Paris attacker sentenced to whole life in prison

Paris attacker sentenced to whole life in prison
Salah Abdeslam’s lawyer Olivia Ronen talks outside the courtroom, on Sept. 8, 2021 in Paris. Salah Abdeslam is the leading suspect and the only surviving member of the nine-member attacking team that terrorized Paris in 2015. (AP/File)
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Updated 29 June 2022

Paris attacker sentenced to whole life in prison

Paris attacker sentenced to whole life in prison
  • The sentence was read out by the head of a five-judge panel overseeing the marathon trial of 20 men
  • Abdeslam had begun his appearances by defiantly declaring himself as a "Daesh fighter", but finished apologising to victims and asking for leniency

PARIS: The sole surviving member of an Daesh terror cell that killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015 was handed a whole-life sentence by a French court on Wednesday, the toughest punishment possible.
Salah Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan origin, was captured alive by police four months after the bloodbath.
The sentence was read out by the head of a five-judge panel overseeing the marathon trial of 20 men accused of involvement in the worst peace-time atrocity in modern French history.
The other 19 suspects, accused of either plotting or offering logistical support, were found guilty, with their sentences ranging from two years to life in prison.
Hundreds of survivors and witnesses have attended proceedings since their start in September and they packed out the benches of the specially constructed courtroom as the verdicts were read out.
A team of 10 Daesh militants laid siege to the French capital, attacking the national sports stadium, bars and the Bataclan concert hall in an assault that traumatized the country.
The trial has been the biggest in modern French history, the culmination of a six-year, multi-country investigation whose findings run to more than a million pages.
Abdeslam had begun his appearances by defiantly declaring himself as an “Daesh fighter,” but finished apologizing to victims and asking for leniency.
His lawyers had argued against the whole-life sentence, which prosecutors had called for.
It offers only a small chance of parole after 30 years and has been pronounced only four times since being created in 1994.
The former pot-smoking party lover discarded his suicide belt on the night of the attack and fled back to his hometown, Brussels, where many of the extremists lived.
He told the court that he had a change of heart and decided not to kill people.
But prosecutors have argued that he shared the murderous intent of the rest of the attack team and that his equipment simply malfunctioned.
“Those who committed these heinous crimes are nothing more than lowlife terrorists and criminals,” prosecutor Nicolas Le Bris said in his closing statement earlier this month.
The November 2015 attacks deeply traumatized France, with the choice of targets — music and sports venues, the capital’s famed bars and cafes — and the manner of the violence seemingly designed to inflict maximum shock.
The huge loss of life marked the start of a gruesome and violent period in Europe, as Daesh claimed responsibility for numerous attacks across the continent.
France, under then president Francois Hollande, who testified at the trial, ramped up its military campaign to defeat the extremists in Syria and Iraq.
In the absence of the rest of the attackers, the men on trial besides Abdeslam are suspected of offering logistical support or plotting other attacks.
Only 14 out of the 20 appeared in person, with the rest missing, presumed dead.
One of them, Mohamed Abrini, has admitted to driving some of the Paris attackers to the capital and explained how he was meant to take part but backed out.
The 37-year-old also started out justifying Daesh violence as part of a fight against Western countries, but ended by apologizing to victims in the trial’s final stages.
The court handed him a life sentence with 22 years as a minimum term.
Also on trial is Swedish citizen Osama Krayem, who has been identified in a notorious Daesh video showing a Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage.
The overall commander of the Paris attacks, senior Syria-based Daesh figure Oussama Atar, was also tried in absentia but is presumed dead.


Suspect named in ‘serial’ killings of four Albuquerque Muslims

Suspect named in ‘serial’ killings of four Albuquerque Muslims
Updated 7 sec ago

Suspect named in ‘serial’ killings of four Albuquerque Muslims

Suspect named in ‘serial’ killings of four Albuquerque Muslims
  • Muhammad Syed was arrested on Monday after a traffic stop more than 160 kilometers away from his home in Albuquerque

CHICAGO: A 51-year-old man, Mohammed Syed, was named Tuesday as the primary suspect, and has been charged, with the shooting and killing of two of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, over the past 10 months.

Police said they are continuing to investigate whether Syed, himself Muslim, is connected to the other two victims in the apparent serial murder case, although no motive was released.

The possible connection between the murders surfaced on Aug. 1 after the body of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, was discovered. Police determined evidence in his murder was similar to the fatal shooting of two other Muslims, Aftab Hussein, 41, on July 26, 2022, and Mohammad Amir Ahmadi, 62, on Nov. 7, 2021.

