Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages

Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages
“The US Justice will find you wherever you are,” says Diane Foley, mother of murdered hostage James Foley, after El Shafee Elsheikh, a member of the Daesh cell sentenced to life in prison by a US court in Alexandria, Virginia. (AFP)
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Updated 19 August 2022

Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages

Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages
  • The victims' relatives and friends sat in the front rows of the courtroom and were visibly shaken during the course of the hearing
  • Elsheikh was accused of conspiring to kill four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller

VIRGINIA, US: A US federal judge on Friday sentenced a member of a Deash cell known as “The Beatles” to life in prison for involvement in a hostage-taking plot that led to the killings of American journalists and aid workers in Syria.
Families and friends of the four Americans killed and of other hostages previously detained by the militant group looked on as District Court Judge T.S. Ellis sentenced El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, to life without parole, calling his behavior “horrific, barbaric, brutal and of course criminal.”
A jury in April concluded the former British citizen was part of an Daesh cell, nicknamed “The Beatles” for their English accents, that beheaded American hostages in areas of the Middle East controlled by the militant group. He was found guilty on four counts of hostage-taking and four counts of conspiracy after a two-week trial.
The victims’ relatives and friends sat in the front rows of the courtroom and were visibly shaken during the course of the hearing as tears rolled down their eyes and they consoled each other. Elsheikh was sentenced to eight concurrent life sentences.
At the peak of its power from 2014-2017, Daesh ruled over millions of people and claimed responsibility for or inspired attacks in dozens of cities around the world.
Its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, declared a caliphate over a quarter of Iraq and Syria in 2014, before he was killed in a raid by US special forces in Syria in 2019 as the group’s rule collapsed.
Elsheikh, who was born in Sudan and raised in London, was accused of conspiring to kill four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
Foley and Sotloff, both journalists, and Kassig, an aid worker, were killed in videotaped beheadings. Mueller was raped repeatedly by Al-Baghdadi before her death in Syria, US officials have said.
The deaths of Foley, Sotloff and Kassig were confirmed in 2014; Mueller’s death was confirmed in early 2015.
Elsheikh appeared in the federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, on Friday wearing a gray jumpsuit, a facemask and glasses. Family and friends of his victims were asked to make statements in front of the judge.
“Hatred completely overtook your humanity,” Foley’s mother, Diane said, later breaking down in tears. “I pity you. I pray your time in prison will give you a time to reflect.” Friday marked the eighth anniversary of Foley’s beheading.
The head of the London police’s Counter Terrorism Command, Richard Smith, said in a statement the victims’ families “have shown remarkable fortitude and bravery in giving their accounts of what happened to investigators, and in court.”
The charges against Elsheikh, whose British citizenship was withdrawn in 2018, carried a potential death sentence, but US prosecutors had previously advised British officials that they would not seek the death penalty.
Prosecutors argued that a life sentence was needed to prevent Elsheikh from causing future harm and to set a precedent that such crimes will get strict punishment.
“The Beatles were genuine psychopaths,” First Assistant US Attorney Raj Parekh argued in court on Friday during the hearing, adding that Elsheikh was the highest-ranking member of the Daesh to ever be convicted in a US Court.
Another cell member, Alexanda Kotey, was sentenced to life in prison by a US judge earlier this year. Kotey was held in Iraq by the US military before being flown to the United States to face trial. He pleaded guilty last September to the murders of Foley, Sotloff, Kassig and Mueller.
A third member of the group, Mohammed Emwazi, died in a US-British missile strike in Syria in 2015.
Some former hostages, released by the cell after protracted negotiations, testified during trials about the torture they endured. Family members of those killed also testified.


Germany to seek EU sanctions on Iran over protests crackdown: foreign minister

Germany to seek EU sanctions on Iran over protests crackdown: foreign minister
Updated 6 sec ago

Germany to seek EU sanctions on Iran over protests crackdown: foreign minister

Germany to seek EU sanctions on Iran over protests crackdown: foreign minister
BERLIN: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Thursday said she was pushing for EU sanctions on Iran over the Islamic republic’s lethal crackdown on protests sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody.
“Within the framework of the EU, I am doing everything I can to get sanctions under way against those in Iran who are beating women to death and shooting demonstrators in the name of religion,” Baerbock wrote on Twitter.

