American who joined Daesh gets prison term reduced

Mohamad Khweis, 32, the first American to be convicted in a US jury trial of joining the Daesh had his prison term reduced Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP)
Mohamad Khweis, 32, the first American to be convicted in a US jury trial of joining the Daesh had his prison term reduced Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 29 June 2022

American who joined Daesh gets prison term reduced

In this file photo provided by the US District Court, Alexandria, Va., Mohamad Khweis, 32, of Alexandria, Va., is seen. (AP)
  • Prosecutors urged Judge Liam O’Grady at Tuesday’s hearing to again sentence Khweis to 20 years

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: The first American to be convicted in a US jury trial of joining the Daesh had his prison term reduced Tuesday from 20 years to 14 years after an appeals court ordered a new sentencing hearing.
Mohamad Khweis was convicted back in 2017 of providing material support to terrorists, as well as a weapons charge. He traveled to Daesh-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria in December 2015, even obtaining an official IS membership card. But he left after a few months and surrendered in northern Iraq to Kurdish forces.
In 2020, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out the weapons charge — many defendants had similar charges tossed out in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling — and ordered a new sentencing hearing.
Prosecutors urged Judge Liam O’Grady at Tuesday’s hearing to again sentence Khweis to 20 years. They cited the need for deterrence in a high-profile terrorism case and reminded O’Grady of the significance of Khweis’ conduct.
While there is no evidence that he fought for the Daesh, there was evidence at his trial that he volunteered to be a suicide bomber and that he cared for injured fighters at safe houses.
He also admitted at trial that he burned his laptop and multiple phones, and deleted contact info from another, before he fled the Daesh. He testified at trial that he was worried the laptop contained financial data like his credit score, which the judge said was implausible.
Khweis, 32, has been in custody in one form or another since March 2016, and on Tuesday again renounced his allegiance to the Daesh and apologized for his conduct.
“It’s still mid-boggling to me that I made this terrible decision,” said Khweis, who grew up in northern Virginia and had worked as a Metro Access bus driver for disabled passengers before departing to the Daesh.
Khweis’ attorney, Jessica Carmichael, highlighted his exemplary behavior in the Bureau of Prisons after his conviction and said he’s done all he can to show he’s matured.
“We do want to send a message” with this sentence, she told the judge. And she said the audience paying the most attention is “the people he left behind in prison. We want to encourage others to engage in this type of rehabilitation, to not wallow in self-pity.”
In a statement after Tuesday’s hearing, Carmichael said, “Mohamad worked exceptionally hard for years while incarcerated to show that he was taking this seriously ... and was more than the poor decisions he made six-and-a-half years ago. I am proud of him for that, and hope that others in custody can receive an opportunity to show the same.”
Still, while the reduction to 14 years is significant, it is far less than Khweis’ request that he be released with time served.
O’Grady said Tuesday that Khweis deserved credit for his good conduct in custody, but that he struggled with how to evaluate Khweis, given how quickly he became radicalized and how easily he lied about his actions on the witness stand at his 2017 trial.
“I don’t know what your inner thoughts are,” O’Grady said.


Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape

Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape
Updated 10 sec ago

Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape

Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape
  • Victim appeals to Gujarat government to rescind decision to free her attackers
  • Convicts walked out of prison as India celebrated 75 years of independence

NEW DELHI: Indian women took to the streets of New Delhi on Thursday to protest the release of 11 Hindu men convicted of raping a Muslim mother and killing seven members of her family during religious riots in 2002.

The anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat are widely viewed as some of the worst instances of religious unrest in the predominantly Hindu country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the state’s chief minister when the violence that killed more than 1,000 people — most of them Muslims — broke out.

The decision to free the 11 convicts after they served 14 years in jail was announced by the Gujarat government on Monday, despite the men being sentenced to life terms. Videos that went viral on social media showed the men welcomed with sweets and garlands when they walked out of prison as India celebrated 75 years of independence.

Bilkis Bano was 19 and pregnant with her second child when she was brutally gang raped. The seven family members killed by the assailants included her three-year-old-daughter.

In a statement released by her legal representative on Wednesday night, Bano said that the decision to free the men left her numb and has shaken her faith in justice, as she appealed to the Gujarat government to “undo this harm” and give her back the “right to live without fear and in peace.

“How can justice for any woman end like this? I trusted the highest courts in our land,” she said. “My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts.”

The convicts’ release has raised questions over the government’s stance on women in a country with a notorious gender-based violence record. “We are telling the government that this is not what the women’s movement is going to accept and we are demanding from the Home Ministry of India that this remission by the Gujarat government be revoked, and the convicts be sent back to jail,” Maimoona Molla from All India Democratic Women Association told Arab News from a protest site in the Indian capital.

