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US honors 9/11 dead on 20th anniversary of attacks

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America marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11 Saturday with solemn ceremonies given added poignancy by the recent chaotic withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and return to power of the Taliban.

Heart-wrenching commemorations will unfold at each of the three sites where 19 Al-Qaeda hijackers — mostly from Saudi Arabia — crashed packed airliners, striking the cultural, financial and political hearts of the United States and changing the world forever.

The memorials come with US troops finally gone from Afghanistan, but national discord — and for President Joe Biden, political peril — are overshadowing any sense of closure.

In a video posted on the eve of the anniversary, Biden urged Americans to show unity, “our greatest strength.”

“To me, that’s the central lesson of September 11th. It’s that at our most vulnerable, in the push and pull of all that makes us human, in the battle for the soul of America, unity is our greatest strength,” Biden said in a six- minute message from the White House.

t New York’s Ground Zero, where two pools of water now stand where the Twin Towers used to, relatives will read out the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed, in a four-hour-long service starting at 8:30 am (1230 GMT).

Six moments of silence will be observed, corresponding with the times the two World Trade Center towers were struck, and fell, and the moments the Pentagon was attacked and Flight 93 crashed.

Monica Iken-Murphy, who lost her 37-year-old husband Michael Iken in the World Trade Center, says this will be a “heightened” anniversary for many Americans.

But for her, as for many other survivors, the pain has never wavered.

“I feel like it just happened,” she told AFP.

A whole generation has grown up since the morning of September 11, 2001.

In the interim, Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden has been hunted down and killed. A towering new sky scraper has risen over Manhattan, replacing the Twin Towers. And less than two weeks ago, the last US soldiers flew from Kabul airport, ending the so-called “forever war.”

But the Taliban who once sheltered bin Laden are back ruling Afghanistan, the mighty US military humiliated. In Guantanamo Bay, accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men continue to await trial, nine years after charges were filed.

Even the full story of how the attack came to happen remains secret. Only last week did Biden order the release of classified documents from the FBI investigation over the next six months.

– ‘Honor and memorialize’ -At Ground Zero, 2,753 people, from all over the world, were killed in the initial explosions, jumped to their deaths, or simply vanished in the inferno of the collapsing towers.

At the Pentagon, an airliner tore a fiery hole in the side of the superpower’s military nerve center, killing 184 people in the plane and on the ground.

And in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the third wave of hijackers crashed into a field after passengers fought back, sending United 93 down before reaching its intended target — likely the US Capitol building in Washington.

Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will stop at each of these places on Saturday to “honor and memorialize the lives lost,” the White House said.

In his video address Friday night, Biden urged Americans to come together as they reflect on the tragedy.

“Unity doesn’t mean we have to believe the same thing, but we must have a fundamental respect and faith in each other and in this nation,” Biden said.

The president had planned for this to be a pivotal day in his nearly eight-month-old presidency.

However, instead of presiding over a moment of unity, Biden will traverse a country angry about the messy Kabul evacuation, which included 13 US soldiers killed by a suicide bomber, and stung by the broader realization of failure and defeat.

For the relatives of victims, the anniversary, as always, is about keeping the memory of their loved ones alive.

“It’s like Pearl Harbor,” said Frank Siller, whose firefighter brother Stephen died at the World Trade Center.

“People who weren’t alive don’t have the same feeling about it as those who were alive. But America has never forgotten about Pearl Harbour and America will never forget about 9/11.”

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Hajj: 5 Days To Deadline, Less Than Half Of Nigerian Pilgrims Airlifted

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Few days to the commencement of this year’s hajj, there are fears that thousands of Nigerian pilgrims may miss the exercise, Daily Trust can report.

As of the time of filing this report, less than half of the 43,000 pilgrims from Nigeria had been airlifted.

According to the figure from NAHCON, 19,764 pilgrims have been airlifted from 23 states and the Armed Forces. Kano and Kaduna State which have the highest number of pilgrims still have many of them awaiting airlift.

As of yesterday, 1,593 out of 2,491 Kaduna pilgrims had been airlifted; while in Kano, only 399 pilgrims of the 2,229 slots given to the state had been airlifted.

The Saudi authorities had said all pilgrims must arrive by July 3 at 23:59 pm.

About 3,000 pilgrims of licensed tour operators, who made deposits to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Treasury Single Account domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria, but whose accounts in Saudi Arabia were yet to be credited to enable them process their accommodation in Makkah and Madinah and pay for other services, may miss this year’s hajj.

