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Terror Plot Reportedly Uncovered In Europe

ABC News reported that the source of the threat information was a suspected German terrorist captured on his way to Europe and now being held in Afghanistan, possibly Bagram air base.
ABC News reported that the source of the threat information was a suspected German terrorist captured on his way to Europe and now being held in Afghanistan, possibly Bagram air base.
Western intelligence agencies are reportedly tracking a plot to carry out terrorist attacks in Britain, France, and Germany.

Citing unidentified intelligence and security officials in the United States and Europe, Western media reported that the potential attacks were allegedly being planned from Pakistan.

The BBC said it was "one of the most serious Al-Qaeda attack plans in recent years" and was inspired by the terror group's leadership in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The broadcaster said it was thought commando-style teams of jihadists planned to seize Western hostages and murder them. It said the idea was thought to have moved from the aspirational stage to actual planning.

But the plot was not believed to be imminent, and national threat levels have not been upgraded yet.

Britain's Sky News television reported that intelligence-sharing between the three European states and the United States had led to the attack plans being uncovered and disrupted.

In the United States, ABC News reported that the source of the threat information was a suspected German terrorist captured on his way to Europe and now being held in Afghanistan. U.S. officials confirmed that a detainee at Bagram airbase holds a German passport.

ABC cited U.S. officials as saying that country was also a possible target.

European officials did not confirm the plot, but the reports come as Britain, France, and Germany are on a heightened state of security alert.

The German Interior Ministry said in a statement that it knew Al-Qaeda had long-term plans to target Europe and that this information had been exchanged with other countries with the requisite "sensitivity and intensity." But it added that there were "no concrete pointers to imminent attacks in Germany stemming from this."

The director-general of Britain's MI5 Security Service, Jonathan Evans, said on September 16 that there remained "a serious risk of a lethal attack taking place."

In the United States, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on September 22 said that "increased activity" by terror groups signaled a heightened threat against Western countries, including European states.

Concern about a possible attack has risen in Paris, where the Eiffel Tower was evacuated on September 28 following the second hoax bomb threat at the landmark in a month.

Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux on September 20 warned that France faced a "real" threat amid a backlash from Al-Qaeda militants in the Maghreb, with concerns growing of an attack on French soil.

"I won't answer any other question, but I would confirm that the [terrorist] threat is real, that our vigilance is reinforced, that the terror alert level is 'red' reinforced, meaning the penultimate highest ranking," Hortefeux said.

In a statement on September 28, U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper did not comment directly on any European plot but insisted: "We know Al-Qaeda wants to attack Europe and the United States."

"The Wall Street Journal" reported that the CIA had stepped up its drone attacks in lawless parts of Pakistan as part of efforts to prevent attacks on European cities.

But "The Washington Post" quoted U.S. officials as describing the threat of such attacks in Europe as "credible but not specific."

Pakistan's army has dismissed as "very speculative" media reports that this month's upsurge in U.S. drone strikes sought to disrupt attacks on European cities.

Military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told Reuters: "We don't have any information or intelligence that militants had gathered [in northwestern Pakistan] and were plotting attacks. There is absolutely no intelligence on that."

Pakistani security officials have reported around 20 drone strikes in the country's tribal belt along the Afghan border this month -- more than double the number fired in any previous month.

NATO has confirmed that senior Al-Qaeda commander Abdallah Umar al-Qurayshi was killed along with several other militants by an air strike over the weekend.

Pakistan is also investigating reports that a U.S. drone missile strike killed another senior Al-Qaeda commander, Sheikh Fateh al-Masri, on September 25 as he traveled in a tribal region near the Afghan border.

based on agency reports

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Poland Arrests 9 Suspected Russia-Linked Saboteurs

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (file photo)
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (file photo)

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in a televised interview on May 20 that his country's authorities had arrested nine people suspected of saboteur activities under the supervision of Russian secret services. According to Tusk, the suspects, who are citizens of Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland, planned acts of sabotage in Poland and Lithuania. Tusk called the situation "very serious," adding that similar saboteur actions were planned by Russian secret services in Latvia and Sweden. Polish President Andrzej Duda said earlier that several recent serious fires in the country may have been caused by arson attacks. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

ICC Warrant Request Is Attempt To Deny Israel The Right To Defend Itself, Says Defense Minister

 Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (file photo)
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (file photo)

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has accused the the International Criminal Court (ICC) of trying to deny Israel the right to self defense after the court's chief prosecutor announced he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, including Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as senior figures in Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

"The attempt by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, to reverse the creation [of Israel] will not succeed -- the parallel of the prosecutor between the terrorist organization Hamas and the State of Israel is despicable and disgusting," Gallant said in a social media post on May 20, adding that any attempt "to deny the State of Israel the right to self-defense and to free its hostages must be rejected out of hand."

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said on May 19 that he has "reasonable grounds" to believe Netanyahu, Gallant, and three Hamas leaders -- Yehya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, and Ismail Haniyeh -- are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Khan specifically noted the “starvations of civilians as a method of warfare,” “willfully causing great suffering,” “intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population,” and “other inhumane acts” as the grounds for the warrants.

The three Hamas leaders were accused of responsibility for “extermination,” “taking hostages,” “rape and other acts of sexual violence,” “torture,” and “other inhumane acts.”

The court’s three pretrial judges will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to issue warrants.

ICC spokesman Fadi Al-Abdallah told RFE/RL in an e-mail that the ICC judges "will issue their decision in due course" but did not offer a specific time frame.

The latest conflict, which has consumed the Gaza Strip where some 2.3 million Palestinians live, was sparked by a cross-border raid Hamas carried out on October 7 that killed some 1,200 people, mainly Israeli civilians, including children. In addition, Hamas took about 240 Israeli hostages back to Gaza, many of whom are still being held.

In response, Israel has launched a withering war against Hamas that has seen the devastating destruction of much of Gaza -- including the deaths of at least 35,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-led Health Ministry -- and the breakout of a massive humanitarian crisis in the tiny coastal area.

Israel has denied committing war crimes during the seven-month-old conflict.

The ICC decision has launched a wave of strong reactions around the world, both for and against the prosecutor's controversial move.

France and Belgium released statements late on May 20 supporting the ICC decision, with the French Foreign Ministry saying it "supports the International Criminal Court, its independence, and the fight against impunity in all situations.”

"Crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators," Belgium's Foreign Affairs Minister Hadja Lahbib said.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the court’s bid to issue arrest warrants for Israeli leaders as an "outrageous" action.

