Wednesday, 30 September 2015

With 1,200 missing persons in Orange County, authorities reach out to families for DNA

For over 20 years, the identity of a human femur that washed ashore in Seal Beach and a jaw bone found elsewhere on the coast remained a mystery.

Meanwhile, the family of Percy Ray Carson wondered in anguish for two decades what had happened to the 26-year-old Long Beach resident and Army veteran, who disappeared while swimming off the coast of Huntington Beach on July 19, 1992.

It wasn’t until June that authorities connected the DNA of the remains with that of Carson’s family, identifying the bones as his.

Although Carson’s case was finally solved, another 1,200 active missing persons cases remain in Orange County, according to the Sheriff’s Department. About 100 human remains have been collected but never identified, sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock said.

For the first time, Orange County coroner and law enforcement officials are reaching out to people with missing family members in a public event Saturday, encouraging them to give DNA in the hopes that improving DNA testing technologies will lead to answers.

At the event, titled “Identify the Missing,” law enforcement and forensic officials will speak with relatives who wish to file or add to missing persons reports, submit DNA cheek swabs, and provide medical and dental information, photographs and fingerprints of their loved ones. Authorities can use the records to search The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System’s federal database, which has information on 10,000 unidentified bodies.

“We’re providing a venue that’s going to encompass all of the law enforcement and community professionals that families would need in this situation,” Allison O’Neal, the Orange County supervising deputy coroner, said after a press conference announcing the program Tuesday.

Representatives from several county police agencies, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the California Department of Justice, National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and the Mexican consulate in Santa Ana are expected to participate.

Similar events have been held in Michigan, New York, Texas and Missouri.

Coroner officials said they regularly send remains to the California Department of Justice for DNA testing to close the books on the thousands missing and unidentified persons cases they see annually.

“We’re resubmitting material all the time on these older cases to try to make a match,” said Tiffany Williams, a senior deputy coroner.

However, many missing people go unreported, officials said. Sometimes family members are afraid of how DNA samples would be used, but assistant chief deputy coroner Bruce Lyle said the DNA will only be used to help identify remains.

The new outreach approach is the result of meetings with Southern California coroner offices, where some agreed to hold similar events in the coming months.

The San Bernardino County coroner’s office held theirs in June, but turnout was reportedly low, Sheriff’s officials said. They said they hope to avoid that in Orange County by spreading the word.

At San Bernardino County’s event, a Redlands mother filed a missing persons report for the daughter she had not seen in 12 years. A detective discovered that the daughter was OK and living in Los Angeles.

Sheila Tubbs, of Newport Beach, hopes to find the same resolution for her brother, Gary Patton, who went missing during a short trip to Mexico.

Patton, of Westminster, was 64 years old when he went missing in September 2013 while on a three-day trip to photograph whales and a fishing tournament in Baja California, Mexico.

They filed a missing persons report with the Westminster Police Department, passed out fliers near where he possibly went missing, hired a private investigator and placed ads in Mexican newspapers, to no avail.

Tubbs said she and several of her siblings will submit to cheek swabs on Saturday.

“The family wants to get closure if something did happen to him,” Tubbs said. “I’m trying to be the eternal optimist.”

30 September 2015

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Austria migrant truck tragedy: relatives trying to identify their familymembers

Omar Abd-Mugeeth stared at his TV in Dubai. He felt hot, then sick. Police had found an abandoned refrigerator truck on an Austrian roadside with at least 50 dead aboard.

“ Mahmoud…my little brother. I knew he was one of them,” said Mr. Abd-Mugeeth, a 44-year-old Iraqi who last week traveled nearly 3,000 miles to try to confirm the fate of his brother and his brother’s wife.

Austrian authorities eventually extracted 71 decomposing bodies from the truck last month, one in a string of recent tragedies that has put the migration crisis at the top of Europe’s political agenda. Undertaking risky travel over land and sea has drawn global attention to the desperation of families fleeing war-torn and impoverished lands in the largest mass migration since World War II.

Mr. Abd-Mugeeth and other relatives now wait as a lab in the Austrian capital processes DNA samples to find matches with the tissue of victims who would otherwise be nearly impossible to identify. He flew Thursday to Vienna and then drove to meet with police in the Burgenland region, where the truck was found. En route, he stared past cornfields and small medieval-era houses, crying silently. “My mother,” he said, “she is crushed.”

His 29-year-old brother Mahmoud Abd-Mugeeth had married Zina Kaylany, 24, shortly after they had met at a wedding five years ago, Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said. It was love at first sight. “She was a very strong and respected woman,” he said. “Mahmoud adored her.” The couple lived in Baghdad, where his brother’s wife, nicknamed “Light Eyes,” sang for her husband at home.

As Mr. Abd-Mugeeth waited to speak with authorities at the Eisenstadt police station, he asked officers, “How big was the truck? How many meters?” No one could tell him exactly. On a piece of paper, Mr. Abd-Mugeeth drew a square in red ink with small circles inside.

“Seventy one,” he said. “My brother. No space.” Rising suddenly, he stood on one leg, holding his arms up. “This is how he was standing,” he said. Then Mr. Abd-Mugeeth fell back into his chair and rested his head in his hands.

His brother Mahmoud was an Iraqi army officer, a Sunni who had grown fearful that neither he nor his country could protect his wife and family from violent extremists, according to Mr. Abd-Mugeeth and other family members.

Mahmoud Abd-Mugeeth researched flights, spoke with friends who had already left and discussed possible routes with his wife, Zina, who had two brothers already living in Germany.

In mid-August, the couple decided to leave. Mahmoud Abd-Mugeeth didn’t tell his commanding officers, family members said. They flew out of Baghdad, traveling in a group that included Zina’s sister and a brother. They arrived in Izmir, a city on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said he asked his brother to stay in Turkey, where other family members lived. But his brother told him his wife and her two siblings wanted to join their brothers in Germany.

“Mahmoud would follow Zina anywhere,” Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said. “I tried to talk him into staying in Turkey, I warned him that the trip might be dangerous, that he didn’t know what to expect, but he wouldn’t listen.” Mahmoud Abd-Mugeeth planned to start a money transfer and exchange business in Germany, his brother said, similar to the one that Mr. Abd-Mugeeth was running in Dubai.

Before leaving Izmir, the group left their passports with relatives. A smuggler recommended by friends who had already made it to central Europe told them they would get new identities. Many Iraqi migrants are told it is easier to gain asylum in European countries by changing their identities and using, for example, Syrian passports.

Mahmoud Abd-Mugeeth also left $10,000 with his older brother, who would transfer the savings when he arrived in Germany.

The group traveled by boat to Greece, where they found another smuggler who drove them by van through Macedonia and Serbia, as far as the border with Hungary. On this leg of the trip, Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said, he and his mother were in constant contact with Mahmoud through calls and text messages.

‘“In the beginning, he was very happy,” Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said, showing a picture of his smiling brother as he posed at a town on the Greek shore.

As they progressed deeper into Europe, Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said, his brother no longer smiled in photos he sent. “I could see it in his eyes,” Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said. “He had a scared look.”

In one of the last pictures sent, he said, his brother’s face was shaded in a tree’s shadow—behind him, other migrants sat on the ground and talked while others slept amid strewed trash and discarded leftovers.

Mr. Abd-Mugeeth last spoke with his brother on Aug. 25—two days before the abandoned truck was discovered by authorities. His brother had told him he was worried about his wife sleeping on the ground in the Serbian forest, Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said. His brother also confided the couple hadn’t eaten for two days, except for some foraged fruit.

Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said he told his brother to return to their family in Turkey, that there was no point to more suffering. But his brother refused, he said, saying he had spoken to a smuggler who had promised to retrieve them that evening at the Serbia-Hungary border and take them to Germany for €1,800 (about $2,022) a person.

“I should have been harder on him,” Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said. “I should never have let him go.”

The group was expected in Germany by the Kaylany brothers—Ahmed, 28, and Sarmad, 25—who were waiting to welcome their sister Zina, her husband, Mahmoud Abd-Mugeeth, another sister and a brother, Ali Amer.

Mr. Amer had texted his brothers on Aug. 24, saying the group was waiting at the Serbia-Hungary border for a transport. Don’t worry, he said.

Sitting in their apartment in Aachen, a small town on the border with the Netherlands, the Kaylany brothers said Sunday that they heard nothing for a week after that message. They had tried calling. At first, the phone rang. But after awhile, even the ring tone went silent.

“The world fell apart,” said Ahmed Kaylany, sitting on a green velvet sofa, elbows resting on his knees. “It is as if God chose to take the best people in the world. They wouldn’t even have hurt an ant.”

The two brothers now spend their time waiting—for a decision by German authorities on their asylum applications, filed in May, and for a call from Austrian authorities about the DNA samples they sent out a week ago. For weeks, they have had trouble sleeping and eating.

“The wait is the worst part,” Sarmad Kaylany said, tears in his eyes. “I only think about my family, my parents back home who still have hope…My little sisters, my brother.”

