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1 day ago · by · 0 comments

26 Killed In Texas Church Shooting

 

 

A gunman in Texas opened fire Sunday morning church service in the small town of Sutherland Springs, killing 26 people and wounding at least 20 others. Witnesses say a man dressed in black wearing tactical gear and a ballistic vest began firing outside the church before entering the building, shooting dozens of people inside.  The suspected shooter has been identified as a 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley from New Braunfels, Texas.  Kelley was found dead in his car shortly after the shooting.

Survivors of the attack said they heard what sounded like firecrackers outside the church and realized someone was shooting at the tiny wood-frame building.  Congregants began screaming and dropped to the floor after getting hit.  The gunman then entered the church and shot the people in charge of the camera and audio of the service.  He quickly moved down the center aisle shooting congregants.  The shooting stopped, leaving worshippers to think it was over but the gunman entered the church again yelling “Everybody die!” as he checked each aisle for more victims, including babies who cried out amid the chaos, shooting helpless families at point blank range.

Stephen Willeford, who had run out of his house near the church barefoot, shot at Kelley, hitting him twice and forcing him to flee.  Willeford, ran toward a truck that was stopped at the stop sign outside the church and quickly told the driver, Johnnie Langendorff what had transpired.  The two followed Kelley in the truck for 11 miles at speeds reaching 90 mph before Kelley lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a ditch.  Willeford and Langendorff kept a safe distance while Willeford aimed his rifle at Kelley’s car and Langendorff directed the police to the location of the shooter.  Authorities believe Kelley shot himself in the head shortly after the crash.  Authorities also said Kelley appears to have carried out the massacre because of a domestic dispute he had with a former mother-in-law, who was a member of the First Baptist Church but was not present on Sunday.

Kelley enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2010 but was court-martialed for assaulting his then wife, Tessa and his stepson-who suffered a fractured skull during the assault.  Kelley was demoted and underwent a year-long imprisonment where he once escaped from a psychiatric hospital, threatened to kill his superiors in the U.S. Air Force and tried to smuggle firearms onto his base.  His first wife divorced him during his confinement and he received a “bad conduct” discharge in 2014, a dismissal that usually precludes ex-servicemen from buying firearms.   The Air Force has admitted it failed to report Kelley’s domestic violence court-martial to a federal database, which would have prohibited Kelley from legally buying the rifle that he used in the shooting.

Kelley married his second wife, Danielle Shields in 2014 but they became estranged sometime in 2016. Kelley had sent threatening text messages to Shields mother, Michelle who was a member of the church but was not present during the shooting.  Authorities say nearly half of those shot in the church were children and many were from the same families.  Those killed in the shooting were Michelle Shields mother, Lula Woicinski White, 71; Robert Scott Marshall and his wife, Karen, both 56, Peggy Lynn Warden, 56; Keith Allen Braden, 62; Robert and Shani Corrigan, both 51; Dennis Johnson, 77 and his wife Sara, 68; Haley Krueger, 16, Tara McNulty, 33; Ricardo Rodriguez, 64, and his wife Therese, 66; Annabelle Pomeroy, 14; Joann Ward, 30; Emily Ward, 7; Brooke Ward, 5; Bryan Holcombe, 60; Karla Holcombe, 58; Marc Daniel Holcombe, 36; Noah Holcombe, 17 months; Greg Holcombe, 13; Emily Holcomb, 11; Megan Holcombe, 9; Crystal Holcombe, 36 and her unborn child Carlin.

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1 week ago · by · 274 comments

Utah Nurse Wins Settlement

 

 

 

Utah Nurse Alex Wubbels has won a $500,000 settlement after being violently arrested by police at The  Utah University Hospital for refusing a police officer’s demand that she draw a blood sample from an unconscious car crash patient.  Police body cam video shows an officer grab Wubbels, dragging her out of the hospital and into an unmarked car.  The incident happened on July 26 but the story went viral when bodycam footage was released weeks later.

In the video, Salt Lake City Detective Jeff Payne is seen arguing with Utah nurse Alex Wubbels, the charge nurse working the night shift on the burn unit at Utah University Hospital.   Wubbels was following hospital protocol and the law when she calmly refused to allow a blood draw on an unconscious patient without consent or a warrant.   She presented the officers with a printout of hospital policy on drawing blood and said their request did not meet the criteria.  Hospital policy specified police needed either a judge’s order or the patient’s consent, or the patient needed to be under arrest, before obtaining a blood sample.