"And let me be clear: Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence -- none -- between Israel and Hamas," Biden said in a statement.

'More Complicated Cases'

David Bosco, a professor at Indiana University-Bloomington and an expert on the ICC, told RFE/RL that “one thing that's important to note is that over the years that the ICC has been operating, the judges and the prosecutor do not always agree.

“So it's not a foregone conclusion that the prosecutor will get all the arrest warrants that he wants, or for the precise charges that he wants.

“I think the arrest warrants for Hamas are probably more straightforward in the sense that you have...the October 7 attack that seemed to be aimed primarily at civilians,” he said.

“With Israel,” he added, “you've got a more complicated situation involving humanitarian aid and whether Israel has been allowing enough humanitarian aid in and has it actually been trying to use starvation as a weapon?

“Those are somewhat more complicated cases, I would say, from a legal perspective,” he said.

Israel is not a member of the ICC, and, even if the warrants are issued, it is unclear whether Netanyahu and Gallant would face prosecution. But Khan’s announcement does increase international pressure against Israel over its conduct of the conflict.

The Rome Statute, a 1998 treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, has been signed by 124 countries.

Sinwar and Dief are believed to be in Gaza, while Haniyeh is reportedly based in Qatar.

"The Hamas movement strongly condemns the attempts of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to equate the victim with the executioner by issuing arrest warrants against a number of Palestinian resistance leaders," the group said in a statement on May 20.

Iran Starts Funeral Ceremonies For President, Foreign Minister

Iranians attend the funeral procession of President Ebrahim Raisi in Rabriz on May 21.
Iranians attend the funeral procession of President Ebrahim Raisi in Rabriz on May 21.

Several funeral ceremonies are taking place in Iran on May 21 to mark the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and others in a helicopter crash, as five days of mourning were announced by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In Tabriz, the capital of Iran's northwestern province of East Azerbaijan where the crash occurred on May 19, thousands of people turned out for a funeral procession in memory of those killed.

Meanwhile, the IRNA state-run news agency posted the first footage purportedly showing the coffins of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahianon on X, formerly Twitter.

Several other funeral ceremonies for Raisi have been scheduled by Iranian authorities. A funeral ceremony is scheduled for the afternoon in the city of Qom. Other ceremonies are to be held in Tehran and Birjand on May 22 and 23, when Raisi will be buried at the Imam Reza Shrine in the holy city of Mashhad, Iranian media reported.

Khamenei also named First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber as interim president. Iranian law stipulates that if the president dies, power is transferred to the first vice president.

A presidential election to determine Raisi's successor was announced for June 28. The election, which has to be held within 50 days, is to be organized by a council consisting of the speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary, and the first vice president.

Iran's interim president, Mohammad Mokhber (right), leads a cabinet meeting in Tehran on May 20.
Iran's interim president, Mohammad Mokhber (right), leads a cabinet meeting in Tehran on May 20.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani was appointed acting foreign minister, Iranian state media reported.

After Iranian state television said on on May 20 that the helicopter had crashed due to poor weather conditions, search-and-rescue teams found the bodies of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian at the site of the crash in northwest Iran.

Communication was lost while the helicopter was on its way back to Tabriz after Raisi attended the joint inauguration of a dam with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, on their common border.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency said that all eight people aboard the Bell 212 helicopter purchased by Iran in the early 2000s were killed. Besides Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian, the governor of East Azerbaijan province, a senior cleric from Tabriz, a Revolutionary Guards official, and three crew members were killed, according to IRNA.

The bodies from the helicopter that crashed were severely burned, but not beyond recognition, according to the head of Iran's Crisis Management Organization, Mohammad Hassan Nami. He said DNA tests were not needed to confirm the identities of those killed in the crash.

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash
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He added that Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Al-e Hashem, who served as Khamenei's representative in East Azerbaijan Province, survived the crash initially and remained alive for about an hour before he died.

Nami said that, during that time, Al-e Hashem had made contact with Raisi's chief of staff by phone. He did not reveal any further details.

The Iranian government said the helicopter was one of three flying in a convoy, and the other two reportedly landed safely in Tabriz.

Meanwhile, Washington said for the first time that Tehran had asked for U.S. help in the helicopter incident but that it was unable to provide assistance, mainly due to logistical reasons.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller did not specify how the request was made or the nature of it. The United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations.

Foreign governments on May 20 issued expressions of condolence and solidarity. Lebanon announced three days of mourning to honor Raisi. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian were both "true, reliable friends of our country."

Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, issued a statement of condolence and thanked Raisi for his “tireless efforts in solidarity” with the Palestinian people.

The United States -- a bitter rival of Iran that had imposed financial sanctions on Raisi when he was head of Iran's judiciary in 2019 -- also offered its condolences.

“The United States expresses its official condolences for the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, and other members of their delegation in a helicopter crash in northwest Iran,” the State Department said in a statement.

“As Iran selects a new president, we reaffirm our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The White House, meanwhile, had harsh words for Raisi, saying he had "blood on his hands" for supporting extremist groups in the Middle East.

U.S. national-security spokesman John Kirby told reporters that "no question, this was a man who had a lot of blood on his hands."

European Council President Charles Michel issued a statement of “sincere condolences,” adding “our thoughts go to the families.”

Some activists criticized the EU for assisting in the rescue operation of a leader who has been accused of overseeing major human rights abuses.

But EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic defended the move on May 20, saying that, by providing satellite mapping services to Tehran, Brussels was acting "upon request for facilitating a search and rescue operation" and was not "an act of political support to any regime or establishment."

"It is simply an expression of the most basic humanity," he added in a post on X.

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and had since tightened many restrictions on Iranians through the enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code on head scarves.

He also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

German Foreign Minister Baerbock In Kyiv On Unannounced Visit

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (file photo)
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (file photo)

On a visit that had not been announced beforehand for security reasons, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock arrived in Kyiv in the morning on May 21 in a show of support for Ukraine. The German minister called for more international support for Ukraine's air defenses in view of the current Russian offensive. This is Baerbock's seventh trip to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022.