Austrian investigators said working with frustrated and distraught relatives has heightened the emotional challenge for officers working on the case. “We see people doing all they can to provide us with DNA samples, some traveling across half of the world,” a police spokesman said.

Providing relatives with a clear answer is taking much longer than anyone wants, the spokesman said, and it could drag on for several more months because of the forensic complexity of the case, as well as the logistics of communicating with foreign authorities.

“Our priority has to be to not, not ever, make a mistake,” the spokesman said.

Authorities have arrested six people in the case, including the alleged driver.

. At the Eisenstadt police station, an officer arrived to speak with Mr. Abd-Mugeeth. A second man asked him to open his mouth so he could take a swab of saliva. He looked at Mr. Abd-Mugeeth’s passport and wrote down his name, birth date, and address on a form.

Mr. Abd-Mugeeth asked when he would get an answer about his DNA sample. “In two to three weeks,” the officer said.

The officer started looking through some papers in front of him, then pulled out a photograph of a head scarf from the stack.

“Have you seen this before?” he asked.

“I’m not sure,” Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said.

The officer showed him a picture of a small pouch. Mr. Abd-Mugeeth flicked through the photos his brother had sent on his phone. In one shot, of his brother and his wife in the forest in Serbia, Mr. Abd-Mugeeth saw that she wore the same pouch around her hips.

“And look,” Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said, pointing at his phone. “It’s the head scarf. It’s the same.”

The officer pulled out one last photo that showed a golden necklace with Kurdish letters.

“It’s Zina’s, 100%.” Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said. “The letters say ‘Mahmoud.’ ”

Mr. Abd-Mugeeth asked whether he could see the bodies of his brother and sister-in-law, or at least pictures of them. The officer said he couldn’t until the bodies were identified.

“You would not be able to recognize them,” the officer said. “The bodies are not visually recognizable.”

“But her hair color,” Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said. “You must have been able to see her hair color.”

The police officer looked down at the table.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “But no, we couldn’t even recognize her hair color.”

Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said he had felt as though his brother’s presence lingered after the truck’s discovery. He could see on Facebook that his brother was online for several days after they last talked, a sign his phone must have been in use. But his brother didn’t reply to messages.

When Mr. Abd-Mugeeth called, no one answered.

Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said he was convinced smugglers took away the phone—which police never found—and forced his brother and the others into the truck.

“Mahmoud was very jealous,” he said. “He would not have wanted his wife to be in a place like that with so many men and so little space. He would never have entered that truck without being very scared.”

After the couple had learned early in their marriage that they couldn’t conceive children, Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said, his brother’s wife offered a divorce so her husband could remarry and have children with someone else.

“He told her he loved her, and that he would always stay with her, with or without children,” Mr. Abd-Mugeeth said. “He said…that he would live with her and die with her. And he did.”

Wednesday 30 September 2015

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North Korea: Rason flood casualties ten times official figures

Nearly 400 people have reportedly died from torrential rain that swept up residents in Rason, North Hamgyong Province. This is ten times the figure officially announced by North Korea, which is believed to have distorted numbers in fear that the international community would criticize the Kim Jong Un leadership for its lack of readiness against natural disasters, Daily NK sources reported.

“Damage from the downpours was contained to Rason in the Sonbong area and not elsewhere,” a source privy to North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK. “It was only in the Sonbong area where it rained a lot. Although the state reported 40 were killed, after looking into the matter those figures are over 400.”

An additional source in China with ties to North Korea confirmed this news.

Images featured in the Party-run Rodong Sinmun showed buildings being reconstructed, but on the larger scale, the damage was immense with entire villages being swept away, leading to a massive loss of lives, according to the source.

“The sudden rise in water levels swept up not only residents in the area but taxi drivers, traders, and even truck drivers from China. Those bodies have not even been recovered yet,” he asserted.

“Saying that 40 lives were lost is sheer nonsense.”

Soldiers mobilized from surrounding areas are currently working on rebuilding the hard hit city, which has been sealed off from the public. Roughly 45,000 soldiers are on site, reflecting the magnitude of devastation in Rason.

“The soldiers that have been mobilized are storm troops that specialize in building roads, bridges, and fixing houses,” the source said. “They have cut off the entrance to Sonbong to block cars coming from Wonjong Customs House, and people cannot enter at all. All vehicles that go through customs have to make a detour toward the Tumen River,” the source explained.

He went on to speculate that Pyongyang downplayed the numbers in an effort to deflect any criticism from the global community. While it is more common to see dozens of lives lost in a natural disaster, much higher numbers would be a sure sign of North Korea’s lack of readiness. The leadership, the source surmised, likely did not want to take any chances in acknowledging this reality.

Wednesday 30 September 2015

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Hajj stampede: Saudi officials clarify toll after questions

Saudi officials have denied reports that more than 1,000 people were killed in a stampede near Mecca last week while undertaking the Hajj pilgrimage.

A Nigerian official told the BBC the bodies of 1,075 victims had been taken to mortuaries in the city of Jeddah - higher than the official toll of 769.

Other countries also said they had been sent the photos of some 1,090 bodies.

But the Saudi officials said the photos included unidentified people who died at the Hajj - not just in the stampede.

Spokesman Maj Gen Mansour al-Turki told the Associated Press that some were foreign nationals who lived in Saudi Arabia and carried out the Hajj without the required permits

Others were among the 109 people who were killed when a crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on 11 September, he said.

Confusion about how many people died in last week's stampede mounted after Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted on Sunday that the Saudi authorities had released photos of 1,090 pilgrims who died.

Pakistani and Indonesian officials also indicated that they have been sent more than 1,000 such images.

On Tuesday, a Nigerian Hajj official from Kano, Abba Yakubu, told the BBC's Yusuf Ibrahim Yakasai that he had been to Jeddah, where the dead from the stampede were being processed.

Mr Yakubu said that in total, 14 lorries loaded with bodies were brought to the city.

He added that so far 1,075 bodies had been offloaded from 10 lorries and taken into the morgues. Four lorries had yet to be dealt with, Mr Yakubu said.

Several countries have been severely critical of the way the Saudi authorities have handled the accident's aftermath, notably Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran, which lost at least 228 people in the disaster.

The stampede was the deadliest incident to hit the Hajj in 25 years.

The crush occurred as two large groups of pilgrims converged at right angles as they took part in the Hajj's last major rite - stone-throwing at pillars called Jamarat, where Satan is believed to have tempted the Prophet Abraham.

As well as the fatalities, 934 people were injured.

Saudi Arabia's most senior cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh, has defended the authorities, saying the stampede was "beyond human control".

King Salman has ordered a safety review into the disaster.

Deaths reported so far by nationality

◾Iran: at least 228
◾Morocco: 87 (media reports)
◾Egypt: 74
◾India: 45
◾Pakistan: 44
◾Cameroon: at least 20
◾Niger: at least 19
◾Chad: 11
◾Somalia: 8 (media reports)
◾Senegal: 5
◾Algeria: 4
◾Tanzania: 4
◾Turkey: 4
◾Indonesia: 3
◾Kenya: 3
◾Nigeria: 3
◾Netherlands: 1
◾Burundi: 1
◾Burkina Faso: 1
◾Other nationalities (numbers not yet known): Benin

Wednesday 30 September 2015

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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

62 Guerrero graves yield 131 bodies

The investigation into the disappearance of 43 students from the teacher training college in Ayotzinapa has uncovered more than 100 corpses buried in unmarked graves in Guerrero – but none of them corresponds to the students, missing since September 26 last year.

The Attorney General’s office (PGR) has exhumed 131 bodies from 62 sites, analyzing the remains and genetically cross-referencing them with family members of the missing students.

But none has tested positive. The investigation of the graves began last October after the Union of the Peoples and Organizations of Guerrero (UPOEG) alerted the Criminal Investigation Agency (AIC) to their presence.

Since then bodies have been found in unmarked graves across Iguala every month, some of them mass graves containing more than a single corpse.

Many have been found by UPOEG volunteers who went out searching for possible grave sites based on information gathered from local residents.

The bodies unearthed in Iguala are among 321 found in 158 graves across the country since 2012, most of them in the states of Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán and Morelos.

The Iguala finds probably represent the worst case of clandestine graves uncovered in Mexico since the AIC found 75 bodies in La Barca, Jalisco, between November 2013 and February 2014.

The agency was investigating the disappearance of two of its agents, René Rojas Márquez and Gabriel Quijados Santiago, whose remains were discovered in Vista Hermosa, Michoacán.

The two are believed to have been murdered by members of the Jalisco Nueva Generación cartel.

Tuesday 29 September 2015¨

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New project aims to identify immigrant remains

The Texas Forensic Science Commission hosted a meeting in Edinburg on Monday to discuss efforts to better identify the bodies of undocumented immigrants who die while illegally crossing into the United States.

While many consider illegal immigration to be a federal issue, others claim it’s not that simple.