US withdrawal doomed Afghan women to a dire future, says rights expert

US withdrawal doomed Afghan women to a dire future, says rights expert
Updated 29 September 2022

US withdrawal doomed Afghan women to a dire future, says rights expert

US withdrawal doomed Afghan women to a dire future, says rights expert
  • Kevin Schumacher of Women for Afghan Women said of all the people in Afghanistan, women are suffering the most and face the greatest threats
  • ‘The majority of Afghan men, especially those empowered by the Taliban, are not interested in women’s rights,’ he added

Women in Afghanistan are in a dire situation as a result of the US withdrawal from the country last year, an official from leading international aid and advocacy group Women for Afghan Women said on Wednesday.

Of all the people in Afghanistan, it is women who are suffering the most and face the greatest threats, according to Kevin Schumacher, the organization’s deputy executive director.

US President Joe Biden ordered what turned out to be an abrupt withdrawal of American troops from the country in August 2021. Their departure left the way clear for the Taliban — a fanatical religious group that 20 years earlier had provided sanctuary for Al-Qaeda terrorists, including leader Osama bin Laden — to regain control of the country.

Schumacher said the US withdrawal has resulted in a massive reduction in international financial support for the country, the repercussions of which have included increases in levels of illiteracy and poverty, especially among women, who are bottom of the Taliban’s list of priorities.

“I would like us to think about what happened over the past 13 months in Afghanistan,” he said during an appearance on the Ray Hanania Radio Show. “We had a dramatic regime change in that country, as a result of which the international community decided to withdraw.

“All of a sudden, billions of dollars in aid and humanitarian assistance stopped and the international community decided to disengage with that country.

“Now you have hundreds of thousands of professionals, men and women, who used to work with international organizations or they were working in domestic circles but their business was funded directly or indirectly by the international community.

“All of these people, all of a sudden, find themselves in a situation where there is no money coming to the country anymore, there is a government in Kabul that is not recognized internationally, and people really have no idea what tomorrow will bring to them. Many countries decided not to have any diplomatic or business transactions with Afghanistan because so much is uncertain on the ground.”

The US withdrawal has caused financial crisis in Afghanistan, the effects of which have been particularly bad for women, Schumacher said. Prior to the US withdrawal, half of the country’s budget, $6 billion a year, came from international aid and this has been lost, he added, which has caused the support infrastructure women relied on to collapse.

“All of that has translated into a very chaotic financial situation in Afghanistan," Schumacher said. “A lot of people lost their jobs. A lot of people basically were on the verge of poverty to begin with.

“Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in Asia. If you look at UN statistics, average Afghans live on under $1,200 a year — and that is on a good day. All of a sudden you have billions of dollars of aid money that is no longer available.”

The situation in the country is now so bad, he added, it is almost impossible to gauge the extent of the Taliban’s oppression of women.

“The problem is no one wants to hear it; nobody follows up on that,” Schumacher said. “The majority of Afghan men, especially those empowered by the Taliban, are not interested in women’s rights.

“And the Taliban administration in general does not seem to care much about women’s rights, even despite the fact that the Taliban’s top leadership seems to be sensitive to this issue.

“So, you have a reality in which a lot of these women are forced into marriage out of poverty or are being sold into marriage or are being sold into hard labor.”

The Taliban administration is only interested in enforcing its strict interpretation of Shariah, without considering the needs of Afghan women, he added. Although the group claims it does not support forced marriages, the social structures that monitored the situation and provided support for women have collapsed.

“In theory, the Taliban insist that they are supportive of woman’s right to choose their husband,” Schumacher said. “But in reality there is no legal mechanism to advocate for women.

“If a woman is victimized by her own family or is forced into marriage, she has no place to go. There is no mediation system. There is no legal system. There is no shelter. Nothing exists because the Taliban authority forced us to shut down all those systems.”

Even before the Taliban came to power, Schumacher said, the UN reported that “70 percent of Afghan women had no access to education and were illiterate.” Now, with women being stripped of their rights completely by the Taliban regime, their future prospects have become even more grim, especially in the realm of education.

