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Lapid speaks with Turkish counterpart in latest sign of diplomatic thaw

Phone call between FMs is the first to be publicly announced in 13 years; top Israeli diplomat’s office says Mevlut Cavusoglu inquired about Lapid’s health after COVID diagnosis

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (left) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right). (Hussein Malla/AP; Oliver Fitoussi/Flash90)
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (left) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right). (Hussein Malla/AP; Oliver Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.

Likud: Commission should probe current government for delay in submarine purchase

Opposition chief Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party reacts to the opening of a commission of inquiry into the submarine affair by saying the first thing it should probe is “how those who for years opposed the purchase of three additional submarines suddenly approve the procurement, and for extra billions of shekels at the public’s expense that would have been saved had the submarines been acquired on time.”

The statement refers to last week’s eventual approval of the sale that had been mired in corruption at the time Netanyahu was prime minister. The cost of the vessels went up by a lot in the interim.

“The purchase of the submarines is vital for Israel’s security, and it’s a scandal that it was delayed until now because of failed politicians who harmed national security to serve baseless political claims,” Likud says.

Minister accuses UN envoy of mischaracterizing ties with Palestinian counterpart

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg calls out Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan, claiming he mischaracterized her ties with her Palestinian counterpart during a speech the envoy gave to the Security Council in which he claimed that Ramallah is not interested in cooperating with Jerusalem.

“In his speech to the Security Council, the ambassador spoke about information he received from the Environmental Protection Ministry, but he used it in a manner that is incompatible with the truth and in a style that does not represent the minister’s position,” Zandberg’s office says in a statement to The Times of Israel.

In a speech yesterday during the monthly Security Council session on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Erdan referenced a meeting Zandberg held last summer with Palestinian Authority Environment Quality Authority Minister Jamil Mtour.

“This was the first meeting of its kind since 2014. And not because of Israel,” Erdan claimed. “Israel’s Minister Zandberg presented numerous collaborative initiatives regarding the environment and waste management, but Israel is still waiting for a response from the Palestinians.”

Zandberg’s office says that contrary to Erdan’s remarks, the sides have already launched joint projects in the fields of “environment and waste” and that “work is progressing well in a different atmosphere than before that is based on the understanding that climate change has no borders and that the two peoples will benefit from this collaboration.”

“The projects will continue to move forward in the spirit of cooperation for the benefit of the environment and for the benefit of the State of Israel and the Palestinians,” the statement from Zandberg’s office adds.

Erdan’s office declines a request for comment.

Bennett speaks with Abu Dhabi crown prince following deadly Houthi attack

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan following the deadly attack on the UAE by Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

According to Bennett’s office, the prime minister expressed condolences over the missile and drone attack launched by the Houthis, which killed three people.

“The prime minister also expressed the State of Israel’s support for the United Arab Emirates in this complicated time,” a statement from the premier’s office says, adding that the two agreed to stay in touch.

The UAE’s official WAM news agency also carries a statement about the call.

“The Israeli Prime Minister affirmed his country’s support for all that the UAE is doing to defend its security against these attacks, stressing the need to confront terrorist forces that threaten stability and peace in the region,” the WAM reports says.

Lapid speaks with Turkish FM in latest sign of diplomatic thaw

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks by phone with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, amid a thaw in relations between Jerusalem and Ankara.

According to Lapid’s office, Cavusoglu called to inquire about the foreign minister’s health following his COVID-19 diagnosis.

The phone call is the first between Israeli and Turkish foreign ministers to be publicly announced in 13 years.

Austrian parliament okays COVID vaccine mandate for all adults

VIENNA — Austria’s parliament has voted to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for adults from February 1, the first of its kind in Europe.

Lawmakers vote 137 to 33 this evening to approve the mandate, which will apply to all residents of Austria aged 18 and over. Exempted from the mandate are pregnant women, individuals who for medical reasons can’t be vaccinated, and people who have recovered from a coronavirus infection in the past six months.

