people and trying to kill 16 others.

Before that attack, Alek Minassian posted on Facebook a reference to an online community of “involuntary celibates” whose sexual frustrations led them to embrace a misogynist ideology.

He is to be sentenced in January 2022.

Swati accepts responsibility for Ghotki train accident

LAHORE: Minister of Railways Azam Khan Swati accepted responsibility for the train accident at Ghotki on Monday.

“Being top official (minister for railways), I take responsibility for this train accident. The other senior officials working under me also take responsibility,” he said when asked whether he would tender resignation from office of the minister being responsible since the PTI , while sitting at opposition benches in the PML-N government, had sought resignation of former railways minister Khwaja Saad Rafiq over train accidents.

However, Mr Swati also held all those responsible who, in his words, were involved in corruption and did nothing for the railways during the last 25/30 years.

“This track is stuck like a bone in our throat. We can neither eat it nor throw it out. I admit that safety of passengers at this track is compromised,” the minister admitted.

Also blames ‘those’ who headed ministry in last three decades

The railways had recently claimed 23pc reduction in accidents this year (January to May 2021) as compared to the corresponding period last year when 64 accidents were reported. In 2019, according to the media reports, over 100 train accidents were reported.

The Bahawalpur-Sukkur-Hyderabad section is the core part of the Main Line-1, which needs urgent rehabilitation. Though the PR’s various branch lines are also in a dilapidated condition, this section continues to be ignored for the last couple of years. In 2014, the department had done special repair of this section, easing the trains operations to some extent. But the situation started worsening in 2018/19 as the government drastically squeezed the railways budget.

While the number of accidents started rising, the railway administration, instead of focusing on rehabilitation of the track, started focusing on inducting more passenger trains that further aggravated the situation. Since other issues like the outdated and faulty interlocking/signaling system, outlived passenger coaches and freight/goods wagons, shortage of manpower and unmanned level crossings were already existing, the induction of more trains on the decaying rail track played havoc with the lives and property of passengers, crew, pedestrians, animals crossing railways lines and railways’ own infrastructure.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Swati however defended the induction of new trains in the existing fleet, saying the move was the need of the hour to enhance the revenue.

“Whether we launch new trains or not, we see ourselves at the losing end. There is also confusion whether to rehabilitate or replace this track with a new one,” he argued.

“If we start this process (track rehabilitation) and in the meanwhile, the CPEC’s ML-1 project starts, Rs15/20bn will go down the drain. We have decided to take up the ML-1 issue with the Chinese counterparts to know if they want to launch this project. In case of delay, we will start rehabilitation of this track on our own.”

The minister claimed he had quickly taken up various issues after taking over the ministry, especially the delay in completion of the project to replace the faulty interlocking system with the new one. The National Accountability Bureau, he said, was after this project and no officer was ready to work.

“I met the NAB chairman personally and requested him to quickly dispose of the inquiry in this regard. And he did,” Swati added.

A source in the railways said that negligence of the department was also a cause of the Ghotki accident as a warning about the possibility of some big accidents had recently been given to the PR Sukkur division.

“I am really baffled over silence of the government over such a gross negligence on the part of senior officers. It is also evident with the reported letter from the PR’s headquarters’ chief engineer to the DS (Sukkur) about four days ago about a possibility of major accidents at this section in coming days if the repair, despite provision of material, was not carried out immediately. But unfortunately no action was taken,” deplores an official while talking to Dawn on anonymity request.

Published in Dawn

Over 800 suspects detained as hi-tech sting leads to global crackdown on organised crime

Global law enforcement agencies hacked into an app used by criminals and read millions of encrypted messages, leading to hundreds of arrests of organised crime figures in 18 countries, officials said on Tuesday.

The operation by Australian and European police and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ensnared suspects in Australia, Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East involved in the global narcotics trade, the officials said.

Over 800 suspected members of organised crime gangs were arrested and $148 million in cash seized in raids around the world. Tons of drugs were also seized, the officials said.

Named Operation Trojan Shield by the FBI, it was one of the biggest infiltrations and takeovers of a specialised encrypted network.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the operation “struck a heavy blow against organised crime — not just in this country, but one that will echo … around the world”.

“This is a watershed moment in Australian law enforcement history,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said police there had arrested 224 people, including members of outlawed motorcycle gangs, while New Zealand said it had detained 35 people.

In Europe, officials said 75 Swedish suspects were arrested and over 60 detained in Germany. Forty-nine were arrested in Holland.

The operation was conceived by Australian police and the FBI in 2018, under which officials in the US took control of the An0m messaging app used by organised crime networks.

