This week on War News Radio, an update on the United Nations report on Syria, an anti-terrorism raid in China, freed political prisoners in Iran, and more.
WILL SULLIVAN: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Will Sullivan.
ALLISON HRABAR: And I’m Allison Hrabar. The United Nations released a report this week on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, confirming that large-scale attacks have harmed many civilians, including children. The report also verified that the nerve gas Sarin was used in the Ghouta area of Damascus. While the report itself refrained from blaming either side for the attacks, several news agencies have interpreted the information in the report as undeniable proof implicating the Syrian military in these attacks. Russia has criticized the report as “one-sided” and the information in it as “insufficient.” Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad said in an interview that he had not read the UN report but added that he welcomes the return of UN investigators to Syria for a follow-up on its findings.
WILL SULLIVAN: This past week, a series of car bombs in Shi’ite neighborhoods of Baghdad claimed 35 lives. Several news agencies have blamed Sunni groups and consider the violence yet another example of escalating sectarian conflict. This most recent attack was preceded by two others earlier in the week: a suicide bomb detonation at a funeral, which killed more than 20 people, and a bombing at a Sunni mosque, which killed at least 30. Causes of the significant surge in violence include spillover from Syria and an April incident in which the Iraqi army raided a Sunni protest camp. These incidents coincided with the release of United Nations figures that bring the year’s death toll to over 5,000
ALLISON HRABAR: Amanullah Aman, a top election official in Afghanistan, was shot by two gunmen on a motorcycle as he walked to his office this week. Shortly after the attack, the Taliban accepted responsibility on Twitter. Several news agencies have speculated that the attack was intended to derail the upcoming Afghan elections, towards which the Taliban have voiced strong opposition. The Independent Election Commission opened the registration process for presidential candidates this week, and the elections are set for April 5th of next year.
WILL SULLIVAN: Iranian authorities unexpectedly freed eleven political prisoners this week, including prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. The release comes as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani prepares to attend the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Iranian political analysts have said the release is a notable step in Rouhani’s efforts to rebuild diplomatic ties with the United States. In addition to Sotoudeh, several journalists, former ministers, and members of reformist political parties were also released. Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, however, remains imprisoned on charges of espionage, though American officials have called for his release.
ALLISON HRABAR: An anti-terrorism raid killed at least 12 people and injured at least 20 in the Xinjiang region of China last month. Reports say that a group of Uighur men was making explosives at a facility near the town of Jigdejay, at the edge of the Gobi Desert. Authorities were tipped off about the group when a rocket launcher exploded accidentally. Dozens of armed security personnel then descended on the site. Thanks to an information blackout, the events of August 23 have only now been brought to light by local authorities, who came forward to speak to Radio Free Asia this week. The police have still refused to comment. The Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority in China. Pronounced tensions exist between them and the Chinese government, and unrest and violence between the groups are not unusual. Uighur activists cite a history of discrimination by the Chinese government and continuing oppression.
WILL SULLIVAN: Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked documents concerning controversial United States surveillance programs last June, has been nominated for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The Sakharov prize is awarded by the European Parliament to honor, quote, “exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression.” This nomination comes six weeks after Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia, a move that was condemned by US President Barack Obama and other American political leaders. Though Snowden remains a largely divisive figure, his nomination signals that some in the international community look positively on his exposure of US surveillance policies.
ALLISON HRABAR: Twelve people were killed and approximately eight others were injured after a gunman opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard earlier this week. After a prolonged face-off with police, the alleged shooter, Aaron Alexis, was killed. In the aftermath of the attack, news agencies have focused much of their investigation on the “erratic behavior” of Alexis preceding the shooting. A Newport Rhode Island police report showed that Alexis reported hearing voices through “the walls, floor and ceiling” of the Navy base he was working at six weeks ago. Alexis said that these voices used a “microwave machine” to send vibrations through the ceiling and into his body and worried that the voices posed a serious threat to his well-being. Alexis also had a longstanding history of legal problems. He was arrested for recklessly discharging a firearm while enlisted in the Navy, and had a pre-enlistment arrest on a similar firearms charge. However, he successfully passed a required background check to purchase the weapons and ammunition he later used in the shooting.
WILL SULLIVAN: Violent protests broke out in several major Greek cities this week in response to the stabbing of hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas in the Keratsini District of Athens. After his death, 5,000 anti-fascist protesters took to the streets of Athens, and 6,000 gathered in Thessaloniki, Greece’s 2nd largest city. 41 people were detained in Keratsini and 36 more in Thessaloniki. The police have arrested a suspect, who confessed to murdering Fyssas and admitted to being a member of the far-right fascist party Golden Dawn. Leaders of the Golden Dawn party, however, denied any involvement in the murder.
ALLISON HRABAR: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.org. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Caroline Batten, Maggie Christ, Amy DiPierro, Nehmat Kaur, Jerry Qin, Rachel Sassella, Aaron True, Tyler Welsh, and Chloe Wittenberg. I’m Allison Hrabar. Until next time, thanks for listening.
Photo by Karl Schembri/Oxfam