"It's a federal and it’s a state issue. The federal issue is immigration, but the state issue is the bodies are in our state," said Rep. Terry Canales.

In the last two years, 169 cases of human remains have been recovered in Brooks County, but only 4 have been identified.

"We're failing. We’re failing to identify these people; we're failing to bury them properly. The bottom line is we need to respect them in life and in death," Canales said.

It's why Canales made an amendment to Senate Bill 1287, which created the Rio Grande Identification Project.

“The forensics commission creating the best practice and a database of the collection of DNA from unidentified corpuses from 120 miles of the Rio Grande. So when you ask what does it do? Well, it basically creates what was never there," Canales said.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said the new system could help not only those from Mexico, but Texas as well.

"We've made a lot of progress through DNA, through coordination and cooperation. We now have a system in place that makes it a lot easier to find out who that person is and locate that person’s family – whether it is in Mexico, Central America or maybe even a missing person here in Texas," Hinojosa said.

While Hinojosa and Canales both said Texas is taking proactive steps to deal with the impact of illegal immigration, they said this is the next step in tackling the issue.

"America is such a beautiful place that people are flocking to be here. They are trying to cross here illegally; they are willing to risk life and death to get here because it’s such a great country. But us burying you in a mass grave or not being able to identify you, is not so great. So we're trying to not only admit our wrongs, but right them," Canales said.

The commission is funded by the state, but there are federal grants available to help with the costs, Canales said.

The Brooks County Sheriff's Office said its county spent $680,000 between 2009 and 2013 in recovering bodies.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

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Migrant crisis: 17 people drown after boat sinks off Turkish coast

Seventeen migrants attempting to reach Greece by boat from Turkey have drowned after their boat sank off Turkey.

The victims, all thought to be Syrians, included five women and five children, local media said.

Another 20 people on the boat's deck, who were wearing life jackets, survived, the news agency said.

Some 300,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Greece so far this year, most of them moving on to try to reach other EU countries.

Those arriving in Greece have mostly set off from Turkey's Aegean coast, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Those who drowned on Sunday were trapped in the boat's cabin as it sank, Turkey's Dogan news agency reported.

The boat is thought to have set out from the village of Gumusluk near the Turkish resort town of Bodrum, where three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi died earlier this month.

Alan's death made international headlines when an image of his body washed up on the beach in Bodrum was widely shared.

With several Greek islands within a few miles, thousands of people are attempting the dangerous journey every day.

Mediterranean rescue

Separately, 500 migrants have been rescued from the Mediterranean so far this weekend in seven operations involving the Italian coastguard and navy and a ship belonging to the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres.

A spokesman for the coastguard told the AFP news agency on Sunday that three of the seven operations were ongoing.

The rescued migrants are thought to be largely from Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone and left Libya three days earlier. They were rescued about 80km (50 miles) off the Libyan coast.

Hungarian police said on Sunday that 9,472 migrants had arrived in the country on Saturday, overwhelmingly crossing from Croatia. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that his government plans to seal its border with Croatia, in the same way that it has sealed the border with Serbia.

Croatia said on Saturday that about 67,000 people had entered the country over the past 10 days, when Hungary's decision to fence off its border with Serbia redirected migrants towards Croatia.

About 10,000 migrants crossed into Croatia from Serbia on Friday - a record daily high - with the steady stream of people continuing into the weekend.

Migrants and refugees crossing the Serbia-Croatia border have suffered a dip in temperatures this weekend.

Monday 28 September 2015

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Mina crush: More bodies identified

Many countries on Monday announced that they had identified dozens more bodies from a stampede in Mina four days ago.

The number of Indonesians killed in the stampede rose to 41 Monday with scores more still missing, an official said.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, initially indicated only a handful of its citizens died in the stampede but the death toll crept up over the weekend, and the Religious Affairs Ministry confirmed Monday that it now stood at 41.

In addition, 10 Indonesians were being treated for their injuries in hospital while a further 82 remain missing, although senior ministry official Abdul Djamil said it was not clear if they were caught up in the stampede.

Many pilgrims’ bodies were mutilated in the crush, and Djamil said that officials were identifying Indonesian victims through such methods as checking clothes and Haj ID bracelets against their records.

“Our team has been working hard day and night to look for the pilgrims whose whereabouts are still unknown, and to identify the pilgrims who died,” he added.

Pakistan’s minister for religious affairs said authorities have tracked down 217 Pakistanis who went missing following the stampede.

Sardar Muhammad Yousaf, speaking to Pakistan Television Sunday night from Saudi Arabia, said 85 Pakistanis were still missing and efforts were under way to locate them. He said 36 Pakistanis were killed and 35 injured in the stampede.

Egypt’s Minister of Religious Endowments Mohammed Mokhtar Gomaa told the Middle East News Agency that 55 Egyptian citizens are among the dead. He said another 120 Egyptian pilgrims are still missing and 26 are receiving treatment for injuries sustained during the disaster.

India also updated its list of the dead. Ten more Indian pilgrims were identified in Al-Moaissem mortuary near Mina taking the toll to 45.

Indian Consulate General also released a list of 50 injured pilgrims and the name of hospitals they are under treatment.

There are three pilgrims under treatment at King Faisal Hospital, five at King Abdullah Medical City in Makkah, seven at Al-Noor Hospital in Makkah, six at Mina ER Hospital, one at Hira Hospital in Makkah, one at Nimra Hospital in Arafat, five at Al-Jasr Hospital in Mina, two at Mina Al-Wadi Hospital, two at Al-Jadid Hospital in Mina, five at Shesha Hospital in Makkah, one at Mina dispensary, 10 at Security Force Hospital in Makkah, two at King Abdulaziz National Guard Hospital in Bahra.

The largest number of casualties identified thus far is from Iran. Iran’s state TV raised the death toll for Iranian pilgrims from 155 to 169. More than 300 Iranians are still missing and around 100 were wounded in Thursday’s incident.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

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Monday, 28 September 2015

Poland reburies 35 victims of Stalin-era terror

The bodies of 35 victims of a Stalin-era campaign of terror in Poland were reburied at a solemn ceremony on Sunday after being exhumed from mass graves and identified.

Digs carried out recently at a military cemetery uncovered a number of mass graves and have led to the exhumation of around 200 bodies of victims of the Stalinist regime in Poland following World War II.

"We are now attempting to discover the fate of each one of these victims, so that, as far as possible, no one remains anonymous, to put a name to the communist reign of terror of 1945-1956, to document it and portray it," Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said at the ceremony, which was broadcast live on television.

The 35 wooden coffins were placed in a new mausoleum at the Powazki cemetery in Warsaw.

The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which oversees a vast programme of excavation work across the country, hopes to find and identify the remains of Witold Pilecki, a Polish partisan who infiltrated the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp, in order to share his experience with the world.

Pilecki escaped from the camp after three years, but was arrested after the war by Poland's communist authorities loyal to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, accused of espionage and sentenced to death. His body was never found.

The institute believes that around 50,000 people were killed during the post-war campaign of terror, with many still in mass graves.

Digs are under way across the country that have led to the exhumations of more than 600 bodies, 41 of which have so far been identified through DNA.

Monday 28 September 2015

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Texas: Hearing set on identifying immigrant remains

Efforts to improve the identification process of undocumented immigrants who die while crossing from Mexico into Texas will take center stage in the Rio Grande Valley today.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission will host a public meeting at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced.

The meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the facility, which is located at 118 Paseo Del Prado, near the intersection of McColl Road and Dove Avenue in southwest Edinburg.

The gathering in Edinburg, which is the result of a last-minute amendment on May 26 by Canales to Senate Bill 1287, will focus on what is known as the Rio Grande Identification Project.

The Edinburg lawmaker’s amendment created the Rio Grande Identification Project and requires the Texas Forensic Science Commission — a state agency — “to develop a method for collecting forensic evidence related to the unidentified bodies located less than 120 miles from the Rio Grande River,” Leigh M. Tomlin, with the Texas Forensic Science Commission, stated in an advisory about the Edinburg meeting.

“In accordance with its legislative mandate, the commission is working with stakeholders to develop a systematic plan for proper forensic evidence collection of biological material that may help identify human remains found along the border. The goal for the session is to establish best practices in Texas for subsequent publication and dissemination,” Tomlin explained.

Canales said an estimated 1,000 immigrants without any identification have died in the Rio Grande Valley during the past 10 years.

In the summer of 2014, international attention was focused in deep South Texas with the discovery that mass graves of hundreds of suspected unidentified immigrants were buried haphazardly in a cemetery in Brooks County.

In addition, hundreds of immigrants’ bodies have been recovered on the ranches in Brooks County in recent years. Smugglers guide immigrants through the brush trying to circumvent a Border Patrol highway checkpoint an hour’s drive north of the border. There is little water and the walk can take two or three days in punishing temperatures.