“If the Home Ministry does not act, then the Supreme Court must take suo moto action and restore women’s dignity, and ensure safety and security for women in India.”

Kawalpreet Kaur, an activist from the All India Students Union, who was also protesting in Delhi, said that the “selective discretion by the Gujarat government to release the rape and murder convicts” has sparked outrage and disillusionment.

“The prime minister in his Independence Day message said that women should come out and women’s dignity and equality should be guaranteed,” Kaur said. “Immediately after that we see that those convicted of such a heinous crime are being released.”

Annie Raja, secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, said that the release of the 11 convicts was also a “blatant demonstration of majoritarianism” and a warning to India’s Muslim community.

“This is a warning for all those who stand for human rights, justice, democracy and secularism,” she told Arab News.

The Gujarat government’s decision has also created uproar among Indian politicians.

“The prime minister spoke big things about women’s safety, women’s power, women’s respect,” Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera told reporters. “A few hours later the Gujarat government released those behind the rape. We also saw that the convicts in the rape who were released are being honored.”

K. T. Rama Rao, industry minister of the southern state of Telangana, said that the order to release the rapists was “nauseating,” as he took to Twitter to appeal to the Indian prime minister to intervene and rescind the Gujarat government’s remission order, and “make necessary amendments to the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure suitably so that no rapist can get a bail through judiciary.”

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Dutch refugee council sues state over ‘inhumane’ asylum centers

Dutch refugee council sues state over ‘inhumane’ asylum centers
Updated 13 min 37 sec ago

Dutch refugee council sues state over ‘inhumane’ asylum centers

Dutch refugee council sues state over ‘inhumane’ asylum centers

TER APEL, Netherlands: Teenager Munasar Muhidin says he fled Somalia in 2020 after militants killed most of his family and that his brother died trying to get to Europe. He hoped he had finally found a place of refuge in the Netherlands.

But when he reached the country’s main reception center for asylum seekers in the northern town of Ter Apel he found hundreds ahead of him in the queue and was forced to camp by the roadside, where he said fights broke out and thunderstorms soaked his bedding.

The Dutch Council for Refugees says Muhidin’s story and many similar ones have prompted it to sue the state over what it calls the “inhumane” treatment of newcomers.

“At a refugee camp in a conflict zone there is no other choice,” council spokesman Martijn Van der Linden said.

“In the Netherlands, we don’t have a refugee crisis. There is a political crisis that has resulted in people in Ter Apel sleeping outside.”

Hundreds are being forced to sleep on the muddy ground there, and the council says conditions at dozens of other centers for asylum seekers, while often better, still did not meet the most basic requirements.

“I have no family left,” said 18-year-old Muhidin, who described fleeing the El Dher district of Somalia after attacks by Al-Shabab militants nearly two years ago.

“They killed my mother, father and older brother.”

Weeping, he said he escaped with his only remaining brother, Abdallah, who drowned trying to cross by boat from Turkey to Greece. “He was my last dream.”

Others in Ter Apel on Wednesday evening spoke of fleeing violence or repression in Syria, Iran and Turkey.

They also said they had been unable to get access to safe shelter due to the long queues.

Van der Linden said the Netherlands was not an inhumane country, “but our government has failed these past years.”

Funding cuts and personnel shortages in the Dutch asylum and refugee system had created conditions “that are inhumane and also violate European guidelines for refugees.”

The council, whose case is due to be heard on Sept. 15, is demanding improved conditions by Oct. 1, including access to clean water, showers, privacy, adequate food and healthcare.

A spokesperson at the government’s Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers, which oversees the shelters, said the system was being overwhelmed by arrivals.


Ukraine’s Zelensky hosts talks with UN chief, Turkey leader

Ukraine’s Zelensky hosts talks with UN chief, Turkey leader
Updated 18 August 2022

Ukraine’s Zelensky hosts talks with UN chief, Turkey leader

Ukraine’s Zelensky hosts talks with UN chief, Turkey leader
  • At the meetings, Turkey agreed to help rebuild Ukraine’s infrastructure, including roads and bridges
  • Zelensky asked Guterres to seek UN access to Ukrainian citizens deported to Russia