The high levels of illiteracy have created massive poverty among many Afghan women, he added, including the widows of men who fought in the various wars of the past 45 years, all the way back to the Soviet invasion in 1979. With no access to education, Schumacher said, they are unable to develop the skills and knowledge to support their families.

The Ray Hanania Radio Show is broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit, Washington DC and Chicago and sponsored by Arab News. You can listen to the entire interview by visiting the Ray Hanania Radio Show website at www.ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.


British Muslim MP accuses Labour Party of harassment

British Muslim MP accuses Labour Party of harassment
Updated 29 September 2022

British Muslim MP accuses Labour Party of harassment

British Muslim MP accuses Labour Party of harassment
  • Apsana Begum said: ‘I have never been given a fair chance. The level of inhumanity towards me has been chilling’
  • She said she received no support from the party when local officials organized a vote on her right to stand at the next election

LONDON: Apsana Begum, an MP for the Labour party in the UK, has accused the party of harassment and targeting her because she is a “socialist, Muslim, working-class woman,” the Guardian reported.

Begum announced in June that she had been signed off sick from work as a result of what she described as a “sustained campaign of misogynistic abuse.”

Members of Begum’s constituency party voted to initiate a “trigger ballot,” a mechanism through which local branches and affiliated groups decide whether a sitting MP should be allowed to stand again at the next general election unimpeded or need to go through a re-selection process.

The Poplar and Limehouse MP said she received no support from the Labour Party as she faced the vote on her deselection.

During an appearance at the World Transformed festival at the Labour conference in Liverpool, Begum said she experienced “factionalism and racism” within the party. “I have never been given a fair chance. The level of inhumanity towards me has been chilling,” she added.

Regarding her party’s decision to proceed with the trigger ballot even though she was on sick leave, Begum said: “I can’t think of any circumstance where it would be acceptable but particularly a party which is supposed to be a party of labour.”

According to the Guardian, Labour previously stated that Begum is subject to the same rules as all MPs and that the threshold for triggering a new selection process was significantly increased by rule changes championed by Keir Starmer last year. As a result, Begum will automatically be included on the shortlist.

However, the party’s headquarters reportedly has received complaints about disruption, intimidation and harassment targeting women. Begum said had to go to hospital in June as a result of mental health issues and was subsequently signed off on sick leave. She announced this month that she planned to return to work gradually.

“I have faced a relentless and sustained campaign of abuse and harassment, which has even included vexatious litigation seeking to send me to jail,” she said in a return to work statement.

“As the chair of the APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group) on domestic abuse and violence, I believe that the Labour party has shown a lack of understanding regarding tackling domestic abuse, including post-separation harassment,” she said

Begum said she wrote to Labour’s general secretary, David Evans, to say she is “seeking advice and considering taking legal action”.

Begum’s previous allegations of domestic abuse emerged last year when she was acquitted of fraud for allegedly withholding information about her personal circumstances to obtain social housing, according to the Guardian.

Tower Hamlets council claimed she had failed to disclose that she had moved in with her partner. The MP said she had notified authorities for council tax purposes, she was going through a difficult time personally because of family issues, and that a “controlling and coercive” partner, Ehtashamul Haque, had taken control of her affairs. He denies this.


Pakistani court acquits ex-PM’s daughter in corruption case

Pakistani court acquits ex-PM’s daughter in corruption case
Updated 29 September 2022

Pakistani court acquits ex-PM’s daughter in corruption case

Pakistani court acquits ex-PM’s daughter in corruption case
  • Maryam Nawaz is the vice president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League
  • The court also acquitted her husband, Mohammad Sadar

ISLAMABAD: A court in Pakistan’s capital city on Thursday acquitted the daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after she was sentenced to seven years in prison over charges connected with the purchase of luxury apartments in London.
Maryam Nawaz, the vice president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, said outside the Islamabad High court that she is “thankful to God that justice has been done.” The luxury apartments at issue are owned by her brothers.
The court also acquitted her husband, Mohammad Sadar, who had been sentenced to one year in jail on charges of giving false information to investigators in 2018.
Sharif, who had also been sentenced to 10 years in jail in the same case, has been living in self-imposed exile in London since 2019 after authorities released him on bail so that he could travel abroad to seek medical treatment.


