Bomber gets life in prison for New York, New Jersey attacks

Ahmad Khan Rahimi, a naturalized US citizen born in Afghanistan, was told by the judge he deserved multiple life prison terms. (AP)
Updated 14 February 2018
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Bomber gets life in prison for New York, New Jersey attacks

NEW YORK: A New Jersey man who set off small bombs in two states, including a pressure cooker device that blasted shrapnel across a New York City block, was sentenced Tuesday to multiple terms of life in prison by a judge who repeatedly called it a miracle nobody was killed.
Ahmad Khan Rahimi, a naturalized US citizen born in Afghanistan, was criticized by a prosecutor for failing to show remorse and was scolded by a victim for not apologizing to the 30 people he injured.
US District Judge Richard M. Berman in Manhattan said it was hard to reconcile the “reasonable enough” man he saw in court with the terrorist who tried to kill as many people as he could when he left his home early the morning of September 17, 2016, with two pressure-cooker explosives and a bag full of smaller bombs.
“You sound like most people and yet your actions are totally at odds with your voice,” Berman said.
“We saw videos,” he said, referencing multiple videos at his fall trial that showed Rahimi dragging bombs in two suitcases and a backpack through Manhattan streets, setting one down a half hour before it exploded in the upscale Chelsea neighborhood and another a few blocks away that was discovered and disabled before it could explode.
“It’s really hard to square the way you appear in court to that other behavior,” Berman said.
Regardless, the judge said, Rahimi deserved multiple life prison terms. One life term was mandatory but the judge exercised his discretion by imposing life sentences for counts that Rahimi’s defense lawyer said deserved only a 15-year sentence. He also ordered $562,803 in restitution.
Berman called Rahimi, 30, a “clear and present danger” and said it was too big a risk not to impose a life sentence, especially after Rahimi offered “not an ounce of justification” for his crimes.
The Chelsea explosion happened just hours after a small pipe bomb exploded along a Marine Corps road race in Seaside Park, New Jersey, frightening participants but injuring no one.
The bombings triggered a two-day manhunt that ended in a shootout with police in Linden, New Jersey. Rahimi was shot several times but survived. Police officers also were injured.
Given a chance to speak, Rahimi, shackled at the ankles, portrayed himself as a victim, saying he came to America as a 7-year-old boy with no hatred for anyone and was raised by a father in a household where there was no mention of what his father experienced during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
He described how his father went to law enforcement on multiple occasions to report suspicious behavior he had seen in his son, but ultimately felt let down.
“I don’t harbor hate for anyone,” Rahimi said before describing how he believed law enforcement targeted him once he became a practicing Muslim.
Assistant US Attorney Shawn Crowley immediately followed Rahimi, saying he had just “blamed everyone else” after causing so much destruction through crimes “fueled by hate.”
“He has shown no remorse,” Crowley said. “He’s proud of what he has done.”
She described Rahimi’s efforts to radicalize fellow prisoners at the federal jail in New York where he has been imprisoned since his arrest.
Rahimi, prosecutors said, gave inmates copies of terrorist propaganda and jihadist materials, including speeches and lectures by Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and Anwar Al-Awlaki, a US-born cleric who inspired attacks on America and was killed in a US airstrike in September 2011.
Rahimi also allowed some inmates to view materials on his laptop or provided electronic copies as he spread “The Book of Jihad,” bomb-making instructions and various issues of a propaganda magazine.
Defense attorney Xavier Donaldson called it ironic that his client had once aspired to be a police officer and worked as a security guard after studying criminal justice at a community college.
He urged a sentence not based on what people think terrorists might inspire or the fear they may cause.
After the sentence was announced, Berman invited several victims watching the proceedings to speak.
Pauline Nelson, 48, of Brooklyn, stepped to the podium. She was hospitalized when the car she was driving was jolted by the explosion. She’s still being treated for muscle spasms in her back.
“You never apologized to anyone in the courtroom,” she said, staring at the bearded Rahimi, who sat at the defense table, shackles on his ankles. “You have no remorse for what you did.”


Afghanistan cease-fire push in focus in US-Taliban talks

Updated 18 December 2018
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Afghanistan cease-fire push in focus in US-Taliban talks

  • On Monday, the delegation met officials from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the UAE ahead of their meeting with Khalilzad
  • Taliban officials were resisting the cease-fire proposal as they felt it would damage their cause and help US and Afghan forces

KABUL, PESHAWAR: US and Taliban officials have discussed proposals for a six-month cease-fire in Afghanistan and a future withdrawal of foreign troops as talks aimed at setting up peace negotiations went into a second day, Taliban sources said.

The three-day meeting in Abu Dhabi is at least the third time that US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has met Taliban representatives as diplomatic efforts to end the 17-year war have intensified this year.

An Afghan government delegation traveled to the city and met Khalilzad.

However, despite US insistence that any peace settlement must be agreed between Afghans, the Taliban have refused to talk directly with officials from the Kabul government, which they consider an illegitimate, foreign-appointed regime.

“Discussions are taking place with the representatives of the United States about ending the occupation, a matter that does not concern the Kabul administration whatsoever,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

“The entire agenda is focused on issues concerning the occupiers and talks will exclusively be held with them.”

The Taliban delegation was led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, head of the movement’s political office in Qatar and included members of the leadership group based in Quetta, Pakistan and the chief of staff of Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

“It’s a well coordinated meeting where members from the political commissions and Quetta shura are both participating for the first time,” said one peace activist in close contact with the Taliban side at the meeting.

The presence in the delegation of senior officials close to the Taliban leader underscored the importance of the talks, which are shaping up as the most serious attempt to open negotiations since at least 2015.

On Monday, the delegation met officials from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the UAE ahead of their meeting with Khalilzad, who was appointed to oversee Washington’s peace effort in September. There was no immediate comment from the US Embassy in Kabul.

Taliban officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US delegation was pressing for a six-month cease-fire as well as an agreement to name Taliban representatives to a future caretaker government.

For their part, Taliban priorities included the release of Taliban prisoners and a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

However, Taliban officials were resisting the cease-fire proposal as they felt it would damage their cause and help US and Afghan forces.

The latest round of diplomacy comes about a year after the US sent thousands of extra troops to Afghanistan and stepped up air strikes to record levels, with the aim of pushing the Taliban to accept talks.

An Afghan government team traveled to Abu Dhabi “to begin proximity dialogue with the Taliban delegation and to prepare for a face-to-face meeting between the two sides,” government spokesman Haroon Chakansuri said in a statement.

But there was no sign from the Taliban they were ready to accept talks with the government and the Kabul delegation were based in an Abu Dhabi hotel away from the location of the talks. The US says the aim of the talks is to facilitate an Afghan-led process and the inclusion of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan in the talks reflects a US desire to bring in countries with an interest in Afghanistan.