France holds 15 after breaking Channel people-smuggling network: police

France holds 15 after breaking Channel people-smuggling network: police
French police said the network helped at a minimum 250 people per month cross to England. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 November 2021

France holds 15 after breaking Channel people-smuggling network: police

France holds 15 after breaking Channel people-smuggling network: police
  • Passage to England would cost a migrant 6,000 euros ($6,800) and the smugglers racked up some 3 million euros
  • British authorities said over 25,000 people have now arrived illegally across the Channel so far this year

PARIS: French police have detained 15 suspected members of an international migrant smuggling syndicate that helped people illegally cross the Channel to Britain.
The announcement comes as tensions grow between London and Paris over the record numbers of migrants crossing the Channel, with Britain urging tougher action from France to stop them making the voyage.
Those arrested included Iraqi Kurds, Romanians, Pakistanis and Vietnamese who approached migrants in camps in Grande-Synthe outside Dunkirk in the north of France and encouraged them to cross to England in small boats, police said in a statement late Monday.
In an investigation that started in October 2020, French police said the network helped at a minimum 250 people per month cross to England, using small boats that transport up to 60 migrants at a time.
Passage to England would cost a migrant 6,000 euros ($6,800) and the smugglers racked up some 3 million euros ($3.4 million) in total profits, the illegal migration branch of the French police, OCRIEST, said in a statement.
“It was a network of hardened criminals who were well organized due to the complicity of drivers, secret financial backers and people who acted as lookouts for the police,” Xavier Delrieu, who led the investigation, told AFP.
The 15 were detained last week and around 40,000 euros ($45,000) in cash seized.
According to the French authorities, 31,500 people attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea, figures which doubled since August.
In Britain, the ruling right-wing Conservative party of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is coming under intense pressure, including from its own supporters, to reduce the numbers crossing.
According to British authorities, over 25,000 people have now arrived illegally across the Channel so far this year, already triple the figure recorded in 2020.
The issue has added to growing post-Brexit tensions between Britain and France, with a row on fishing rights also still unresolved.


Man found guilty of encouraging ‘jihad by sword’ in British mosque

Man found guilty of encouraging ‘jihad by sword’ in British mosque
Updated 58 min ago

Man found guilty of encouraging ‘jihad by sword’ in British mosque

Man found guilty of encouraging ‘jihad by sword’ in British mosque
  • Abubaker Deghayes’ speech “demonstrates him to be an Islamic extremist,” prosecutor says
  • He made a stabbing gesture as he addressed a congregation of about 50 people at a mosque in Brighton

LONDON: A man whose two sons died fighting in Syria has been found guilty of encouraging terrorism after urging jihad “by sword” at a mosque in Brighton, southeast England.

Abubaker Deghayes, 53, was convicted at the Old Bailey following a trial, the Independent reported.

Deghayes, originally Libyan, made a stabbing gesture as he addressed a congregation of about 50 people at the Brighton Mosque and Muslim Community Center on Nov. 1, 2020 after evening prayers.

He told worshipers at the mosque “jihad is fighting by sword” and is compulsory, prosecutor Ben Lloyd told the jury.

“That means this jihad is compulsory upon you, not jihad is the word of mouth but jihad will remain compulsory until the Day of Resurrection,” Deghayes said in a video of the speech played to the court.

Lloyd told jurors that the speech was not given “innocently or naively.”

“The prosecution case is clear. By the defendant’s words and gestures he was encouraging people to undertake violent jihad.

“The defendant’s speech demonstrates him to be an Islamic extremist. He is someone who believes in the use of violence in the cause of Islam.

“Or, at the very least, he was reckless in giving his speech as to whether people would be encouraged,” Lloyd said.

Deghayes denied wrongdoing, saying he was explaining the meaning of “jihad by the sword” as self-defense.

The gesture he made was a “dance of the blade,” he claimed.

The judge presiding over the case said he was considering immediate custody for Deghayes, who will be sentenced on Feb. 25.

The defendant has been bailed with conditions to stay at his home address on an electronically monitored curfew. He is required to report to a police station three times a week.

Deghayes has been told not to attend the Brighton Mosque and Muslim Community Center and instructed to surrender his passport and not to apply for travel documents.

Two of Deghayes’ sons were killed fighting for extremists in Syria and he lost a third when a convicted drug dealer stabbed him to death in Brighton in February 2019.

A fourth son is understood to be in Syria.


Ex-Guantanamo prisoner prepares for legal battle over British passport

Ex-Guantanamo prisoner prepares for legal battle over British passport
Updated 19 January 2022

Ex-Guantanamo prisoner prepares for legal battle over British passport

Ex-Guantanamo prisoner prepares for legal battle over British passport
  • Moazzam Begg’s application for passport rejected despite no successful terror charges
  • MI5 allowed him to travel to Syria before government used his trips there as justification to remove passport

LONDON: A former Guantanamo Bay detainee is planning legal action against UK Home Secretary Priti Patel in an attempt to restore his British passport, which authorities stripped from him eight years ago after two trips to Syria, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.

