2 months later: Berlin mayor finally sends condolences to Christmas market attack victims

2 months later: Berlin mayor finally sends condolences to Christmas market attack victims
The mayor of the German capital has offered his sympathies to the relatives of the victims of the December Berlin Christmas market attack and those injured in the incident, citing difficulties in obtaining their addresses for the delay.

Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller said he “deliberately let some time pass” since the December tragedy before he sent letters to those injured in the attack and the relatives of the victims, as he wanted all of them to receive the messages at the same time, Germany’s Tagesspiegel daily reports. As a result, the letters eventually reached the addressees only two months after the attack.

In the letters, Mueller personally addressed those affected by the attack and offered his condolences to them, saying they could reach out to him at any time. He also said that he had received numerous words of compassion and support from all over the world in recent weeks and wanted to pass them on to the relatives of the victims and the injured, as those words “were directed towards the victims of the attack in the first place.”

In the meantime, Claudia Suender, spokeswoman for the Berlin government, explained the delay by saying that it was difficult to obtain the addresses of all the people affected by the incident. She stressed that Mueller urged the Berlin authorities to reach out to the victims of the attack as soon as possible but the lists of their contacts were incomplete at that time.

She went on to say that the Berlin authorities could not just “spontaneously” offer condolences and such a move demanded thorough preparation. She also complained that the Prosecutor General’s Office had lifted the ban on open publication of the victims’ contact details too late, Tagesspiegel reported.

Condolences can wait but autopsy bills should be paid on time

At the same time, Berlin’s Charite hospital did manage to send the relatives of the people killed in the Christmas market attack invoices for the autopsy. It took the medical stuff just three days to deal with the formalities and send letters demanding payment for “the identification of the body, the autopsy and the issuance of a death certificate” amounting to €51 (US$53.6). Some families of the victims received the letters just before Christmas.

“The invoice is due to be paid immediately. Please, take into account that if you [fail to pay the bill] in 30 days after receiving this letter … your payment will be automatically considered delinquent and your case will be handed over to a collector agency,” the letters read, according to Tagesspiegel.

The hospital withdrew its demands three weeks later and sent the relatives of the victims new letters containing an apology.

“We would like to offer our sincere apologies for sending you the letters demanding payment for the autopsy and ask you to regard them as devoid of purpose,” the new letters said, calling the incident “a regrettable mistake,” as reported by Tagesspiegel.

On Monday, Michael Tsokos, the head of the institute of forensic medicine in the Charite hospital, told Tagesspiegel that the incident had happened due to the confusion in the hospital following the Christmas market attack, and stressed that he had ordered his subordinates not to send the invoices.

He also said that German funeral law was to blame for the whole situation, as it states that victims’ relatives should pay for the autopsy of the deceased and makes no exceptions “even in the case of murdered children.” Both Tsokos and Suender agreed that there is no sufficient regulation in the law for cases similar to the December attack. Suender added that some “structural reforms” are necessary.

‘Callous treatment’

In the meantime, outgoing German President Joachim Gauck met with some 50 relatives of the attack victims in the presidential Bellevue Palace in Berlin last week. The meeting was also attended by German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere.

During the meeting, the victims’ relatives complained that they were treated callously by various authorities in the days after the attack. They had to search across the city in attempts to get any information about their loved ones, as the German police had issued a ban on disclosure of any information about the victims following the tragedy.

The relatives of the victims were barred from the memorial service in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church near the scene of the attack the next day, as the service was attended by a number of high-ranking politicians.

The police also demanded that they have DNA tests without giving any reasons. “Those who still do not understand what this issue is all about brought this on themselves,” police told some relatives instead of providing an explanation, according to Tagesspiegel.

The outgoing president and the minister then assured the relatives of the victims that communication in such cases would be improved and such incidents would not happen again.

On December 19, 2016, a truck was deliberately driven into the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz in Berlin. The terrorist attack claimed the lives of 12 people and injured 56 others.

The perpetrator was identified as Anis Amri, a failed asylum seeker from Tunisia. He was killed in a shootout with police near Milan, Italy, four days after the attack. Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has claimed responsibility for the attack.

According to Tagesspiegel, 11 people still remain in hospital two months after the attack, including two people with extremely serious injuries.

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Israeli malware can hack isolated computers by forcing their LED indicators to blink

Israeli malware can hack isolated computers by forcing their LED indicators to blink
Israeli researchers have found a way to attack isolated computers by taking control of their LED indicators, which are forced to blink up to 6,000 times a second to send a signal containing data to a camera mounted on a drone near the targeted computer.

