Gunmen kidnap more than 300 girls in raid on northwest Nigerian school


An operation to rescue more than 300 girls kidnapped in Nigeria had failed to pinpoint their location by late on Friday, almost 24 hours after gunmen seized them in a raid on their school.

The raid in Zamfara state, where the governor ordered all boarding schools to close immediately, was the second such kidnapping in little over a week in the country’s northwest, a region increasingly targeted by militants and criminal gangs.

Zamfara police said they had begun search-and-rescue operations with the army to find the “bandits” who took the 317 girls from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in the town of Jangebe.

“There’s information that they were moved to a neighbouring forest, and we are tracking and exercising caution,” Zamfara police commissioner Abutu Yaro told a news conference.

All the abductees remained at large, but the parent of one of them, Mohammed Usman Jangebe, said seven of their schoolmates had resurfaced after escaping the raiders by hiding in gutters.

The assailants stormed in at around 1 am, firing sporadically, said Zamfara’s information commissioner, Sulaiman Tanau Anka.

“Information available to me said they came with vehicles and moved the students. They also moved some on foot,” he told Reuters.

By late Friday, there had been no claim of responsibility for the raid.

School kidnappings were first carried out by jihadist groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province but the tactic has now been adopted by other militants whose agenda is unclear.

They have become endemic around the increasingly lawless north, to the anguish of families and frustration of Nigeria’s government and armed forces. Friday’s was the third such incident since December.

An empty classroom of the Government Science College where gunmen kidnapped dozens of students and staffs, in Kagara, Nigeria on 18 February, 2021.

AFP

The rise in abductions is fuelled in part by sizeable government payoffs in exchange for child hostages, catalysing a broader breakdown of security in the north, officials have said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The government denies making such payouts, and President Muhammadu Buhari reiterated on Friday that it would will not succumb to blackmail.

In a statement isued late on Friday, he also appealed to state administrations not to reward bandits with money or vehicles.

Rage and frustration in Jangebe

The town of Jangebe seethed with anger over the abduction, said a government official who was part of the delegation to the community.

Young men hurled rocks at journalists driving through the town, injuring a cameraman, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“People mobilised to block security operatives, journalists and government officials from getting access to the main town,” he said.

Parents arrive at the school compound in search of children kidnapped by bandits, in Jangede, Zamfara State in northwest Nigeria.

Parents arrive at the school compound in search of children kidnapped by bandits, in Jangede, Zamfara State in northwest Nigeria.

AFP

Parents also had no faith in authorities to return their kidnapped girls, Mohammed Usman Jangebe told Reuters by phone.

“We are going to rescue our children, since the government isn’t ready to give them protection,” he said.

“All of us that have had our children abducted have agreed to follow them into the forest. We will not listen to anyone now until we rescue our children.”

A military shake-up 

Mr Buhari replaced his long-standing military chiefs this month amid the worsening violence.

Last week, unidentified gunmen kidnapped 42 people including 27 students, and killed one pupil, in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central state of Niger. The hostages are yet to be released.

In December, dozens of gunmen abducted 344 schoolboys in northwest Katsina state. They were freed after six days but the government denied paying a ransom.

Islamic State’s West Africa branch in 2018 kidnapped more than 100 schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria, all but one of whom – the only Christian – were released. A ransom was paid, according to the United Nations.

Perhaps the most notorious kidnapping in recent years was when Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno state in April 2014. The incident drew widespread global attention, with then US first lady Michelle Obama among the prominent figures calling for their return.

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Deanside grassfire burns in Melbourne’s northwest as Watch and Act alert issued


A ‘Watch and Act’ alert has been issued for residents in Melbourne’s northwest as firefighters try to bring a grassfire under control.

On Thursday just after 1pm, the warning was issued for Normanby Boulevard in Deanside, with the fire travelling along Sincliars Road in a northerly directions toward Taylors Road.

Around 24 firefighters responded to the fire and it was brought under control within 45 minutes.

“Firefighters are working to determine the cause of the fire,” a statement from Fire Rescue Victoria read.

“Victoria Police is working alongside firefighters at the scene.”

The fire blackened a huge area of a field with firefighters blasting water around the perimeter.

Sincliars Road was closed while emergency services brought the fire under control.