The House District 4o lawmaker recalled how the Legislature late last spring took action to bring compassion and closure to thousands of families who never know what happened to their love ones who crossed into Texas seeking a better life.

“It was spontaneous. I just noticed the subject of the bill and it got me out of my chair,” Canales said.

“I ran to the front of the House of Representatives and said, ‘I have an amendment to this bill, hold on.’”

The passage of his amendment was even more remarkable given the political climate in the Legislature, he noted.

“I think it was one of my most exciting moments in the Legislature,” Canales said. “I was a little over jubilant that it passed, especially with the anti-immigrant sentiment that exists in the Texas Legislature. I think it’s a great victory.”

“I think that it’s unquestionable what role immigrants play in our daily lives in our economy,” Canales said. “Not only do we need to respect what they do for our country but we need to respect human life in death.”

Monday 28 September 2015

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10 dead in Cape fishing trawler disaster

Ten fishermen have died and three remain missing after they abandoned a fishing trawler which was taking on water in rough seas on Sunday night.

Eight men were plucked from the frigid water by other vessels that had rushed to their aid.

NSRI spokesperson Craig Lambinon said the volunteer rescue service was alerted to the vessel in distress by the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA).

“The 42-metre Cape Town fishing trawler [reported] to be taking on water in heavy sea swells 20 nautical miles south of Hangklip with their 21 crew on board abandoning ship.”

Lambinon said that all vessels were alerted to the incident and asked to help, with the NSRI launching rescue craft from their bases in Hermanus and Simonstown.

A cargo vessel and three fishing boats were first to arrive at the floundering trawler's location.

“On arrival on the scene it was confirmed that all 21 crew of the casualty fishing trawler had abandoned their vessel.

“Nine survivors were rescued and nine bodies were recovered from the water. It was later confirmed that one of the survivors who had been rescued had succumbed to injuries and died. Rescues were made by all of the vessels in the search area,” he said.

“Sea conditions were six-metre swells with gusting to 45 knot south easterly winds but sea conditions improved during the search and rescue operation.

“Despite an extensive air and sea search no sign of the three missing crew have been found and a search is continuing. Radio communications are being assisted by Telkom Maritime Radio Services,” Lambinon said.

Monday 28 September 2015

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Thursday, 24 September 2015

Search for miners buried in landslide ends

After 26 days, the search for miners who were buried in a landslide in Mankayan, Benguet, has officially ended.

The bodies of all 16 missing miners have been recovered, said Senior Superintendent Jonathan Calixto, Benguet Provincial Public Safety Company (BPPSC) head who led the search and retrieval operations.

Calixto said the last body, that of Ronaldo Angel, was found on September 16.

Angel, a native of Aurora province, is said to be the financier of the small-scale mining operations in Mankayan.

Calixto said officials had given the search for the remaining bodies, but volunteers refused to give up.

“We convinced our volunteers that we had to continue the search and retrieval operations until all the bodies of the missing miners because our conscience could not take it that we will be leaving the site with some people still missing,” Calixto said.

Calixto thanked the more than 500 police, military, civilian volunteers including miners of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company, who took part in the search

Thursday 24 September 2015

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American Legion raises money to assist recovery of MIAs

Past District Commander Philip Baker the POW/MIA Chairman for the Department of Missouri and Post Vice Commander, along with members of Post 281 raised awareness of the 37 Missouri MIA's still remaining in Vietnam. “They all deserve to be brought home and the Piedmont American Legion will continue to work towards that goal,” concluded Cmdr.

Baker at a recent helmet drive conducted on Saturday, to help in the recovery efforts of MIA's in the Viet Nam theatre. With the Republic of Vietnam improvement of efforts in the recovery of bodies of U.S. soldiers missing in action they wanted to assure that U.S. teams be funded. The downside to this is the U.S. Government had yet to come up with resources to properly fund the repatriation of those remains still remaining in the Vietnam theater of operations.

The official POW/MIA recognition day is always the third Friday in September. Legion members worked in shifts to participate in the helmet drive that was held at the stop light in the center of town. Thanks to the generous community that was receptive to their impassioned plea they raised in one day over $2,222 which will be forwarded on to assist in recovering remains of MIA's in Vietnam. Last year they raised in two days over $4,600.00 and their efforts led to the recovery of one of our 38 Missouri MIA's earlier this year by the returning of the remains of a Missouri soldier killed more than four decades ago when his Army helicopter crashed in Cambodia during the Vietnam war. The remains of Rodney Griffin arrived April 23rd at St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Patriot Guard motorcyclists led the hearse to Griffin's native mid-Missouri home in Centralia, Mo.

Thursday 24 September 2015

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Austrian Police say 10 migrants found dead in truck were Iraqis

The 71 migrants found dead in a lorry in Austria last month included at least 10 Iraqi adults, Austrian police said September 23.

Nearly a month after they suffocated in the sealed vehicle, nine men and one woman from Iraq were the first to be identified. Four of the bodies have been handed over to their families.

Confirmation of further identities is expected soon as relatives have provided valuable information, police spokesman Gerald Gangl said. He added it might be weeks or even months before the names of all the victims are known.

"One has to take into account that DNA samples have to be obtained from countries such as Afghanistan," Gangl said, explaining why the process will take time.

Forensic investigations suggest that the migrants suffocated half an hour after the lorry started its trip in the Hungarian capital Budapest, and that they were already dead when the vehicle entered Austria.

Five suspects have been arrested in Hungary, and one man is being held in Bulgaria in connection with the case.

Thursday 24 September 2015

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Wednesday, 23 September 2015

17 Austria truck victims identified so far

Austrian police say the bodies of some of the 71 people found dead in a trafficker's truck last month have been returned to their home countries.

State broadcaster ORF says four bodies have been flown to Iraq and 17 of the victims have been identified so far. Police spokesman Gerald Pangl says Tuesday that relatives are organizing the flights to their homelands.

Pangl says Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have been helpful in providing DNA samples needed for identification.

The bodies of those fleeing violence in their homelands were found Aug. 27 on the main highway connecting Austria and Hungary. Coroners say the victims suffocated while in Hungary in the vehicle's air-tight cargo area.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

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Crane disaster: 10 bodies yet to be identified; 2 more found

Ten bodies of those who died in the crane tragedy at Makkah’s Grand Mosque have yet to be identified.

Al-Madinah daily, citing sources, said that the number of fatalities is 109. Among them, 92 have been identified and of them, 89 have been released for the last rites; three are yet to be handed over. Eight bodies are in pieces.

Indians comprised the largest number of casualties with 13, followed by 12 Pakistanis, it said. Among the identified bodies, 24 are women and 68 men.

Meanwhile, the Civil Defense in Makkah recovered two more bodies from under the rubble of the crashed crane. Brig. Abdullah Al-Harthi, Civil Defense spokesman, announced on Monday that his teams found the two bodies after dismantling parts of the crane to remove it from the site.

“The two martyrs are Malaysian, putting the total number of the dead at this moment at 109,” he said. He added: “We faced some challenges in identifying some bodies because they were in pieces. We used thumb impressions to identify them.”

There is a possibility that more bodies are lying under the crane debris.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Bodies of 15 sailors recovered after boat sinks off southern Vietnam

Rescuers on Tuesday recovered the bodies of two sailors, the last among the 15 missing after their fishing boat sank off the coast of Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province in southern Vietnam last week.

The bodies were found at 8:30 a.m. in the waters near Con Dao Island.

At around 3 a.m. last Wednesday the boat was heading back to shore after a fishing trip off Con Dao Island when the gas cylinder on the boat reportedly exploded.

The boat sank immediately.

Fifteen sailors were allegedly injured and fell into the water. They allegedly drowned and their bodies drifted away.

Three sailors, who were standing far away from the gas cylinder, escaped the blast. They were saved by rescuers afterwards.

With the two new bodies, all of the missing sailors have been recovered.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

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The debris of the desperate: Finding life jackets and passports off the coast of Turkey

It was a beautiful day of clear skies and light winds when Gordon Walker and his family set out on their final sailing trip of the summer. Strong gusts from the north had delayed their departure, but by the end of August, the weather was perfect and the boat was stocked. There was meat for the barbecue and beer to wash it down, along with an assortment of other supplies for a three-day sail.

Their destination was Turkey’s Karaburun Peninsula, about four hours away across a stretch of the Aegean Sea. Once the sails were set, Mr. Walker, a Canadian who lives in Spain, revelled in the quiet. His wife, Sonja, and young daughter, Nikita, spotted dolphins swimming off the port bow.

They spent two nights anchored near Karaburun, snorkelling in the turquoise waters and swimming into the nearby harbour for lunch. Late in the morning of Sept. 2, they began their return journey to the Turkish town of Foca, where they spend every summer.

The sun was shining in a cloudless sky, but the wind had vanished. In the near total calm, Mr. Walker, 55, turned on the motor and took the helm. About four nautical miles later, he spotted what he thought were fishing buoys floating in the distance.

