US officer charged with murder of unarmed Australian woman

Justine Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, from Sydney, is seen in this 2015 photo released by Stephen Govel Photography in New York, U.S., in this July 17, 2017 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 21 March 2018
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US officer charged with murder of unarmed Australian woman

CHICAGO: A police officer in the US state of Minnesota who shot dead an unarmed Australian woman last July was charged Tuesday with murder, in a case that sparked an international outcry.
Mohamed Noor shot Justine Damond, a resident of the city of Minneapolis, after she called to report a possible rape in the evening hours, and approached the police car that had arrived to investigate.
“From the short time between when Ms Damond Ruszczyk approached the squad car, to the time that Officer Noor fired the fatal shot, there is no evidence that Officer Noor encountered a threat... that justified his decision to use deadly force,” Hennepin County prosecutor Mike Freeman said.
“Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun from the passenger seat, in disregard for human life.”
Noor, who is Somali American, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, which respectively carry sentences of up to 25 years, and up to 10 years.
The shooting caused outrage in the United States and in Damond’s native Australia. The 40-year-old had moved to the US to marry her fiancee whose name she had already legally adopted. Her maiden name was Ruszczyk.
Damond’s Australian relatives and the country’s prime minister demanded answers — and protests in Minneapolis led to the resignation of the city’s police chief.
The shooting also raised concerns among the Midwestern city’s Somali American community, with worries about a possible backlash.
“Our city stands firmly with Justine’s family, and hope they find piece in a time of grief,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said following the charges.
“Our city stands firmly with our Somali community and against those leveling blame on our beloved neighbors,” the mayor added.
The police department said Tuesday was Noor’s last day on the force, but would not elaborate on whether the officer resigned or was fired.

Noor refused to cooperate with investigators.
His lawyer responded to the charges by claiming the prosecutor had jumped to conclusions.
“The facts will show that Officer Noor acted as he has been trained and consistent with established departmental policy. Officer Noor should not have been charged with any crime,” attorney Tom Plunkett said in a statement.
The prosecutor said his eight-month investigation had constructed a detailed account of the events — laid out in a charging document filed in state court.
Damond had called police twice to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home.
Noor and fellow officer Matthew Harrity responded, drove through the alley at a slow pace, and as they reached the end of the alley, Noor reported back an all-clear signal.
The officers were preparing to drive away when they heard a noise that startled them, the court filing said, causing Harrity to believe “his life was in danger.”
“Officer Harrity heard a voice, a thump somewhere behind him on the squad car, and caught a glimpse of a person’s head and shoulders outside his window,” according to the criminal complaint.
Noor then shot out the driver’s side window of the squad car, striking Damond in the abdomen.
“Ms Damond Ruszczyk put her hands on the wound on her left side and said ‘I’m dying,’ or ‘I’m dead,’” Freeman said.
She died at the scene.
The prosecutor alleged Noor’s actions went against his training.
“A person sitting in a passenger’s seat of the squad car takes a gun... he reaches across in front of his partner, shoots a gun at an object that he can’t see,” Freeman said.
“What we’re saying with this charge is that Officer Noor did not act reasonably.”


France’s Macron visits Trump as Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance

Updated 17 min 22 sec ago
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France’s Macron visits Trump as Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance

  • While the French leader has tried to develop a close relationship with Trump since he took office in May, he has so far seen little tangible results on issues from Iran to climate politics.
  • Macron also wants to persuade Trump to exempt European nations from metal tariffs that are part of the US president’s plan to reduce chronic trade deficits with countries around the world, chiefly China.

WASHINGTON: French President Emmanuel Macron arrives in Washington on Monday for a state visit likely to be dominated by differences over trade and the nuclear accord with Iran.
As Macron headed west, the Iranian government urged European leaders to convince US President Donald Trump not to tear up the 2015 deal between Tehran and six world powers. Allies also spoke out in support of it.
Macron said on Sunday there was no “Plan B” for keeping a lid on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
He is on something of a rescue mission for what is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Trump has said he will scrap unless European allies fix what he called “terrible flaws” by mid-May.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on European leaders to support it.
“It is either all or nothing. European leaders should encourage Trump not just to stay in the nuclear deal, but more important to begin implementing his part of the bargain in good faith,” Zarif wrote on his Twitter account.
The deal reached between six powers — all of whom but Germany are nuclear-armed — and Tehran put curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Macron said on Fox News Sunday that it would be better to protect the deal instead of to get rid of it as there was no other plan.
“Is this agreement perfect and this JCPOA a perfect thing for our relationship with Iran? No. But for nuclear — what do you have? As a better option? I don’t see it,” he said.
Macron’s visit is the first time Trump has hosted a state visit since he took power in January 2017. While the French leader has tried to develop a close relationship with Trump since he took office in May, he has so far seen little tangible results on issues from Iran to climate politics.
The two men will get a sense of their two countries’ shared history during an evening meal on Monday night at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, the first US president and Revolutionary War commander whose alliance with France was critical to victory over the British.
Working meetings will be held at the White House on Tuesday before Macron addresses Congress the following day, the anniversary of the day that French General Charles de Gaulle addressed a Joint Session of Congress in 1960.
Trump and the 40-year-old French leader began their friendship a year ago in Belgium with a jaw-clenching handshake. While some other European leaders have kept a certain distance from Trump, Macron has worked hard to remain close to the US president and the two leaders speak frequently by phone.
Highlighting the difficulties Macron will face reversing Trump’s mind on Iran, US non-proliferation envoy Christopher Ford said Tehran presenteded a very real long-term challenge.
“Iran (is) a country that for years illegally and secretly sought to develop nuclear weapons, suspended its weaponization work only when confronted by the potentially direst of consequences without ever coming clean about its illicit endeavours,” he told a non-proliferation conference in Geneva.
Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes.
Macron also wants to persuade Trump to exempt European nations from metal tariffs that are part of the US president’s plan to reduce chronic trade deficits with countries around the world, chiefly China.
His visit comes at a time of mounting alarm in Europe over the knock-on effect that US sanctions on Russia will have on their own manufacturing industries.
French officials said Paris and other European governments were coordinating efforts to persuade Trump to ease sanctions on Russia, including measures against Russian aluminum producers.
“There are concerns raised by the extraterritoriality effects of the new sets of sanctions,” a French finance minstry source said. “Europeans...have jointly warned the US Administration about the economic impact and consequences and the need to find solutions.”
The official said France, Germany, Italy and Ireland were working together on the matter. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold talks with Trump in Washington later in the week.
Macron and Trump are also due to discuss Syria, less than two weeks after the United States, France and Britain launched airstrikes in Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens in Douma, Syria.
Macron said last week that he believed he had persuaded Trump to keep US troops in Syria, though Trump has been insistent on bringing them home.