LVIV, Ukraine: Turkey’s president and the UN chief met with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky on Thursday in a high-stakes bid to ratchet down a war raging for nearly six months, boost desperately needed grain exports and secure Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant. But little progress was reported.
The gathering, held far from the front lines in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, near the Polish border, marked the first visit to Ukraine by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan since the outbreak of the war, and the second by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Erdogan has positioned himself as a go-between in efforts to stop the fighting. While Turkey is a member of NATO — which backs Ukraine in the war — its wobbly economy is reliant on Russia for trade, and it has tried to steer a middle course between the two combatants.
At the meetings, Turkey agreed to help rebuild Ukraine’s infrastructure, including roads and bridges, and Zelensky asked Guterres to seek UN access to Ukrainian citizens deported to Russia, according to the Ukrainian president’s website. Zelensky also requested UN help in freeing captured Ukrainian soldiers and medics.
On the battlefield, meanwhile, at least 17 people were killed and 42 wounded in heavy Russian missile strikes on Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Ukrainian authorities said.
Russia’s military claimed that it struck a base for foreign mercenaries in Kharkiv, killing 90. There was no immediate comment from the Ukrainian side.
Heightening international tensions, Russia deployed warplanes carrying state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to the country’s Kaliningrad region, an enclave surrounded by two NATO countries, Lithuania and Poland.
The three leaders’ agenda included the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine. Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the complex, and the fighting has raised fears of a nuclear catastrophe.
Zelensky has demanded that Russian troops leave the plant and that a team from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency be allowed in.
Zelensky and the UN chief agreed Thursday on arrangements for an IAEA mission to the plant, according to the president’s website. But it was not immediately clear whether the Kremlin would consent to the proposed terms. As for a pullout of troops, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said that would leave the plant “vulnerable.”
Concerns about the plant mounted Thursday when Russian and Ukrainian authorities accused each other of plotting to attack the site and then blame the other side.
Earlier this month, Erdogan met in Russia with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the fighting. And last month, Turkey and the UN helped broker agreements clearing the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of corn and other grain stuck in its Black Sea ports since Russia invaded Feb. 24. The agreements also sought to clear roadblocks to exports of Russian food and fertilizer to world markets.
The war has significantly worsened the global food crisis because Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of grain. Developing countries have been hit particularly hard by shortages and high prices, and the UN has declared several African nations in danger of famine.
Yet even with the deal, only a trickle of Ukrainian grain exports has made it out. Turkey said more than 622,000 tons of grain have been shipped from Ukrainian ports since the deal was reached.
At a news conference Thursday in Lviv, Guterres touted the success of the grain export agreements but added, “There is a long way to go before this will be translated into the daily life of people at their local bakery and in their markets.”
The discussions about an overall end to the war that has killed untold thousands and forced over 10 million Ukrainians to flee their homes were not expected to yield anything substantive.
In March, Turkey hosted talks in Istanbul between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, but the effort to end the hostilities failed, with the two sides blaming each other.
Erdogan has engaged in a delicate balancing act, maintaining good relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Turkey has provided Ukraine with drones, which have played a significant role in the fighting, but it has refrained from joining Western sanctions against Russia over the war.
Turkey is facing a major economic crisis, with official inflation near 80 percent, and is increasingly dependent on Russia for trade and tourism. Russian gas covers 45 percent of Turkish energy needs, and Russia’s atomic agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank characterized Turkey’s diplomatic policy as being “pro-Ukraine without being anti-Russia.”
“Turkey believed that it did not have the luxury to totally alienate Russia,” Ulgen said.


Salman Rushdie attack suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder, assault

Salman Rushdie attack suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder, assault
Updated 18 August 2022

Salman Rushdie attack suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder, assault

Salman Rushdie attack suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder, assault
  • Matar was arraigned at the Chautauqua County Courthouse on an indictment returned earlier in the day
  • His next court appearance was scheduled for Sept. 22