The dispute ended with Payne handcuffing Wubbels and dragging her outside while she screamed that she’d done nothing wrong.  She was detained for 20 minutes and later released without charge.  Salt Lake City police detective Jeff Payne insisted on drawing the blood, maintaining in his report that he wanted the sample to protect the man rather than prosecute him. He was supported by his supervisor, Lt. James Tracy, who said the nurse could be arrested if she didn’t agree.

After the footage surfaced, the hospital said police would no longer be permitted in patient care areas, such as the burn unit where Wubbels was working that day.  Payne had 20 years on the force at the time.  He and a second officer, Lt. James Tracy, were put on full paid administrative leave by Salt Lake City police during an investigation involving the FBI.  On Oct. 11th, the Salt Lake City Police Department announced that Payne had been fired and Lt. James Tracy was demoted over the incident.

The patient in question, William Gray, was a reserve police officer with the Rigby, Idaho police department.  He worked as a truck driver and had been severely burned following a fiery head-on crash caused by a man in a pickup truck who was fleeing the Utah State Highway Patrol.  He spent two months in the University of Utah burn center before he passed away on September 25th.

Karra Porter, Wubbels’ attorney said her client has met the five goals she set when this incident occurred.  She wanted changes to policy, accountability from those who were involved in the incident, to start a public discussion about the urgent need for body cameras, to be compensated and to help other people who have a need for evidence obtained on body cam videos when these types of situations happen to them.  Wubbels said she plans to use a portion of the settlement toward a new initiative to help others pay for access to police body camera video clips.  “We all deserve to know the truth and the truth comes when you see the actual raw footage and that’s what happened in my case,” Wubbels said.  “Any person in the State of Utah who wishes to obtain body cam footage of an incident involving them will be able to do so, no charge to them.  Our law firm, Christensen & Jensen, will provide any legal services necessary to accomplish that,” Porter said. “Thanks to Alex, there will be more transparency.”

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1 week ago · by · 35 comments

New York City Truck Attack

 

 

In New York City, eight people were killed and 11 injured when a man intentionally drove a rented Home Depot pickup truck 12 blocks down a bike path along Manhattan’s Hudson River on Halloween.  The attacker, 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov drove the truck down the bicycle lane, killing multiple people before crashing into a school bus.  He then reportedly jumped out of the car, waving a pellet gun and a paintball gun. Police say he yelled “Allahu Akbar” which means “God is Great” in Arabic before being shot  in the stomach by police.  He survived the shooting and is in custody.

Authorities say they uncovered handwritten notes near the truck that suggest Saipov had declared allegiance to ISIS and that he had planned the attack for weeks.   There is not yet any evidence that Saipov had direct connections to or support from terrorist groups.  Prosecutors say he waived his Miranda rights and confessed during a hospital interview to having carried out the attack after being inspired by ISIS videos he watched on his cellphone.  During the interview, he requested to display the black flag of ISIS in his room at Bellevue Hospital, where he is recovering from the gunshot wound in the abdomen.

Saipov made a court appearance shackled and in a wheelchair where did not ask to be released on bail.  A criminal complaint filed by federal prosecutors accuses Sayfullo Saipov of carrying out the truck attack that killed 8 and injured 12 others.  In the document, he is charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.   A second count charges him with violence and destruction of a truck that was used in interstate and foreign commerce.  He faces up to life in prison if convicted of the charges.

Saipov is originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan and immigrated to the United States in March 2010 and has lived in Florida, Ohio and is believed to have been most recently living in Patterson, New Jersey with his wife and three children.  He is a green card holder with a “diversity immigrant visa,” meaning he arrived in the country through a lottery program.  Authorities say he worked as a commercial truck driver in the US but had been struggling to find work.  They believe that he was radicalized by information he saw on the internet about a year after arriving in the US.

Saipov worked as an Uber driver for more than six months and recorded more than 1,400 trips for the service, an Uber spokesperson said.  Saipov was subsequently banned from the app but Uber did not immediately specify why Saipov was banned from the service.  The company is now aggressively reviewing Saipov’s Uber history, but had not found any concerning safety reports, so far.   Uber says it is cooperating with the FBI as the investigation continues.  A media outlet reported that Saipov has received four previous traffic violations.

