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Defense Secretary Resigns As New Details Emerge Following Attacks in Sri Lanka

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  • ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack that has now killed at least 250 people, while investigations to verify their ties are ongoing.
  • Authorities are still searching for suspects and fear that more attacks could follow.
  • As a result, citizens have been warned to avoid all places of worship.
  • The Defense Secretary has also resigned after reports revealed that authorities received several warnings leading up to the attacks.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that the death toll of the terrorist attack stood at 359. The country’s Health Ministry has since reduced the number by about 100. Sri Lankan Deputy of Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said morgues had provided inaccurate figures. The Director General of Sri Lanka’s health services, Anil Jasinghe, said, “It could be 250 or 260. I can’t exactly say.”

Defense Secretary Resigns

Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary resigned Thursday, following the terrorist attack that killed at least 250 people on Easter Sunday.

Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando‎ handed in his resignation to President Maithripala Sirisena, following the president’s request.

A government spokesperson confirmed that security forces had been warned of the attack at least 10 days before it occurred. Several reports also alleged that one of the suicide bombers had been previously arrested, then released.

After learning the news, President Sirisena asked for the resignations of Secretary Hemasiri, as well as the National Police Cheif, saying he could find replacements in as soon as 24 hours.

I am confident that with such reorganizations of [the] security sector and with the assistance of foreign expertise, the threat of terrorism could [be] curbed soon,” President Sirisena said in a statement.

The National Police Chief has not yet turned in his resignation.

Previous coverage of the attack in Sri Lanka.

ISIS Claims Responsibility

While the government initially said the bombings were orchestrated by a local extremist group by the name of National Towheed Jamaath, they also believed a larger organization must have been behind it as well. On Tuesday, ISIS posted a video, claiming the attack.

The video featured men that they claimed were the attackers. While most of the men had their faces covered, one could be seen. He was identified as a man who was known as an extremist in Sri Lanka with ties to NTJ.  They posted no other evidence to support their claim, and authorities are investigating their ties to the attack.

Government officials also said that the bombings were a response to the recent terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a gunman killed 50 people at two mosques, marking the worst shooting in the country’s history.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claimed, however, that she had received no information to support this.

“Look, I have seen reports of those statements,” she said during a press conference. “We haven’t received anything officially, nor have we received any intelligence reports that corroborate what has been said in Sri Lanka.”

Officials Warn of More Potential Attacks

Investigations into whether or not more attacks might be carried out are also ongoing, particularly in the capital city, Colombo.

On Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Colombo tweeted out a warning, telling citizens to refrain from going to places of worship this weekend

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that suspects of the attack could still be at large. Police have been shutting down streets in Colombo while searching for two people they believe were supposed to carry out suicide bombings on Easter Sunday. They suspect they might have plans to carry out potential upcoming attacks.

Despite this, the government is advising citizens not to be alarmed, and to work with authorities as they investigate. They issued a statement from a Police Spokesperson telling people the public to “not panic.”

“Sri Lanka Police advises the general public not to panic as security forces are conducting search operations across the country,” the statement read. “The public is requested to cooperate with security forces personnel carrying out the searches.”

The country is also re-issuing a nation-wide curfew that applies from 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. The ban on social media sites, which is supposed to help stop the spread of misinformation, is still active.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

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Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls

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Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.


Hundreds Make It Out Alive

A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.

People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.

The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.

Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.

“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”

63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.

“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.

Putin’s Plans Go Poorly

In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.

On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.

The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”

Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.

After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.

“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.

On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.

Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.

The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”

“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.

Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)

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Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished

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The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.


Settlers Get Ready to Move in

On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.

“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.

The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.

The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.

In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”

“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.

In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.

Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land

On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.

Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.

The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s

“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Peace Now) (Associated Press)

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