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Heavy rain keeps SES busy in Tasmania’s north-west, flood warnings remain


Tasmania’s north has been pounded by heavy rain and thunderstorms, leading to flash flooding and cutting power to thousands of homes overnight.

There have been no reports of major damage but the State Emergency Service (SES) received more than 50 call-outs, mainly to individual houses in the north-west.

Nearly 2,500 properties were without power overnight morning but it has since been restored to most areas.

Police have advised some roads are affected by water.

In the 24 hours to 5:00am, many parts of the north and north-west received more than 100 millimetres of rain.

The town of Wynyard has taken the brunt, with a record-breaking downpour.

Its 99.8 millimetres the biggest February rain recorded in nearly 30 years.

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“It’s the highest rainfall Wynyard has seen since the 6th of June in 2016,” Tasmanian meteorologist Luke Johnston said.

Meteorologist Alex Melitsis said higher than average rainfall over the summer created a perfect storm for the rain event.

“We have actually had a fair bit of rain over Tasmania over the last month so that’s helping to create runoff and the rain’s less likely to absorb into the soil,” he said.

Most of Tasmania’s rivers remain below flood level though the bureau reports several in the north are rising.

Flood warnings have been downgraded for several parts of the state.

The downpour led to a flurry of requests for assistance, with the SES responding to 52 call-outs, the majority in Wynyard and Devonport.

The SES said it was not expecting a repeat of the devastating 2016 floods.

Floodwaters cover a campground at Gunns Plains near Ulverstone.(Supplied: Wings Wildlife Park)

Nick Connolly from the SES told ABC Radio Hobart most were maintenance issues, such as blocked gutters and leaks.

He said while there had been no significant road closures, the worst could be to come.

‘Not over yet’

Ailsa Bonell, a resident of Blackwood Creek in Tasmania’s northern midlands, said the creek overflowed, leaving the land and house where she lives inundated.

“It came up to probably about an inch or so over my ankles and it’s got into the fridge, into the freezer, into the cupboards, into the bathroom,” she said.

“My shower is an absolute mess. It’s full of mud … all the power points, down lights. Everything just went under water.”

Waratah Wynyard Mayor Robby Walsh said council workers were kept busy unblocking stormwater drains to relieve flooding.

“There was six inches of water [on the roads], 150 mills of water in a couple of places, down at the wharf there was a blockage there,” he said.

“The table drains were working overtime to manage the run-off.”

He said it was hard to see driving on the roads and there was a lot of lightning.

The bureau said Wynyard got record 99.8mm but Cr Walsh said his rain gauge this morning showed more than that.

“I went to my rain gauge and I tipped out 110 mills from the downpour in the night.”

The Mayor said conditions looked ominous.

“I don’t think it’s all over yet.”

Water over a suburban road after heavy rain
Wynyard residents woke to water over several local roads.(Supplied: Tania Johnstone)

Independent MLC Ruth Forrest, who lives at Wynyard, said she had not seen such heavy rain.

“It was really heavy, I haven’t seen rain as heavy where we live in Wynyard with so much laying on the ground in such a short time,” she said.

She hopes it is a short-impact event for Wynyard.

“We don’t tend to have the high levels of flooding, some areas do, but we have had unusual flooding activity in the past when dried-up creek beds have reinvigorated.

“That happened in the big floods of 2016.”

Severe weather warnings to wind back

Ducks walk near a flooded road
It was good weather for ducks at Gunns Plains where a road has been closed by floodwaters.(Supplied: Wings Wildlife Park)

It wasn’t just the state’s north and north-west affected by the downpour.

There were a dozen call-outs across the rest of the state.

Hobart had 40 millimetres of rain and kunanyi/Mt Wellington had 69mm.

The east coast experienced wind gusts of more than 90 kilometres per hour.

“That’s pretty significant for the east coast,” Mr Johnston said.

“It’s not as interesting as the rain … but certainly anyone camping by the east coast would’ve noticed.

“The good news is things are easing pretty rapidly.

“The rain system itself is contracting to the east later on this morning so the severe weather warning for heavy rainfall and the severe weather warning for damaging winds about the east coast should contract and be cleared away later this morning.”