When an Australian underworld figure began distributing customised phones containing the app to his associates as a secure means to communicate, police could monitor their messages. The gangs believed the system was secure because the phones did not have any other capabilities — no voice or camera functions were loaded — and the app was encrypted.

Criminal groups in more than 100 countries were given the phones, an FBI official said.

“We have been in the back pockets of organised crime,” Kershaw said at the media briefing. “All they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered.”

The messages were brazen and there was no attempt to hide behind any kind of code, he said.

“It was there to be seen, including ‘we’ll have a speedboat meet you at this point’, ‘this is who will do this’ and so on.”

Marked man

Kershaw said the Australian underworld figure, who had absconded from the country, had “essentially set up his own colleagues” by distributing the phones and was a marked man.

“The sooner he hands himself in, the better for him and his family,” he said.

One murder plot that authorities got to know of involved plans to attack a cafe with a machine gun, while a family of five was also targeted. Authorities said they were able to prevent these attacks.

Executing Australia’s largest number of search warrants in one day, police on Monday seized 104 firearms, including a military-grade sniper rifle, as well as almost 45 million Australian dollars in cash. Around $7 million Australian dollars was found in one safe buried beneath a garden shed in a Sydney suburb.

A total of 525 charges have been laid but authorities expect more in the coming weeks.

Railways knew about vulnerability of Sukkur division track: official

HYDERABAD: Much before Monday’s train crash near Daharki, Pakistan Railways authorities were informed about the vulnerability of the 900-kilometre-long up and down tracks of the Sukkur division, but to no avail.

The vulnerability of the entire track could be gauged from the fact that the point where the tragic accident took place on Monday was welded and PR authorities conducted a forensic audit of that joint of the track just two years ago and cleared it.

Speaking to Dawn over the phone from the scene, PR Sukkur division’s superintendent Mian Tariq Latif said he had time and again brought into the notice of the top railways authorities the vulnerable condition of the entire track within his jurisdiction.

“There are around 6,000 joints on both up and down tracks in the Sukkur division and the point where the tragedy has occurred is one of the welded joints,” Mr Latif said, adding that the entire track in Sukkur division had welded joints.

Questions raised over the fate of ML-I project

“I have only one welding machine and that too is substandard,” he said, adding that the entire track needed rehabilitation.

He said he had been facing an inquiry for reporting these things to PR authorities. “A man with questionable credentials is conducting an inquiry against me,” he claimed.

He said he had been writing to the PR authorities regularly ever since he assumed office.

PR Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Nisar Memon did not agree with the contention of Mr Latif and claimed that the safety of passengers could never be compromised.

ML-I’s fate unknown

Opposition MNA Ch Hamid Hameed, who is a member of the Standing Committee on Railways, said that the federal government had not committed 15 per cent funds under the ML-I (main line) project. “The last meeting of the committee was scheduled in the office of Railways Minister Azam Khan Swati on his own request but he didn’t turn up and it shows his seriousness,” he added.

Minister Swati could not be reached over phone for comments. During his last visit to Hyderabad and different PR locations, the federal minister had said the ML-I project would change the destiny of PR.

‘Entire system needs rehabilitation’

According to Ch Hamid, the ML-I project was worked out at Rs800 billion, but it had been slashed to Rs600bn now by the current government. “Chinese won’t commit their 85pc funds for the project unless we [Pakistan government] commit our share of 15pc,” he said.

The PTI government, he said, did not allocate funds for this project in the last three years so why the Chinese would come to rescue it? “The entire system needs rehabilitation and this we have debated in June 3 meeting of the standing committee,” he said.

Fast locomotives

Ch Hamid, who belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, attributed tragedies on railway tracks due to powerful new locomotives, which were not meant for passenger trains. “These locomotives were procured during the past PML-N government and these were solely meant for freight trains. They were supposed to be used for cargo purposes like carrying oil, coal, containers, etc. But this government has attached them with passenger trains and there’s a mismatch of speed between locomotives and old bogies.”

Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s Hyderabad MNA Sabir Kaimkhani somewhat tended to agree with Hamid.

“Why we are waiting for the ML-I alone when major train tragedies are taking place in the same Sukkur division near Ghotki. This strip has become a killer track. We need to invest on it without waiting for ML-I to save precious lives,” he said.

He said that due to a delay in ML-I project other projects including that of Hyderabad railway station had been delayed as well.

He said there were instances when PR drivers tried to cover delays in the journey by overspeeding and this ended up in derailment or collision. “For how long the current government [can] keep blaming the past government for its own follies?” he asked.

However, PR CEO Memon said: “Speed restrictions are applied wherever the condition of the track is not satisfactory. They vary between 50km per hour to 80km per hour depending on the condition of the track.”