In Pakistan’s northwest, rise in extortion demands signals advance of Taliban

Special In Pakistan’s northwest, rise in extortion demands signals advance of Taliban
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan fighters in South Waziristan. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 September 2022

In Pakistan’s northwest, rise in extortion demands signals advance of Taliban

In Pakistan’s northwest, rise in extortion demands signals advance of Taliban
  • Arab News interviewed traders who had received extortion demands in recent months
  • Most of them said the callers identified themselves as militants belonging to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan

PESHAWAR: Soon after a grenade struck his house in Peshawar city three months ago, Ihsan Khan, a well-known trader in the capital of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, received a phone call.

“Next time, the entire home will be blown up if you don’t pay Rs300 million ($1.2 million),” the voice on the other end said.

The menacing call was taken seriously in a northern pocket of the country where the Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, have carried out some of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan in past years and where officials as well as local residents widely say the militants are attempting to regain a foothold.

Over the next few days, Khan held a series of phone negotiations with the caller and finally brought the demand down through the help of intermediaries, subsequently paying a smaller sum.

Last week, Arab News interviewed at least seven traders, transporters and businesspeople who had received demands for protection money in recent months. Six said the callers had identified themselves as militants belonging to the TTP. It was unclear how many paid up.

The increasing demands for cash have stirred fears of the comeback of insurgents to the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province amid a stalled peace deal with Islamabad and drawn-out negotiations that began last year.

On Sept. 20, the TTP said it was not linked to the extortion demands and issued a statement calling on the public not to pay up.

“If anyone asks you…in the name of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), please contact us so we can unmask them,” the statement said, offering a contact number.

In comments to Arab News, Abu Yasir, the head of the TTP’s grievance commission, said the group had a “clear-cut and strong stance” against extortion.

“We have neither allowed nor will we allow anyone to do so,” Yasir said. “We have stopped many. And in some cases, members of the Tehreek have also done it on an individual basis, but we have stopped them…We have stopped our colleagues and asked others as well when a complaint has been lodged with us.”

‘TIP OF THE ICEBERG’

Attacks and threats of violence have been a part of life in northern Pakistan since at least 2010, including the attempted assassination of Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai in 2012 and an attack on an army-run school in 2014 in which at least 134 children were killed.

Though thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in militant violence in the last two decades, attacks declined in the last few years after a series of military operations that pushed most TTP insurgents in Pakistan’s northwest to find shelter in neighboring Afghanistan.

But many analysts and officials warn militants are attempting to return and are busily conducting kidnappings and extortion to stockpile cash for the fight ahead if peace talks with Islamabad fail. Their reach and their ability to carry out attacks were chillingly demonstrated earlier this month when eight people were killed in a roadside bombing that targeted an anti-Taliban village elder’s vehicle in Swat Valley, in what was the first major bombing in the area in over a decade. 

Taliban militants this month also kidnapped 10 employees of a telecom company and demanded Rs100 million for their release, according to a police report filed with the local counterterrorism department.

Concerns of a TTP resurgence have grown since August 2021, when the Afghan Taliban took over Kabul following the departure of US and other foreign forces. Pakistani officials have since variously spoken of fears of fighters from the Pakistani Taliban group, which is separate but affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, crossing over from Afghanistan and launching lethal attacks on its territory.

The Afghan Taliban have reassured their neighbor they will not allow their territory to be used by anyone planning attacks on Pakistan or any other country. Still, the TTP has managed to step up attacks in recent months, and both police and government officials as well as locals report that hundreds of insurgents have returned — as have demands for extortion.

Mohammed Ali Saif, a spokesperson for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, said anonymous calls demanding protection money were being made both from Afghanistan and within Pakistan.  

“Different people have received calls for extortion, some have registered FIRs [police reports] and others have not,” Saif told Arab News, saying the Counter-Terrorism Department and police took immediate action whenever such cases were reported.  

Not all calls, he said, were from TTP militants.