The eight people killed in the attack were two young Americans, a Belgian mother and five Argentine tourists visiting New York City to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation.  Police identified the victims as Darren Drake, 32, of New Milford, NJ; Nicholas Cleves, 23, of New York, NY;  Ann-Laure Decadt, 31, of Belgium; Hernan Diego Mendoza-Espino, 47, of Argentina; Alejandro Damian Pagrucco, 47, of Argentina; Herman Ferruchi, 47, of Argentina; Diego Enrique Angelini, 47, of Argentina and Ariel Erlis, 48, of Argentina.

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1 week ago · by · 0 comments

Wave of Sexual Harrassement Sweeping Many Industries

 

 

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, men across the world are continuing to resign, be fired or face intense criticism over a slew of allegations of sexual harassment and assault that have surfaced.  Accusations against those in Hollywood, the media industry, universities, restaurants and the highest reaches of government have revealed inappropriate conduct from many notable men.  The list of those accused of sexual harassment or misconduct continues to grow each day and is sweeping many industries.  Let’s take a look at some of those recently accused.

Producer and director Brett Ratner was accused of sexually harassing six women, including actresses Olivia Munn and Natasha Henstridge.  Director James Toback was accused of sexually harassing over 300 women over several decades, including Julianne Moore, Selma Blaire and Rachel McAdams.  Chris Savino, 46, an animator and writer best known for creating The Loud House, was fired from Nickelodeon after multiple women lodged complaints against him, the network confirmed in a statement.

Actor Kevin Spacey has been accused of sexual harassment by actor Anthony Rapp, who claims he was 14 when Spacey made advances towards him in 1986. Spacey apologized to Rapp via Twitter.  The actor also came out as gay in the statement which drew criticism as an attempt at distracting from disturbing claims against a child.   Several other accusers have come forward against Spacey, including a former House of Cards crew member, filmmaker Tony Montana and actor Rob Cavazos.  On Oct. 31, Netflix announced it would shut down production of the sixth and final season of Cards “until further notice.”  In addition, the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences said it would no longer honor Spacey with the 2017 Emmy Founders Award.

In the media industry, Michael Oreskes, NPR’s senior vice president for news, has resigned after multiple women accused him of kissing them without their consent during meetings for possible employment.  At least a dozen women have accused journalist Mark Halperin of sexually harassment or assault, with at least some of the incidents during his time as political director at ABC News.  Lockhart Steele, the editorial director for Vox Media, was fired after engaging in several incidents of sexual misconduct.  Roy Price, the head of Amazon Studios, quit five days after being put on leave after a producer accused him of sexual harassment.

Celebrity chef John Besh stepped down from the company he founded after about two dozen current and former female employees accused him and other male workers of sexual harassment in what they described as a hostile corporate culture where sexual harassment flourished.  The New Republic’s publisher, Hamilton Fish, has been placed on leave, after a slew of allegations of sexual harassment when he was the president of The Nation Institute.  The New Republic’s most prominent longtime editors, Leon Wieseltier, was also fired over sexual harassment allegations.

Meanwhile, two top staff members at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have been ousted over sexual harassment allegations.  National leader Kendall Fells has resigned and Detroit leader Mark Raleigh has been fired.   Three Dartmouth professors, Todd Heatherton, Paul Whalen and William Kelley from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences- have been put on paid leave amid a criminal investigation into accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct.

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2 weeks ago · by · 8 comments

US Opioid Epidemic Declared A Public Health Emergency

 

 

President Trump has declared the opioid crisis- which killed 64,000 Americans last year- a public health emergency.  The order will last 90 days and can be renewed every 90 days until the President believes it is no longer needed.  President Donald Trump said “Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States by far. More people are dying from drug overdoses today than from gun homicides and motor vehicles combined.”

The administration will work with Congress to fund the Public Health Emergency fund and to increase federal funding in year-end budget deals currently being negotiated in Congress.  Trump has directed agency and department heads to use all appropriate emergency authorities to reduce the number of deaths caused by the opioid crisis.  The administration will also launch an ad campaign so that young people can see the devastation that drugs cause on people and their lives.

The administration’s opioid plan will allow expanded access to telemedicine services, giving doctors the ability to prescribe medications to treat addiction to those in remote locations.  It also speeds the hiring process for medical professionals working on opioids and allows funds in programs for dislocated workers and people with HIV/AIDS to be used to treat their addictions.  The designation gives the administration access to the Public Health Emergency Fund, but that fund is nearly empty.

