Taliban meet tribal leaders, minority reps in first loya jirga since takeover

Special Taliban meet tribal leaders, minority reps in first loya jirga since takeover
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Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, center, addresses the press amid the loya jirga, Kabul, June 30, 2022. (AFP)
Special Taliban meet tribal leaders, minority reps in first loya jirga since takeover
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A Taliban military helicopter flies above the green zone in Kabul on June 29, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 30 June 2022

Taliban meet tribal leaders, minority reps in first loya jirga since takeover

Taliban meet tribal leaders, minority reps in first loya jirga since takeover
  • Participants included non-Taliban local leaders, representatives of Afghan refugees
  • Gunshots heard near gathering site, 2 attackers reportedly killed

KABUL: Around 3,500 scholars and tribal elders from throughout Afghanistan gathered in Kabul on Thursday for a grand assembly meeting, the first such session since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year.

Known as the loya jirga, grand assemblies are a centuries-old Afghan institution, a forum attended by various parties to discuss and reach a consensus on important political issues.

The conference, expected to end by July 2, was called by the Taliban, as unacknowledged by foreign governments they have been under mounting pressure to form an inclusive government to win international recognition.

Participants in Thursday’s session included non-Taliban local leaders, members of the minority Shiite community, as well as representatives of Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan. No female delegates were present.

Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund, acting prime minister of Afghanistan, opened the session by calling on the representatives of all Afghan groups to help uphold the Islamic system of governance, which the Taliban introduced as they took control of the country in August, following the withdrawal of US-led forces after two decades of war.

“We all should work to strengthen it,” Akhund said. “The Islamic Emirate is trying in all aspects to address all issues. There might be problems in some places, but if they are shared with us, we will take steps to solve them.”

Mawlawi Mohammed Omar Khattabi, from the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, who runs a network of madrasas and Islamic radios in southern Afghanistan, urged Taliban authorities to seek consultations with religious scholars when it came to the Islamic system, “because they know the nature of it,” but in professional and technical issues they, “must consult with experts.”

The issue of reopening of schools for girls was raised by Shiite scholar Sayed Nasrullah Waezi, from Bamyan in central Afghanistan.

Since the Taliban assumed power, they have introduced a series of restrictions on women, including on their clothing and choice of profession. Secondary school girls have been barred from education.

Waezi, who belongs to the Hazara community that had been targeted during the first Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, said he hoped that under the current Taliban leadership Afghans could create in their country, “an atmosphere of harmony, sincerity, brotherhood, and fraternity.”

Despite heavy security surrounding the meeting’s venue, the Loya Jirga Tent at Kabul’s Polytechnic University, gunshots were heard during a lunch break. State broadcaster RTA reported that two assailants were killed.

The first loya jirga since the Taliban takeover, the meeting has so far raised hopes that some of the country’s current challenges can be addressed.

“It is a very positive step that the Taliban called for this gathering of scholars and tribal elders from all provinces of Afghanistan. Jirga has historically played a vital role in discussing and solving major national issues,” Hekmatullah Zaland, a member of the Center for Strategic and Regional Studies, told Arab News.

He said it was important that critical issues such as girls’ education, political reconciliation, people’s participation, and engagement with the international community be raised, as such discussions could, “help in addressing the challenges that we are facing right now.”


Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions

Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions
Updated 9 sec ago

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.

Police kill knife-wielding man at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport

Police kill knife-wielding man at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport
Updated 25 min 13 sec ago

Police kill knife-wielding man at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport

Police kill knife-wielding man at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport
  • Initially the man left while yelling curses but he soon returned and brought out a knife

BOBIGNY, Fra.: Police officers shot and killed a man who brandished a knife at the Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris on Wednesday, police and airport sources said.
“Officers neutralized a threatening individual in possession of a knife at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport,” the Paris police department said on its Twitter account.
An airport source said the incident occurred at the busy Terminal 2F at around 8:20 am (0620 GMT), when “a homeless man started bothering security agents and border police were called in to remove him.”
Initially the man left while yelling curses but he soon returned and brought out a knife, when one of the officers fired his weapon.
An AFP photographer who witnessed the scene said “a large person of color brandished something that looked like a knife at the police.”
“He was ordered to stop but kept advancing toward them, and an officer fired a single shot.”
The man was quickly put on a stretcher and evacuated, the photographer said.
Security forces have been on high alert for terrorist attacks since a wave of jihadist killings that have killed more than 250 people since 2015, often by so-called “lone wolves” who often target police.


Suspect named in ‘serial’ killings of four Albuquerque Muslims

Suspect named in ‘serial’ killings of four Albuquerque Muslims
Updated 10 August 2022

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 10 August 2022

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 10 August 2022

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.