Moazzam Begg, who was held by the US in Guantanamo for three years in the early 2000s, was told that his application for a new passport was rejected in September 2021 despite a terror prosecution into his trips to Syria being dropped.

The prosecution withdrew their legal efforts after they learned that MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence and security service, had allowed him to travel to Syria.

Begg — who works with Cage, which works with people caught up in the “war on terror” — said his frustrations with the delayed system meant he had no choice but to go for a judicial review.

He is hoping to visit his daughter in Turkey, where she was married without his attendance, and travel to Bagram, in Afghanistan, where he was held by US forces before his relocation to Guantanamo. 

“I saw two people there being murdered by US soldiers. Now the US has left I would like to go back and try and reinvestigate what happened, to try and visit the camp and the cells,” he said.

Begg was arrested in February 2002 in Pakistan and transferred to US forces, who held him without charge before his release in 2005. 

The trips to Syria that are thought to have blocked his passport application were in 2012 and 2013, when fighting had started against the Assad regime but before the advent of Daesh and the influx of foreign fighters, including those from Britain.

Begg said he was contacted by MI5 before his second visit to Syria. “I told them: ‘I am trying to investigate your role in working with the Assad regime in the programme of renditions’.” This work, he claimed, was part of his investigations with Cage.

He said representatives from MI5 informed him that he was free to travel to Syria, but his passport was taken from him when he returned in December 2013 after a trip to South Africa. Earlier that year, he had stayed in opposition territory in Aleppo, Syria, up to April 2013.

He was later arrested and charged on terror offenses, but the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges when further details about his visits to Syria were made public, in particular that MI5 had permitted his traveling.

“They know from the probe they put in my car that I was totally against people who would go on to join Isis (Daesh),” Begg said.

He applied for a passport in 2019 and was briefly issued one in September 2021, but it was removed from him four weeks later. 

The email revoking his passport was dated 2017 and addressed to a woman accused of passport fraud. 

“I think it was a cut and paste job, they were in a rush,” Begg said. “They gave no explanation.”

But now he and his lawyers have written to the Home Office and the Passport Office to put them on legal notice that he intends to claim his full passport. 

His team are now expected to launch a judicial review to ensure it is recovered, which will be covered by crowdfunding. 

“This government hasn’t tried to take away my citizenship,” he said. “But a passport is a sign of your nationality, the most unique identity document somebody has.”


Greece takes delivery of new Rafale jets from France

Greece takes delivery of new Rafale jets from France
Updated 19 January 2022

Greece takes delivery of new Rafale jets from France

Greece takes delivery of new Rafale jets from France
  • The six warplanes landed at Tanagra air base, some 70 kilometers north of Athens

TANAGRA, Greece: Greece on Wednesday received six new Rafale jets from France in a multi-billion-euro arms deal which Athens and Paris claim boosts the EU’s defense capabilities, but is mainly seen as countering Turkish ambitions in the Mediterranean.
The six warplanes landed at Tanagra air base, some 70 kilometers north of Athens, after overflying the Acropolis, escorted by Greek Mirage jets previously purchased from France.
Greece and France had originally signed a $3-billion (€2.5 billion) deal last January for 18 Rafale jets — 12 used and six new — as part of a burgeoning arms program to counter Turkish ambitions.
This was followed in September by a mutual assistance defense pact that includes the purchase by Athens of three Belharra frigates.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has also announced plans to buy an additional six Rafale jets, bringing the total order to 24.
The ships are set to be delivered in 2025 and 2026, for a value of some $3.4 billion.
Greece has the option to buy a fourth frigate.
Turkey, which has an uneasy history and relationship with its NATO neighbor Greece, has criticized the defense deal as threatening “regional peace and stability.”
Mitsotakis in 2020 unveiled Greece’s most ambitious arms purchase program in decades after a dangerous stand-off with Turkey over hydrocarbon resources and naval influence in the waters off their coasts.
A month earlier, Turkey had sent an exploration ship and a small navy flotilla to conduct seismic research in waters which Greece considers its own under post-war treaties.
In contrast to other EU and NATO allies, France strongly backed Greece and Cyprus at the time, sending warships and fighter jets to the eastern Mediterranean.
The 2021 frigate accord came less than two weeks after Paris was left reeling by Australia’s cancelation of a contract to buy French submarines in favor of a new defense pact with Britain and the United States.
President Emmanuel Macron hailed the deal as a major boost for the EU’s defense ambitions.
The deal with Greece marks “an audacious first step toward European strategic autonomy,” Macron said at the time, adding that Europeans should “stop being naive” regarding geopolitical competition.
Macron has said the frigate sale was not meant to be seen as a threat against Ankara, but a means to jointly ensure security in the Mediterranean as well as in North Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans.
The main opposition left-wing Syriza party, which voted against the deal, has questioned clauses that require Greece to support French military operations in the war-torn Sahel in Africa.