“Some calls are also made by criminals and extortionists,” the spokesperson said.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Inspector General of Police Moazzam Jah Ansari, CTD chief Javed Iqbal Wazir, and spokespersons for the Pakistani Foreign Affairs Ministry and army and Afghanistan’s Information Ministry did not respond to phone calls and text messages seeking comment.

But a Peshawar-based senior police official with direct knowledge of the issue, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the provincial police department had been registering at least four extortion cases a day in the city since July.

“This is just the tip of an iceberg,” he said. “Previously, traders, transporters and businessmen used to be the targets. Now, members of national and provincial assemblies as well as government officials are also asked to pay protection money…The situation is very bad and it’s deteriorating with each passing day.”  

Another police official based in Swat Valley said: “Well-off people, including lawmakers, receive phone calls on a regular basis. Few report it and a majority of them pay the money.”

Since the start of August, Swat police have registered four cases of extortion, naming the TTP as suspects in their reports. In one such case, the Swat official said, militants were paid Rs25 million as protection money by a provincial lawmaker.  

“Militants asked the lawmaker to remove CCTV cameras from his home before they arrived to collect the money at midnight,” the official said. “The lawmaker opted not to report the incident.”  

‘PREDICTABLE PHENOMENON’

Malik Imran Ishaq, president of the Industrialists’ Association Peshawar, said militancy and extortion had caused “severe damage” to the business fraternity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.  

In Peshawar, extortionists targeted wealthy families, he said, with residents regularly finding small bombs outside their homes or businesses.

“Many of our association’s members have received extortion calls and many of them have been hit, targeted by rocket launchers and hand grenades,” the industrialist said.

Police had increased patrolling in the Hayatabad industrial estate area of the city, but it had not resolved the issue, Ishaq said.

“I am clueless about how this issue will be resolved,” he said, lamenting that businesses worth billions of rupees in the Hayatabad industrial estate were on the verge of closure.

“Twenty-eight of our members have shut their industrial units in Peshawar and moved to Punjab to set up factories there,” Ishaq said, blaming the move on a resurgence of militancy and a rise in Taliban demands for cash.

“There has been an evident surge during the last year, particularly the last couple of months.”  

The crime wave means the government and military could face a well-armed insurgency if the TTP is able to fully return to the country’s northern belt, experts warn.

Abdul Sayed, a Sweden-based militancy expert, said an increase in demands for protection money was a telltale sign that the militants were making serious attempts to regain control in Pakistan’s northwest.

“Militants require financial support for their operations,” he said, “and in this context, the rise of extortion incidents in these areas is a predictable phenomenon.”

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Harmful pollution boosting superbug ‘silent pandemic’

Harmful pollution boosting superbug ‘silent pandemic’
Updated 08 February 2023

Harmful pollution boosting superbug ‘silent pandemic’

Harmful pollution boosting superbug ‘silent pandemic’

PARIS: Containing and cleaning up environmental pollution, especially in waterways, is crucial to controlling increasingly bullet-proof superbugs which could kill tens of millions by mid-century, a new UN report said Tuesday.
Superbugs — strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics — are estimated to have killed 1.27 million people in 2019, and the World Health Organization says antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the top global health threats on the near-term horizon.
Up to 10 million deaths could occur every year by 2050 because of AMR, the UN says.
The disinfectants, antiseptics and antibiotics that can help microbes become stronger are everywhere, from toothpaste and shampoo to cow’s milk and wastewater.
A new report Tuesday said pollution is a key driver in the “development, transmission and spread” of AMR, calling for urgent action to clean up the environment.
“With increasing pollution and lack of management of sources of pollution, combined with AMR in clinical and hospital settings and agriculture, risks are increasing,” said the report from the UN Environment Programme.
Antimicrobial resistance is a natural phenomenon, but the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in humans, animals and plants has made the problem worse.
This means antibiotics may no longer work to fight the very infections they were designed to treat.
The UN report Tuesday said that pollution in the environment from key economic sectors has exacerbated the problem, namely from the pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing sectors, along with agriculture and health care.
Herbicides to control weeds on farms may also increase AMR, while heavy metals are also contributing to the problem.
Once antimicrobials enter the environment they seep into the food chain — they’ve been found in fish and cattle — and loop back into factories making everyday toiletries, for example.