Officials say the mandate is necessary because vaccination rates remain too low in the small Alpine country.

Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s governing coalition worked with two of the three opposition parties in parliament on the plan to implement the mandate. It calls for the vaccine mandate to go into effect at the beginning of February, but enforcement will start in mid-March.

Hunger-striking Frenchman charged by Iran with spying goes on trial

PARIS — A Frenchman held in Iran for over a year and a half on spying charges, which his family has rejected, went on trial today severely weakened by a hunger strike, his family and lawyer say.

Benjamin Briere, 36, was arrested in May 2020 while traveling in Iran. He began the hunger strike in December to protest, among other issues, the lack of any serious advance in the proceedings.

His family says he is an innocent tourist unknowingly caught up as global powers including France and the US seek to negotiate with Tehran a revival of a 2015 deal over its nuclear program.

“We have very little information, all we know is that the hearing took place and that a verdict will be issued on Saturday,” his sister Blandine Briere tells AFP.

She adds that an Iranian lawyer representing her brother and an interpreter were present for the hearing.

According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), the hearing took place in branch four of the Revolutionary Court in the eastern city of Mashhad, where Briere is being held.

His Paris-based lawyer, Philippe Valent, said in a statement yesterday that Briere was “very weakened” by his hunger strike, and had not been allowed to learn what specific charges had been brought against him.

Valent confirms that the hearing had taken place and says a verdict was expected from Saturday, the first day of the week in Iran.

The HRANA says Briere is still on a hunger strike.

House panel probing US Capitol riot requests interview with Ivanka Trump

WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the US Capitol insurrection is asking Ivanka Trump, daughter of former president Donald Trump, to voluntarily cooperate with its investigation.

The committee sends a letter today requesting a meeting in early February asking to discuss her father’s actions, including a telephone call they say she witnessed as he tried to pressure then-vice president Mike Pence to reject the 2020 election results, among other issues. Ivanka Trump was an adviser to her father in the White House.

“Testimony obtained by the Committee indicates that members of the White House staff requested your assistance on multiple occasions to intervene in an attempt to persuade President Trump to address the ongoing lawlessness and violence on Capitol Hill,” writes the committee chairman, Bennie Thompson.

The committee issued subpoenas earlier this week to Rudy Giuliani and other members of Trump’s legal team who filed bogus legal challenges to the 2020 election that fueled the lie that race had been stolen from the former president.

Ministers unveil plan to reduce quarantine for schoolchildren

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says that starting in a week, schoolchildren will no longer have to automatically enter mandatory quarantine if exposed to a coronavirus carrier.

“Israeli children are returning to study continuously,” he says in televised remarks.

Under the new plan, Bennett says all students 18 and younger will be tested twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays. Anyone who tests negative can go to school, while students with a positive test will remain at home until they recover.

The testing will be done at home, with Bennett announcing that “millions” of test kits will be given out to parents.

He also says the Omicron variant of coronavirus is “less violent” than other strains and predicts the current outbreak “will end relatively quicker than previous waves.”

Expert predicts Israel ‘very close’ or even at peak of Omicron wave

A top health expert advising the government says that Israel is currently leading the world in new daily COVID-19 cases per capita.

Citing the seven-day running average, Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute says 0.6 percent of the population is testing positive per day.

He attributes the infection rate in part to the high number of tests performed each day.

Segal predicts the outbreak now sweeping the country will soon.

“We are very close to the height, or even at the height of the Omicron wave,” he tells Channel 12 news.

At the peak of the current outbreak wave, Segal says one in ten Israelis will test positive for COVID, if they are tested.

Once Israel passes the peak, he says, “there’ll be a relatively fast decline” from those figures.

US says aid to Sudan won’t resume after recent violence

CAIRO — The United States will continue withholding aid from Sudan until the country’s military rulers stop the killing of anti-coup protesters and a civilian led-government takes power, two senior American diplomats say.

