Daesh ‘Beatle’ was ‘aristocrat’ among fellow extremists, US court told

Daesh ‘Beatle’ was ‘aristocrat’ among fellow extremists, US court told
El Shafee Elsheikh carryied a Glock pistol — ‘a symbol of Daesh aristocracy.’ (Screengrab)
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Updated 12 April 2022

Daesh ‘Beatle’ was ‘aristocrat’ among fellow extremists, US court told

Daesh ‘Beatle’ was ‘aristocrat’ among fellow extremists, US court told
  • Omer Kuzu claims El Shafee Elsheikh was marked for seniority by ‘prized’ weapon, uniform
  • Kuzu says he met Elsheikh alongside fellow ‘Beatle’ Alexanda Kotey

LONDON: El Shafee Elsheikh, the former British national accused of being a member of the Daesh “Beatles,” was labeled as “Daesh aristocracy” by a former extremist at his trial in the US on Monday.

Elsheikh, 33, faces life in prison if convicted of playing a role in the kidnap and murder of four US citizens — aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig, and journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff — in Syria in 2017.

Omer Kuzu, 26, from Dallas, Texas, who fought in Syria and was captured by Syrian Democratic Forces in 2019, said Elsheikh had been a senior figure in the group.

He told the court in Alexandria, Virginia that he met Elsheikh on four separate occasions between 2015 and 2017, and that Elsheikh had gone by the alias Abu Thabit.

When asked to identify Abu Thabit, Kuzu pointed at Elsheikh, saying: “He’s right there with the blue button-up shirt and the beard and glasses.”

Elsheikh, who was born in Sudan but grew up in London, is suspected of being part of a four-strong group of prominent Daesh members known as the “Beatles” on account of their British accents.

He denies being a part of the four, and claims to have just been a “simple Daesh fighter,” admitting to having played a part in the kidnapping and killing of two British aid workers, David Haines and Alan Henning.

Kuzu added, though, that on one occasion he met Elsheikh in Raqqa in 2016, where Elsheikh was carrying a Glock pistol, a prized item “only carried by wealthy individuals, or people with a lot of experience or people who had a position in the hierarchy. It was a symbol of Daesh aristocracy.”

The Texan said that Elsheikh was also noted for seniority by his donning of military fatigues rather than casual wear. “His green military uniform and the fact he was very reserved also told me that he was no ordinary member,” Kuzu said.

He added that Elsheikh worked in IT for Daesh, which, given its importance for communication, was a task entrusted to a select few members. “You had to be trusted,” he said, adding that the role would not be entrusted to a “simple member.”

Kuzu also claimed that he met Elsheikh “with a very tall individual carrying an M4” in 2017, who he identified as Alexanda Kotey, another member of the so-called “Beatles” and who was captured alongside Elsheikh in 2018.

He added that the high status nature of the weapon, along with Kotey’s “air of importance” also singled him out as being a senior figure. “They seemed to be a duo or some sort of tag team,” Kuzu said.

Acting for the defense, Edward MacMahon asked Kuzu whether people with British accents working and fighting for Daesh had been common, to which Kuzu replied that there had been “a lot.”

Kuzu is now awaiting sentencing for conspiring to provide material support for terrorism, while Kotey, too, is awaiting sentencing after admitting to the charges relating to kidnap, detention and murder leveled against him by US authorities.

Mohammed Emwazi, the third member of the “Beatles,” was killed in a drone strike in Raqqa in 2015, while the fourth member, Aine Davis, was arrested in Turkey the same year.


Iranian operative charged in plot to murder John Bolton

Iranian operative charged in plot to murder John Bolton
Updated 22 sec ago

Iranian operative charged in plot to murder John Bolton

Iranian operative charged in plot to murder John Bolton

WASHINGTON: A member of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards force has been charged in an attempted plot to murder John Bolton, who was national security adviser to former President Donald Trump, the US Justice Department said on Wednesday.
Iranian national Shahram Poursafi, also known as Mehdi Rezayi, “attempted to pay individuals in the United States $300,000 to carry out the murder in Washington, D.C., or Maryland,” the Justice Department said.


Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says

Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says
Updated 10 August 2022

Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says

Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says
  • The 45-year-old recorded a monologue in English, Spanish and French that rails at "the left" and defends her fight for "stability, freedom and prosperity for Italy"
  • Meloni has agreed an alliance to form a government with Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini's anti-immigration League

ROME: Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader Giorgia Meloni declared Wednesday in a video message aimed at international critics alarmed by her predicted victory in September 25 elections.
The 45-year-old, whose Brothers of Italy party is topping opinion polls, recorded a monologue in English, Spanish and French that rails at “the left” and defends her fight for “stability, freedom and prosperity for Italy.”
“I have been reading that the victory of Fratelli d’Italia in the September elections would mean a disaster, leading to an authoritarian turn, Italy’s departure from the euro and other nonsense of this sort. None of this is true,” she said in the video sent to international journalists.
She also condemned as “absurd” the notion she would put at risk far-reaching structural reforms agreed with the European Union in return for billions of euros in post-pandemic recovery funds.
Brothers of Italy, which Meloni founded in 2012, is a political descendant of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), formed by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II.
But she insisted in her video: “The Italian right has handed fascism over to history for decades now, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws.”
Brothers of Italy was the only main party not to join the national unity government formed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi in February 2021 — and has since seen its poll ratings soar.
Since the coalition collapsed and Draghi resigned last month, it has remained in pole position with around 23 percent of support.
Meloni has agreed an alliance to form a government with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League, but reiterated this week she plans to be prime minister if her party comes out on top.
Her rise has prompted a slew of negative headlines at home and abroad, to which her team is starting to respond, including with an interview to Fox News in English last month.
Meloni emphasises her Christian and family values, backs more defense spending, lower taxes and an end to mass immigration.
In her video, she says the “Italian conservatives” she leads are “a bastion of freedom and defense of Western values.”
While backing the EU’s tough response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she is highly critical of the bloc and has ties to Spain’s Vox and Poland’s Law and Justice parties.
In her video, she emphasised the “shared values” with Britain’s Conservatives, the US Republicans and Israel’s Likud.


Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers

Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers
Updated 10 August 2022

Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers

Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers
  • If passed into law, the amendments would reinstate democratic reforms made in 2015

COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan government minister on Wednesday submitted to Parliament a constitutional amendment bill that would clip the powers of the president, a key demand of protesters calling for political reforms and solutions to the country’s worst economic crisis.
Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe presented the bill, which would transfer some presidential powers — including those to appoint independent election commission members, police and public service officials, and bribery and corruption investigators — into the hands of a constitutional council comprising lawmakers and respected non-political persons. The council would then recommend candidates for these appointments that the president could choose from.
Under the proposed amendments, the president also would only be able to appoint a chief justice, other senior judges, an attorney general and a central bank governor on the recommendation of the council. The prime minister would recommend appointments to the Cabinet and the president would not be allowed to hold any ministry positions except defense.
The bill, which will undergo debate, must be approved by two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s 225-member Parliament to become law.
If passed into law, the amendments would reinstate democratic reforms made in 2015. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was ousted as president by angry protests last month, reversed those reforms and concentrated power in himself after being elected to office in 2019.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who succeeded Rajapaksa, has promised to limit the powers of the presidency and strengthen Parliament in response to the protesters’ demands.
Sri Lankans have staged massive street protests for the past four months demanding democratic reforms and solutions to the country’s economic collapse.
Protesters blame the Rajapaksa family’s alleged mismanagement and corruption for the economic crisis that has led to serious shortages of essentials like medicines, food and fuel.
The island nation is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program.
The protests have largely dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore last month after angry protesters stormed his official residence and occupied several key state buildings. His older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister in May and three other close family members resigned from their Cabinet positions before him.


Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat

Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat
Updated 10 August 2022

Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat

Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat

ATHENS: Dozens of migrants are reported missing from a sunken boat after Greece’s coast guard rescued 29 in the Aegean Sea on Wednesday.
The rescued migrants said their boat had set out from Antalya, Turkey, heading toward Italy with 60 to 80 people aboard, according to a coast guard spokesperson.
It had capsized and sunk off the island of Karpathos in the southern Aegean, spokesperson Nikos Kokkalas told state television. The search and rescue operation had begun in the early morning hours amid strong winds, he added.
The rescued migrants were Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis, another coast guard official said on condition of anonymity.
Greece was at the front line of a European migration crisis in 2015 and 2016, when a million refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in the country, mainly via Turkey.
The number of migrant arrivals has fallen sharply since then. But Greek authorities say they have recently seen a sharp increase in attempted entries through the country’s islands and land border with Turkey.


Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions

Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions
Updated 10 August 2022

Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions

Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions
  • Manila, a longtime Washington ally, agreed in November to pay $228 million for the Mi-17 helicopters

MANILA: The Philippines has scrapped an order for 16 Russian military helicopters, an official confirmed Wednesday, following reports former president Rodrigo Duterte decided to cancel it due to US sanctions on Moscow.
Manila — a longtime Washington ally — agreed in November to pay $228 million (12.7 billion pesos) for the Mi-17 helicopters, as it seeks to modernize its military hardware.
The United States and its allies imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Moscow in the wake of its assault on Ukraine in February.
They are aimed at cutting off Russia from the global financial system and choking off funds available to Moscow to finance the war.
The Philippine defense department was “formalizing the termination” of the contract, spokesman Arsenio Andolong said Wednesday.
Without mentioning US sanctions on Moscow, Andolong said “changes in priorities necessitated by global political developments resulted in the cancelation of the project by the previous administration.”
Delfin Lorenzana, who served as defense secretary under Duterte, said in March that the Philippines had paid a deposit for the transport helicopters before war erupted in Ukraine and the deal was “on track.”
But last week Lorenzana, who now heads a different government agency, told local media that Duterte himself decided to cancel the deal in the waning days of his administration over the sanctions threat.
“I don’t know if we can still get back the money since we were the ones who terminated the contract,” Lorenzana told reporters.
Russian embassy officials in Manila could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Philippine ambassador to Washington Jose Romualdez recently told AFP the decision to cancel was triggered by “the Ukrainian war.”
Romualdez said Manila was also wary of falling foul of a US law passed in 2017 that sanctions anyone doing business with Russia’s intelligence or defense sectors.
The United States was offering “alternative helicopters to meet our needs,” he added.
Manila began a modest military modernization program in 2012. Until recently, its equipment featured Vietnam War-era helicopters and World War II naval vessels used by the United States.
After President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took power on June 30, the new government reviewed the Russian deal, arriving at the same decision as Duterte.