Antimicrobial resistant genes are in waterways across the globe, from the Ganges River in India to the Cache la Poudre River in the US state of Colorado, the UN study found.
“This is a real issue, because rivers are often the source of our drinking water,” Jonathan Cox, senior lecturer in microbiology at Britain’s Aston University, told AFP.
“It’s already the silent pandemic,” warned Cox, who is not linked to the UN study. “It is becoming the next pandemic without us really recognizing it.”
Prevention is key, the UN said.
“Fuelled by population growth, urbanization and growing demand for food and health care, we can expect an increase in the use of antimicrobials and in pollutant releases into the environment,” it said.
The UN urged governments and international groups to address “key pollution sources,” including sewage, city waste, health care delivery, pharmaceutical manufacturing and intensive crop sectors.
Cox said solutions need to be global, since AMR is so pervasive.
One answer is to focus on clinical approaches, such as improving rapid testing for infections so that antibiotics are not incorrectly prescribed.
Another is improving wastewater management to remove antimicrobials. But such processes are complicated and costly.
“The technology is out there, it just isn’t being employed because governments don’t care so much about the environment as they do about the bottom line,” Cox said.

 


Biden says in State of Union that US is ‘unbowed, unbroken’

Biden says in State of Union that US is ‘unbowed, unbroken’
Updated 20 min 15 sec ago

Biden says in State of Union that US is ‘unbowed, unbroken’

