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Kabul Blast Aftermath, Nigerian Students Freed, Hummingbirds Vs. Harassment

Welcome to Friday, where evacuation flights resume at Kabul airport after yesterday's deadly attack, dozens of kidnapped Nigerian students are freed, and female hummingbirds evolve so that males get off their feathers. We also boldly explore the surprising crossroads between science fiction and real-life military strategy.

Kabul Blast Aftermath, Nigerian Students Freed, Hummingbirds Vs. Harassment

Firefighters continue to battle the Caldor fire in California as it moves east toward Lake Tahoe.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger





• Kabul airport blast aftermath: The death toll in yesterday's attack on Kabul's international airport rose to 90, mostly Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. military personnel. President Joe Biden promised retaliation after the attack was claimed by the country's Islamic State offshoot, saying: "We will hunt you down and make you pay." The United States said evacuation flights would continue ahead of the planned Aug. 31 American pullout.


• Dozens of Nigerian students released: Dozens of pupils who had been kidnapped from an Islamic school in the north-central Nigerian state of Niger by gunmen last May have been freed by their captors. Six of the original group of 136 died, while 15 managed to escape about a month after they were abducted.

• COVID-19 update: A UK study — the largest of its kind, with close to 30 million participants — found that the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines present a significantly lower risk of forming blood clots than COVID-19 itself. Meanwhile in New Zealand, which is on the highest lockdown level, police broke up an Auckland protest that drew one demonstrator.


• China cracks down on celebrity fan culture: In an effort to tackle online bullying and protect children, China is barring platforms from publishing popularity lists and are regulating the sale of fan merchandise. The decision comes amid calls for popular online artists to rethink the influence they have over minors.

Apple allows developers to make money outside of iPhone apps: The tech giant agreed to a settlement that allows app makers to avoid commissions and gain greater autonomy in how they receive payments. Apple will also provide $100 million in payouts to small app developers while agreeing not to raise the commission rate they have to pay.


• Air pollution linked to more severe mental illness: A small rise in exposure to air pollution, such as nitrogen dioxide, seems to be linked to an increased severity of mental illness, according to the most comprehensive study of its kind.

Female hummingbirds avoid harassment by looking like males: According to new research, female hummingbirds are found to have evolved with bright feathers, to try and avoid being attacked by the male of the species who tends to prefer a greyer plumage. The flashy attire leaves the females with more time to search for food and protect their supply, the biologists suggest.



International newspapers devoting their Friday front page to the deadly terror attack that rocked Kabul's international airport yesterday, killing scores of people and temporarily halting the evacuation of Afghans fleeing in the wake of the Taliban takeover. Italian daily Il Messagero describes scenes of "ultimate horror" after the blast killed at least 90.


Why the world's military leaders are drafting science fiction writers

Space exploration, extraterrestrial life, time travel ... All common science fiction tropes that are as fascinating and they are mindboggingly fun — but not exactly useful in the real world, right? The military may beg to differ:

🖋️ Le Monde recently reported on the unusual collaboration between the French Ministry of Defense and the University of Paris Sciences and Lettres (PSL) that has just launched the second season of a project involving scenarios drawn up by science writers hired by the French military. The army is devising ways to make the practice as useful as possible: there's a "Red Team" consisting of authors, who have wide freedom in coming up with scenarios. They can put ideas on the table that the French army typically excludes for ethical reasons, such as Autonomous Lethality Weapon Systems (ALWS), or augmented humans.

🚀 The truth is that the practice has long existed, in different forms and sectors. Jules Verne's 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon indirectly influenced politics and military decisions in the United States. The story is about a group of men who decide to launch themselves to the moon in a cylinder-shaped projectile. This fictional shell has striking similarities to the Apollo 11 command module used to bring the first humans to the moon 104 years later: it was hollow, made mostly of aluminium, crewed by three people, launched from Florida, and it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Verne's tale inspired real people to work on the challenges of space travel, eventually prompting the 20th century space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

📚 Instead of hiring science fiction writers, the German military has opted for researching existing literature and in 2018 teamed up with a handful of academics. Their plan is to use novels to pinpoint the world's next potential conflict. As German weekly Die Zeit reports, this collaboration, dubbed "Project Cassandra" after the Trojan priestess of Greek myth who had the gift of foresight, doesn't solely focus on science fiction and future technologies, but takes into account human behavior. They look for social trends, moods, and conflicts that arose in response to political decisions and technological breakthroughs (whether real or fictional).

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com




$20 billion

Microsoft has promised to invest 20 billion dollars over the next five years to improve cybersecurity in the United States and will offer the equivalent of 150 million dollars in technical services to the federal government, states and local authorities. Google also pledged $10 billion for this same period and will train 100,000 Americans in data analysis and IT support.


"Our country is doing badly and we need a change-over."

— Former Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier told French TV as he officially entered the French presidential race as a member of the right-wing Republicans party. Barnier, 70, said his experience with Brexit taught him the importance of getting the job done, and not just talking about it in public.



Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

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Society

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.


The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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