Fresh Russian Strike On Kharkiv Causes Casualties And Damage

Debris from falling drones also damaged several private houses in Ukraine's second-largest city. (file photo)
Debris from falling drones also damaged several private houses in Ukraine's second-largest city. (file photo)

Four people were wounded and a transport infrastructure facility was damaged in a series of drone strikes on Ukraine's northeastern city of Kharkiv early on May 21, regional officials reported. “Regarding the morning attack, the target was a transport infrastructure facility,” Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov wrote on Telegram. Governor Oleh Synyehubov also said on Telegram that an infrastructure facility had been damaged, and added that debris from fallen drones damaged several private houses in Ukraine's second-largest city. Earlier a general air-raid alert was declared for the whole territory of Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Kosovo Shuts Branches Of Serbian Banks Over Currency Dispute

Kosovar police shut down a branch office of the Postal Saving Bank of Serbia in Zvecan on May 20.
Kosovar police shut down a branch office of the Postal Saving Bank of Serbia in Zvecan on May 20.

Authorities in Kosovo shut down five branches of the Postal Saving Bank of Serbia and one of the National Bank of Serbia that were operating in four northern Kosovar municipalities. Authorities said the branches in North Mitrovica, Zvecan, Zubin Potok, and Leposavic were operating illegally. The institutions were used by ethnic Serbs to receive salaries from Serbia and conducted payments in Serbian dinars, authorities said. The Serbian dinar was banned by Kosovo at the beginning of the year. Officials in Serbia condemned the action. Serbia and Kosovo, a former province of Serbia before declaring independence, are bitterly divided over a number of issues, especially in the northeast near their border. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Russian Man Fined For 'Discrediting Military' With Dyed Hair

A Moscow court on May 20 fined Stanislav Netyosov 50,000 rubles ($550) on a charge of discrediting the Russian military after dying his hair blue and yellow, which police considered support for Ukraine due to its national flag of the same colors. Netyosov was charged in late April after he came to a police station to file a complaint saying he was attacked the previous evening by unknown assailants who beat him and stole his telephone. Netyosov said police fingerprinted him and handed him a summons to a military recruitment center, saying they would "teach him to kiss his native land in the military trenches." To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Updated

Ukrainian Forces Holding Out In Vovchansk As U.S. Vows To Keep Aid Flowing

A woman cries as police officers inspect the site of the Russian missile attack that hit a recreation area, killing five people, including a pregnant woman, on the outskirts of Kharkiv on May 19.
A woman cries as police officers inspect the site of the Russian missile attack that hit a recreation area, killing five people, including a pregnant woman, on the outskirts of Kharkiv on May 19.

Russian forces maintained their relentless assault on Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on May 20 -- including a massive drone attack on the city itself -- but local officials said the outgunned Ukrainian troops still held about 60 percent of the border town of Vovchansk, the focal point of Moscow’s drive over recent weeks.

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"The enemy continues to try to drive the armed forces of Ukraine out of Vovchansk," Roman Semenukha, deputy head of the regional military administration, said on national television.

"The town is about 60 percent controlled by the armed forces of Ukraine, [but] the assaults have not stopped.”

Semenukha said the Russians were concentrating their efforts on Vovchansk and Lyptsi, another area settlement with some 4,500 prewar residents.

Ukraine earlier said it had downed all 29 Shahed-type kamikaze drones launched by Russia against Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the early hours of May 20.

Elsewhere, Ukraine’s military also said Russia had launched an Iskandar-M ballistic missile but did not say whether it had been intercepted.

Russian troops began shelling border settlements in the Kharkiv region on May 10 and launched a ground offensive in the area of Vovchansk. On May 16, Russian units appeared to have entered Vovchansk, about 5 kilometers from the border, and the site of the fiercest fighting in the north.

The capture of Vovchansk -- with a prewar population of about 17,500 -- would mark Russia’s most important advance since the offensive began in the Kharkiv region as the Kremlin looks to stretch Ukraine’s forces in the northeast.

Kremlin-installed leader Leonid Pasechnik on May 20 said Ukrainian shelling had hit a fuel depot and ignited a blaze in the town of Dovzhansk in the occupied Luhansk region.

It was at least the third time in the past month that Ukrainian shelling had reportedly hit a Russian-held fuel depot.

Battlefield claims cannot immediately be verified.

Meanwhile, the United States offered new words of support for Kyiv, urging other allies to maintain deliveries of weapons to aid in Ukraine’s defense.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and some 50 defense chiefs from around the world were meeting on May 20 to coordinate additional deliveries of military aid to Ukraine.

“We're meeting in a moment of challenge,” Austin said as he vowed to keep U.S. weapons flowing “week after week.”

However, in an interview published by Reuters on May 20, Zelenskiy complained that Western allies are taking too long to make key decisions on additional military support.

"Every decision to which we, then later everyone together, comes to is late by around one year," he said.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
Updated

Putin Appoints Top Auditor To Senior Defense Ministry Post

Oleg Salvelyev has been appointed deputy defense minister by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Oleg Salvelyev has been appointed deputy defense minister by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 20 appointed Oleg Savelyev, the former minister on Crimean affairs, to the post of deputy defense minister less than 10 days after he replaced longtime ally Sergei Shoigu as defense chief. Former First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov succeeded Shoigu. Both Savelyev and Belousov are politicians known as specializing in economic matters. The 58-year-old Savelyev also served as deputy minister for economic development and as the auditor at the Audit Chamber, a parliamentary group that serves as a financial watchdog.

Archbishop Behind Armenian Protests Evades Roadblock, Visits Flock In Border Village

Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian visited the Armenian border village of Kirants on May 20.
Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian visited the Armenian border village of Kirants on May 20.

KIRANTS, Armenia -- Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian, who has emerged as the leader of Armenia’s border protests in recent weeks, traveled to the village of Kirants on May 20, exchanging embraces with residents of one of the settlements behind the massive protests against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government.

The outspoken head of the Tavush Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church had traveled to his home area after it was again cordoned off by police to allow the finalization of a controversial demarcation deal with Azerbaijan.

The archbishop demanded access to his flock inside the village upon encountering the police roadblock.

He engaged in a brief altercation with a plainclothes police officer overseeing the operation before appearing in the village for a short period.

Galstanian told RFE/RL he had entered the village of some 330 people using a “direct route,” but did not elaborate.

He complained that the police roadblocks were preventing needed food supplies from entering the village.

The archbishop was later seen getting into a car along with other people, including the plainclothes police officer he had earlier faced off with, and being driven off, presumably out of the village.

Protesters led by the charismatic cleric have been opposed to what they call “unilateral territorial concessions” to Azerbaijan as they demand Pashinian’s resignation over his security policies.

Rallies against the government have been held for weeks in Yerevan and elsewhere in protest against the border deal.

Under the border demarcation deal with Baku, Armenia cedes control of four villages that were part of Azerbaijan during the Soviet era but which have been controlled by Armenia since the 1990s.