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Ten more arrested over attack on Hindu temple in northwest Pakistan


With the latest arrests, the number of accused arrested in the case has risen to 55

Pakistan police have arrested 10 more people in overnight raids for their alleged involvement in the vandalisation of a Hindu temple by a mob led by members of a radical Islamist party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

With the latest arrests, the number of accused arrested in the case has risen to 55. Over 350 people have been named in the FIR after the temple in Terri village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Karak district was vandalised and set on fire on Wednesday by a mob protesting against its expansion work.

Search is underway to nab the others accused named in the FIR.

The temple which also had a samadhi of a Hindu religious leader was attacked by the mob after members of the Hindu community received permission from local authorities to renovate its decades-old building.

The mob, led by some local clerics and supporters of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party (Fazal ur Rehman group), demolished the newly constructed work alongside the old structure.

The attack on the temple drew strong condemnation from human rights activists and the minority Hindu community leaders.

India has also lodged a protest with Pakistan over the vandalisation of the temple and sought strict action against those responsible for the incident.

The protest was conveyed to Pakistan through diplomatic channels, sources in New Delhi said on Friday.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan has assured that his government would reconstruct the damaged temple and the Samadhi at the shortest possible time.

Chief Minister Khan’s Special Assistant on Information Kamran Bangash said that religious tolerance would be maintained in the province.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ordered the local authorities to appear before the court on January 5.

The court has issued directions to one-man Commission on Minorities Rights, KP chief secretary and KP inspector general of police to visit the site and submit a report on January 4.

Hindus form the biggest minority community in Pakistan.

According to official estimates, 75 lakh Hindus live in Pakistan. However, according to the community, over 90 lakh Hindus are living in the country.

The majority of Pakistan’s Hindu population is settled in Sindh province where they share culture, traditions and language with Muslim residents. They often complain of harassment by the extremists.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Foreign Office on Saturday termed as “completely unwarranted” India”s protest over the vandalisation of the Hindu temple.

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Fire destroys printing business at Hindmarsh, north-west of Adelaide CBD


A fire has destroyed a printing business in Adelaide’s inner north-west on Boxing Day evening.

Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) and police crews were called to the business on Orsmond Street at Hindmarsh just after 9:30pm on Saturday.

The MFS described the fire as “large” and said it took 38 firefighters and several hours to bring the blaze under control.

Significant structural damage was caused to the building, along with adjoining properties — although MFS crews were able to save neighbouring businesses from being completely destroyed.

“Fire’s contained but has severely damaged the business and continues to burn,” the MFS tweeted on Saturday night.

“MFS crews aren’t able to enter the burning premises, instead battling defensively from outside.”

Fire crews had to battle the blaze from outside due to fears the building could collapse.(ABC News)

Firefighters are today monitoring the site for hotspots and to keep watch over the unstable structure.

The owner of the printing business, Deon Capogreco, said there was $2 million of stock and machinery on the premises.

“It’s completely devastating obviously … it’s hard to put into words,” Mr Capogreco said.

“At the moment, all I can think about is our employees.

“I don’t know where to begin from here, from scratch. Which is what we’re going to do.”

Part of a collapsed structure alight
Fire cause investigators are still evaluating the extent of the damage.(ABC News)

Mr Capogreco said the business has twelve employees, including himself, and that they had only moved into the building at Hindmarsh 18 months ago.

“We’ve built a really good business here … we’ve made really good friends in the industry that we work in, and I know that they will support us,” he said.

“We started as a two-person operation not that long ago, and it had grown rapidly, with a lot of hard work.

“Seeing it like that is difficult.”

Firefighters battle the blaze from out the front of the business
Owner Deon Capogreco said there was $2 million of stock and machinery on the premises.(ABC News)

He said he would aim to rebuild the business in new premises “as quickly as we can” in 2021.

Orsmond Street was closed between South Road and George Street overnight, but has since reopened to traffic.

SA Police said the car park at the back of Hindmarsh Bowden Health, on Port Road, remained closed, as “the rear wall of the printing business is structurally compromised and may collapse”.

Fire cause investigators were at the scene today to determine the cause and assess the extent of the damage.

Police said the team’s efforts had been hampered by fears the building could collapse.



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Extreme fire risk for Victoria’s northwest


A total fire ban has been declared in much of Victoria’s northwest as the state braces for scorching temperatures and dry winds.

The Country Fire Authority says large parts of the state face a very high to extreme fire risk on Sunday with the biggest potential danger for the northwest, where temperatures are set to peak at 41C.

CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan says the conditions have made a total fire ban neccessary for four districts until 11.59pm on Sunday.

“The Mallee, Wimmera, North Central and Northern Country will experience elevated dangerous fire conditions and as a result, we have declared a Total Fire Ban across the four districts,” Mr Heffernan said in a statement.

He said the ban imposed strict rules on the use of farm machinery, chainsaws and lawnwomers and he urged campers not to light campfires.

“We would really urge people not to light one earlier in the night either or in other areas of Victoria,” he said.

Mr Heffernan said campfires lit in recent days needed to be properly extinguished to avoid flare-ups.



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Preschool-aged child diagnosed with meningococcal in Tasmania’s north-west



A preschool-aged child in Tasmania’s north-west has been diagnosed with meningococcal disease, the state’s public health service says.

The child, who attends Ulverstone Child Care Centre, was diagnosed on late Friday, and was on Monday in a stable condition at the Royal Hobart Hospital.

“There is no increased risk in the wider community,” deputy director of Public Health Services Fay Johnston said in a statement.

“Public Health Services worked over the weekend to provide information and advice to the family and close contacts of the child.

“The contacts included family members, several staff and children who attend the centre.”

Dr Johnston said the chance of a close contact developing the disease was “very low” and that children could continue to attend centre and visit other places.

The strain of the meningococcal bacteria is yet to be identified.

Meningococcal disease is mainly spread through droplets transmitted from the mouth and nose through coughing, sneezing, or close personal contact.

There are several strains of the bacteria and there are vaccines for some, but not all, of these.

Public health said this was the third case diagnosed in Tasmania in 2020. Numbers peaked in 2017 at 16 cases, with 11 cases in 2018, and 6 in 2019.

In 2018, a 16-year-old girl died after contracting the disease.

Anyone from the Ulverstone community seeking further information is asked to contact the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.



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Pilot suffers back injuries after light plane crash at Stanley in Tasmania’s north-west


A pilot has crash landed his light plane in a paddock in north-west Tasmania after the engine failed, police say.

The only occupant, Owen Roberts of Yolla, walked away from the crash landing involving a Jabiru aircraft and contacted authorities himself.

In a statement, Tasmania Police said the 68-year-old was taken to hospital with suspected back injuries.

The engine failed shortly after take off from the Wynyard Airport.

Police and emergency services were called to the scene near Green Hills Road about about 9:05am.

Police and emergency services were this morning on the scene near Green Hills Road.(Supplied)

Wynyard Aero Club president David McCarthy said Mr Roberts was an experienced member of the club.

“It sounds like an engine failure for some reason and then Owen would have done a controlled landing into a field,” he said.

“But he’s certainly been flying for quite a number of years and well trained to undertake forced landings as part of our regular training that we do.”

On landing, the front tyre struck a rock, damaging the wheel, undercarriage and propeller.

The matter will be referred to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

Emergency services parked next to a light plane in a paddock
The pilot was able to contact authorities himself before being taken to hospital with back injuries.(Supplied: Tasmania Police)



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Morning Snowfall Leaves Northwest Indiana Roads Slippery



Parts of northwest Indiana were left slick with snow and “near freezing” air on November 24, the National Weather Service said. The service said snow and reduced visibility were also impacting the Chicago area, after about 1.5 inches of snow accumulated in the city by 7 am. Local media reported the winter weather would lead to Chicago’s “first accumulating snow” of the season. Twitter user @connor_wx said this video shows “wet heavy snow” falling in Kouts, a town located in northwest Indiana. Credit: @connor_wx via Storyful



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89-year-old timber bridge to be replaced in Brisbane’s north-west


An 89-year-old timber bridge that is the only public road access for a 300-home neighbourhood in Brisbane’s north-west will be demolished and replaced to cope with the increasing demand.

The Gresham Street Bridge in Ashgrove turns off Waterworks Road, spanning the Enoggera Creek and providing access to the neighbourhood of St John’s Wood in the suburb of Ashgrove.

The Gresham Street Bridge in Ashgrove will be replaced by Brisbane City Council.Credit:Google Maps

Built in 1931, the bridge is a two-lane timber bridge, 32 metres long and 10 metres wide, and can be flooded during low flood events.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Brisbane City Council will consider a contracting plan to begin the replacement bridge project, which will involve building a temporary replacement bridge beside the existing bridge.



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