As the boat drew closer, he became puzzled. The buoys were orange, an unusual colour, not the clear or white plastic normally used by fishermen. There were no other boats nearby and no sign of nets or divers. It was almost as though the buoys were in a line, stretching across the glassy sea.

He slowed the boat and moved nearer. With a start, he understood what he was seeing: life jackets, more than 30 of them, in every direction. His mind raced. Life jackets are light, he thought – maybe they had blown off the shores of Lesbos, the Greek island to the north, where thousands of refugees are arriving every day and discarding them on the beach.

Then he saw large forms in the water and his chest grew tight. There were bags, backpacks so wet they barely floated. He realized that they had discovered a field of debris – the “debris of the desperate,” he said. “That’s when I thought, ‘Jesus, maybe I should send Nikita below deck.’”

His 11-year-old daughter surveyed the scene around them. “Why are there so many life jackets, and why are their backpacks with everything they have in the water?” she asked. He had no answer for her.

Mr. Walker manoeuvred the boat toward some of the backpacks. Edgar Lockhart, a retired geologist who lives in Vancouver and was also travelling with the family, helped lift three of the heavy, waterlogged bags out of the water and onto a small platform at the stern.

As they arrived back in Foca, the mood was sombre. The familiar sights and sounds of the harbour – the palm trees, the pines, the boats, the calls to prayer – only underscored the difference between their journey and the one taken by the people whose bags sat, dripping, on the edge of their boat.

Unable to shake what he had seen, Mr. Walker wrote an e-mail to friends and relatives urging them to sponsor refugees and help them come to Canada. While he and his family had returned to the welcoming bays of Foca, he feared that “no arms awaited the backpack owners other than the cold, blue arms of the deep.”

The Missing

How many migrants and refugees go missing on the long journey to Europe? No one truly knows. More than 440,000 people have already arrived this year by crossing the Mediterranean, according to the United Nations, most of them originally from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. Almost 3,000 have died, including at least 76 this month, 29 of them children. They include three-year old Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a shore in Turkey – an indelible image that shocked the world.

Experts add that some bodies are never found, and when they are, not all of them can be identified. “The major challenge that we face is that not only do people go missing or end up dying on some of these terrible journeys, but the families are usually left in limbo for many years because there is no proof of death,” said Frank Laczko, who heads a global data analysis centre at the International Organization for Migration. “And that creates problems for them both emotionally and legally, in terms of moving on.”

Dutch researchers at VU University in Amsterdam compiled a database of migrant deaths on Europe’s southern borders between 1990 and 2013. In the more than 3,000 cases they examined, fewer than half of the bodies were successfully identified.

For families whose loved ones go missing, there are few options. The IOM has tried to help with such inquiries in an ad hoc way, referring families to local authorities. The International Committee of the Red Cross also works to trace people who have disappeared. Two years ago, it launched a new project directed specifically at migrants and refugees travelling to Europe. People searching for missing relatives can send photos of themselves, which are then distributed online and on posters. As of this week, there were more than 344 people searching for lost family members.

The Passports

As he returned to Foca, Mr. Walker thought about possible scenarios. His best guess was that a boat or boats carrying refugees had set off from the Turkish coast for Lesbos on one of the preceding days when the winds were blowing strongly from the north.

The waves would have been high in the strait between Greece and Turkey, he thought. Maybe the bags had been dumped overboard to help the boats ride higher in the water and the passengers had reached Lesbos. In the worst case, the vessel was swamped and sank somewhere along the crossing. Even then, it’s possible those in the boat were rescued by the Greek or Turkish coast guards, he told himself.

After arriving in Foca and unloading the boat, Mr. Walker went straight to the local police station. They told him to contact the coast guard, which called over to Karaburun to inquire if there had been any recent rescues or sinkings nearby. When the answer was no, the coast guard referred Mr. Walker back to the local police in Foca, where the officers took down his story without much interest.

Mr. Walker and his family opened the bags and began to sift through their soaked contents. One bag contained two large water bottles, cigarettes and clothes, some of them never worn, including new pairs of socks.

In the other large bag, they found clothes for a small child: T-shirts, pants, a hat, a pair of shorts printed with the word “Smile.” The bottom compartment of the backpack was filled with diapers. Nestled above the diapers, there were three Iranian passports: a 33-year-old man with close-cropped hair and a direct gaze; a 30-year-old woman, presumably his wife, with wide eyes and wearing a black head scarf; and their son, a round-faced little boy just 16 months old.

In the smallest of the three bags, there were clothes, cellphones, charging cables, toiletries and a large container of hair gel. There was also a Turkish visa for a 35-year old Iraqi man born in Baghdad. A piece of paper, folded and refolded repeatedly into a small square, contained Arabic handwriting in blue ink. It included two verses from the Koran and prayers asking for protection – “May God bless you and his blessings surround you,” part of it read.

Mr. Walker returned to the police station the next day with the identifying details and this time the reaction from the officers was more attentive. They took possession of the bags and their contents. Meanwhile, Mr. Walker and his family began getting ready to return to Seville, where he is a senior manager at a company providing laboratory services to mines.

When he left Foca, he said, town residents were talking in grim tones about the upcoming fishing season. During the summer, big vessels are barred from the nearby waters, but they return in the fall. The larger fishing boats drop their nets down to the sea floor and drag up everything, usually fish and other sea life but also, often, ancient amphora. “As they start dragging in any of those crossings, people believe they’ll start to bring up bodies too,” he said.

A note containing a prayer for protection was found in a backpack believed to have belonged to a 35-year old Iraqi man.

The Search

Over the past week, The Globe has attempted to track the people whose bags Mr. Walker found. The Greek and Turkish coast guards did not respond to inquiries about boating incidents involving refugees and migrants. The Greek authorities on Lesbos, believed to be the destination of those on the boats, said they were overwhelmed and didn’t have time to search for possible arrival records for those four individuals.

The police, the gendarmerie and the coast guard in Foca had no further information about the whereabouts of the four people. Last Friday, a police detective there recommended checking with Turkish immigration authorities in the days and weeks to come. A week earlier, he said, the coast guard had rescued 124 refugees from the sea.

Initial efforts to trace the four people on social media and in telephone directories in Tehran and Baghdad were not successful. A Facebook appeal in Arabic by a newspaper editor in Iraq also did not yield results. The newspaper contacted a local arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross to begin a tracing request, but was informed that only family members can initiate such a search.

Mr. Walker, meanwhile, has asked everyone he knows in Iran for help locating the family whose passports he found. He remarked with some bitterness that Turkey has an efficient network of buses which could safely transport migrants and refugees over land to the border with Greece, but that frontier is closed. Instead, those who want to get to Europe must play a cruel game of “sink or swim,” he said.

“You can’t just say to people … if you risk your life, then we might do something for you, slowly,” he said. “You have to tackle it seriously.” He noted there are precedents for such efforts, including the way Canada sent officials to Asia to process tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the late 1970s.

A native of Deep River, Ont., Mr. Walker has spent all of his life around water, from the Ottawa River of his childhood to his years sailing the Mediterranean Sea. Most of his memories of the sea are fond ones, he said.

But what he saw in the Aegean earlier this month “is sticking with me like a tattoo,” he wrote in his e-mail to family and friends. In the days that followed, when he was tired enough to sleep, he would close his eyes and see a sea littered with backpacks and life jackets.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

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Why allegations of human sacrifice in Tamil Nadu are too hard to probe

The little village of E Malampatti in Madurai district, Tamil Nadu, has been all aflutter this past week. The media’s spotlight has been turned squarely onto this village, now notorious as the site of alleged human sacrifices conducted around 12 years ago. A jeep driver formerly employed with a large granite firm PRP Granites, reiterated, after several years, his allegation of human sacrifice having been conducted by his former employer PR Palanisamy and his henchmen.

The jeep driver Sevarkodiyan claimed, in a petition to IAS officer U Sagayam four months ago, that he had picked up a few mentally ill persons in neighbouring Pudukottai district and brought them to his boss PRP’s office, when he was employed with the granite firm between 1998 and 2003. He claimed that those mentally ill persons had been sacrificed as part of a ritual and buried near E Malampatti village. Sagayam, who is the legal commissioner appointed by the Madras High Court to probe into a Rs 16,000 crore granite scam in Madurai, decided to push for investigations into these astonishing allegations. Exhumations were ordered at the burial site last weekend and the gripping drama began.

“Sagayam was worried that the evidence at the burial site might be removed overnight by vested interests and so he camped there for a night last week to ensure that the bones would be protected,” said a source in Sagayam’s team, on condition of anonymity. Police dug 5 feet deep and recovered 4 bodies on the 13th of this month. Sagayam ordered police to dig upto a depth of 10 feet. Two more bodies were recovered, all of which have been sent for forensic analysis, with results on the first four bodies likely to arrive this week and on the last two bodies next week.