MAYVILLE, New York: A man accused of stabbing novelist Salman Rushdie last week in western New York pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder and assault charges on Thursday during an arraignment hearing and was remanded without bail.
Hadi Matar, 24, is accused of wounding Rushdie, 75, on Friday just before the “The Satanic Verses” author was to deliver a lecture on stage at an educational retreat near Lake Erie. Rushdie was hospitalized with serious injuries in what writers and politicians around the world decried as an attack on the freedom of expression.
Matar was arraigned at the Chautauqua County Courthouse on an indictment returned earlier in the day by a grand jury that charged him with one count of second-degree attempted murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, and one count of second-degree assault. He has been in jail since his arrest and wore a gray-striped jumpsuit, a white COVID-19 face mask and his hands were shackled.
His next court appearance was scheduled for Sept. 22.
The attack came 33 years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Muslims to assassinate Rushdie a few months after “The Satanic Verses” was published. Some Muslims saw passages about the Prophet Muhammad as blasphemous.
Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim Kashmiri family, has lived with a bounty on his head, and spent nine years in hiding under British police protection.
In 1998, Iran’s pro-reform government of President Mohammad Khatami distanced itself from the fatwa, saying the threat against Rushdie was over.
But the multimillion-dollar bounty has since grown and the fatwa was never lifted: Khomeini’s successor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was suspended from Twitter in 2019 for saying the fatwa against Rushdie was “irrevocable.”
In an interview published by the New York Post on Wednesday, Matar said he respected Khomeini but would not say if he was inspired by the fatwa. He said he had “read a couple of pages” of “The Satanic Verses” and watched YouTube videos of the author.
“I don’t like him very much,” Matar said of Rushdie, as reported in the Post. “He’s someone who attacked Islam, he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.”
Iran’s foreign ministry on Monday said that Tehran should not be accused of being involved in the attack. Matar is believed to have acted alone, police have said.
Matar is a Shiite Muslim who was born in California to a family from Lebanon.
Prosecutors say he traveled to Chautauqua Institution, a retreat about 12 miles (19 km) from Lake Erie, where he bought a pass to Rushdie’s lecture.
Witnesses said there were no obvious security checks at the lecture venue and that Matar did not speak as he attacked the author. He was arrested at the scene by a New York State Police trooper after being wrestled to the ground by audience members.
Rushdie sustained severe injuries in the attack, including nerve damage in his arm, wounds to his liver, and the likely loss of an eye, his agent said.


Russia says Ukraine planning ‘provocation’ at nuclear plant; Kyiv dismisses accusation

Russia says Ukraine planning ‘provocation’ at nuclear plant; Kyiv dismisses accusation
Updated 18 August 2022

Russia says Ukraine planning ‘provocation’ at nuclear plant; Kyiv dismisses accusation

Russia says Ukraine planning ‘provocation’ at nuclear plant; Kyiv dismisses accusation
  • A Ukrainian official dismissed what he depicted as a cynical assertion by Moscow
  • Russian forces should leave the plant they captured soon after invading Ukraine nearly six months ago

LONDON: Russia said on Thursday there was a risk of a manmade disaster at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and accused Kyiv and the West of planning “provocation” there on Friday during a visit to Ukraine by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
A Ukrainian official dismissed what he depicted as a cynical assertion by Moscow and said Russian forces should leave the plant they captured soon after invading Ukraine nearly six months ago, demine it and remove any munitions stored there.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor complex (ZNPP), the largest in Europe, has come under repeated shelling, with both Moscow and Kyiv trading blame.
Russia says Ukrainian forces are recklessly firing at the plant, but Ukraine says Russia is deliberately using the reactor complex as a base to launch attacks against its population.
Russia’s foreign ministry said at a news briefing that a proposal from Guterres to demilitarise the area around the plant was “unacceptable.”
Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters Moscow was taking measures to ensure safety at the complex and denied it had deployed heavy weapons in and around the plant.
However, the ministry said a shutdown of the plant might be attempted if shelling continued.
Yevgeny Balitsky, head of the Russian-installed administration in Zaporizhzhia region, said earlier there was a risk that shelling could damage the cooling system of the reactor complex and was quoted as saying the plant was operating with only one unit.
It is not clear how the plant would be shut down, but the ministry said two of the plant’s six units may be put into “cold reserve.” The plant accounts for one-fifth of Ukraine’s annual electricity production.
Ukrainian state nuclear energy company Energoatom said shutting down the plant would increase the risk of “a radiation disaster at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.” Disconnecting the complex’s generators from Ukraine’s power system would prevent them being used to keep nuclear fuel cool, in the event of a power outage at the plant, it said on the Telegram messaging app.

’PROVOCATION’
The Russian defense ministry accused Ukraine and what it called its “US handlers” of trying to stage a “minor accident” at the plant in southern Ukraine to blame Russia.
It said the “provocation” was timed to coincide with a visit to Ukraine by UN chief Guterres, who arrived in Lviv or Wednesday and was due to visit the Black Sea port of Odesa on Friday, and that it may involve a radiation leak.
Reuters could not verify Russia’s assertion.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, dismissed the Russian defense ministry’s remarks, saying it “laughs cynically.”
“There is a solution. You just need to take the (munitions)out of the halls, demine the buildings, release the plant’s personnel from cells, stop shelling (the southern city of) Nikopol from (the plant’s) territory and leave the station,” he wrote on Twitter.
In a briefing, Igor Kirillov, head of Russia’s radioactive, chemical and biological defense forces, said the plant’s back-up support systems had been damaged as a result of shelling.
Kirillov presented a slide, showing that in the event of an accident at the plant, radioactive material would cover Germany, Poland and Slovakia.
Guterres, who is set to meet Zelensky later on Thursday, has called for a halt to all fighting near the plant.