Biden says in State of Union that US is ‘unbowed, unbroken’
  • The president is taking the House rostrum at a time when just a quarter of US adults say things in the country are headed in the right direction, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden is using his State of the Union address Tuesday night to call on Republicans to work with him to “finish the job” of rebuilding the economy and uniting the nation as he seeks to overcome pessimism in the country and navigate political divisions in Washington.
The annual speech comes as the nation struggles to make sense of confounding cross-currents at home and abroad — economic uncertainty, a wearying war in Ukraine, growing tensions with China and more — and warily sizes up Biden’s fitness for a likely reelection bid. The president is offering a reassuring assessment of the nation’s condition rather than rolling out flashy policy proposals.
“The story of America is a story of progress and resilience,” Biden is declaring, according to excerpts released in advance by the White House. He’s highlighting record job creation under his tenure as the country has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. And he’s declaring that two years after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, the country’s democracy is “unbowed and unbroken.”
With Republicans now in control of the House, Biden is pointing areas of bipartisan progress in his first two years in office, including on states’ vital infrastructure and high tech manufacturing. And he says, “There is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress.”
“The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere,” Biden is saying. “And that’s always been my vision for the country: to restore the soul of the nation, to rebuild the backbone of America — the middle class — to unite the country.”
“We’ve been sent here to finish the job!”
The president is taking the House rostrum at a time when just a quarter of US adults say things in the country are headed in the right direction, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. About three-quarters say things are on the wrong track. And a majority of Democrats don’t want Biden to seek another term.
He is confronting those sentiments head on, aides say.
“You wonder whether a path even exists anymore for you and your children to get ahead without moving away, I get it,” Biden says. “That’s why we’re building an economy where no one is left behind. Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back because of the choices we made in the last two years.”
The setting for Biden’s speech looks markedly different from a year ago, when it was Democratic stalwart Nancy Pelosi seated behind him as House speaker — though tighter-than-usual security measures returned in a vestige of the 2021 attack. Pelosi’s been replaced by Republican Kevin McCarthy, and it was unclear what kind of reception restive Republicans in the chamber would give the Democratic president.
McCarthy on Monday vowed to be “respectful” during the address and in turn asked Biden to refrain from using the phrase “extreme MAGA Republicans,” which the president deployed on the campaign trail in 2022.
“I won’t tear up the speech, I won’t play games,” McCarthy told reporters, a reference to Pelosi’s dramatic action after President Donald Trump’s final State of the Union address.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who gained a national profile as Trump’s press secretary, was to deliver the Republican response to Biden’s speech.
She was to focus much of her remarks on social issues, including race in business and education and alleged big-tech censorship of conservatives.
“While you reap the consequences of their failures, the Biden administration seems more interested in woke fantasies than the hard reality Americans face every day,” she was to say, according to excerpts released by her office. “Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace, but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight.”
With COVID-19 restrictions now lifted, the White House and legislators from both parties invited guests designed to drive home political messages with their presence in the House chamber. The parents of Tyre Nichols, who was severely beaten by police officers in Memphis and later died, are among those expected to be seated with first lady Jill Biden. Other Biden guests include the rock star/humanitarian Bono and the 26-year-old who disarmed a gunman in last month’s Monterey Park, California, shooting.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus invited family members of those involved in police incidents, as they sought to press for action on police reform in the wake of Nichols’ death. A White House fact sheet ahead of the speech paired police reform with bringing down violence, suggesting that giving police better training tools could lead to less crime nationwide.
Biden is shifting his sights after spending his first two years pushing through major bills such as the bipartisan infrastructure package, legislation to promote high-tech manufacturing and climate measures. With Republicans now in control of the House, he is turning his focus to implementing those massive laws and making sure voters credit him for the improvements.
The switch is largely by necessity. The newly empowered GOP is itching to undo many of his achievements and vowing to pursue a multitude of investigations — including looking into the recent discoveries of classified documents from his time as vice president at his home and former office.
At the same time, Biden will need to find a way to work across the aisle to keep the government funded by raising the federal debt limit by this summer. He has insisted that he won’t negotiate on meeting the country’s debt obligations; Republicans have been equally adamant that he must make spending concessions.
On the eve of the president’s address, McCarthy challenged Biden to come to the negotiating table with House Republicans to slash spending as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling.
“We must move toward a balanced budget and insist on genuine accountability for every dollar we spend,” McCarthy said.
While hopes for large-scale bipartisanship are slim, Biden was reissuing his 2022 appeal for Congress to get behind his “unity agenda” of actions to address the opioid epidemic, mental health, veterans’ health and cancer. He was to announce new executive action and call for lawmakers to act to support new measures to support cancer research, address housing needs and suicide among veterans, boost access to mental health care, and move to further crack down on deadly trafficking in fentanyl.
The White House said the president would call for extending the new $35 per month price cap on insulin for people on Medicare to everyone in the country. He would also push Congress to quadruple the 1 percent tax on corporate share buybacks that was enacted in the Democrats’ climate and health care bill passed last year known as the Inflation Reduction Act.
The speech comes days after Biden ordered the military to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew brazenly across the country, captivating the nation and serving as a reminder of tense relations between the two global powers.
Last year’s address occurred just days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine and as many in the West doubted Kyiv’s ability to withstand the onslaught. Over the past year, the US and other allies have sent tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance to bolster Ukraine’s defenses. Now, Biden must make the case — both at home and abroad — for sustaining that coalition as the war drags on.
 

 


At least 24 killed in second day of fighting in Somaliland

Somaliland police force guard in Hargeisa, Somaliland. (AFP file photo)
Somaliland police force guard in Hargeisa, Somaliland. (AFP file photo)
Updated 08 February 2023

At least 24 killed in second day of fighting in Somaliland

Somaliland police force guard in Hargeisa, Somaliland. (AFP file photo)
  • Local elders in Las Anod said electricity and water had been cut off, and health centers attacked with mortars

