German migrant rescue captain appears in Italy court

Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete, center, from Germany, is approached by Italian finance police as she arrives in the Sicilian port of Porto Empedocle, from the island of Lampedusa, Italy. (AP Photo)
Updated 01 July 2019

German migrant rescue captain appears in Italy court

  • Sea-Watch 3 skipper Carola Rackete was arrested after hitting a police speed boat while entering Lampedusa port
  • Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he had been asked about the case by German Chancellor Angela Merkel

AGRIGENTO, Italy: The German captain of a migrant rescue ship appeared in an Italian court on Monday, as her case sparked fresh tension between Rome and Berlin.
Sea-Watch 3 skipper Carola Rackete was arrested after hitting a police speed boat while entering Lampedusa port with 40 people rescued from the Mediterranean.
Her vessel, banned from docking by Italian authorities, knocked the speedboat while pulling up to the pier on Saturday after a two-week stand-off at sea.
The 31-year-old, who was escorted by police to court in the Sicilian city of Agrigento, stands accused of putting the speedboat and the safety of its occupants at risk.
Rackete, who faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted, is likely to be released pending trial.
“My client will answer all the judge’s questions,” Leonardo Marino, one of Rackete’s lawyers, said on arrival at the court.
“Miss Rackete acted out of necessity and had no intention of using violence,” he told journalists.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the hearing’s only result can be “the release of Carola Rackete.”
“I will again make this clear to Italy,” he added.
Maas had already said that someone who saves lives “cannot be a criminal.”
Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini retorted that Maas should “invite his fellow citizens not to break Italian laws.”
Salvini, who has described the incident as an “act of war,” said Monday that he had not changed his mind about “the German criminal.”
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he had been asked about the case by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but told her he “cannot intervene to dictate how judges behave.”
France was also quick to criticize the arrest, accusing Rome of creating “hysteria.”
Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella called for those involved to “tone it down.”
If the skipper is freed on bail, Salvini might enforce an order already prepared by his ministry to expel her from the country.
The case has sparked two fund-raising appeals for Rackete’s legal costs, which have collectively raised almost 1.2 million euros ($1.36 million).
Rackete picked up 53 migrants drifting on an inflatable raft off the coast of Libya on June 12.
The Italian authorities allowed 13 migrants to be taken in for health reasons but refused entry to the 40 others.
They have now been allowed to disembark at Lampedusa and are expected to be taken in by France, Germany, Finland, Luxembourg and Portugal.
Dreadlocked Rackete has become a leftwing hero in Italy for challenging Salvini’s “closed-ports” policy.
She was cheered and applauded by a crowd of supporters waiting for her on her arrival in Agrigento.
But she has drawn criticism from some by knocking the police boat, which was attempting to stop her from docking.
The German charity Sea-Watch has accused the Italian police of causing the incident at the port by nipping into the closing gap between the vessel and the pier.
Rackete “performed all maneuvers very slowly, in a non-confrontational manner,” it said in a statement.
It said the police “obviously miscalculated the right time to sail away,” and insisted the vessels “only slightly touched each other.”
Lampedusa mayor Salvatore Martello said Monday that 600 migrants had sailed across the Mediterranean to the tiny island in less than month, despite Salvini’s claim that the ports are closed.


3,000-strong African force planned against Sahel extremism

Updated 28 February 2020

3,000-strong African force planned against Sahel extremism

  • The force would be a significant new player in the Sahel where fighters linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group killed thousands of people last year
  • The decision by African leaders comes as the United States considers cutting its military presence in Africa while urging African solutions to African problems

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: African leaders have decided to work on deploying 3,000 troops to West Africa’s troubled Sahel region as extremist attacks surge, an African Union official said Thursday.
The force would be a significant new player in the sprawling, arid region south of the Sahara Desert where fighters linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group killed thousands of people last year — at times working together in an unprecedented move.
The decision by African leaders comes as the United States considers cutting its military presence in Africa while urging African solutions to African problems. That has sparked pressure from worried security allies including France and regional countries as well as a rare bipartisan outcry among lawmakers in Washington.
Smail Chergui, the African Union commissioner for peace and security, relayed the new troop decision that was taken at the recent AU summit during a meeting Thursday with visiting European Union officials.
The AU continental body is expected to work with the West African regional counterterror force G5 Sahel as well as the West African regional body ECOWAS, which has formed peacekeeping units in the past, Chergui said.
ECOWAS in September announced what Chergui called a “very bold” plan to counter extremism in the region, including mobilizing up to $1 billion through 2024.
“As you see and recognize yourself, the threat is expanding and becoming more complex,” Chergui said. “Terrorists are now even bringing a new modus operandi from Afghanistan and Al-Shabab” in Somalia.
It was not immediately clear what the next steps would be in forming the AU force for the Sahel, which has become the most active region in Africa for extremist attacks.
The force would join France’s largest overseas military operation, the 5,100-strong Barkhane, and the 15,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali, one of the hardest-hit countries in the attacks along with Burkina Faso and Niger.