The biggest eyebrow-raiser appears to be the actual spot being dug up by the police. The area has been used as a graveyard by villagers for the past 10 years. “If you dig a graveyard, what are you going to find there?” asked a police officer on condition of anonymity. A retired police officer likened the situation to a witticism – “A small two-seater Cessna 152 plane crashed into a cemetery early this afternoon. Search and rescue workers have found two survivors and recovered 300 bodies so far and expect that number to climb as digging continues into the evening,” he quipped.

Police now have the onerous task of matching DNA samples from the bodies with those of villagers, to see whether the dead are relatives of the villagers or unknown persons, as claimed by Sevarkodiyan.

The second red flag is in the complaint filed with the Madurai police by the jeep driver Sevarkodiyan. His complaint does not specify when he had actually picked up the mentally ill persons from Annavasal in Pudukottai district. The written complaint with the Madurai police simply states that between 1998 and 2003 Sevarkodiyan was working as a jeep driver with the granite company PRP. He states that he went to Annavasal, picked up 2 people and left them at the PRP office. A month and a half later he came to know that the same people were found dead on the riverbank. The three accused named in the complaint, he states, buried the body in the specified location. Police say that this complaint is too vague to be of much help.

“We have to further verify the complaint made on this issue,” Madurai Superintendent of Police (SP) Vijayendra Bidari told Firstpost. “We need to find out specifics of when the incident took place and identify the deceased. We have sent the skeletons for forensic tests to establish the time of death. Once we get the reports we will have a clearer picture,” he said. Other questions that the police would like to ask Sevarkodiyan are whether he was asked to bring in the mentally ill persons or whether he did that on his own, and details on how he managed to lure them into his vehicle along with a detailed description of the alleged victims. Sources within the investigation team probing the human sacrifice angle told Firstpost that the bodies exhumed had a specific coloured cloth with a decorative border wrapped around them. These bodies have also been buried in a specific north-south direction as per village practices. Police say that local villagers have come up to them stating that their relatives were buried at the same spot in a particular coloured cloth. “Some bodies had been buried with coconuts tied to them,” said the source requesting anonymity. “Villagers tell us there is a practice prevalent amongst certain communities here of burying unmarried persons with coconuts tied to their bodies,” he said, debunking media claims that the coconuts indicated ritualistic sacrifice.

All six bodies have been sent to a team of three forensic doctors for testing. The Polonium 210 test will be used to determine the closest time of death – this test can show time and year of death up to a margin of 138 days before or after the actual date of death.

Another team of police has fanned out across Madurai district hunting for occult practitioners who may have knowledge about the rituals of human sacrifice. Yet another team is scouring through the database of missing persons in and around Madurai district.

“If Sevarkodiyan’s claims are true, then the mentally ill persons that he picked up could have come to Pudukottai from anywhere in the country,” argues a senior police officer, pointing out the daunting near-impossibility of the task of identifying the victims, if any.

This process was in fact already carried out in 2012 by then SP of Madurai V Balakrishnan and his team, who had originally carried out the raids on the granite mafia, freezing their accounts and shutting down their businesses. “We made extensive inquiries in hospitals in MDU and Melur about deaths in quarries,” Balakrishnan, who is now Deputy Commissioner in Mylapore, Chennai, told Firstpost. “We also checked with the injured admitted from quarry sites. We analysed all unnatural death cases reported under Section 174 of the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) 15 years before 2012 and we couldn’t find anything fishy in any of those cases. Based on a general complaint on suspected human sacrifice, we did all this. There was no specific complaint from any relatives of missing persons when we looked through the missing persons list,” he said.

Interestingly the Supreme Court has already dismissed in toto a Special Leave Petition in December 2013 – an intervenor petition by activists along with Sevarkodiyan had pled for investigation of these same allegations of human sacrifice. “That many innocent Dalit bonded labors from Orissa and Bihar and poor workers and insane people in the area have been barbarically slaughter on human sacrifice called ‘Nara Palli’, that is killing a human being as a sacrificial offer to please bad demons to further the business at every new quarrying site secretly by the Granite mafia,” says the intervenor petition in the Supreme Court filed in 2013. All of these have been dismissed summarily by the apex court.

Legal commissioner Sagayam remains tight lipped. His job, he says, is to report findings to the court. “I will submit my report on illegal granite mining to the court in two weeks,” he told reporters last week. “I do not wish to say anything beyond that.” His team, though, is convinced that they have stumbled onto a big revelation.

So did a human sacrifice happen or not? There are no easy answers to this and there never may be. The astounding allegation by one jeep driver could well remain just that – an allegation. With next to nothing to work on, police continue to plod on with their investigations. But at the end of all this, E Malampatti certainly has had its 15 minutes of fame.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

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Monday, 21 September 2015

Mecca crane collapse: Bodies of two more Malaysians identified

The bodies of two more Malaysian haj pilgrims reported missing after a crane collapsed at Mecca's Grand Mosque have been identified.

Saudi Arabian authorities informed Tabung Haji about the discovery of two more bodies at 3am Monday, said Minister in the Prime Ministers Department Senator Datuk Dr. Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki.

They were identified as Abdul Habib Lahman and Shahidan Saad. Their bodies were identified by their family members at the morgue in Muassim said Dr Asyraf.

He said that at the moment, the priority was to hasten the return of the remains.

“Let us pray that their souls are placed among the righteous,” he said in a statement on Monday.

This latest development brings the number of Malaysian fatalities to seven in the tragedy on Sep 11, when a crane toppled over the grand mosque in Mecca.

The crane was part of a massive renovation project that is currently underway to expand the grand mosque, allowing it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once.

The accident occurred less than two weeks before the annual hajj pilgrimage on Sept 21, where hundreds of thousand of Muslims will gather at Saudi Arabia's two holy cities, Mecca and Medina as part of a tenent of Islam.

Monday 21 September 2015

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New migrant boat tragedy sees 13 die in ferry collision as search continues for nearly others including children feared drowned in second refugee disaster

The bodies of 13 migrants were discovered after a boat collided with a ferry off the Turkish coast. The commercial vessel hit the migrant boat off the western port city of Canakkale today, Turkey's coastguard agency said in a statement on its website.

An official at the agency said eight people had been rescued following incident and search-and-rescue operations were ongoing.

Meanwhile, a search for 26 migrants missing off the coast of the Greek island of Lesbos is underway after their boat sank this morning.

A Lithuanian helicopter from European border control agency Frontex spotted people in the Aegean Sea and two coastguard vessels rushed to the scene.

They were able to rescue 20 migrants, who said they were in a boat with a total of 46 people on board. State news agency ANA said there were children among the missing.

A coastguard spokeswoman said: 'They (the migrants) told rescuers there were 46 people in the inflatable dinghy in total.'

A search is also continuing east of Lesbos for between 10 and 12 people missing in a separate sinking on yesterday morning.

The coastguard rescued 11 people in that incident and recovered an unconscious girl from the water, who later died in hospital.

Monday 21 September 2015

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Sunday, 20 September 2015

Thousands of Mexican families mourn the ‘other disappeared’

On the morning of her high school graduation, Berenice Navarijo Segura was delayed for a hair and makeup appointment by an explosion of gunfire in the center of town. Her mother was up before dawn preparing stewed goat and beans for the celebration, and didn’t want her to risk going out. Her sister, who had made enough salsa for 60 guests, tried to hold back the spirited 19-year-old with questions: “Do you have your wallet? What about your phone?”

But there was a reason the family called Berenice “Princess.” She’d already paid the salon and was determined to look her best for her big day. Accustomed to dodging gunbattles in a region overrun by drug cartels, she waited for only 20 minutes after the shooting subsided before rushing out the door with a promise to be quick. She hopped onto the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle and vanished into the ranks of Mexico’s missing.

Sixteen other people, including Berenice’s boyfriend, disappeared from Cocula on that day, July 1, 2013 — more than a year before 43 students from a teachers college were detained by police in nearby Iguala and never seen again. For all those months, most of the Cocula families kept quiet, hoping their silence might bring children and spouses home alive, fearing that a complaint might condemn them to death.

“What if I report it and my daughter is nearby and they know I reported it, they hurt her or something?” reasoned Berenice’s mother, Rosa Segura Giral. Then the disappearance of the students from the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa became an international outrage. The government rushed to investigate the crime and announced with great fanfare its official conclusion that the youths had been killed and the ashes of their incinerated bodies dumped in Cocula.

Emboldened by the sudden attention to abductions, the families of Cocula began coming forward, and hundreds of other families from the state of Guerrero emerged from silent anguish. They spoke of their misfortune to each other, often for the first time, and signed lists, adding the names of their loved ones to the government’s growing registry of 25,000 people reported missing nationwide since 2007. They swabbed the inside of their cheeks for DNA samples. And they grabbed metal rods to poke in the craggy countryside for traces of the family members whom they started calling “the other disappeared.”

Sometimes they found evidence of bodies, and sometimes the authorities dug up graves. More than 100 bodies have been pulled from the soil. But like the students of Ayotzinapa, all but one of whom are unaccounted for, so far the remains of only six of the other disappeared from around Iguala have been identified and given back to their families.