Today’s joint statement comes after a two-day visit to Sudan this week by US Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee and the newly appointed US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield. The visit was meant to help pull the African nation out of a worsening crisis in the wake of the October 25 coup.

The military takeover has upended Sudan’s transition to democratic rule after three decades of repression and international isolation under autocratic President Omar al-Bashir, ousted during a popular uprising in April 2019.

While in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, Phee and Satterfield met with Sudanese civilian and military leaders, as well as with families of some of the killed pro-democracy protesters.

At least 72 demonstrators have been killed since the October coup. Seven were killed on Monday alone, according to a doctors’ activist group. Security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse thousands who gathered in Khartoum. Among the seven killed, some were as young as 19 years old. Around 100 people were wounded, according to the Sudan Doctors Committee.

Senior prosecutor: ‘Inconceivable’ Netanyahu plea deal wouldn’t include ‘moral turpitude’

Deputy State Attorney Shlomo Lamberger says it would be “inconceivable” if a plea deal in opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial didn’t include a clause barring the former prime minister from public office for seven years.

“Anyone who understands moral turpitude understands that with such acts it is inconceivable there isn’t moral turpitude,” Lamberger tells a conference held by the Israel Bar Association.

The comments are the first public remarks by a senior official in the State Attorney’s Office about the prospect of a plea deal in Netanyahu’s trial, rumors of which have been swirling in recent days.

Top ministers said to agree on ending quarantine for schoolkids exposed to COVID

Top government ministers have agreed to scrap mandatory quarantine rules for schoolchildren exposed to coronavirus carriers, according to Hebrew media reports.

Under the proposed change, which would take effect a week from today, all students will instead be tested twice a week — on Sundays and Wednesdays — to ensure they don’t have COVID-19.

The rules are expected to be announced this evening at a press conference held by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says the three will unveil “changes to the quarantine framework in the education system,” without giving further details.

UN General Assembly adopts Israeli resolution on combating Holocaust denial

The UN General Assembly approves an Israeli-sponsored resolution aimed at combating Holocaust denial.

The resolution passes by consensus and no formal vote is held.

The resolution will provide a specific classification for Holocaust denial, using the working definition put together by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It will provide recommendations for how signatory countries can address the phenomenon, and will demand social media networks remove posts that fall under the IHRA definition.

The approval of the initiative marks just the second since Israel’s establishment that a resolution submitted by Jerusalem has been adopted by the GA. The first time came in 2005 when the body passed an Israeli resolution declaring January 27 — the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp — as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Iran urges UN member states to reject Israeli resolution on fighting Holocaust denial

Speaking immediately after Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan introduced a General Assembly resolution aimed at combating Holocaust denial, Iran’s representative calls on member states not to support the measure.

The Iranian representative claims Israel “routinely attempts to exploit the suffering of Jewish people in the past as cover for the crimes it has perpetrated over the past seven decades against the regional countries.”

“My delegation fully disassociates itself from the draft resolution,” the Iranian diplomat says.

French FM: Iran nuclear talks ‘cannot go on so slowly’

BERLIN — French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warns that quicker progress is needed in talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal, saying time is of the essence.

Speaking in Berlin after talks with European allies, Le Drian tells reporters that “the negotiations cannot go on so slowly” on returning to the 2015 accord between Tehran and world powers.

Israel introduces UN General Assembly resolution on combating Holocaust denial

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan introduces a resolution for a vote at the General Assembly that aims to combat Holocaust denial.

The resolution will provide a specific classification for Holocaust denial, using the working definition put together by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It will provide recommendations for how signatory countries can address the phenomenon, and will demand social media networks remove posts that fall under the IHRA definition.

In remarks to the plenum before the vote, Erdan says that “beyond defining Holocaust distortion and denial, this resolution is a commitment to make sure that this phenomenon will be tolerated no more.”

“As Israel’s ambassador, this resolution is my most important initiative, but not only because I represent a Jewish state, not only because I am a Jew, but also because I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors,” Erdan says in an impassioned speech.

