Iranian envoy charged over Paris rally bomb plot

Iranian envoy charged over Paris rally bomb plot
Activists of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) rally in front of the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin on July 11, 2018 calling for the extradition of an Iranian secret service officer to Belgium. (AFP / Tobias Schwarz)
Updated 12 July 2018

Iranian envoy charged over Paris rally bomb plot

Iranian envoy charged over Paris rally bomb plot
  • Assadollah Assadi, 46, a counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, has been accused of plotting to blow up a rally in Paris last month of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which called for regime change in Tehran.
  • Iran has used embassies as cover to plot terrorist attacks, the US State Department said on Wednesday, and all countries should carefully examine staff at Iranian diplomatic missions.

JEDDAH: An Iranian diplomat was remanded in custody in Germany on Wednesday on charges of acting as a foreign agent and conspiracy to murder.

Assadollah Assadi, 46, a counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, has been accused of plotting to blow up a rally in Paris last month of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which called for regime change in Tehran.

Prosecutors said that Assadi commissioned a couple living in Antwerp to carry out the attack, and supplied them with 500 grams of the explosive TATP and a detonating device, at a meeting in Luxembourg in late June.

The couple, Amir S., 38, and Nasimeh N., 33, Belgian nationals of Iranian origin, were arrested in Brussels by Belgian security services on the day of the rally on June 30. French police arrested another three people, but later released two of them.

Assadi has been registered as a third counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna since 2014. German prosecutors said he is a member of the Iranian intelligence service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and his job is to spy on opposition groups inside and outside Iran. 

He was detained this month near the Bavarian city of Aschaffenburg on a European arrest warrant. The charges against him in Germany did not preclude his extradition to Belgium, where authorities have been leading the investigation into the bomb plot, prosecutors said. 

Last month’s rally calling for regime change in Iran was attended by about 25,000 people, including leading politicians from the US, Europe and the Middle East. 

It was addressed by US President Donald Trump’s lawyer, the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives. 

Iran has used embassies as cover to plot terrorist attacks, the US State Department said on Wednesday, and all countries should carefully examine staff at Iranian diplomatic missions.

“If Iran can plot bomb attacks in Paris, they can plot attacks anywhere in the world, and we urge all nations to be vigilant. The most recent plot ... is another chapter in a long history that dates back to 1984,” a senior official said.


New Zealand man charged over threats to Christchurch mosques

New Zealand man charged over threats to Christchurch mosques
Updated 56 min 46 sec ago

New Zealand man charged over threats to Christchurch mosques

New Zealand man charged over threats to Christchurch mosques
  • Police on Thursday arrested the 27-year-old man and charged him with threatening to kill
  • The arrest comes as Muslims prepare to mark the second anniversary of a white supremacist gunman’s attack at the mosques

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: A New Zealand man is facing criminal charges after allegedly posting online threats against two Christchurch mosques that were the sites of a terrorist attack that left 51 people dead.
Police on Thursday arrested the 27-year-old man and charged him with threatening to kill. If found guilty, he faces a maximum prison sentence of seven years.
Police Superintendent John Price told reporters the threats were made earlier this week on the website 4chan, which has been used as a forum in the past by white supremacists.
The arrest comes as Muslims prepare to mark the second anniversary of a white supremacist gunman’s attack at the mosques.
Price said there would be an enhanced police presence at the mosques during the commemoration of the March 15, 2019, attacks. He said that had been planned before the threats came to light.
Price declined to give details of the alleged threats or name the man ahead of his first scheduled court appearance on Friday.
“Any threat made on our community and our people is a threat on our society, and will not be tolerated,” Price said. “Any messages of hate or people wanting to cause harm in our community, they will be held to account.”
Police initially arrested two men and executed search warrants at two Christchurch addresses. One of the men was later released without being charged.
In the 2019 attack, gunman Brenton Tarrant slaughtered worshippers at the mosques during Friday prayers. Last year he pleaded guilty to 92 counts of murder, attempted murder and terrorism. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.


20 migrants dead after thrown into sea off Djibouti

20 migrants dead after thrown into sea off Djibouti
Updated 04 March 2021

20 migrants dead after thrown into sea off Djibouti

20 migrants dead after thrown into sea off Djibouti
  • At least 200 migrants, including children, were aboard the vessel when it left Oulebi in Djibouti in the early hours of Wednesday for Yemen
  • About thirty minutes into the voyage across the Gulf of Aden the smugglers panicked, survivors said, throwing around 80 people overboard

NAIROBI: At least 20 people drowned after smugglers threw dozens of migrants overboard during a crossing between Djibouti and Yemen, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Thursday.
“Survivors believe at least 20 people have been killed. There are still some unaccounted for. Five bodies washed up onshore,” said Yvonne Ndege, IOM regional spokesperson for the East and Horn of Africa, told AFP.
At least 200 migrants, including children, were aboard the vessel when it left Oulebi in Djibouti in the early hours of Wednesday for Yemen, survivors told the IOM.
About thirty minutes into the voyage across the Gulf of Aden the smugglers panicked, survivors said, throwing around 80 people overboard before turning the vessel back toward Djibouti.
“Of the 80 people who were forced off, only 60 made it back to shore,” Ndege said.
Five bodies were recovered Wednesday and there are fears the death toll could still rise.
The survivors are receiving medical treatment in the Djibouti port town of Obock and testimonies are still being collected.
Two similar incidents in the Gulf of Aden in October claimed the lives of at least 50 migrants, the IOM said.