The others are still missing. And their families are the other victims.

At least 292 people have been added to the list of missing from the Iguala area since the 43 students disappeared there on Sept. 26, 2014. The poor region of the southern state of Guerrero, about 110 miles south of Mexico City, is home to some 300,000 residents, many of them farmers, cab drivers and laborers. While most families are too scared to talk publicly about their loss, The Associated Press has interviewed relatives of 158 of the “other disappeared.” Still fearful but also furious, they speak hesitantly of children, parents and siblings dragged away before their eyes, of those who left home for work or stepped out to buy milk and seemed to be swallowed by the Earth.

Or of a daughter who went out to get her hair styled for graduation and never came home. Precisely what happened to Berenice is a matter of conjecture. Her mother recalls hearing a convoy of pickup trucks skid along the gravel road in front of her cinderblock house on its way to the center of town early that morning. The sound of automatic gunfire pierced the corrugated metal roof over her smoke-blackened hearth, and hours later Segura Giral heard trucks speed past the house again on the way out of Cocula. She never dreamed that Berenice and her boyfriend might be inside one of them.

On the day Berenice disappeared, so did José Manuel Díaz García, 43, a farmer and appliance repairman in the nearby community of Apipilulco who heard the trucks stop outside his house before dawn. When the men called for him, he yelled at them not to shoot because he had children. Minerva Lopez Ramirez, his wife, said he went peacefully with five masked men. Three days later, she got a call demanding a ransom of about 300,000 pesos ($30,000), which she eventually refused to pay because they would not put her husband on the phone.

Carlos Varela Muñoz, a 28-year-old cab driver, was at his home across the river in Atlixtac when armed men arrived around 5 a.m. in three white pickups without license plates. They broke windows and forced the door. The masked men claiming to be federal police made his wife lie on her stomach as they took Varela away. There has been no ransom demand and no return.

Cocula sits in a valley in Guerrero’s mountainous north, surrounded by fields of corn and browsing goats — a bucolic setting for a valuable drug trafficking route. Opium paste collected from poppies grown in the mountains makes the journey to consumers in the United States through Cocula and Iguala. The Guerreros Unidos gang controls the route, and often defends its territory in armed clashes with its competitors La Familia Michoacana and their associates.

The authorities are of little help. Residents say they have seen local police escorting gangsters through town and consider them to be a uniformed extension of Guerreros Unidos.

That relationship was reinforced by the government investigation into the case of the 43 students, which concluded that Iguala and Cocula police had turned them over to members of Guerreros Unidos, who then killed them and disposed of the incinerated remains in Cocula. Berenice’s house sits near the turn in the road that leads out to the dumpsite, where the government said most of the human cinders were too burned even to yield DNA.

The barrage that Berenice’s family heard on graduation day came from 20 to 30 men shooting their way into the home of 23-year-old Luis Alberto Albarrán Miranda and his 14-year-old brother, José Daniel. They took the unarmed brothers away barefoot.

Less than a mile to the east of the Albarrán Miranda home, over a small hill and across a short bridge, armed men also shot their way into the home of their cousin, 15-year-old Victor Albarrán Varela. The gunmen were looking for his brother, but they took Victor instead, “as insurance,” his mother, Maura Varela Damacio, said. Cocula Mayor César Miguel Peñaloza heard the shooting through the phone when his father called him from downtown on the morning of the abductions, but said he didn’t send his force out to stop them because there were only seven police on duty and 50 gunmen. In the days that followed, he tallied 17 citizens who disappeared from his town.

Families of the missing live in limbo.

A mother with neither a child to embrace nor a grave to visit tells of checking her son’s Facebook page every evening, two years after he went missing. A young man keeps dialing his brother’s cellphone nearly four years after his disappearance, hoping someone will pick up. Every new report of a body sends them back to the morgue to face a sickening mix of relief and disappointment when they do not find their relative.

“You have three children and you say, ‘You know what, right now it is one [missing], if you keep looking, it’s going to be all three,’ ” said Guadalupe Contreras, whose 28-year-old son, Antonio Iván Contreras Mata, disappeared in Iguala in 2012. “You better keep the two you have left and forget the one who is already gone. There’s no reason to lose two more children. It feels bad. It sounds bad. But you have to make these decisions.”

Some families said they were so convinced of police complicity they did not dare report a disappearance, while others who did file a report described bureaucratic indifference, a hand held out for a bribe or a subsequent ransom demand.

They want to escape. And yet, they cannot bring themselves to move away. What if a missing child comes home one day and they aren’t there? Many of the disappeared were breadwinners in poor families; some illiterate parents were unable to offer a confident spelling of a child’s name. Men or boys accounted for all but 15 of the 158 disappeared and ranged in age from 13 to 60 years old, with the majority younger than 30.

Families left behind often spiraled into financial crisis as jobs were abandoned to search for the missing, or money was borrowed to pay a ransom. Belongings and even homes were sold. Meanwhile, many relatives said they became isolated after the disappearances. Either they withdrew because they didn’t feel they could trust anyone, or friends and neighbors pulled away, as though the tragedy that had befallen them could be contagious.

Ninfa Gutiérrez Pastrana said that after her husband, Eliseo Ocampo Ávila, a lawyer and politician in Iguala, disappeared in April 2012, even her pastor was too afraid to visit.

“You’re left completely alone,” she said. “My family used to come to see me. This happened and they left my son and me totally alone. Not even my family that lives here in Iguala visits. No one visited us. We are alone.”

Iguala is in the news again a year after the disappearance of the 43 students. Suddenly, the government’s explanation that the students’ ashes were dumped in Cocula has come into question, rejected by experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights after a six-month investigation. If such high-profile disappearances remain unsolved, it does not bode well for the families of the other disappeared, who also want answers.

On Berenice’s graduation day, relatives began arriving, packed into the bed of pickups, merry and ready to celebrate Berenice’s accomplishment. They were met by anguished faces, instead.

In the days that followed, Segura Giral retreated to her bed inside a darkened house. For months, she did not go out. For more than a year, she refused to make the pizzas that were her livelihood.

But she has not lost hope for her daughter. Berenice’s dusty, gift-wrapped graduation presents still await her return atop a cabinet. “One has to learn to survive. I tell you, I hope that my daughter shows up. I always have had this impulse,” Segura Giral said, her voice fading to a whisper. “I feel like any day she is going to come back. I feel so much like she has been traveling.”

Sunday 20 September 2015

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South Africa: Department assessing how to recover bodies of illegal miners

The Mineral Resources Department is assessing all available options to recover the bodies of illegal miners who died underground at an old East Rand mine.

The recovery operation was suspended at the closed New Kleinfontein Gold Mine in Benoni on Tuesday. "The mine rescue services could not recover the identified bodies due to significant fall of ground as well as restricted travelling and dangerous underground conditions," the department said on Friday.

"The recovery was suspended to prevent further loss of life."

It awaited a report from the mine rescue services to assess what could be done. The illegal miners gained access by digging a hole into the old underground workings.

On Monday, Gauteng police said it was believed that the illegal miners died early last week when a generator exploded underground. Due to the fumes at the time, they could not be rescued.

"The mining rescue services only identified a single body and there are possibly two other bodies as indicated by the illegal miners," the Department said.

Sunday 20 September 2015

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Saturday, 19 September 2015

Chile Earthquake Death Toll Up to 13, Several Missing

The death toll from the powerful earthquake that struck Chile earlier this week has gone up to 13, while the number of missing people stands at six, Chilean Deputy Interior Secretary Mahmud Aleuy said.

The number of missing people stands at six, Aleuy told reporters on Friday.

Earlier figures put the death toll at 12.

An 8.3-magnitude earthquake hit Chile’s central Coquimbo Region, located about 500 kilometers (310 miles) from the capital Santiago, on Wednesday evening.

Chile’s National Office of Emergency of the Interior Ministry (ONEMI) put the quake’s magnitude at 8.4, issuing a nation-wide red alert and requesting an evacuation of Chile’s entire national coastline.

The earthquake triggered Pacific-wide tsunami waves and about one million people were evacuated from Pacific coastal areas.

The highest tsunami observed in Chile were in Coquimbo, where three waves were recorded to be at least 4 meters (13 feet). Hundreds of homes in Chile were declared uninhabitable or destroyed following the earthquake and the tsunami.

The highest tsunami observed outside Chile were in French Polynesia.

Few dead thanks to fortified buildings and alerts

Parts of this port city were a disaster zone Thursday after an 8.3-magnitude quake hit off the coast, killing at least 13 people and likely causing billions in damage. Overturned cars and splintered boats sat in mud next to furniture, toppled adobe homes and fishing nets tangled in trees.

The most stunning thing about Wednesday night's earthquake, however, may be the relatively low amount of havoc caused by such a powerful shake.