“All were ambushed with no warning, fired on and killed. All of the killings appeared to be of a similar nature,” Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said during a special press conference Tuesday afternoon.

“We tracked down the vehicle believed to be involved in a recent murder of a Muslim man in Albuquerque. The driver was detained and he is our primary suspect for the murders.”

A fourth Muslim man, Naeem Hussain, 25, was found dead hours after attending an Islamic service held for Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein. Police said they are investigating if Naeem Hussain’s death is tied to the shooting of the other three.

Muhammad Syed was taken into custody on Aug. 8, 2022, in connection with the killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Albuquerque Police Department via AP)

Syed, an immigrant from Afghanistan, has had several misdemeanor arrests in New Mexico, police said, although they did not provide details of those crimes. He has lived in Albuquerque at least five years, police said.

Syed is charged with the murder of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain.

“We are working with the District Attorney’s office on potential charges of murder of two other Muslim men, Naeem Hussain and Mohammad Amir Ahmadi,” Medina said, praising support that he received from the US Attorney, FBI, ATF or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and even President Joe Biden.

“We knew Albuquerque would step up and someone would find and identify that vehicle for us which is exactly what happened. It is the city of Albuquerque and its residents and in particular the members of the Muslim community who stepped forward, had faith in the department and trusted us, and gave us the information needed so that we could follow through and make the arrest that we made yesterday (Monday).”

“To the Muslim community, a big thank you,” Medina said, noting he has worked with them during the past year to create an “ambassador program” to allow the city to “hear their voice.”

Syed was arrested after police released a photo of a vehicle on Sunday, Aug. 7, which they said had been identified as being used by the then unknown suspect. Medina said tips came from “members of the Muslim community” who recognized the suspect’s car, a Volkswagen Jetta. During the search of the car and Syed’s home, police said they discovered other evidence that allegedly tied him to the two murders.

“The tip was as a result of reaching out to the community. It came directly from the Muslim community and we explored it. It pointed us in the direction of the Syed family,” Medina said.

Police caught Syed while he was driving his car in Santa Rosa in southeastern Albuquerque when he was pulled over and arrested late Monday. A firearm was found in the vehicle. Police said they believe Syed knows at least one of the victims personally.

Medina emphasized they are continuing to investigate the killings of the two other Muslim victims to determine whether the suspect was involved.

Medina said he was asked repeatedly if this was a “hate crime” or a “serial” murder. He said he resisted jumping to conclusions, explaining: “We don’t have (any) indication that either of these labels or topics are appropriate.”

Rumors have been circulating in the community that the killings may have involved a family quarrel over an engagement, although the police declined to provide any details.

“Right now, we are charging only one person,” a police official stressed, adding the door has not been closed on possible accomplices who helped Syed, who was described as “the mostly likely suspect in these cases.”


Donald Trump to testify in New York attorney general’s civil investigation

Donald Trump to testify in New York attorney general’s civil investigation
Updated 26 min 51 sec ago

Donald Trump to testify in New York attorney general’s civil investigation

Donald Trump to testify in New York attorney general’s civil investigation
  • Former US president’s testimony comes amid a flurry of legal activity surrounding him
  • Attorney general’s office: Republican billionaire’s deposition — a legal term for sworn testimony that’s not given in court — is one of the few remaining missing pieces