The United States and the European Union have hailed the deal, but the Pashinian government has been accused by opposition politicians of giving up territory to Azerbaijan with no guarantees.

Pashinian has said the unilateral concessions are necessary to prevent Azerbaijani military aggression against Armenia. The Armenian opposition maintains he is encouraging Baku to demand more territory from Armenia and to use force for that purpose.

Galstanian and his supporters in early May began marching to Yerevan from Kirants in the northern Tavush Province to try to scuttle the handover of border areas adjacent to the village and nearby Tavush communities.

The decision was announced two days after police cracked down on Kirants protesters who tried to stop authorities from clearing an adjacent area of land mines and make other preparations for its handover to Azerbaijan. The police presence in and around the village remained strong after the crackdown.

Galstanian has raised the possibility of seeking Pashinian’s impeachment, but with parliament controlled by Pashinian's Civil Contract party and senior lawmakers representing it insisting that neither they nor any of their pro-government colleagues will back such a motion, it remains unclear whether a vote will ever take place.

Iranian Nobel Laureate Ebadi Says Raisi's Death Means He Will Evade Justice

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi (file photo)
Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi (file photo)

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has said that the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was regrettable because he will evade justice for his alleged crimes.

Raisi, who died in a May 19 helicopter crash in northwestern Iran, has been accused of serving as a prosecutor on an "execution committee" that sent thousands of political prisoners and regime opponents to their deaths in the late 1980s.

His presidency, which began in 2021, is also infamous for its stricter enforcement of Iran's draconian hijab law and brutal crackdown on mass demonstrations for women's rights.

"If we haven't forgotten, which tragically is not easily forgotten, there was the painful incident of the mass execution of political prisoners by the execution committee," Ebadi said of Raisi in a May 20 interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "The people of Iran had hoped to see him brought to justice, to witness how he would struggle and plead for his own exoneration. He did not deserve such an easy death."

The rights watchdog Amnesty International has said that at least 4,500 people were executed in the mass killing ordered by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1988 for "waging war against God."

The leftist Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, which was accused of treachery for its role in carrying out an invasion deep into Iranian territory after a cease-fire ended the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, says that up to 30,000 people were executed.

Many of the victims were buried in secret.

During a court trial in Stockholm in 2022 in which a former prison guard for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps faced testimony from hundreds of survivors and their relatives, Raisi was named as belonging to the three-member execution committee that determined the fate of prisoners.

Ebadi, 76, was a prominent human rights lawyer for years in Iran before she was forced into exile in 2009. From her home in Britain, she has continued to criticize the Iranian authorities for their crackdown on virtually any form of dissent.

WATCH: A new presidential election must be held within 50 days following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, and one analyst says the candidates permitted to run -- be they ultraconservatives or more conciliatory figures who are better able to connect with the public -- will reveal the regime's political priorities.

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash
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Ebadi said that some in the foreign media expressed surprise that some Iranians were celebrating Raisi's death, including by lighting fireworks and dancing in videos shared on social media.

"Are people truly this happy about the death of one person?" Ebadi said she was asked. "Regrettably, I told them that [hard-liners'] actions had made their deaths a cause for celebration."

WATCH: Raisi's death led to official mourning in Iran -- but other Iranians celebrated the passing of a man who oversaw a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

Ebadi said that now that the 63-year-old Raisi is dead, it is unlikely he will posthumously face prosecution.

"Generally, and legally, once a person passes away, any criminal actions they committed are no longer prosecuted," Ebadi said. "However, they will remain in people's memories and be recorded in history, particularly in the annals of human rights."

Court Rejects Kyrgyz Politician's Appeal Against Cancellation Of His Mandate

Adakhan Madumarov (file photo)
Adakhan Madumarov (file photo)

A Bishkek court on May 20 rejected the appeal of Adakhan Madumarov, the leader of the United Kyrgyzstan opposition party, against a decision by election authorities to annul his parliamentary mandate over his fraud conviction. Two weeks earlier, another court rejected Madumarov's appeal against his conviction. In March, Madumarov was convicted of financial fraud and ignoring Kyrgyzstan's interests while signing a Kyrgyz-Tajik border deal in 2009 when he led the country's Security Council. The court did not sentence Madumarov due to the statute of limitations. Madumarov has called the accusations “ungrounded.” To read the original story on RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, click here.

YouTube Blocks 4 Videos At Russia's Request

(file photo)
(file photo)

The YouTube online video-sharing platform has blocked four videos after a request from Russia's Roskomnadzor media watchdog, Agentsvo Telegram channel reported on May 20. Videos of the channels -- Dozor v Volgograde, Shkola prizyvnika, OVD-Info, and an unspecified independent online media outlet -- contained information about ways to evade mobilization to the war in Ukraine and avoid military recruitment. Roskomnadzor reportedly claimed that the videos in question violated Russia's law on information. According to OVD-Info's spokesman Dmitry Anisimov, it is the first case where YouTube has blocked videos at Russia’s request and not because of violations of the platform's terms of service. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Trial Of Theater Director Berkovich, Playwright Petriichuk Starts In Moscow

Playwright Svetlana Petriichuk (left) and theater director Yevgenia Berkovich (file photo)
Playwright Svetlana Petriichuk (left) and theater director Yevgenia Berkovich (file photo)

A military court in Moscow has started the trial of theater director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk, who are charged with justifying terrorism. The two women reiterated their innocence as the trial began on May 20. They were arrested in May 2023 following a production of the play Finist -- The Brave Falcon. The play is about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria. The play, first performed in December 2022, won Russia's Golden Mask national theater award. If convicted, the women face up to five years in prison each. To read the original story by RFE/RL, click here.

Appeal By Woman Imprisoned For Killing Pro-Kremlin Blogger Rejected

Daria Trepova at court in St.Petersburg, Russia, earlier this year.
Daria Trepova at court in St.Petersburg, Russia, earlier this year.

A military appeals court in St. Petersburg on May 20 rejected a motion filed by Darya Trepova against the 27-year prison term she was handed in January after she was found guilty for her role in the killing of prominent pro-Kremlin blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, a fervent proponent of Russia's war in Ukraine.

Trepova was convicted of helping carry out "a terrorist act with an organized group that caused intentional death."

While Trepova filed an appeal against the sentence, prosecutors countered by asking the court of appeals to extend Trepova's sentence by one year.

The court decision on May 20 leaves the 27-year prison sentence in place with no change.