He notes the presence of Holocaust survivors in the audience, as well as Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, who is a child of Holocaust survivors.

If the resolution passes, as expected, the initiative will be just the second time since Israel’s establishment that a resolution submitted by Jerusalem has been adopted by the GA. The first time came in 2005 when the body passed an Israeli resolution declaring January 27 — the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp — as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Ukraine’s Zelensky says no such as ‘minor incursions’ after Biden remarks

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says there’s no such thing as “minor incursions,” after US President Joe Biden sparked controversy by suggesting a “minor” Russian attack could invite a lesser response.

“We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones,” Zelensky writes on Twitter, with fears mounting of a major conflict in Europe with tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border.

IDF issues demolition orders for home of another suspect in deadly West Bank shooting

The Israel Defense Forces has informed the family of a third alleged Palestinian terrorist that the floor in the home where he lived in the northern West Bank village of Silat al-Harithiya is slated for demolition.

Ghaith Jaradat’s family is given the chance to appeal the demolition order.

Jaradat is one of several suspects accused of carrying out a deadly shooting attack in December in which an Israeli man, Yehuda Dimentman, was killed and two others were lightly wounded near the Homesh outpost.

A pair of other suspects’ families were given demolition orders earlier this month.

Liberman, Sa’ar agree on financial aid for families of Meron disaster victims

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar announce they have agreed to grant NIS 500,000 in “initial aid” to each of the families of the 45 people killed last year in a deadly crush during Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron in northern Israel.

“The pain cannot be eliminated, but we will do everything in our capabilities to provide the maximum response for the families and we will take all precautions to prevent the next disaster,” Liberman says in a joint statement with Sa’ar.

The proposal to grant the aid to each of the victims’ families requires government approval.

“The tremendous loss experienced by the 45 families in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora is not compensable. The least the government can do is make sure that a case like this doesn’t happen again and to economically assist the families that were harmed,” says Sa’ar.

5 Palestinians freed following arrests during East Jerusalem eviction

Five members of a Palestinian family arrested after Israeli police demolished their house in East Jerusalem have been released, their lawyer tells AFP.

The arrest of several members of the Salhiya family came as they were evicted from their house in the sensitive neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah by Israeli authorities before dawn yesterday.

Walid Abu Tayeh, the family’s lawyer, confirms “the release of the five people detained since Wednesday, including Mahmud Salihiya and his sons.”

Police had accused several Salihiya family members of “violating a court order” and public disturbance.

Abu Tayeh says the release of the five was conditional on payment of a 1,000 Israeli shekel ($320) fine, and that the group is forbidden from entering Sheikh Jarrah for one month.

The looming eviction of other Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah in May last year partly fueled an 11-day war between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza.

In those cases, Palestinians risked having to surrender plots of land to Jews who had mounted legal claims to the land.

But Jerusalem authorities have stressed the Salihiya family eviction is a different case and that the city intends to build a special needs school on the land, benefitting Arab residents of East Jerusalem.

The city has said it purchased the land from previous Arab owners and that the Salihiyas had lived there illegally for years, but failed to agree to a compromise on an eviction order first issued in 2017.

Liberman reiterates opposition to further aid for businesses hurting from COVID

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman pushes back against criticism over his opposition to government compensation for businesses hurting from the latest COVID-19 outbreak and the government’s pandemic policies.

“I don’t think that within 20 days it is possible to reach a situation of existential risk and collapse,” he tells the Kan public broadcaster, referring to the woes of the businesses.

He insists the economy was “as good as we could have dreamed” in 2021.

“There is no doubt that people and businesses are hurting, my heart is with them, but on the whole our economy at the moment is still in a good situation,” Liberman says.

He adds: “We won’t abandon anyone, but there won’t be a disbursal of money.”

The Treasury chief also issues a fresh call to scrap the “Green Pass,” which limits entry to certain venues and activities to those with immunization certificates.