Arab-American candidate for Congress calls for unity behind common vision

Democrat Huwaida Arraf running in newly drawn congressional district in battleground state of Michigan. (Supplied)
Democrat Huwaida Arraf running in newly drawn congressional district in battleground state of Michigan. (Supplied)
Updated 19 January 2022

Arab-American candidate for Congress calls for unity behind common vision

Democrat Huwaida Arraf running in newly drawn congressional district in battleground state of Michigan. (Supplied)
  • Democrat Huwaida Arraf running in newly drawn congressional district in battleground state of Michigan
  • ‘I’m all for building up the strength of our country by building up its core, which is the people,’ she tells Arab News

Atlanta: An Arab-American civil rights attorney and community organizer is running for a Democratic seat in the US Congress, in the newly drawn 10th congressional district in the battleground state of Michigan.

Huwaida Arraf, a human rights defender well-known for her work empowering local communities, is hoping to win the congressional seat through her message of unity and a common vision in her diverse district.

Arraf, whose parents settled in Michigan after emigrating from Palestine, is running in a newly drawn congressional district in the suburbs of the city of Detroit that has no incumbent and is roughly divided equally between Republican and Democratic voters. So far, she is the only Democratic candidate running for the critical seat.

Michigan is considered a hotly contested battleground state, alternating between the Democratic and Republican parties.

With the new congressional districting approved last month, both parties are vying to control the state legislature and its congressional representatives for the next 10 years, when a new census takes place.

Local and state elections are a key indicator of who will win the state in the next presidential election.

President Joe Biden won the state in 2020, bringing it back to the Democratic “blue wall “after his predecessor Donald Trump narrowly flipped it to the Republicans in 2016.

Arraf told Arab News that her campaign is about uniting people, not dividing or labeling them. Alluding to the current divisive political environment in the US, she said she is staying away from buzzwords and language that cause people to argue instead of listen to each other.

“I want to unite people on a vision first before we can start talking about specifics,” she said, adding that voters from across the political spectrum “want decent jobs, good healthcare and a better economy.”

She said: “I’m running for Congress because every Michigan family wants the same things: Good jobs, quality schools, safe neighborhoods, resilient infrastructure and healthy communities.”

On the issue of gun ownership and mass shootings in US schools, Arraf said she supports “responsible gun ownership,” including firearm safety training and secure storage.

“No one should drop their children off at school in the morning worrying whether they’ll come home safely at the end of the day,” the mother of two added.

Referring to political hyperbole about America’s position in the world, she said: “I think one should judge the success of a country based on the wellbeing of its population. Some people talk about having the strongest or the greatest country in the world, but when your people are homeless, or don’t have enough to eat, or have to ration their medicine, or can’t get the healthcare they need, or are attacking each other, how strong really are we? I’m all for building up the strength of our country by building up its core, which is the people.”

If elected, Arraf pledges to become a strong voice for key sectors in Michigan’s economy, and to support small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Two decades ago, she co-founded the International Solidarity Movement, “a Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the long-entrenched and systematic oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian population using non-violent, direct-action methods and principles.” In 2004, its work was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.


Taliban arrest fighter who shot dead Hazara woman at checkpoint

Taliban arrest fighter who shot dead Hazara woman at checkpoint
Updated 19 January 2022

Taliban arrest fighter who shot dead Hazara woman at checkpoint

Taliban arrest fighter who shot dead Hazara woman at checkpoint
  • Abdullahi was “killed by mistake,” Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said on Twitter, adding the arrested fighter would be punished

KABUL: A Taliban fighter has been arrested for shooting dead a Hazara woman at a checkpoint in the Afghan capital as she returned from a wedding, a spokesman for the group said Wednesday.
The killing of Zainab Abdullahi, 25, has horrified women, who face increasing restrictions since the Taliban returned to power in August.
The shooting took place in a Kabul neighborhood inhabited mostly by members of the minority Shiite Hazara community, who have been persecuted by Sunni hard-liners for centuries, with jihadist groups such as Islamic State regularly targeting them in deadly attacks.
Abdullahi was “killed by mistake,” Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said on Twitter, adding the arrested fighter would be punished.
Her family has been offered 600,000 Afghani (around $5,700) for the January 13 shooting in the capital’s Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, the interior ministry said separately.
Some women’s rights activists have staged small protests in Kabul since Abdullahi’s killing, demanding justice.
The Taliban are increasingly imposing their hard-line interpretation of Islamic law on the country, and women are being squeezed out of public life.
Most secondary schools for girls are shut, while women are barred from all but essential government work.
They have also been ordered not to commute long distances unless accompanied by a close male relative.
Earlier this month, the Taliban’s religious police put up posters around the capital ordering women to cover up.
A spokesman for the feared Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice said it was “just encouragement for Muslim women to follow Sharia law.”
On Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged the Security Council to “hold to account” those guilty of abuses in Afghanistan.
She said denying women and girls their fundamental rights was “massively damaging” a country already facing a humanitarian disaster of unprecedented proportions.
The Taliban have promised a softer version of the rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, but their interim government has no female members.