Amidst this, NAHCON said the offer for additional slots promised Nigeria by the Saudi Arabia could no longer be actualised.

Some hajj operators told Daily Trust that after paying about N1.3m for onward transfer to Saudi Arabia service providers, they were yet to receive payment in their virtual accounts in Saudi Arabia.

Of the 43,008 slots given to Nigeria by Saudi Arabia, 9,032 were allocated to licensed tour operators under the aegis of Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria.

From the figure, 50 seats were given to 176 prequalified operators who were required to pay N1.3m on each pilgrim for onward transfer to service providers (Muasassah) in Saudi Arabia.

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The fund covers some components of the hajj fare, including hotel accommodation, feeding in Muna, Arafa and local transportation.

One of the affected tour operators said each of the tour operators remitted about N55m amounting to over N10bn.

He said when NAHCON eventually credited their account, 61 tour operators did not get alert, noting that without the money, visa processing and other arrangements cannot be carried out.

“As I’m talking to you, they’re still meeting, a lot of us have not been credited and the airports in Madinah and Makkah will be closed this week.

“Two of our members collapsed as a result of this; while others were hospitalized as a result of high blood pressure and fear of running into debt because most operators are already missing their flights because we booked scheduled flights and when we want to change the flight we pay as much as N200,000 on one person,” he said.

A meeting was ongoing as of press time yesterday; while an official of NAHCON said the issue of the remittance was being resolved.

Intending pilgrims protest in Kano

Many intending pilgrims yesterday protested in Kano over the non-allocation of seats to them despite having completed their payments.

They were at the head office of Jaiz Bank which processed their payment through the Hajj Savings Scheme and the office of the Kano State Pilgrims Board.

The protesters, numbering 284, said they were shocked to find out that after completing their payment, no seat was reserved for them, noting that some of them started the saving scheme in 2019.

The leader of the protesters, Hassan Zakari, alleged that the state pilgrims’ board had not been forthcoming with them.

Sources told Daily Trust that names of aggrieved intending pilgrims had been sent to the state pilgrims’ board and had been documented without any allocation to them this year because of the limited slots allocated to them.

Fatima Abdullahi of Tamburawa area of Dawakin Kudu Local Government, said she was told to return her bag and uniform Monday evening.

Reacting, the Executive Secretary of Kano Pilgrim’s Board, Mohammad Abba Dambatta, said the board was doing all it could to resolve the problem, noting that there was no allocation this year for those on savings’ scheme, especially those from Jaiz Bank.

“We received a total of 2,229 allocation and we have about 2,500 intending pilgrims under the hajj savings scheme which is more than the total allocation given to us,” he said.

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‘NAHCON’s request for additional slots turned down’

NAHCON has confirmed that its request for additional slots from Saudi Arabia had been turned down.

Its spokesperson, Fatima Sanda Usara, in a statement, said NAHCON’s Commissioner of Operations, Abdullahi Magaji Hardawa led a delegation to actualize the offer, but it was eventually turned down by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.

She said the request to have some of the officials above 65 years to travel because of their experience in hajj operation was also not granted.

According to her, Nigeria’s hajj industry is left with its initial allocation of 43,008.

She said NAHCON solicited the understanding of those aggrieved.

“Indeed, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, the NAHCON Chairman and other NAHCON management members, did their best to make sure that slots were distributed equitably. It was however clear right from the start that not everyone who is qualified would make it to this year’s Hajj due to the relatively low number of allocated slots.”

She said the “commission is aware of the agitation from all its publics, to wit, the states pilgrims welfare boards, subscribers through the Hajj Savings Scheme, Private Tour Operators, including its own staff as well. NAHCON management is consoled because it did not ostracize any group in the distribution of available hajj seats, but of course, not all would be successful, because the commission was working within the boundaries of what was available,” the statement added.

With the development, many tour operators, who were initially granted about 80 to 100 slots, would be left with a shortfall despite making arrangements with some airlines and service providers in Saudi Arabia.

A hajj stakeholder, who spoke with our correspondent, said: “Many of the operators who have booked with airlines are going to run into huge losses because the slots allocated to the tour operators have been significantly reduced while they have made payment for some services.”

Managing Director, Al-Qibla International Services, Abdulfatah Abdulmojeed, said the development came with a great cost to the operators in terms of accommodation and flights booked which would not be refunded.

He said: “It has happened and NAHCON also tried its best. What one would have expected is that rather than give allocation in anticipation, they’d have given the actual number.”