“It doesn’t correspond to reality. People are prepared to take responsibility in terms of everything that is imposed on them, whether it is a mask or vaccines,” he says.

Citing ‘modest progress’ in talks, Blinken says restored Iran nuke deal still possible

BERLIN — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that he believes reviving the Iran nuclear deal is still possible after “modest progress” in talks.

“My own assessment, talking to all of our colleagues, is that returning to mutual compliance, it remains possible,” Blinken tells reporters in Berlin after talks with European counterparts. “We’ve seen, I would say, some modest progress in the last couple of weeks in the talks” in Vienna, he adds.

German FM: ‘Urgent progress’ needed in Iran nuclear talks

BERLIN — German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says that “urgent progress” is needed at talks aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, after a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“The window for finding a solution is closing,” she tells reporters in Berlin. “The negotiations are in a decisive phase. We need urgent, urgent progress, otherwise we will not be successful in reaching a joint accord.”

Man stabbed in brawl at Ben Gurion Airport, is seriously hurt

A man is in serious condition after being stabbed during a brawl at Ben Gurion Airport.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service says paramedics treated the 20-year-old at the scene and took him to Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan.

The Israel Airports Authority says the incident occurred in the loading area.

According to Channel 12 news, the fight was between FedEx drivers.

Bennett: Government acted with ‘integrity’ in new submarine deal

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett defends the agreement to purchase submarines from Germany, following controversy over the deal’s cost and graft allegations relating to the purchase of naval vessels.

“The signing of the submarine agreement very significantly strengthens Israel’s national security. The purchase of the submarines will ensure continuity in our capabilities and strategic superiority for years to come,” he is quoted saying in a statement from his office.

He also says the government he leads has striven to act with “integrity” in regards to defense procurement, including “on this matter.”

Thousands protest in Sudan against killings in post-coup crackdown

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Thousands of Sudanese take to the streets today in the capital to protest against the killings of dozens in a crackdown since last year’s military coup, an AFP correspondent says.

The demonstrations, which largely take place in east Khartoum, are the latest since the October 25 military coup led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Sudanese security forces have killed 72 people during the ongoing crackdown, according to a count by medics.

16 charged over Bedouin riots against Negev forestation work

State prosecutors file charges against 16 residents of southern Bedouin communities over recent rioting during protests against forestation work in the Negev Desert.

Included among the suspects are three minors, under 17 years old.

The indictments filed at the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court accuse the suspects of disturbing the peace, rock-throwing, burning tires and obstructing a police officer, among other alleged offenses.

Bennett to IDF brass: Israel’s ‘main mission’ is to hit Iranian regime, proxies

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with the IDF’s General Staff Forum at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv.

According to a statement from his office, Bennett outlined his “strategic view” on various security challenges facing Israel, “foremost the Iranian issue.”

“The prime minister stressed that the State of Israel’s main mission is to significantly hit the Iranian regime and its emissaries in the region,” the statement says, in apparent reference to Hezbollah, Hamas and others.

Also taking part in the meeting are Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

Israel said due to begin giving COVID boosters to some kids 5 and up

The Health Ministry has decided to start offering COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to kids over 5 years old who had their initial shots at least three months ago, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the network, the heads of health maintenance organizations (HMOs) have been instructed to begin administering the boosters, with some 1,000 children initially eligible for the shots. Most children that age only became eligible for vaccination in November.

The reports says kids 5-11 will receive a third dose of Pfizer’s version of the vaccine designed for children.

Over 2 dozen drugmakers agree to supply Merck’s anti-COVID pill to 105 developing nations

GENEVA — A UN-backed organization announces that it has signed agreements with more than two dozen generic drug makers to produce versions of Merck’s COVID-19 pill to supply 105 developing countries.

The Medicines Patent Pool says the deals will allow drug companies to make both the raw ingredients for molnupiravir and the finished product itself.

Molnupiravir, developed by Merck and Ridgeback Therapeutics, has been reported to cut the hospitalization rate in half among patients with early signs of COVID-19. Britain, the European Union and the US authorized its use in recent months.