While the quake led more than 1 million to evacuate coastal areas and no doubt caused much anxiety, seismologists said Chile's heavy investment in structural reinforcement of buildings and constant refinement of its tsunami alert system helped prevent what would have been a catastrophe in less prepared nations.

"Chile has good codes and good compliance, which together have reduced the vulnerabilities of their building stock over the decades," said Richard Olson, director of Florida International University's Extreme Events Institute. "I would rather be there in one of their cities than in many other countries in an earthquake."

Living in one of the world's most seismically active places, the Andean nation's 17 million people have little choice but become experts in earthquakes. The strongest earthquake ever recorded happened in Chile: a magnitude-9.5 tremor in 1960 that killed more than 5,000 people.

After another major earthquake in 1985, authorities began implementing strict construction codes similar to those used for highly seismic regions in the United States such as California, said Kishor Jaiswal, a civil engineer with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Most buildings in urban areas of Chile are designed to withstand both the vertical forces of gravity and the horizontal jolts that an earthquake inflicts. Building methods in many other developing countries can withstand gravity and wind but have limited resistance against very strong earthquakes.

Wednesday's quake struck just offshore in the Pacific at 7:54 p.m. and was centered about 141 miles (228 kilometers) north-northwest of Santiago. The quake was 7.4 miles (12 kilometers) below the surface.

It lasted a nerve-shattering three minutes, swayed buildings in the capital, Santiago, and prompting authorities to issue a tsunami warning for the country's entire Pacific coast. People sought safety in the streets of inland cities, while others along the shore took to their cars to race to higher ground. Several coastal towns were flooded from small tsunami waves.

Interior Minister Jorge Burgos said Thursday night that the death toll stood at 12 and five people were listed as missing.

Fortified constructions were evident in Coquimbo, a city that was one of the closest to the epicenter. While adobe houses and some small concrete structures collapsed, the vast majority of buildings were intact.

A small area of the city, which neighbors La Serena, was covered in mud left by inrushing waves. Boats and cars were overturned, and dead fish were mixed in with debris.

"It looks like a war zone here," said Marcelo Leyea, a mechanic carrying a duffel bag with tools he was able to salvage from his collapsed shop. "But we were more prepared than during the 2010 earthquake."

Even fortified infrastructure didn't prevent a high death toll in 2010, when a magnitude-8.8 quake in south-central Chile killed more than 500 people, destroyed 220,000 homes and washed away docks, riverfronts and seaside resorts.

To be sure, the 2010 quake was 5.6 times more powerful in terms of energy released, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. And while the 2010 quake hit in the middle of the night, Wednesday's tremor hit during an evening when many Chileans were outside for barbecues and other celebrations ahead of the country's Independence Day on Friday.

People were also more prepared. Schools increasingly have earthquake drills and society is filled with creative solutions to quakes, such as restaurant owners who nail wood railings to shelves to keep glasses and liquor from crashing down.

Many argue, however, that the biggest problem in 2010 was human error. That quake hit just 11 days before the end of President Michelle Bachelet's first term and the government's national emergency office failed to issue a tsunami warning to evacuate the coast after the quake struck near the southern city of Concepcion.

Bachelet and emergency officials made no such mistakes Wednesday, issuing tsunami alerts soon after the quake hit and keeping them in effect until after 6 a.m. Thursday.

Classes across the country were canceled for Thursday, a measure aimed to keep people from putting themselves at risk.

Residents said they received evacuation orders on their cellphones minutes after the quake hit.

"The alerts worked well. We had enough time" to evacuate before the tsunami waves came, said Patricio Farria, a fisherman whose shop close to the coast was wrecked. "Two people died here, but there could have been many more. I think Bachelet learned her lesson."

"Everyone who felt Wednesday's earthquake had the experience of 2010," said Paulina Gonzalez, a civil engineer who teaches building design for earthquakes at the University of Chile in Santiago. "Many went to higher ground even before the official evacuation alerts."

Saturday 19 September 2015

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Death toll rises to 183 after South Sudan fuel tanker explosion

At least 186 people are now thought have been killed and even more injured in an oil tanker explosion in South Sudan this week, the government said on Friday.

The incident occurred on Wednesday on a road some 250km west of the capital Juba, close to the small town of Maridi, with the victims including locals who tried to scoop up the fuel spill.

"According to the reports that we received, the death toll is 186. The number of injured is bigger than that. We are unable to ascertain the actual number up to now," South Sudan's Information Minister Michael Makuei told reporters, confirming earlier reports that at least 150 were dead.

"That is a very unfortunate situation," he said, adding President Salva Kiir had declared three days of national mourning.

"All the flags are expected to be at half mast with effect from today. The president and the government extend heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims," he added.

Local media reports said doctors were struggling to cope with limited supplies to treat severe burns, including a lack of painkillers.

The local government director of Maridi, John Saki, told South Sudan's Gurtong news site that about a thousand people crowded around the tanker to gather fuel after it crashed on the roadside, with many coming from a nearby school.

Mass grave for victims

Those visiting the wounded in the hugely overstretched hospital in Maridi described horrific scenes.

"Some people are burned all [over their] legs, some the hands, some the whole body, the back," one witness told Radio Tamazuj. "They look like a white person."

Fuel leaks and oil tanker accidents in Africa often draw huge crowds scrambling to scoop up the fuel, resulting in many deaths due to accidental fires.

One of the worst such accidents was in Nigeria in 1998, when over 1,000 people died in the southeastern Delta State when a pipeline exploded as people tried to steal fuel.

Radio Tamazuj said dozens of bodies were burned beyond recognition and were being buried in a mass grave.

South Sudan is in the grip of a dire economic crisis sparked by over 21 months of civil war, which has caused rampant inflation and soaring prices of basics, including food and fuel.

South Sudan is the world's youngest nation, having gained independence from Khartoum in 2011. It descended into civil war in December 2013 when President Kiir accused Riek Machar, his former deputy and now a rebel leader, of planning a coup.

The violence has left tens of thousands of people dead and the impoverished country split along ethnic lines.

Over two million people have fled their homes in a war marked by gang rapes and the use of child soldiers.

The government and rebels signed a peace deal on August 29, but the ceasefire - the eighth agreed - has been repeatedly broken.

Saturday 19 September 2015

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Remains of 1974 plane crash in Cypriot recovered

Cypriot authorities said on Friday that the remains of several victims of a plane crash 41 years ago have been recovered from the crash site. The crashed plane was a French-built Nord Noratlas transporter of the Greek Air Force shot down by friendly fire in the dark hours of July 22, 1974, as it was flying in reinforcements for the Cypriot National Guard which was facing a large Turkish force trying to capture Nicosia airport.

Turkey occupied the northern part of Cyprus in the fighting, in response to a coup by Greek junta army officers. Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs Fotis Fotiou said a large number of human bones has been found, but could not say to how many people they belonged, reports Xinhua. The Noratlas flight was part of a plan to transport a battalion of commandos from Crete to Cyprus. Only one of the 32 people aboard the plane survived the crash, which happened a short distance from the airport runaway.

Twelve bodies were recovered at the time, but the remaining 19 were covered over with earth because of the proximity to the fighting. The place was later turned into a military cemetery for thousands of Greek Cypriots killed in the fighting and a monument for the fallen was erected over the crash site. ”The difficult task of scientific identification of the bones will get under way within the next few days. We hope we will be able to put an end to the uncertainty of the relatives of the dead people,” Fotiou said.

Saturday 19 September 2015

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DNA Samples Of Next-of-kin Of 2 Missing Malaysian Pilgrims Handed To Saudi Authorities

DNA samples of the next-of-kin of two Malaysian pilgrims who are still missing after a crane collapsed on the Grand Mosque here on Sept 11, have been handed over to the Saudi authorities to facilitate identification of bodies at the Muaissem mortuary in Mina.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki said the next-of-kin of the missing pilgrims arrived in Jeddah at 6.15pm yesterday and were taken to the mortuary to obtain their specimen samples.

"The process of matching the remains with the DNA will take between two and three weeks, three of them (the next-of-kin) will be here until the process is completed," he told reporters here Saturday.

Five Malaysian pilgrims were killed in the crane tragedy which also claimed over 100 lives.

Asyraf Wajdi arrived here yesterday, to help expedite the search process for the missing duo, apart from ensuring the smooth running of the haj pilgrimage of the Malaysian pilgrims.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom and Tabung Haji chairman Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim were also here since Monday until yesterday, to ensure the smooth flow of funerals for the pilgrims who were killed, apart from giving special attention to the injured pilgrims, as well as moral support to the other pilgrims.

"Many things have been settled by the minister (Jamil Khir) and so far, Malaysia is the only country that had sent a minister to manage the haj pilgrims involved in the tragedy," said Asyraf Wajdi.

Jamil Khir was reported as saying there were seven bags containing body parts of pilgrims and the Saudi authorities had already conducted the DNA test on the parts.

Saturday 19 September 2015

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