Trepova, who pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charge but entered a guilty plea to a charge of document forgery, was arrested after an explosion in a restaurant in St. Petersburg in April 2023, which killed Tatarsky, whose real name was Maksim Fomin. The blast wounded 52 other people.

Tatarsky was talking to people who had previously attended a meeting with him when a woman presented him with a box containing a small bust of him that blew up, killing him, according the Russian media reports.

Trepova, 27, admitted giving Tatarsky the box, but said at the trial that she did not know there was an explosive device inside.

Trepova's co-defendant, Dmitry Kasintsev, in whose apartment Trepova was detained, was sentenced to one year and nine months in a general regime correctional colony.

Kasintsev pleaded guilty to the charge of failing to report a crime, but rejected the charge of covering up a crime.

In May last year, Russia's Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant for Ukrainian citizen Yuriy Denisov, saying that he was suspected of organizing the deadly attack.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said at the time that Denisov and Trepova had decided to assassinate Tatarsky.

The Ukrainian-born Tatarsky was known for his support of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022 and Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.

Georgian Parliament Set To Overrule Presidential Veto On 'Foreign Agent' Law

Georgian parliamentary Speaker Shalva Papuashvili (file photo).
Georgian parliamentary Speaker Shalva Papuashvili (file photo).

TBILISI -- Georgian parliamentary Speaker Shalva Papuashvili said lawmakers, as expected, will overrule President Salome Zurabishvili's veto of the so-called "foreign agent" bill targeting media and NGOs that are funded by foreign governments.

Papuashvili said on May 20 that he expects parliament, where his ruling Georgian Dream party has the numbers, will overrule the veto at a session next week.

Zurabishvili vetoed the controversial bill on May 18 following weeks of mass protests by Georgians who see the legislation as a way for the government to stifle civil society -- a similar law in Russia has been used to crack down on dissent -- and believe it endangers the country's path toward EU integration.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze said on May 20 that Zurabishvili's move to veto the bill is "blocking room for a healthy discussion" of the legislation in question.

The law would require media and NGOs to register as "pursuing the interests of a foreign power" if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.

U.S. media reports on May 19 said that U.S. Congressman Joe Wilson, who represents South Carolina, is working on a bill that would impose sanctions, including visa bans on Georgian government officials responsible for pushing through the foreign agent bill.

Zurabishvili said she considered the law "unacceptable" and "inconsistent" with the country's EU path. She has also warned that the legislation endangers the very existence of the Georgian state.

Zurabishvili also said the Georgian Dream party, together with several opposition members of parliament, turned a deaf ear to the tens of thousands of Georgians who took to the streets to oppose any shift away from a pro-Western course back toward Russia.

The "Law On Transparency Of Foreign Influence," the bill's full name, has been condemned by the United States, the European Union, and rights watchdogs, and prompted weeks of unrest, which was often quelled through violent means by authorities.

Opponents have pointed to the similarity to legislation used by President Vladimir Putin to crush dissent in Russia and stifle independent institutions, prompting Georgians to refer to the measure as "the Russian law."

Slovak PM Fico 'Stable,' But Will Not Be Moved To Bratislava Yet

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico (file photo)
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico (file photo)

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico's condition is stable and he is improving, doctors treating him said on May 20, as he recovers from being hit by four bullets in an assassination attempt last week. "After today's medical board meeting, the patient's condition is stable," the hospital in the central Slovak city of Banska Bystrica said in a statement. Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak said on May 19 that Fico's condition was still too serious for him to be moved to a hospital in the capital, Bratislava. Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said an investigation team had been set up to look into whether the suspect had acted alone.

Updated

ICC Prosecutor Seeks Warrants For Top Israeli, Hamas Leaders

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is among those for whom arrest warrants are being sought by the ICC chief prosecutor.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is among those for whom arrest warrants are being sought by the ICC chief prosecutor.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced on May 20 that he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and senior figures in Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Prosecutor Karim Khan said he believes Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, and Ismail Haniyeh — are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the court’s bid to issue arrest warrants for Israeli leaders as an "outrageous" action.

"And let me be clear: Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence -- none -- between Israel and Hamas," Biden said in a statement.

In his statement, Khan said he has “reasonable grounds” to believe Netanyanhu and Gallant “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged crimes including “starvations of civilians as a method of warfare,” “willfully causing great suffering,” “intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population,” and “other inhumane acts.”

The three Hamas leaders were accused of responsibility for “extermination,” “taking hostages,” “rape and other acts of sexual violence,” “torture,” and “other inhumane acts.”

The court’s three pretrial judges will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to issue warrants.

ICC spokesman Fadi Al-Abdallah told RFE/RL in an e-mail that the ICC judges "will issue their decision in due course" but did not offer a specific time frame.

“Karim Khan’s decision to seek arrest warrants for five people for grave international crimes committed in Israel and Palestine since October 7 in the face of pressure from U.S. lawmakers and others reaffirms the crucial role of the [court]," said Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch, referring to the October 7 cross-border attack Hamas carried out that sparked the current war.

Some 1,200 Israeli citizens were killed in the attack, while another 240 were taken hostage, some of whom are still being held by Hamas in Gaza.

"Victims of serious abuses in Israel and Palestine have faced a wall of impunity for decades. This principled first step by the prosecutor opens the door to those responsible for the atrocities committed in recent months to answer for their actions at a fair trial," he added.

David Bosco, a professor at Indiana University-Bloomington and an expert on the ICC, told RFE/RL that “one thing that's important to note is that over the years that the ICC has been operating, the judges and the prosecutor do not always agree.

“So it's not a foregone conclusion that the prosecutor will get all the arrest warrants that he wants, or for the precise charges that he wants.

“I think the arrest warrants for Hamas are probably more straightforward in the sense that you have...the October 7 attack that seemed to be aimed primarily at civilians,” he said.

“With Israel,” he added, “you've got a more complicated situation involving humanitarian aid and whether Israel has been allowing enough humanitarian aid in and has it actually been trying to use starvation as a weapon?

“Those are somewhat more complicated cases, I would say, from a legal perspective,” he said.

Anthony Dworkin, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and former executive director of the Crimes of War Project, told RFE/RL that the warrants represent “a significant moment, both in the evolution of the International Criminal Court and the conflict in the Middle East.”

“We've seen before many countries, a number of leaders, being indicted by the ICC or having arrest warrants issued against them, but this is the first time a country that's an ally of the West in Europe and the United States has had an arrest warrant against them.