“This is a critical step toward ensuring global access to an urgently needed COVID-19 treatment,” Charles Gore, executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool, says.

The group says 27 generic drug manufacturers in 11 countries, including Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Vietnam, Kenya and South Africa, would soon start producing Merck’s pill.

An antiviral pill that people could take at home to reduce their symptoms and speed recovery could prove groundbreaking, easing the crushing caseload on hospitals and helping to curb outbreaks in poorer countries with weak health care systems.

It would also bolster a two-pronged approach to the pandemic: treatment by way of medication and prevention, primarily through vaccinations.

Gantz: ‘Iran’s double game must be on the negotiating table’ at nuclear talks

Defense Minister Benny Gantz calls for world powers negotiating with Iran on restoring the 2015 accord limiting its nuclear program to include Tehran’s backing for proxy groups in the talks.

“At the same time senior Iranian officers are holding negotiations in suits with Vienna, their emissaries in the Middle East are increasing their aggressiveness in the region, as we saw this past week with the terror attack on the United Arab Emirates,” he says during joint remarks with his Greek counterpart, who is visiting Israel.

Gantz adds: “Iran’s double game must be on the negotiating table in Vienna and every international effort to reach an agreement must also take into account Iran’s aggressiveness in the region.”

Norwegian mass murderer still ‘a very dangerous man,’ prosecutor warns at parole hearing

OSLO, Norway — A prosecutor in Norway says that a far-right extremist who killed 77 people in 2011 still is “a very dangerous man” and therefore a poor candidate for release after 10 years in prison, as Norwegian law permits.

On the final day of a three-day parole hearing, prosecutor Hulda Karlsdottir says in her closing argument that Anders Behring Breivik “has not shown any genuine remorse in court” and his behavior there is part of a “PR stunt.”

“In the clear view of the prosecution, Breivik’s request for parole should not be granted,” Karlsdottir says.

Breivik professed white supremacist views and flashed Nazi salutes on the hearing’s opening day, while claiming to have renounced violence. He repeats again today, as he is given the last word, that he is refraining from violence.

His lawyer Øystein Storrvik says in his closing arguments that Breivik should be released to prove that he is reformed and no longer a threat to society, and that is not possible to prove while he is in total isolation.

Storrvik calls it “a paradox that a person is treated so badly in prison that he never gets better. He never gets out.”

A psychiatrist who has observed him since 2012 testified yesterday that Breivik can’t be trusted. A prison official told the judges hearing the parole request “there is an imminent danger” that, if released, Breivik would again commit serious crimes.

Texas synagogue hostage-taker said he ‘prayed two years’ for attack — reports

LONDON — A British man who took hostages at a Texas synagogue told his family he had prayed for two years to carry out the attack, media report today, as police make two arrests.

Malik Faisal Akram, 44, from Blackburn in northwest England, was shot dead by the FBI during a 10-hour siege in the small town of Colleyville last Saturday.

His four hostages, including a rabbi, were all freed unharmed.

The London-based Jewish Chronicle publishes on its website what it says is a recording of Akram’s last phone call with his brother back home, where he outlined his aims.

Akram tells his brother, Gulbar, during the siege, “I’ve come to die,” adding that he wants to “go down as a martyr” and is “bombed up” with “every ammunition.”

His brother urges him to give himself up.

The BBC says experts believe the call is genuine.

Suggesting the attack was long-planned, Akram says: “I’ve prayed to Allah for two years for this… I’m coming back home in a body bag.”

The recording raises further questions about the thoroughness of a recent investigation into Akram by British security services.

Media reports have said Akram was investigated in 2020 by Britain’s domestic security agency MI5 after he spent six months in Pakistan. But the probe was shut down after just over a month due to lack of evidence that he was a threat, and he was able to travel to the United States without being flagged as a risk.

British counter-terrorism police meanwhile say today they are questioning two men after early-morning arrests as part of an investigation into the incident.

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