WASHINGTON: Former President Donald Trump will be questioned under oath Wednesday in the New York attorney general’s long-running civil investigation into his dealings as a real estate mogul, he confirmed in a post on his Truth Social account.
Trump’s testimony comes amid a flurry of legal activity surrounding him, taking place just days after FBI agents searched his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as part of an unrelated federal probe into whether he took classified records when he left the White House.
The New York civil investigation, led by Attorney General Letitia James, involves allegations that Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, misstated the value of prized assets like golf courses and skyscrapers, misleading lenders and tax authorities.
“In New York City tonight. Seeing racist N.Y.S. Attorney General tomorrow, for a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in US history!” Trump wrote on Truth Social, invoking his oft-repeated claims about James, who is Black, and the investigation.
“My great company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides,” Trump added. “Banana Republic!”
Messages seeking comment were left with James’ office and with Trump’s lawyer.
Trump’s testimony is happening at a critical point in James’ investigation, midway through a pivotal week in his post-presidency.
In May, James’ office said that it was nearing the end of its probe and that investigators had amassed substantial evidence that could support legal action, such as a lawsuit, against Trump, his company or both.
The Republican billionaire’s deposition — a legal term for sworn testimony that’s not given in court — is one of the few remaining missing pieces, the attorney general’s office said.
Two of Trump’s adult children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, testified in the investigation in recent days, two people familiar with the matter said. The people were not authorized to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity.
The Trumps’ testimony had initially been planned for last month but was delayed after the July 14 death of the former president’s ex-wife, Ivana Trump, the mother of Ivanka, Donald Jr. and another son, Eric Trump, who sat for a deposition in James’ investigation in 2020.
On Friday, the Trump Organization and its longtime finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, will be in court seeking dismissal of tax fraud charges brought against them last year in the Manhattan district attorney’s parallel criminal probe.
James, a Democrat, has said in court filings that her office has uncovered “significant” evidence that Trump’s company “used fraudulent or misleading asset valuations to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions.”
James alleges the Trump Organization exaggerated the value of its holdings to impress lenders or misstated what land was worth to slash its tax burden, pointing to annual financial statements given to banks to secure favorable loan terms and to financial magazines to justify Trump’s place among the world’s billionaires.
The company even exaggerated the size of Trump’s Manhattan penthouse, saying it was nearly three times its actual size — a difference in value of about $200 million, James’ office said.
Trump has denied the allegations, explaining that seeking the best valuations is a common practice in the real estate industry. He says James’ investigation is part of a politically motivated “witch hunt” and that her office is “doing everything within their corrupt discretion to interfere with my business relationships, and with the political process.”
“THERE IS NO CASE!” Trump said in a February statement, after Manhattan Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that James’ office had “the clear right” to question Trump and other principals in his company.
While James has explored suing Trump or his company, the Manhattan district attorney’s office has long pursued a parallel criminal investigation.
That probe had appeared to be progressing toward a possible criminal indictment, but slowed after a new district attorney, Alvin Bragg, took office in January.
A grand jury that had been hearing evidence disbanded. The top prosecutor who had been handling the probe resigned after Bragg raised questions internally about the viability of the case.
Bragg has said his investigation is continuing, which means that Trump could invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and decline to answer questions from James’ investigators.
According to the subpoena issued by James’ office, Trump was to appear in person at the attorney general’s office, located in a Manhattan office tower that has doubled as the fictional conglomerate Waystar Royco’s headquarters on HBO’s “Succession.”
As vociferous as Trump has been in defending himself in written statements and on the rally stage, legal experts say the same strategy could backfire in a deposition setting because anything he says could potentially be used against him or his company in the criminal investigation. No former president has even been charged with a crime.
In fighting to block the subpoenas, lawyers for the Trumps argued New York authorities were using the civil investigation to get information for the criminal probe and that the depositions were a ploy to avoid calling them before a criminal grand jury, where state law requires they be given immunity.
Last summer, spurred by evidence uncovered by James’ office, Manhattan prosecutors filed charges against Weisselberg and the Trump Organization. Prosecutors said Weisselberg collected more than $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation.
Weisselberg and the company have pleaded not guilty.
Weisselberg and Eric Trump each invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 500 times when questioned by James’ lawyers during separate depositions in 2020, according to court papers.
The former president could choose to do the same, but it’s likely “he’ll claim lack of knowledge on many questions,” New York University law professor Stephen Gillers said.
That could be a successful strategy, since Trump is known as more of a “big-picture guy” Gillers said. “So he’ll answer the big-picture questions and those answers will be general enough to keep him out of trouble, or so his lawyers will hope.”
“On the other hand, his impetuosity makes him a lawyer’s nightmare and his overconfidence may lead him astray. Whoever questions him will encourage that,” the professor added.
Once her investigation wraps up, James could decide to bring a lawsuit and seek financial penalties against Trump or his company, or even a ban on them being involved in certain types of businesses.


South Korea’s rain-hit capital region reeling from flood damages

South Korea’s rain-hit capital region reeling from flood damages
Updated 43 min 53 sec ago

South Korea’s rain-hit capital region reeling from flood damages

South Korea’s rain-hit capital region reeling from flood damages
  • Two days of record-breaking rainfall unleashed flash floods, damaged thousands of buildings and roads and killed at least nine people