"I think even the fact that the prosecutor is seeking arrest warrants is likely to step up pressure on those countries that are particularly supporting Israel militarily to really review the kind of support that they're giving [and] to investigate whether they believe that military assistance is being used to commit war crimes."

Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, told RFE/RL that “I would expect those -- the arrest warrants or the charges and the request for the arrest warrants -- to be upheld by the pretrial chamber.”

“I think the prosecutor will be very focused and will be quite diligent in ensuring he has presented all the evidence necessary for the pretrial chamber to, in essence, reaffirm the request by the prosecutor,” he added.

Israel is not a member of the ICC, and, even if the warrants are issued, it is unclear whether Netanyahu and Gallant would face prosecution. But Khan’s announcement does increase international pressure against Israel over its conduct of the conflict.

The Rome Statute, the 1998 treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, has been signed by 124 countries.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called the decision "outrageous" and an "an unrestrained frontal assault on the victims of October 7th and our 128 [remaining] hostages in Gaza."

Sinwar and Dief are believed to be in Gaza, while Haniyeh is reportedly based in Qatar.

"The Hamas movement strongly condemns the attempts of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to equate the victim with the executioner by issuing arrest warrants against a number of Palestinian resistance leaders," the group said in a statement.

In a report supporting the arrest warrant applications, a panel of legal experts Kahn put together as advisers said they were unanimous in determining the court has jurisdiction over the case and that there were reasonable grounds to believe war crimes had been committed by all of the figures named.

"It is important to understand that the charges have nothing to do with the reasons for the conflict. The charges concern waging war in a manner that violates the long-established rules of international law that apply to armed groups and the armed forces in every state in the world," the six-member panel wrote in an opinion article for the Financial Times on May 20.

Israel has denied committing war crimes during the 7-month-old conflict.

Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich likened Khan’s announcement to “Nazi propaganda” and said all Israelis should feel indicted. He called on Israel’s allies to push for disbanding the ICC.

Israeli War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz also condemned the announcement, calling it “a crime of historic proportions.”

“Drawing parallels between the leaders of a democratic country determined to defend itself from despicable terror to leaders of a bloodthirsty organization is a deep distortion of justice,” Gantz said.

A senior Hamas official also dismissed the ICC prosecutor’s statement, saying it “equates the victim with the executioner.”

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza says at least 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, without distinguishing between civilians and combatants. About 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million population has been displaced.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Reid Standish in Prague, AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa
Updated

Iran Announces June 28 For New Election Following Raisi's Death

Even as Iran declared a period of mourning following the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and others in a helicopter crash, the country moved forward and set June 28 as the date for an election to determine Raisi’s successor.

Iranian authorities also said the funeral procession for Raisi will be held in Tehran on May 22.

The announcements came as Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared five days of mourning after the bodies of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian were found at the site of a helicopter crash in northwest Iran.

Meanwhile, Washington said for the first time that Tehran had asked for U.S. help in the helicopter incident but that it was unable to provide assistance, mainly due to logistical reasons.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller did not specify how the request was made or the nature of it. The United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations.

Iranian state television on May 20 said the helicopter had crashed due to poor weather conditions. It was unclear how many people were on board the helicopter when it went down.

Khamenei also named First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber as interim president. Iranian law stipulates that if the president dies, power is transferred to the first vice president.

WATCH: A new presidential election must be held within 50 days and one analyst says the candidates permitted to run -- be they ultraconservatives or more conciliatory figures who are better able to connect with the public -- will reveal the regime's political priorities.

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash
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A council consisting of the speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary, and the first vice president must arrange for a new president to be elected within 50 days.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani was appointed acting foreign minister, Iranian state media reported.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency said the governor of East Azerbaijan Province and other unspecified officials and bodyguards were aboard the ill-fated aircraft.

First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber was named as interim president.
First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber was named as interim president.

Foreign governments on May 20 issued expressions of condolence and solidarity. Lebanon announced three days of mourning to honor Raisi. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian were both "true, reliable friends of our country."

Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, issued a statement of condolence and thanked Raisi for his “tireless efforts in solidarity” with the Palestinian people.

The United States, a bitter rival of Iran – and which had imposed financial sanctions on Raisi when he was head of Iran's judiciary in 2019 – also offered its condolences.

“The United States expresses its official condolences for the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, and other members of their delegation in a helicopter crash in northwest Iran,” the State Department said in a statement.

“As Iran selects a new president, we reaffirm our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The White House, meanwhile, had harsh words for Raisi, saying he had "blood on his hands" for supporting extremist groups in the Middle East.

U.S. national-security spokesman John Kirby told reporters that "no question, this was a man who had a lot of blood on his hands."

European Council President Charles Michel issued a statement of “sincere condolences,” adding “our thoughts go to the families.”

Search-and-rescue teams, aided by several foreign governments, had been frantically searching for the helicopter after it went down in bad weather conditions in a mountainous area of the country late on May 19.

WATCH: Raisi's death led to official mourning in Iran, but other Iranians celebrated the passing of a man who oversaw a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

Some activists criticized the EU for assisting in the rescue operation of a leader who has been accused of overseeing major human rights abuses.

But EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic defended the move on May 20, saying that by providing satellite mapping services to Tehran, Brussels was acting "upon request for facilitating a search and rescue operation" and was not "an act of political support to any regime or establishment."

"It is simply an expression of the most basic humanity," he added in a post on X.

Raisi's helicopter was on its way to the city of Tabriz when it went down near the city of Jolfa in what state television said was a "hard landing," but several news reports quoted government sources as saying the helicopter crashed as it crossed a mountainous and forested area.

The bodies from the helicopter that crashed were severely burned, but not beyond recognition, according to the head of Iran's Crisis Management Organization, Mohammad Hassan Nami. He said DNA tests were not needed to confirm the identities of those killed in the crash.

He added that Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Al-e Hashem, who served as Khamenei's representative in East Azerbaijan Province, survived the crash initially and remained alive for about an hour before he died.

Nami said that, during that time, Al-e Hashem had made contact with Raisi's chief of staff by phone. He did not reveal any further details.

The Iranian government said the helicopter was one of three flying in a convoy, and the other two reportedly landed safely in Tabriz.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (right) with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian late last year.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (right) with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian late last year.

The ultraconservative Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian had been in Azerbaijan earlier on May 19 to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who said on X that Azerbaijan was "profoundly troubled" by the news that Raisi's helicopter had gone down.

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and has since tightened many restrictions on Iranians through enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the code on head scarves.