CSO seeks probe of hajj seat racketeering

Meanwhile, Independent Hajj Reporters, a civil society organisation that monitors hajj and umrah activities, has urged NAHCON and anti-corruption agencies to probe the widespread allegations of hajj 2002 BTA fraud and seats racketeering across the country.

In a statement, it said it received numerous complaints from intending pilgrims that some officials across the states’ boards colluded with others outside the hajj industry to sell seats to “desperate intending pilgrims who are ready to purchase such seats at any price.”

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Sallah: Look out for new moon, Sultan tells Muslims

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Sultan of Sokoto and President General, Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, has directed the Muslim Ummah to look out for the new moon of Dhul-Hijjah as from Wednesday.

The Sultan made the call in a statement signed by Prof. Sambo Junaidu, Chairman, advisory committee on Religious Affairs, Sultanate Council, Sokoto.

“This is to inform the Muslim Ummah that Wednesday, June 29, which is equivalent to 29th of Dhul-Qidah 1443AH, shall be the day to look out for the new moon of Dhul-Hijjah 1443AH.”

“Muslims are therefore requested to start looking for the new moon on Wednesday and report its sighting to the nearest district or village head for onward communication to the Sultan,” the statement read.

He also prayed to Allah to assist the Muslim Ummah in discharging their religious duties.

Dhul-Hijjah is the 12th and the last month in the Islamic calendar where the Holy Pilgrimage (Hajj) takes place as well as the Eid Kabir – festival of sacrifice.

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Saudi rejects pilgrims older than 65, Nigeria’s additional 5,000 slots

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Intending pilgrims that are above 65 years will not perform this year’s hajj, the Saudi Arabian authorities have declared.

The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON, communicated this directive along with its request for 5,000 additional hajj slots also turned down by the Saudi.

The commision said that its request to waive officials, who are above 65 years was rejected, giving no specific reasons.

NAHCON in a statement said despite the high powered delegation led by the Commissioner of Operations, Alhaji Abdullahi Magaji Hardawa, after an official request made before now to actualize the offer, it was turned down.

The statement read in part, “The visit became especially important to lessen Private Tour Operators’ genuine outcry over shortfall in number of clients they would be able to accommodate for the Hajj.

“It was also targeted at managing pressure of other Nigerians desperate to be participants in the season’s pilgrimage.

“Hence, NAHCON’s formidable team of representatives as well as the strong presentation made by our Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, to the Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah, unfortunately, the promise could no longer be fulfilled.

“Therefore, Nigeria’s Hajj industry is left with its initial allocation of 43,008.

“In view of this, NAHCON wishes to solicit the understanding of those aggrieved due to the failure to be counted among this year’s successful Haji applicants.

“NAHCON beseeches them to accept it as the will of the Almighty and look forward to next opportunity if God spares our lives.

“The Commission has done its best but the Almighty has decided the rest.

“Indeed, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, the NAHCON Chairman and other NAHCON management members, did their best to make sure that slots were distributed equitably.

“It was, however, clear right from the start that not everyone who is qualified would make it to this year’s Hajj due to the relative low number of allocated slots.

“The commission is aware of the agitation from all its publics, to wit, the States Pilgrims Welfare Boards, subscribes through the Hajj Savings Scheme, Private Tour Operators, including its own staff as well.

“NAHCON management is consoled because it did not ostracize any group in the distribution of available Hajj seats, but of course, not all would be successful, because, the Commission was working within the boundaries of what was available.

“Yet, management understands the frustration of many who were desperate to participate in this year’s pilgrimage after two years of blockade.

“As people of faith we should remember that Hajj is a divine call that one would answer at the destined time; no matter one’s wealth, health status, age or free time.

“NAHCON assures those unable to proceed for the Hajj that their Hajj fare deposits are untouched and safe.

“Thus, the Commission will order release of their monies to them without delay should they request for a refund.

“If they decide otherwise, they should be rest assured that they will not be short changed in anyway.

“Similarly, NAHCON had sought for waiver for Hajj officials above 65 years of age, who due to their relevance to the Hajj operation, their presence in Saudi Arabia is crucial.

“This request too was turned down by Saudi Arabia. Hence, any official above 65 years is exempted from participating in the 2022 Hajj duties.

“While soliciting for the understanding of all concerned and indeed the general public, the Commission sincerely regrets all the inconveniences as well as all such obvious/likely losses associated with the incidences highlighted above.”

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