SEOUL: Cleanup and recovery efforts gained pace in South Korea’s greater capital region Wednesday as skies cleared after two days of record-breaking rainfall that unleashed flash floods, damaged thousands of buildings and roads and killed at least nine people.
While lifting heavy rain warnings for Seoul and the neighboring metropolitan areas, South Korea’s weather agency forecasted 10 to 30 centimeters (4 to 12 inches) of rain in the country’s southern regions through Thursday.
Seven people remain missing in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi Province following the heavy rains that swamped the region Monday and Tuesday, turning streets into car-clogged rivers, sending floods cascading into subway stations, triggering landslides that crashed into roads and buildings, and displacing more than 1,800 people from their homes. The nine people who died included four who drowned in their homes in Seoul.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol during a disaster response meeting Wednesday apologized on behalf of the government over the deaths and disruption caused by the heavy rains. He urged the central government to provide more financial help and personnel assistance to cities and regional governments to speed up recovery efforts.
He also called for significant improvements to the country’s flood management systems, including building more rain tanks and tunnels and improving flood-prediction technologies, citing the growing challenges posed by extreme weather events.
“It’s certainly true that (the rainfall) was abnormal weather, but we have come to a point where we can no longer call abnormal weather abnormal,” Yoon said. “We could see new record levels (of rain) at any time. We need to build our response so that we are ready for a situation that’s worse than we had imagined.”
The Ministry of the Interior and Safety said workers through Wednesday afternoon had finished restoring more than 90 percent of some 2,800 buildings, homes, roads and other facilities in the capital area that had been prioritized in emergency recovery plans.
Nearly 3,000 government workers, including police and fire department personnel, and dozens of excavators and dump trucks have been deployed in the recovery efforts. The military has separately deployed around 1,300 troops, some of whom were seen cleaning debris and salvaging furniture at flooded neighborhoods in southern Seoul.
There were no immediate reports of major damage or casualties in regions south of the capital area, where the weather agency issued heavy rain warnings. Landslide warnings were issued in more than 30 cities and towns across the country,
More than 52 centimeters (20 inches) of rain was measured in Seoul’s hardest-hit Dongjak district from Monday to Wednesday at noon. Precipitation in the area exceeded 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) per hour at one point Monday night — the highest hourly downpour measured in Seoul since 1942.


Russian shelling kills 11 in Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk region

Russian shelling kills 11 in Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk region
Updated 8 min 41 sec ago

Russian shelling kills 11 in Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk region

Russian shelling kills 11 in Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk region

KYIV: Russian shelling killed at least 11 people in Ukraine’s central Dnipropetrovsk region overnight, governor Valentyn Reznychenko said on Wednesday.
Reznychenko initially put the casualties at 21, with 11 killed in the district of Nikopol and 10 in the town of Marganets, but said in a subsequent message on the Telegram messaging app that 11 was the total number, without clarifying which initial details were incorrect. 


Japan’s PM shakes up cabinet in ‘damage control’ amid Unification Church furor

Japan’s PM shakes up cabinet in ‘damage control’ amid Unification Church furor
Updated 59 min 3 sec ago

Japan’s PM shakes up cabinet in ‘damage control’ amid Unification Church furor

Japan’s PM shakes up cabinet in ‘damage control’ amid Unification Church furor
  • Government team shake-up comes earlier than analysts had expected
  • Some ministers with links to the Unification Church removed

TOKYO: Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, removing some ministers with links to the Unification Church in a bid to stem plunging support amid growing public outrage over the ruling party’s ties to the controversial group.
Kishida, in office since last October, announced his new government team in a shake-up that came earlier than analysts had expected.
While key personnel like foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and finance chief Shunichi Suzuki held on to their posts, some high-profile ministers were removed, including Nobuo Kishi, the younger brother of slain former premier Shinzo Abe, replaced as defense minister by Yasukazu Hamada.
In the month since Abe was gunned down, a spotlight has been turned on the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) long-standing ties to the Unification Church, with polls showing plunging approval ratings for Kishida with respondents citing a need to know just how close those ties might be.
Abe’s suspected killer has said his mother was a Unification Church member bankrupted by donating to it, and blamed Abe for promoting it.
In the latest survey, his support had fallen to 46 percent from 59 percent just three weeks ago, public broadcaster NHK said on Monday, the lowest rating for Kishida since he became prime minister.
“He’s basically doing damage control,” said political commentator Atsuo Ito. “What people are really watching is the Unification Church.”
The religious group itself is set to hold a rare news conference with foreign media late on Wednesday.
In other changes, Koichi Hagiuda, the trade minister, became head of the LDP’s policy research council, a heavyweight job in the party. That appointment is seen as an attempt to appease members of the Abe faction, the party’s biggest, though Hagiuda has publicly acknowledged attending an event held by a Unification Church-related group.