Before The Eruption: Surveying The Argentine Ghost Towns Of Copahue Volcano

Where there's smoke...?
Where there's smoke...?

CAVIAHUE – In this ghost town, the houses are empty and windows are boarded shut.

The red foxes and cauquenes geese are in hiding and no condors circle the sky above. Since last week, there has been no movement in Caviahue, southwestern Argentina, aside from the tremors of the nearby Copahue volcano, spewing gas.

Even though the volcano’s tremors are barely perceptible, this popular touristic town is completely empty except for the people who are there to research the volcano. The handful of scientists know that they might have to flee the area as quickly as possible at any given moment.

The rest, the townspeople are gone – they have evacuated their homes, leaving a desolate and empty town.

On Monday, provincial authorities declared a “red alert” and ordered the evacuation of the whole town as a precaution. For those who needed to go back home to get their things, a “special mission” was organized. When they arrived, they found that the village had been blanketed in 1.5 meters of snow. About 40 villagers went into their homes to retrieve clothing, medicine, documents and pets.

Evacuation (FB Turismo Copahue)

Soledad Poblete was able to “rescue” Tifi and Piren, his dogs. “We are staying at my grandfather’s house until the alarm is over. We are calm and are doing everything we can to be safe,” says Soledad.

Living at the foot of a volcano

It is not the first time these villagers have been evacuated. Volcanic activity in the area already forced them to flee in 1992 and 2000, when the sulfur expelled by the volcano scared everyone. The last time the volcano was active was last December, when it spewed ash for a day and a half.

“This is how we live, we are used to living at the foot of a volcano and we have no other option: we must resign ourselves to the laws of nature,” says Marcelino Saenz, a retiree who drove four neighbors into town to check on their houses. About 538 evacuees are staying with their families, are housed in gyms, military barracks and hotels in the region.

Today the village is covered by a thin white veil and complete silence. Who knows when the living mountain will open its mouth.

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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.


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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