The technique specifically targets so-called “air-gapped” computers, which are cut off from the Internet and company networks, making them the most challenging targets for hackers. Consequently, they typically carry the most sensitive information.

The LED control method, which makes it possible to steal data from isolated computers while raising minimum suspicion, was devised by researchers of the Negev (BGU) Cyber Security Research Center at Ben-Gurion University.

“The LED is always blinking as it’s doing searching and indexing, so no one suspects, even in the night. It’s very covert, actually,” researcher Mordechai Guri said, as cited by the Wired.

In a demonstration video, a drone is shown navigating into the line of sight of a computer. Once the drone locates the target, malware starts transmitting data via a hard drive LED indicator, which blinks the signal to the built-in camera on the drone.

According to the researchers, the data can be transferred at rate as fast as 4,000 bits per second with a specialized Siemens photodiode sensor on the drone. The blinking can be recorded by a camera and deciphered later.

The LED can be forced to blink at a rate of up to 6,000 times per second, which is indiscernible for humans, but potentially readable for light sensors.

“It’s possible for the attacker to do such fast blinking that a human never sees it,” Guri noted.

Of course, the technique relies on the computer being infected prior to the transmission, which can be accomplished using a USB stick or SD card.

While this type of attack is novel and hard to detect, it has one obvious drawback: the computer’s LEDs can simply be covered.

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‘It’s no paradise’: Switzerland funds Nigerian TV series to discourage migrants from coming

‘It’s no paradise’: Switzerland funds Nigerian TV series to discourage migrants from coming
Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) is spending $450,000 on filming a TV series with African actors showing the perils of living in Europe illegally, which will be shown on Nigerian television.

“We have seen that a lack of information or false information is one of the main problems that leads to illegal migration,” SEM spokesman Lukas Rieder told The Local. “Human traffickers tell potential migrants that Switzerland is paradise, it’s El Dorado. But that’s not true. We want to provide objective information about the dangers of passage, and the dangers of living in Switzerland without a permit, for example.”

The series, called Missing Steps, helmed by well-known Nigerian actor and director Charles Okafor, tells the story of a 20-something university-educated protagonist. He gets into debt and flees to the landlocked European state to solve his financial problems, with the help of traffickers.

But he is denied asylum by the Swiss authorities, and deported to his own country – poor, isolated and unhappy.

“He pays a high price,” summed up Okafor in an interview with national broadcaster Swissinfo.

Okafor is convinced that the series – which has 13 episodes, lasting 45 minutes each and costs less than an episode of many Western-made soaps, not to mention big-budget hits like Game of Thrones – is good value for money, particularly if it can be shown across multiple African states.

“Television globally is a very powerful medium, because it has the capacity to reach a vast mass – a critical mass of people… even hundreds of millions of viewers,” said Okafor.

But experts have questioned how true-to-life and persuasive a drama with such a didactic and political purpose can be.

On the one hand, asylum is genuinely hard to obtain in Switzerland. Last year over 27,000 people applied, with less than 1,300 cases processed. A total of 4.1 percent of all applicants were Nigerians. Only three people were granted asylum and six others received temporary admissions.

Deportation is less straightforward. Nationwide statistics are not collated, but despite several public referenda approving a tighter process, it remains an unresolved issue – even two-thirds of the country’s prison population are foreigners, whether with or without papers, who are not facing immediate deportation.

“Most people are fully aware of the risks of migration, thanks to friends and family,” Jill Alpes, a migration expert, told Swissinfo. “Not only do they not get any new information, but people choose carefully which sources to trust.”

READ MORE: Up to 40% of asylum seekers in Switzerland ‘disappear’– report

Meanwhile, Amnesty International says that Switzerland, which signed a migration regulation agreement with Nigeria in 2011, should strive to reduce the incentive for asylum seekers to come, as opposed to dealing with them once they cross its borders.

“Switzerland should work to improve the human rights situation and the allocation of resources in Nigeria. They are fundamental aspects if we want people to have the opportunity to stay in their own country,” the NGO’s Denise Graf told Swissinfo.

Switzerland is far from being the only European nation trying to discourage asylum seekers from trying to go to Europe through the media. Germany, Italy and Australia have also produced videos with messages aimed at potential migrants. Some also tried ad campaigns in countries like Afghanistan to warn people there against dealing with traffickers.

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