BOSASO, Somalia: At least 24 people were killed and another 53 injured in a second day of heavy fighting in Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland, two doctors said, after local leaders declared their intention to rejoin federal Somalia.
Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 but has not gained widespread international recognition for its independence, and has faced opposition from some clan elders in the east of the territory who seek to be governed from Mogadishu.
On Tuesday Somaliland said fighters from neighboring Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia, were fighting alongside local militias in the town of Las Anod, accusations Puntland denied.
Two doctors said the bodies of 58 people had been brought to their public hospital in Las Anod since the clashes began on Monday morning, with many more injured unable to reach the hospital because of heavy fighting in the town.
Local elders in Las Anod said electricity and water had been cut off, and health centers attacked with mortars.
“Somaliland forces are carrying out heavy attacks on medical facilities and civilian homes. The deaths and injuries of civilians cannot be counted,” said Mukhtar Abdi, a resident of Las Anod, the administrative center of Sool region.
It was unclear which side started the fighting, but it came a day after a committee of local leaders, religious scholars and civil society groups said in a statement they did not recognize Somaliland’s administration.
“Today, the (perpetrators) were supported by militias from the neighboring Puntland region of Somalia and the so called Khatumo militia in a carefully coordinated manner,” Somaliland’s state broadcaster said on Twitter.
Puntland’s interior minister Abdi Farah Said Juhaa said his government, which has controlled the town in the past, was not involved in the fighting, and that Somaliland should withdraw its troops from Las Anod and other areas.
Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Tuesday called for a cease-fire: “let the Somaliland administration and the clan elders of Las Anod sit and talk. The solution is in our pursuit of united Somalia.”

 


UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes

UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes
Updated 08 February 2023

UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes

UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes
  • The initial magnitude 7.8 quake and a series of strong aftershocks cut a swath of destruction across hundreds of miles of southeastern Turkiye and northern Syria

LONDON: British charity Penny Appeal said on Tuesday it is liaising with partner organizations that are working in the areas hit by the devastating earthquake in Turkiye on Monday to provide aid for those worst affected by the disaster.

“Penny Appeal will be working with its partners on the ground to support the affected communities and provide much-needed assistance to the victims of this calamity,” the Yorkshire-based charity said.

“This will include those who have lost their homes, who have lost family members and who have no means of obtaining food, water or medicines.”

Charitable organizations in many countries have quickly mobilized to send aid and deploy rescue teams after the earthquakes and aftershocks, which killed more than 7,200 people. The initial magnitude 7.8 quake and a series of strong aftershocks cut a swath of destruction across hundreds of miles of southeastern Turkiye and northern Syria. They toppled thousands of buildings, heaping more misery on a region already suffering as a result of the 12-year civil war in Syria and the resultant refugee crisis.

“The initial 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck near the city of Gaziantep in Turkiye has been reported as the worst earthquake to hit the region in a century,” Penny Appeal said.

“This earthquake that caused hundreds of deaths and widespread damage was followed by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake reported to have caused further deaths and destruction across the Elbistan district of Turkiye’s Kahramanmaras province.

“The third earthquake, of 6.0 magnitude, followed within hours of the first, causing complete havoc and despair for communities across Turkiye and Syria, leaving thousands injured and many more expected deaths.”

The charity added that its partners on the ground “are working closely with the local authorities and other aid agencies to coordinate their relief efforts and ensure that aid reaches those who need it most.”

Ahmad Boston, director of marketing and communications at Penny Appeal, said: “The victims of the earthquake in Turkiye desperately need our help.

“With the support of the public, we can provide essential aid to those affected and help them through this difficult time. Every donation, no matter how small, will make a significant difference.”


US man convicted of aiding Daesh as sniper, trainer

US man convicted of aiding Daesh as sniper, trainer
Updated 08 February 2023

US man convicted of aiding Daesh as sniper, trainer

US man convicted of aiding Daesh as sniper, trainer
  • His lawyers didn’t dispute that he went to Syria and affiliated with the Daesh group, but they argued that his accounts of his role were boasts that had no firsthand corroboration and didn’t prove anyone died because of his conduct

NEW YORK: A former New York stockbroker-turned-Daesh group militant was convicted Tuesday of becoming a sniper and trainer for the extremist group during its brutal reign in Syria and Iraq.
The trial of Ruslan Maratovich Asainov, a Kazakh-born US citizen, was the latest in a series of cases against people accused of leaving their homelands around the world to join the militants in combat.
“Today’s verdict in an American courtroom is a victory for our system of justice” and against the Daesh group, Brooklyn-based US Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. Asainov’s lawyers had no immediate comment.
A onetime broker who doted on his toddler daughter, Asainov converted to Islam around 2009 and later quit his job and started watching radical sermons online, his ex-wife testified. He abruptly left his family in Brooklyn in December 2013 and made his way to Syria as IS stormed to power.