He has also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

Updated

Some 1,200 Pakistani Students Leave Kyrgyzstan, Fearing For Their Safety

Demonstrators protest in Islamabad on May 18, demanding safety for Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan.
Demonstrators protest in Islamabad on May 18, demanding safety for Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan.

BISHKEK -- Following unprecedented mob violence targeting foreign students from South Asia in Kyrgyzstan, around 1,200 Pakistani students at the Bishkek-based Kyrgyzstan International University have left the Central Asian nation.

University Rector Asylbek Aidaraliev told reporters on May 20 that mainly first-year and second-year students had left the country, though some students remain in Kyrgyzstan and have joined talks on the situation.

Deputy Education Minister Rasul Abazbek-uulu called the mass attacks on Pakistani and Indian students in Bishkek over the weekend "a shameful" situation that "damages Kyrgyzstan's image."

A female student from Pakistan, speaking in English, told RFE/RL that she was “leaving Kyrgyzstan, because the situation here is so [bad] right now and we are so scared that we are leaving urgently."

As Foreign Student Exodus Continues, Officials Fear Kyrgyzstan's Reputation Is On The Line
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She said she was hopeful she could return to finish her degree and that “I hope this situation will get better with the passage of time.”

Another student from Pakistan, who identified himself as Ahmed Faiz, said he was studying at Kyrgyzstan’s International University. He told RFE/RL the “thing is that, on an international level, it creates a very bad image for the country, what happened right now.”

WATCH: Parents of Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan held a protest following attacks on foreign students there, demanding the Kyrgyz government provide security for their children.

Parents Of Pakistani Students Protest After Mob Attack On Foreigners In Kyrgyzstan
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The violence on May 18 was triggered by the appearance on social media of a video purportedly showing a group of "people of Asian appearance" harassing foreign students on the night of May 13 and then pursuing them to their dormitory, where at least one foreign student was assaulted by several men and dragged along the floor.

"The situation is stable now, the foreign students started walking around. It is up to us if the students who left Kyrgyzstan decide to return in the fall. For that, all state entities must work together to persuade them that it is safe to return," Abazbek-uulu said.

Students Leave Kyrgyzstan In Wake Of Anti-Foreigner Mob Violence
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Bishkek city police said a probe had been launched into mass disorder and the incitement of ethnic and racial hatred.

In his first public comment on the situation concerning Pakistani students, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov said on May 20 that "all of the perpetrators who attacked foreign students will for sure be punished."

"We have managed to build a state based on the rule of law. Therefore, we will support order," Japarov said.

The ministry said four foreign nationals had also been detained on hooliganism charges, while police are searching for two Kyrgyz men suspected of being involved in harassing the foreign students.

Kyrgyzstan’s Health Ministry said on May 18 that 29 people were injured during the violence, of whom 15 had been taken to the Bishkek City Emergency Hospital and the National Hospital. Others received medical assistance on the spot.

The Kyrgyz government over the weekend vowed to pursue those responsible for the violence and rejected what it said were "insinuations aimed at inciting intolerance toward foreign students."

Still, it appeared to lay the blame for the violence on illegal migrants, saying authorities had been taking "decisive measures to suppress illegal migration and expel undesirable persons from Kyrgyzstan."

Just three days before the violence, Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security detained 28 Pakistani nationals for "working illegally" in a sewing shop in Bishkek.

The same day, Bishkek city police shut down delivery services conducted by more than 400 foreign students, mostly from Pakistan, on motorcycles and scooters, citing traffic safety concerns.

Russian Anti-War Activist Gets 25 Years In Prison On Treason Charge

Ilya Baburin appears in court.
Ilya Baburin appears in court.

A court in Siberia on May 20 sentenced anti-war activist Ilya Baburin to 25 years in prison on a high-treason charge that stemmed from allegations that the 24-year-old planned to set several military recruitment centers on fire. Baburin, who was also found guilty of carrying out an arson attack on a music school and participating in the activities of the Ukrainian far-right Azov armed group, rejected all of the charges. Baburin's prison term is the longest one handed to an anti-war activist in Russia amid the government's recent crackdown on charges related to arson attacks on military recruitment centers. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Islamic State Claims Attack In Afghanistan That Killed 3 Spaniards

Bamiyan statues (file photo)
Bamiyan statues (file photo)

The Islamic State militant group on May 19 claimed responsibility for an attack by gunmen on tourists in Afghanistan's central Bamiyan Province. Three Spanish tourists were killed and at least one other was injured in the May 17 attack, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said. Abdul Matin Qane, spokesman for the Taliban-led government’s Interior Ministry, said four people had been arrested over the attack. In addition to the three foreign tourists, one Afghan citizen was killed, and four foreigners and three Afghans were injured, according to Qane. Bamiyan is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the remains of two giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban during its previous rule in 2001.

Updated

Official Says 'No Signs Of Life' Found At Crash Site Of Iranian President's Helicopter

Iran Releases Footage Of Rescuers Searching For President's Helicopter
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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is feared dead after rescue teams reached the remote site in northwestern Iran where a helicopter he and other government officials, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, were travelling in crashed.

The head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Pir Hossein Kolivand, told state television early on May 20 that rescuers had seen the downed helicopter and upon arrival, the situation was "not good."

“With the discovery of the crash site, no signs of life have been detected among the helicopter's passengers,” he said.

Search-and-rescue teams, aided by several foreign governments, had been frantically searching for the helicopter after it went down in bad weather conditions in a mountainous area of the country late on May 19.

Raisi's helicopter was on its way to the city of Tabriz when it went down near the city of Jolfa in what state television said was a "hard landing," but several news reports quoted government sources as saying the helicopter crashed as it crossed a mountainous and forested area.

The Iranian government said the helicopter was one of three flying in a convoy, and the other two reportedly landed safely in Tabriz. The massive search for more than 12 hours before a Turkish drone with night vision that was aiding the search identified a source of heat "suspected to be the wreckage of the helicopter carrying Raisi." According to the Turkish Anadolu news agency, Ankara immediately "shared its coordinates with Iranian authorities."

Frantic Search For Crashed Helicopter With Iranian President
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Reports of the crash sparked several countries, including Iraq, Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, into action to help in the search effort, while the European Union activated its Copernicus satellite mapping service at Iran's request.

The ultraconservative Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian had been in Azerbaijan earlier on May 19 to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who said on X that Azerbaijan was "profoundly troubled" by the news that Raisi's helicopter had gone down.

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and has since tightened many restrictions on Iranians through enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the code on head scarves.