US vice president Kamala Harris caps Asia trip with stop at DMZ dividing Koreas

US vice president Kamala Harris caps Asia trip with stop at DMZ dividing Koreas
Updated 29 September 2022

US vice president Kamala Harris caps Asia trip with stop at DMZ dividing Koreas

US vice president Kamala Harris caps Asia trip with stop at DMZ dividing Koreas
  • The visit comes on the heels of North Korea’s latest missile launches
  • At the DMZ, Harris went to the top of a ridge, near guard towers and security cameras

PANMUNJOM, Korea: US Vice President Kamala Harris capped her four-day trip to Asia with a stop Thursday at the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Korean Peninsula as she emphasized US commitment to the security of its Asian allies in the face of an increasingly aggressive North Korea.
The visit comes on the heels of North Korea’s latest missile launches and amid fears that the country may conduct a nuclear test. Visiting the DMZ has become something of a ritual for American leaders hoping to show their resolve to stand firm against aggression.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday, while Harris was in Japan, and had fired one before she left Washington on Sunday. The launches contribute to a record level of missile testing this year that is intended to move Pyongyang closer to being acknowledged as a full-fledged nuclear power.
At the DMZ, Harris went to the top of a ridge, near guard towers and security cameras. She looked through bulky binoculars as a South Korean colonel pointed out military installations on the southern side. Then an American colonel pointed out some of the defenses along the military demarcation line, including fence topped with barbed wire and claymore mines. He said American soldiers regularly walk patrols along a path.
“It’s so close,” Harris said.
Her tour visit to the observation post came after she met US service members and some of their relatives at the Camp Bonifas Dining Facility, where she said she wanted them to know “how grateful and thankful we are.”
“I know it’s not always easy. Most of the time it’s not,” she said.
She asked a soldier from Florida on whether he checked in on his family after Hurricane Ian.
“Yeah, they’re up on a hill,” he said.
When another soldier stammered nervously while introducing himself, Harris said, “You know your name!”
“They’re going to give you such a hard time when this is over,” she joked.
Earlier, Harris met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at his office in Seoul where they condemned North Korea’s intensifying weapons tests and reaffirmed the US commitment to defend the South with a full range of its military capabilities in the event of war, Yoon’s office said.
They expressed concern over North Korea’s threats of nuclear conflict and pledged an unspecified stronger response to major North Korean provocations, including a nuclear test, which South Korean officials say could possibly take place in coming months.
Harris and Yoon were also expected to discuss expanding economic and technology partnerships and repairing recently strained ties between Seoul and Tokyo to strengthen their trilateral cooperation with Washington in the region.
Harris’ trip was organized so she could attend the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but her itinerary was dominated by security concerns, a reflection of fears about China’s growing power and North Korea’s ramped-up testing activity.
In every meeting, Harris tried to lay to rest any fears that the United States was wavering in its commitment to protect its allies, describing American partnerships with South Korea and Japan as the “linchpin” and “cornerstone” of its defense strategy in Asia.
Yoon, who took office earlier this year, had anchored his election campaign with vows to deepen Seoul’s economic and security partnership with Washington to navigate challenges posed by the North Korean threat and address potential supply chain risks caused by the pandemic, the US-China rivalry and Russia’s war on Ukraine. But the alliance has been marked by tension recently.
South Koreans have expressed a sense of betrayal over a new law signed by President Joe Biden that prevents electric cars built outside of North America from being eligible for US government subsidies, undermining the competitiveness of automakers like Seoul-based Hyundai.
There are indications North Korea may up its weapons demonstrations soon as it refines its missiles and delivery systems and attempts to pressure Washington to accept the North as a nuclear power. South Korean officials said last week that they detected signs North Korea was preparing to test a ballistic missile system designed to be fired from submarines.
The US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was to train with South Korean and Japanese warships in waters near the Korean Peninsula on Friday in the countries’ first trilateral anti-submarine exercises since 2017 to counter North Korean submarine threats, South Korea’s navy said Thursday.
US and South Korean officials also say North Korea is possibly gearing up for its first nuclear test since 2017. That test could come after China holds its Communist Party convention the week of Oct. 16, but before the United States holds its midterm elections Nov. 8, according to South Korean lawmakers who attended a closed-door briefing from the National Intelligence Service.