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Indonesia cathedral bombing an ‘act of terror,’ says president

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An Indonesian cathedral was rocked by a suspected suicide bombing on Sunday that wounded more than a dozen as Christians inside celebrated the start of Holy Week, an attack slammed by the country’s leader as an “act of terror”.

The powerful blast outside a church hosting around 100 people in Makassar city on Sulawesi island happened around 10:30 am local time (0330 GMT) and left at least 14 church officials and congregants injured by debris, police said.

Authorities have said it appeared that at least one of two attackers who drove into the church compound on a motorcycle was killed in the blast.

Forensic investigators were poring over body parts of the suspected attackers scattered at the scene to determine the fate of the second suspect and to identify those behind what authorities have called a “suspected suicide bombing”.

“There were two people riding on a motorbike when the explosion happened at the main gate of the church — the perpetrators were trying to enter the compound,” National Police spokesman Argo Yuwono said.

One eyewitness described hearing two “very strong” explosions and then seeing plumes of smoke at the scene.

“There were several injured people on the street. I helped one woman…who was wounded and covered in blood,” Yosi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP.

“Her grandchild was also injured. There were body parts everywhere.”

It was not clear if the victims’ wounds were life-threatening.

“We were finishing the service and people were going home when it happened,” Pastor Wilhelmus Tulak told reporters.

– ‘Act of terror’ –

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he “strongly condemned this act of terror”.

“Terrorism is a crime against humanity,” Widodo said.

“I call on everyone to fight against terror and radicalism, which go against religious values.”

Amnesty International said the bombing showed “complete contempt” for human rights.

The explosion at the main Catholic cathedral in Makassar — a port city of about 1.5 million — happened just after congregants finished celebrating Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, which commemorates Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem.

It comes a week before Easter.

In his mass for Palm Sunday, Pope Francis said he prayed for all the victims of violence “especially those of this morning’s attack in Indonesia, in front of the Cathedral of Makassar”.

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Churches have been targeted in the past by extremists in Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation and home to several religious minorities including Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.

Sunday’s attack follows the arrest in recent months of dozens of militants suspected of planning terror attacks, according to Indonesia’s counter-terror squad.

In 2018, a dozen people were killed when a family of suicide bombers blew themselves up at churches during Sunday services in Indonesia’s second-biggest city Surabaya.

The family — including two daughters aged nine and 12 — and another family of five, which carried out a suicide bombing on a police headquarters, all belonged to the same Koran study group.

They were also linked to local extremist network Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

JAD, which has not claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, gained notoriety in 2016 for a gun and suicide bomb attack in the capital Jakarta that killed four civilians and four attackers — including one who blew himself up at a Starbucks outlet.

It was the first attack claimed by Islamic State in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia has long struggled with Islamist militancy and has suffered a series of attacks in the past two decades, including the 2002 Bali bombings which killed more than 200 people, mostly foreign tourists. The bombings were Indonesia’s deadliest terror attack.

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COVID-19

Six things you didn’t know about India COVID-19 variant

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The India COVID-19 variant has been detected in Nigeria, leading to a call for concern.

The PUNCH had earlier reported that the COVID-19 was detected by the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in the Redeemers University, Ede, Osun State nearly three weeks ago.

As this detection has been communicated to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, here are six things you didn’t know about the India COVID-19 variant:

1. The Indian COVID-19 variant is officially known as B.1.617.

2. The variant was first detected in India in October 2020.

Read Also: Osun mosque shut, sallah prayers banned as imams battle for seat

3.The variant has been classified by the World Health Organization as a “variant of global concern”.

4. Between January and March, the variant was detected in 220 out of 361 Covid samples from Maharashtra, a state in Western India.

5. Experts around the world believe that the variant is rapidly spreading and has an impact on the second wave of COVID-19 in India.

6. According to WHO, the variant has been discovered in 44 countries as it was detected in more than 4,500 samples that were uploaded from those countries.

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COVID-19

[BREAKING] COVID-19: FG returns curfew, restriction on mass gatherings

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The Federal Government has re-introduced a nationwide 12am to 4am curfew as part of efforts to curtail further spread of COVID-19.

The National Incident Manager, Mukhtar Mohammed, disclosed this at a press briefing of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 in Abuja.

Mohammed said the curfew would take effect from midnight on Monday, May 10.

Read Also: Buhari celebrates national flag designer, Akinkunmi @85

He also said with effect from Tuesday, night clubs, gyms, and others would remain closed till further notice.

He said gatherings of religious groups and weddings among others have been reduced to 50 percent attendance, while official engagements, meetings, and conferences should continue to hold virtually.

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Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

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A large segment of a Chinese rocket re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean on Sunday, the Chinese space agency said, following fevered speculation over where the 18-tonne object would come down.

Officials in Beijing had said there was little risk from the freefalling segment of the Long March-5B rocket, which had launched the first module of China’s new space station into Earth orbit on April 29.

But the US space agency NASA and some experts said China had behaved irresponsibly, as an uncontrolled re-entry of such a large object risked damage and casualties.

“After monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 (0224 GMT) on May 9, 2021, the last-stage wreckage of the Long March 5B Yao-2 launch vehicle has re-entered the atmosphere,” the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a statement, providing coordinates for a point in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives.

It added that most of the segment disintegrated and was destroyed during descent.

The US military’s Space Command said the rocket “re-entered over the Arabian Peninsula at approximately 10:15 pm EDT on May 8 (0215 GMT Sunday)”.

“It is unknown if the debris impacted land or water.”

Monitoring service Space-Track, which uses US military data, said that the location in Saudi Arabia was where American systems last recorded it.

“Operators confirm that the rocket actually went into the Indian Ocean north of the Maldives,” it tweeted.

The segment’s descent matched expert predictions that any debris would have splashed down into the ocean, given that 70 per cent of the planet is covered by water.

Because it was an uncontrolled descent, there was widespread public interest and speculation about where the debris would land.

American and European space authorities were among those tracking the rocket and trying to predict its re-entry.

– Accusations of negligence –

Objects generate immense amounts of heat and friction when they enter the atmosphere, which can cause them to burn up and disintegrate. But larger ones such as the Long March-5B may not be destroyed entirely.

Their wreckage can land on the surface of the planet and may cause damage and casualties, though that risk is low.

Read Also: COVID-19: Ruthless South Africa variant hits Ghana, Togo, 21 others, says WHO

Last year, debris from another Chinese Long March rocket fell on villages in the Ivory Coast, causing structural damage but no injuries or deaths.

That, and the one that came down Sunday, are tied for the fourth-biggest objects in history to undergo an uncontrolled re-entry, according to data from Harvard-based astronomer Jonathan McDowell.

The uncertainty and risks of such a re-entry sparked accusations that Beijing had behaved irresponsibly.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested last week that China had been negligent, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson echoed that after the re-entry on Sunday.

“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations,” Nelson said in a statement.

“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

– China’s space ambitions –

To avoid such scenarios, some experts have recommended a redesign of the Long March-5B rocket — which is not equipped for a controlled descent.

“An ocean reentry was always statistically the most likely,” McDowell tweeted.

“It appears China won its gamble (unless we get news of debris in the Maldives). But it was still reckless.”

Chinese authorities had downplayed the risk, however.

“The probability of causing harm to aviation activities or (on people and activities) on the ground is extremely low,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday.

Beijing has poured billions of dollars into space exploration to boost its global stature and technological might.

The launch of the first module of its space station — by the Long March rocket that came down Sunday — was a milestone in its ambitious plan to establish a permanent human presence in space.

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