He has also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

With growing dissent among many Iranians over an array of political, social and economic crises, Iran's clerical rulers.

Hours after the search began, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a brief statement late calling for prayers and assuring Iranians "the country's affairs will not be disrupted." He has not commented publicly since reports of the burned wreckage were found.

State TV showed people praying at the Imam Reza Shrine in the city of Mashhad, one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest sites, as well as in Qom and other locations across the country.

Raisi, 63, is a hard-liner who won Iran's 2021 presidential election after leading the country's judiciary. He is viewed as a protege of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He has been sanctioned by the United States in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq War.

Some reports have noted that because of international sanctions it has been difficult for Iran to obtain parts for its aging helicopter fleet.

Iranian law stipulates that if the president dies, power is transferred to the first vice president. A council consisting of the speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the head of the judicial power, and the first vice president must arrange for a new president to be elected within 50 days. The current first vice president of Iran is Mohammad Mokhber.

Slovak PM's Condition Upgraded To Positive Prognosis Following Assassination Attempt

Slovak PM Robert Fico greets people in Handlova, Slovakia where he was shot on May 15.
Slovak PM Robert Fico greets people in Handlova, Slovakia where he was shot on May 15.

Slovakia’s populist prime minister, Robert Fico, remained in serious condition on May 19 but has been given a positive prognosis four days after he was shot multiple times in an assassination attempt that has sent shock waves across the deeply polarized European Union nation, the defense minister said. "The worst of what we feared has passed, at least for the moment. But his condition remains serious," Robert Kalinak told reporters outside the hospital where Fico is being treated. "His condition is stable with a positive prognosis."

Updated

Pakistan Evacuates Students Following Bishkek Attacks On Foreigners

Pakistani Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi (left) greets a student injured in the Bishkek attacks, at Lahore airport on May 18. The Pakistani Embassy in Bishkek announced special flights to bring students home over the next few days.
Pakistani Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi (left) greets a student injured in the Bishkek attacks, at Lahore airport on May 18. The Pakistani Embassy in Bishkek announced special flights to bring students home over the next few days.

Top officials from Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan have met after mob violence in Bishkek against foreign students injured at least 29 people, including several foreigners, and triggered diplomatic tensions with Pakistan and India.

Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister Avazbek Atakhanov held talks on May 19 in the Kyrgyz capital with Hassan Ali Zaigham, Pakistan’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan.

Atakhanov said the situation was under control and added that Kyrgyz authorities had launched a probe into the incident, allegedly sparked by an unclear dispute days earlier involving migrants.

Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Edil Baisalov and Ali Zaigham visited the hostel where most of the violence took place and met with international students. Baisalov apologized on behalf of the Kyrgyz government and the Kyrgyz people for failing to protect the students.

Meanwhile, Pakistani officials said a planned visit to Bishkek by a Pakistani delegation, including Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar, had been canceled after Kyrgyz officials had assured them the situation was now calm.

Students Leave Kyrgyzstan In Wake Of Anti-Foreigner Mob Violence
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About 140 students and 40 other Pakistanis flew out of Bishkek late on May 18. The students were received by Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi at Lahore International Airport, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) officials told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal.

The Pakistani Embassy in Bishkek informed Radio Azattyk on May 19 that special flights have been arranged to repatriate Pakistani students for the next few days.

A Pakistani student told Radio Mashaal he had spent the night at Bishkek’s international airport waiting to fly out.

“Our university arranged transport last night.... There were three vans…. We were brought to the airport and here we are completely safe. Our flight is scheduled for today. It is a direct flight from Bishkek to Islamabad. We spent the night without any trouble and there was no attack," Hasnain Ali, a student of medicine at Ala-Too International University in Bishkek, told Radio Mashaal.

Another described how foreign students were being told not to venture outside.

Protests In Pakistan Over Mob Attack On Foreigners In Kyrgyzstan
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"We are also getting messages from the university that things are normal, but one can't believe it. It is not fully normal because they are asking us that if you want to go out, do it only in groups of three or four, but not alone. We are restricted to our hostel,” explained Syed Shah Rukh Khan.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service also spoke with people at the VIP Hostel in Bishkek, which was the epicenter of the mob attacks.

"The students who are here only came to study. And now the students are really scared. I know that no country is bad. But, thanks to some bad people and their behavior, the students are scared. They are someone's children. They came here only to study, and they [the mob] came in and beat them," said Ahmed Faiz, a student from Pakistan at Kyrgyzstan’s International University.

Ahmed Umer, another Pakistani student at Kyrgyzstan’s International University, described some of the violence at the hostel.

"Some locals went into our hostel, and they harassed women. Also, they broke windows, everything. They stole things from us," he told RFE/RL.

Sajjad Ahmad, head of the VIP Hostel, said faculty from Kyryzstan's International University were helping students cope with the aftermath.

"They have been sleeping here since yesterday. They have been calming down the students. Now, the students are calm.... Of course, the situation is scary. They will now head home. We are [arranging] plane tickets and flights," Ahmad said.

An estimated 500 people live at the hostel, and Ahmad said all of them were expected to leave.

"They didn't expect such a thing to happen here. The atmosphere was very good in Kyrgyzstan. Now they are saying that they urgently need to [leave]," Ahmad told RFE/RL, adding that their course work would continue online.

"Let's see if they come back. Then they will continue their education here," he said.

Meanwhile, three foreign nationals injured in the unrest in Bishkek remain in a stable condition on May 19, according to Health Ministry spokesman Jyldyz Aigerchinova, who spoke to RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service.

The Health Ministry said on May 18 that 15 of the 29 people injured had been taken to the Bishkek City Emergency Hospital and the National Hospital and the rest were treated on the spot.

The Kyrgyz government said earlier that four foreign nationals born between 1993 and 2003 had been arrested following the violence. It said they were placed in a temporary detention facility as part of a criminal case for hooliganism without stating their nationalities or the circumstances of their arrests.

Those found guilty will be punished, the Kyrgyz government said in a statement, rejecting what it said were "insinuations aimed at inciting intolerance toward foreign students." But it appeared to lay the blame for the violence on illegal migrants, saying authorities had been taking "decisive measures to suppress illegal migration and expel undesirable persons from Kyrgyzstan."

The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said in a statement on May 18 that the violence was triggered by the appearance on social media of a video purportedly showing a group of "persons of Asian appearance" harassing foreign students on the night of May 13 and then pursuing them to their dormitory, where at least one foreign student was assaulted by several men and dragged on the floor.

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