Sweden attacker identified as 22-year-old Afghan

Sweden attacker identified as 22-year-old Afghan
Updated 04 March 2021

Sweden attacker identified as 22-year-old Afghan

Sweden attacker identified as 22-year-old Afghan
  • The suspect, who is in his twenties, was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police following the mid-afternoon attack
  • Police did not specify the man’s nationality, but according to several media reports, he was originally from Afghanistan

STOCKHOLM: The suspect in the stabbing that left seven injured in Sweden is a 22-year-old Afghan, who arrived in the Nordic country in 2018, media reported Thursday.
Swedish police are investigating a possible terror incident after a man stabbed and injured at least seven people in the city of Vetlanda on Wednesday.
A police statement early Thursday revised the number of injured in the attack to seven from eight but did not give further details.
The suspect, who is in his twenties, was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police following the mid-afternoon attack in the southern city of 13,000 inhabitants.
Speaking to AFP, police said the man had used a “sharp weapon,” while local media reported that he had brandished a knife.
Police initially treated the incident as “attempted murder” but later changed it in a statement to include a “suspected terrorist crime,” without giving further details.
Police did not specify the man’s nationality, but according to several media reports, he was originally from Afghanistan and had arrived in Sweden in 2018.
Three of those attacked were said to have suffered life-threatening injuries, while two others were in serious condition, according to the local health authority in Jonkoping where they were being treated in hospital.
Regional police chief Malena Grann later clarified that a preliminary investigation was still under the designation “attempted murder,” but details had emerged that meant they were also looking into “potential terror motives.”
“There are details in the investigation that have led us to investigate whether there was a terror motive,” Grann said, without giving details.
He added that the police were working closely with the Swedish intelligence service Sapo.
The suspect was a resident of the area and previously known to police, but in the past had only been accused of “petty crimes,” including small-scale cannabis use, according to local press.
The extent of his injuries were also unknown but police said they believed they would be able question him.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven condemned the “horrific violence” in a statement published on his Facebook page.
“We face these despicable actions with the combined force of the community,” Lofven said.
“We are reminded of how frail our safe existence is,” Lofven added.
Swedish intelligence services said the terrorist threat was high.
The Scandinavian country has been targeted twice by attacks in recent years.
In December 2010, a man carried out a suicide bomb attack in the center of Stockholm. He died after only slightly injuring passers-by.
In April 2017, a radicalized Uzbek asylum seeker mowed down pedestrians in Stockholm with a stolen truck, killing five people. He was sentenced to life in prison.


Hong Kong court denies bail to 32 democracy activists

Hong Kong court denies bail to 32 democracy activists
Updated 04 March 2021

Hong Kong court denies bail to 32 democracy activists

Hong Kong court denies bail to 32 democracy activists
  • The group of activists was charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the law and detained on Sunday

HONG KONG: A Hong Kong court on Thursday denied bail to 32 out of 47 pro-democracy activists charged under a Beijing-imposed national security law, ending a four-day marathon court hearing.
The group of activists was charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the law and detained on Sunday over their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year that authorities said was a plot to paralyze Hong Kong’s government.
The mass charges against the activists were the most sweeping action taken against the city’s pro-democracy camp since the national security law was implemented last June.
With the 32 activists remanded in custody until the next court hearing on May 31, it means that a majority of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy figures will now be in jail or in self-exile abroad amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Bail proceedings for the activists began on Monday, often taking a full day and at times continuing into the early hours of the morning.
The bail proceedings ongoing since Monday have lasted often a full day and at times into the morning, and several defendants have fallen ill.
Under Hong Kong’s common law system, defendants are usually granted bail for non-violent crimes. But the national security law removed the presumption of bail, with a clause saying it will not be granted unless the judge has sufficient grounds to believe defendants “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”
The 47 are part of a broader group of 55 activists who were arrested in January for their role in the primary elections. Eight of them were not charged on Sunday.
The primary was aimed at determining the strongest candidates to field for a legislative council election that would give the pro-democracy camp the best chance to gain a legislative majority. The government later postponed the legislative elections, citing public health risks from the coronavirus.
If the pro-democracy camp had won a majority, at least some members of the camp had plans to vote down major bills that would eventually force Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to resign. Authorities said the activists’ participation in the primary was part of a plan to paralyze the city’s legislature and subvert state power.
The national security law criminalizes secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city’s affairs as well as terrorism. Serious offenders could face life imprisonment.
Prominent pro-democracy advocate Joshua Wong, who is currently serving a 13 1/2-month jail sentence on protest-related charges, as well as Benny Tai, the co-founder of the 2014 Occupy Central movement, are among the activists charged this week.


Vatican mints medal for Pope Francis’s Iraq visit

Vatican mints medal for Pope Francis’s Iraq visit
Updated 04 March 2021

Vatican mints medal for Pope Francis’s Iraq visit

Vatican mints medal for Pope Francis’s Iraq visit
  • It will be a gift to Iraqi representatives, sources tell Arab News

ROME: A special bronze medal has been minted by the Vatican to celebrate the visit of Pope Francis to Iraq.

Vatican sources told Arab News that the medal will be one of the gifts that the leader of the Catholic Church will give to Iraqi representatives whom he will meet during his four-day visit, which starts on Friday.

The medal has been designed by artists from the Ufficio Filatelico e Numismatico, the dedicated branch of the Vatican State Post Office for stamps and coins.

It features the map of Iraq, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, a palm tree and Abraham leaving Ur, the Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia where the prophet is believed to have been born.

In the lower part of the medal, there is the inscription of the apostolic visit’s dates (March 5-8) in Latin, the official language of the Vatican. In its upper part the medal reads “Visit Iraquiam,” Latin for “Visit to Iraq.”

The Ufficio Filatelico e Numismatico mints a special medal for every papal trip. This one will be the 33rd since Pope Francis was elected. It will not be for sale. It is not known yet whether the Vatican State Post Office will issue a special stamp for the occasion.