In August, Trump said that he would declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency but later said the White House had determined that declaring a public health emergency was more appropriate than a national emergency.  Many have criticized the decision to declare a public health emergency rather than a national emergency as not enough.  A commission created by the administration and headed by Gov. Chris Christie called on the president to declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act. Doing so, the commission said, could free up funds for treatment, ensure wider access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone and improve monitoring of opioid prescriptions to prevent abuse.

Congress is currently spending $500 million a year on addiction treatment programs, but that money runs out next year. The administration says it will work with Congress in the budgeting process to find new money to fund addiction treatment programs. A group of senators introduced a bill that would provide more than $45 billion for opioid abuse prevention, surveillance and treatment.

From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 people died of drug overdoses, and opioids account for the majority of those. Recently released numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that around 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016.  More than 140 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Roughly 80 percent of the world’s opioids are consumed in the US.  A report published earlier this year found that 94 percent of heroin entering the United States came from Mexico.  A large portion of the country’s fentanyl – a prescribed painkiller thought by many to be driving the opioid epidemic – derives from China and arrives in the States through US mail.

 

 

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2 weeks ago · by · 1 comment

Executive Order Allows Air Force To Recall Up To 1000 Retired Pilots

 

 

A combat pilot shortage has prompted the invoking of the National Emergencies Act as an executive order was signed that allows the Air Force to voluntarily recall up to 1,000 retired aviators for active duty.  The order could help ease the combat pilot shortage in the force and improve military readiness as the administration steps up its new Afghanistan war strategy to defeat the Taliban and terrorists. The new strategy includes additional U.S. troops going to Afghanistan as well as increased U.S. air support for the Afghan military.

According to the Pentagon, the Air Force is currently short by about 1,500 pilots.  Before the order was signed, the Air Force was allowed to rehire up to 25 retired officers under what’s known as the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty program and bring them back to active duty in critical aviation-related staff positions.   The executive order now allows the Air Force to temporarily exceed the limit of 25 rehires.  Other branches of the U.S. military also need more pilots, including the Navy, and the executive order could be used later to help address those challenges.

A release issued by the Air Force said they are now looking to have retired pilots return to the service for up to 12 months in positions that require qualified pilots.  The service is looking for retired fliers of any pilot specialty code — which includes bomber, fighter, helicopter, tanker, and remotely operated aircraft pilots — to fill “critical-rated staff positions” and allow active-duty pilots to stay with units where they are needed to meet mission requirements.

The Air Force is combating the pilot shortage with various incentive programs to keep officers in uniform longer.  A program launching later this year includes a 100 percent promotion opportunity and an aviator retention pay bonus worth up to $350,000 over a 10-year term that is already in effect.  Pay for officers and enlisted personnel will increase for the first time since 1999.  Incentive pay, also called flight pay, will increase for all officers, with those who have over 12 years of service potentially seeing the biggest boost, up to a maximum of $1,000 a month. Incentive pay will also increase for enlisted aircrew members — up to a maximum of $600 for those with over 14 years of service.

An Air Force official indicated they had no current plans to act on the authority granted to them by the president’s order.  “The Air Force does not currently intend to recall retired pilots to address the pilot shortage,” “We appreciate the authorities and flexibility delegated to us.”

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3 weeks ago · by · 2 comments

Two Water Protectors Sentenced, Hundreds of Cases Still Open

 

Hundreds of trials for activists who stood against the Dakota Access Pipeline have seen the courtroom but only two have received jail time so far.  A judge in North Dakota has sentenced two water protectors to jail time after they were convicted on misdemeanor charges over an October 2016 protest at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access pipeline.

Twenty-seven-year-old Alexander Simon, a school teacher from New Mexico was sentenced to serve 18 days in jail for obstruction of a government function.  Mary Redway, a 64 year old retired environmental biologist from Rhode Island was sentenced to six days in jail for disorderly conduct. The sentences were imposed by Judge Thomas Merrick despite the fact that the prosecution had not recommended the two serve jail time.

Journalist Sara Lafleur-Vetter, who was filming for The Guardian at the time of her arrest, was acquitted on misdemeanor charges stemming from her reporting on the protest on October 22.  Hundreds of unresolved criminal cases related to the months-long resistance at Standing Rock remain open.  Hundreds of cases have been

The Water Protector Legal Collective- an indigenous-led legal team defending activists arrested during the months-long Dakota Access Pipeline controversy is currently fighting over 427 criminal cases in North Dakota, according to the legal team’s website.  Another 272 cases have been dismissed due to lack of evidence of any crime being committed.  Morton County has put out warrants, dismissed cases, recharged water protectors, and failed to send mail or contact arrestees regarding scheduled court dates-all resulting in new warrants being issued for accused water protectors without their knowledge.