This photo shot in Tabqa, Syria between June 2014 and April 2015, which was been entered into evidence during trial, depicts a man prosecutors say is Ruslan Maratovich Asainov. (AP)

In a case built largely on Asainov’s own words in messaging apps, emails, recorded phone calls and an FBI interview, prosecutors said he fought in numerous battles and built a notable profile in IS by becoming a sniper and later an instructor of nearly 100 other long-range shooters.
“The evidence has shown that people died as a result of the defendant’s conduct. It is time to hold him accountable,” prosecutor Douglas Pravda told a Brooklyn federal court jury in a closing argument.
Asainov, 46, didn’t testify, telling the court he was “not part of this process.”
His lawyers didn’t dispute that he went to Syria and affiliated with the Daesh group, but they argued that his accounts of his role were boasts that had no firsthand corroboration and didn’t prove anyone died because of his conduct.
“Nobody’s arguing to you that Mr. Asainov’s view of the world is not a very warped view,” defense attorney Sabrina Shroff said in her summation, asking the jury “not to confuse his views with what is needed to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“There’s not a single piece of paper that ties Mr. Asainov to anything in the Daesh group that would tell you he, in fact, is the person he claims to be,” she said.
Jurors, whose identities were kept confidential, found Asainov guilty of offenses that include providing and attempting to provide material support to what the US designates a foreign terrorist organization. The jury also concluded that his actions caused at least one death, a finding that means he faces the potential of life in prison. His sentencing is set for June 7.
IS fighters seized chunks of Iraq and Syria in 2014, sweeping millions of people into a so-called caliphate ruled according to the group’s iron-fisted interpretation of Islamic law, enforced through massacres, beheadings, sexual slavery and other atrocities. The group’s bloody campaign attracted tens of thousands of foreign fighters; at least scores of them were US citizens, according to a 2018 academic report from George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
Fighting left a swath of deaths, displacement and destruction in major cities and beyond. The extremists lost the last remnants of their realm in 2019.
Asainov was picked up soon after by US-backed forces and turned over to US authorities. Unabashed as FBI agents questioned him, he gave his occupation as “sniper” and frankly detailed how he’d taught others, explaining that he could spend three hours just on the fine points of pulling a trigger, according to video played at trial.
He had also been forthcoming in messages and calls from Syria to friends and the now-ex-wife he’d left behind, according to trial evidence.
“Have you heard of Daesh? Right. I-S-I-S. Do you watch news on TV? That’s where I am located. I am one of its fighters,” he told his ex in a voicemail that authorities translated from Russian. “We are the worst terrorist organization in the world that ever existed.”
He sent photos of himself in camouflage garb with a rifle and pictures of the bloodied bodies of men with whom he said he’d fought. He texted one confidante — in fact a US government informant — a rundown of prominent battles in which he said he’d participated and asked for money to buy a night scope for his rifle.
Later, with the sounds of explosions in the background of Asainov’s phone, he asked another friend for money to send his new wife and children to safety as US-backed forces fought to capture the extremists’ de facto capital of Raqqa in 2017.
Shroff urged jurors not to take his remarks at face value.
“To say the same wrong things over and over again does not make them accurate,” she argued.
After his arrest, a defiant Asainov declared at his arraignment that he was an “Daesh citizen, not a United States citizen,” and jail officials said they later found a hand-drawn version of the militants’ flag in his cell.
He told his mother on the facility’s recorded phones that her son “doesn’t exist anymore,” replaced by a man who saw himself as a holy warrior who fought and killed on divine command, didn’t regret it and would “be fighting until the end.”
“I will never change this path, even if they give me freedom a thousand times,” he told her in one translated call.
“Do you understand?”