No evidence of wiretap operation, says top White House aide

Kellyanne Conway
Updated 14 March 2017
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No evidence of wiretap operation, says top White House aide

WASHINGTON: Top White House aide Kellyanne Conway said on Monday she had no evidence to back up Donald Trump’s claim that his predecessor had wiretapped him, after suggesting her boss may have been spied upon using other methods.
The Trump administration is under mounting pressure to provide proof to shore up the president’s unsubstantiated allegation that Barack Obama ordered the phones to be tapped at Trump Tower during the election campaign.
“The answer is I do not have any evidence and I am very happy that the House Intelligence Committee are investigating,” Conway told ABC television.
Trump’s top aide was being pressed to explain weekend comments that seemed to suggest the Obama administration ordered wide-scale surveillance of her boss.
“What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other,” Conway told New Jersey’s Bergen County Record in a wide-ranging interview published Sunday.
“You can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets — any number of ways,” including “microwaves that turn into cameras,” she told the paper.
“We know this is a fact of modern life.”
Conway backed away on Monday from the comments — which were greeted with ridicule on the Internet — telling ABC’s “Good Morning America” she had been referring to “surveillance generally” and not to the president’s allegations regarding Trump Tower.
Trump, meanwhile, appeared to take the media to task over its skeptical treatment of Conway.
“It is amazing how rude much of the media is to my very hard working representatives,” he tweeted minutes after she wrapped up appearances on several morning talk shows.
“Be nice,” he said, “you will do much better!”
Both Obama, through a spokesman, and his former director of national intelligence James Clapper have denied ordering any wiretapping operation targeted at Trump.
But Trump’s White House is standing by its demand for a congressional investigation into the allegations.
The Republican chairman and the top ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee have written to the Justice Department asking for evidence to be provided by Monday in support of Trump’s allegation.
Democrat Adam Schiff said on Sunday he doubted any evidence would be forthcoming, and said he would press the demand again during a wide-ranging open hearing set for March 20 on the issue of Russian meddling in the election.
Top Republican lawmaker and frequent Trump critic John McCain on Sunday challenged Trump to prove the wiretapping claim — or else retract it.


Arab refugees in sights of Berlin’s crime ‘clans’

Updated 18 December 2018
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Arab refugees in sights of Berlin’s crime ‘clans’

  • Berlin crime gangs of Arab origin have long earned infamy with violence and brazen robberies
  • Police warn they have targeted a new generation of refugees for recruitment

BERLIN: Berlin crime gangs of Arab origin have long earned infamy with violence and brazen robberies but now, police warn, they have targeted a new generation of refugees for recruitment.
Known in the media as Berlin’s “clans,” whose founders themselves fled war in Lebanon in the 1980s, they have long controlled much of the city’s illegal drugs trade, street prostitution and protection rackets.
While East European and Asian organized crime and homegrown biker gangs are also active, the clans have been especially visible, given many members’ love of gangster bling and muscle cars.
The dozen or so Arabic and Kurdish-origin extended families, with their patriarchal structures and codes of honor, have also been mythologized by rap artists and portrayed in the TV series “4 Blocks.”
Now police warn that the clans have sought out new members from among the over one million asylum-seekers who have arrived in Germany since mid-2015, half of them from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The clans “are trying to get others to do the dirty work” such as selling drugs or committing small burglaries, said Benjamin Jendro of the GDP police union.
Many refugees, he said, are “men who have arrived alone in Germany” and who “have not yet had to do with the justice system,” making it less likely they will go to prison if caught.
An undercover police investigator also told Die Welt newspaper that “above all, it is the young, physically strong men who are in the sights of the clans, who make them do the dirty work.”


The migrant wave that peaked three years ago sparked a xenophobic backlash in Germany, and stoked heated debate about integration efforts and crimes committed by foreigners.
This has thrown a new focus on the clans and raised questions about how Berlin’s police could let them openly flout the law for so long in a generally fairly low-crime country.
Germany’s best-known rapper, Bushido, long boasted about his close ties to one Berlin clan — until they had a falling out this year and he sought the protection of a rival group.
Bushido’s wife, Anna-Maria Ferchichi, told news weekly Stern that the couple now feared for their lives from gangsters who had formed “parallel societies right here in Germany.”
The clans’ latest show of force was the September 13 funeral of an infamous underworld figure, when 2,000 mourners congregated in the Islamic section of a Berlin cemetery, watched over by some 150 police.
In scenes Stern described as “worthy of a mafia movie,” they paid their last respects to Nidal Rabih, a 36-year-old violent repeat offender who had been shot dead in front of his family days earlier.
Rabih, a Palestinian born in Lebanon, had achieved cult status in the Berlin criminal underworld.
Boasting more than 100 offenses from robbery to attempted manslaughter, he had spent more than a decade behind bars but avoided a 2004 deportation attempt when Lebanon refused to issue him a passport.
Days after his death, Berlin municipal workers guarded by police whitewashed over a wall mural at the murder scene that depicted Rabih in the style of a martyred Islamic fighter.


Sociologists say the story of Berlin’s clans is a cautionary tale about failed integration.
Their patriarchs mostly arrived in the 1980s as refugees from then war-torn Lebanon, among them Palestinians and members of Turkey’s Arabic and Kurdish minorities.
Many had only temporary protection status and “did not have access here to education or work,” said Islamologist Mathias Rohe, arguing that this sped up the descent into delinquency.
The extended families, aside from now running large chunks of Berlin’s illegal economy, have also committed some of the city’s most headline-grabbing criminal stunts.
In 2010, masked men wielding machetes and guns robbed a poker tournament in the Berlin Grand Hyatt, making off with about 240,000 euros ($270,000).
In 2014, robbers rampaged through Berlin’s KaDeWe luxury department store, smashed glass displays and stole watches and jewelry worth 800,000 euros.
And last year, clan-linked bandits stole a 100-kilogramme (220-pound) Canadian commemorative gold coin worth over 3.75 million euros from Berlin’s Bode museum, around the corner from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s apartment.


Berlin’s police is now under fire for having long neglected the problem — something researcher Ralph Ghadban blames partially on a “fear of stigmatising and discriminating against certain minorities.”
In recent months, authorities have started to hit back by stepping up raids of shisha bars and betting shops, many in Berlin’s Neukoelln district, and confiscating expensive cars for speeding.
In August, police and prosecutors seized 77 properties worth 10 million euros, alleged to have mostly been bought with proceeds from a major 2014 bank robbery.
Some of the properties were officially owned by one convicted bank robber’s 19-year-old brother whose only declared income was state welfare.
The confiscations still have to stand up in court against challenges from the clan’s expensive lawyers, but authorities believe they have struck a first blow.
“We’re stepping on their toes,” said Berlin interior minister Andreas Geisel. “We’re spoiling their fun in Berlin.”