Three water protectors are currently imprisoned while awaiting trial: Red Fawn Fallis, Little Feather and Dion Ortiz.  Fallis, the most seriously charged water protector, was arrested at Standing Rock on October 27, 2016 accused of possessing and discharging a firearm as she was being restrained by police near construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Fallis, the organizer of the “Frontline Camp” was arrested during the October 27th raid on the camp when over 300 police officers—some carrying M16 rifles and clad in flak vests advanced to remove all remaining protestors.  Four officers left formation and tackled Fallis to the ground, holding her face down.  Four additional officers assisted in trying to handcuff her as she was being tased.   In the course of the raid, the police fired tear gas and concussion grenades and peppered the water protectors with rubber-tipped bullets and bean bag pellets, causing dozens of injuries.  Fallis was held in a Rugby, North Dakota jail until her transfer to a halfway house in Fargo in June 2017.  Her jury trial was originally slated to begin on July 17, but it has now been postponed until December 5.

 

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3 weeks ago · by · 2 comments

California Wildfires Become Deadliest In History

 

In California, the death toll from unprecedented wildfires has risen to at least 42, with over 400 more missing, as firefighters continue to battle 15 major blazes across the state.   At least 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate, with about 75,000 people still displaced.  Some area residents only had a brief window to escape as the fire quickly spread through neighborhoods with 20 mph winds and 40 mph wind gusts.  Search teams are using drones with three-dimensional cameras and search dogs in an effort to locate missing people in neighborhoods that have been reduced entirely to ash and rubble. The death toll has risen daily as search teams gain access to previously unreachable areas.

The state’s insurance commissioner says the unprecedented wildfires have caused over $1 billion in insured losses. The wildfires have scorched more than 200,000 acres—roughly the size of New York City.   The fires have destroyed over 8,000 homes and businesses and are now the deadliest in California since record keeping began.

The fires started Oct. 8 and 9 and steadily burning through forests, neighborhoods, farms, wineries and other infrastructure—including cell phone towers used by the state’s emergency services.  High winds and dry weather statewide have hampered efforts to contain the multiple blazes-making them the most destructive wildfires in California’s history.

Firefighters have continuously fought to contain the series of fires using air tankers, helicopters and more than 1,000 fire engines.  Hundreds of firefighters poured in to California as crews arrived from Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona. Other teams came from Canada and Australia. Crews were using 840 fire engines from across California and another 170 sent from around the country.

The fires have been particularly bad in Sonoma County, where 30 marijuana farms and three marijuana manufacturers have lost everything to the blazes. Cannabis cultivators cannot insure their businesses since federal law prohibits banks and financial institutions from participating in the marijuana industry, even in the eight states where recreational pot is legal, because marijuana is illegal according to federal law.  Twenty-seven wineries have reportedly suffered damaged.  Many wineries have reported either complete losses or significant damage.

California governor Jerry Brown has remained in state capital Sacramento this week, issuing emergency declarations and securing federal disaster relief.  “This is truly one of the greatest tragedies that California has ever faced,” Brown said. “The devastation is just unbelievable. It is a horror that no one could have imagined.”

 

 

 

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3 weeks ago · by · 0 comments

Somalia Truck Bombings

 

 

 

In Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu, two massive truck bombs exploded in quick succession on Saturday night, killing over 300 people and wounding more than 300 others.  It was the deadliest attack in Somalia since the rise of the al-Shabab militant group a decade ago and has been called “the 9/11 of the Somali people.”  The scale of the loss makes the attack, which involved a truck packed with several hundred pounds of military-grade and homemade explosives, one of the most lethal terrorist acts anywhere in the world for many years.

In the worst of the two bombings, a truck packed with explosives detonated near the Safari Hotel, collapsing the building and igniting a nearby fuel tanker. The resulting fireball set cars on fire and flattened nearby businesses and homes, trapping people under rubble.  The death toll is expected to rise as more victims continue to be dug from the rubble spread over an area hundreds of meters wide in the center of the city.

Many people are still missing and rescue workers say a definitive death toll may never be established because the intense heat generated by the blast meant the remains of many people would not be found.  Somali intelligence officials have said the attack was meant to target the capital’s heavily fortified international airport where many countries have their embassies. The massive bomb, which security officials said weighed between 1,300 pounds and 1,700 pounds, instead detonated in a crowded street after soldiers opened fire and flattened one of the truck’s tires.

Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared three days of national mourning after the attacks and while there’s been no claim of responsibility, Somalia’s government was quick to blame al-Shabab militants, who have been behind past bombings in Mogadishu.  On Sunday, hundreds of Somalis poured into the streets of Mogadishu to condemn the attacks.  President Mohamed urged troops to prepare for a “state of war” against the al-Shabab extremist group blamed for the country’s deadliest attack.

Army spokesman Capt. Abdullahi Iman said the offensive involving thousands of troops will try to push al-Shabab fighters out of their strongholds in the Lower Shabelle and Middle Shabelle regions where many deadly attacks on Mogadishu and on Somali and African Union bases have been launched.   A Somali military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the United States is expected to play a supporting role in the new offensive.

In March, President Trump declared Somalia a zone of active hostilities, giving wide latitude to military leaders to launch airstrikes and ground assaults. In May, that led to the first U.S. combat death in Somalia since 1993, when Navy SEAL officer Kyle Milliken was killed in an assault on an al-Shabab radio station. In August, a raid by U.S. soldiers and Somali troops on a village outside Mogadishu left 10 civilians dead, including three children.

A Somali intelligence official investigating the attack told media outlets that a well-known man who vouched for the truck- persuading soldiers to allow it into Mogadishu is now in custody.  Also in custody is an accomplice driving a minivan packed with explosives that took another route but was stopped at a checkpoint near Mogadishu’s airport.  An accused mastermind of the attack may have been motivated by the deadly U.S. raid last August since he is from the village where the raid occurred.

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3 weeks ago · by · 0 comments

Red Cross Downsizing in Afghanistan

 

 

After more than three decades of medical work by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Afghanistan, it’s pulling most of its staff out of Afghanistan after a string of attacks on its employees.  The decision came after seven ICRC employees were killed in a series of attacks this year.  On December 19 2016,  ICRC employee Juan Carlos was abducted as he travelled from Mazar-e Sharif to Kunduz and held hostage for a month.  In February 2017, six Red Cross employees were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in northern Jowzjan province. Two others were abducted and later released.

Last month, Red Cross physiotherapist Lorena Enebral Perez was killed by a patient in Mazar-e Sharif.  Perez helped people who had lost limbs or had other forms of disability, learn to stand, walk or feed themselves again.  She was targeted by one of the patients, a man who had suffered polio as a child and had been coming to the rehabilitation center for 19 years, ever since he was two years old. He shot her with a gun he had concealed in his wheelchair.

The ICRC country head said the “painful decision” meant people in the north would no longer get help they needed.  She said they would not leave Afghanistan but they have to limit the risks faced by its staff as threats continue.  “After internal discussions with our highest level at the headquarters, we have reached the conclusion that we have no choice but to drastically reduce our presence and activities, and in particular in the north of Afghanistan.”

The ICRC’s operation in Afghanistan is the their fourth largest worldwide, with about 1,800 staff offering medical assistance, helping disabled people and visiting inmates in jail as well as enabling them to keep in contact with their families.  In some areas, particularly in the north, the ICRC is the only international group offering such services.  Many other humanitarian organizations have pulled out of Afghanistan in recent years as Taliban and Islamic State militants have stepped up attacks.

Head of delegation, Monica Zanarelli, announced the reduction. “After 30 years of continuous presence in the country, we are reducing our presence and operations.”  She went on to say that it’s hard to say whether they are being specifically targeted or if these are random attacks that they have suffered.

The ICRC is laying off staff and closing two of its offices, in Faryab and Kunduz provinces, while its sub-delegation in Mazar-e Sharif will be “seriously downsized.”  Those three ICRC offices cover nine provinces in the north and north west of Afghanistan. Activities run out of the Mazar office will now be limited to the ICRC’s Re-establishing Family Links program (tracing separate family members, facilitating phone calls to detainees and arranging family visits) and cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society.   The orthopedics center in Mazar, which treats those who have lost arms and legs and need prosthetic limbs as well as those with other disabilities, will remain open for now, but the ICRC is looking for others to run it. All other activities out of Mazar will be stopped, including the ICRC’s assistance programs.

Most international humanitarian organizations, including the ICRC, have already modified their operations to try to protect staff while continuing to reach the most vulnerable. The ICRC has a reputation for neutrality and service built up over decades but has had to accept that it can no longer work safely in parts of Afghanistan.  Many believe it is a sign of just how brutal the conflict in Afghanistan has become.

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