Suspect in shooting of 3 men of Palestinian descent near the University of Vermont pleads not guilty

Jason J. Eaton, 48, a suspect who was arrested in the shooting of three students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, appears at his court arraignment in Swanton, Vermont, US on Nov. 27, 2023. (Reuters)
Jason J. Eaton, 48, a suspect who was arrested in the shooting of three students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, appears at his court arraignment in Swanton, Vermont, US on Nov. 27, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 November 2023
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Suspect in shooting of 3 men of Palestinian descent near the University of Vermont pleads not guilty

Jason J. Eaton appears at his court arraignment in Swanton, Vermont, US on Nov. 27, 2023. (Reuters)
  • The three men, all age 20, were walking during a visit to the home of one of the victims’ relatives when they were confronted by a white man with a handgun, police said

VERMONT: A Vermont man pleaded not guilty to attempted murder Monday in connection with the shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent who were spending their Thanksgiving break in Burlington.
Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested Sunday, a day after the shooting outside his apartment building near the University of Vermont campus. He appeared in court Monday by video from jail, speaking only to confirm his identity. His attorney entered pleas of not guilty on his behalf, and a judge ordered him held without bail pending a hearing that likely will be held in the next few days.
According to a police affidavit, federal agents found a shotgun in Eaton’s apartment. He refused to identify himself but told the officers he had been waiting for them.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday the Justice Department is investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime. The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting Vermont authorities in the investigation.
There has been a sharp increase in threats directed against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities across the US since the Israel-Hamas war began, he said. “There is understandable fear in communities across the country,” Garland said.
The three men, all age 20, were walking during a visit to the home of one of the victims’ relatives when they were confronted by a white man with a handgun, police said.
“Without speaking, he discharged at least four rounds from the pistol and is believed to have fled,” Murad said. “All three victims were struck, two in their torsos and one in the lower extremities.”
Two of the men were in stable condition and the other suffered “much more serious injuries,” Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said in a statement Sunday.
Two of the victims are US citizens and the third is in the country with legal permission. Two of the men were wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves, Murad said.
The Institute for Middle East Understanding, in a statement from victims’ families on X, formerly known as Twitter, identified the men as Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad.
“We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our children,” the statement said. “We call on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation, including treating this as a hate crime. We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice.”
The three men had been staying at Awartani’s grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving, Awartani told police. They had gone bowling earlier Saturday and were returning when a man walked up to them, pulled out a gun and started shooting, he said.
A second victim told police he saw a man staring at them from the porch of a white house. Abdalhamid told police that the man stumbled down the stairs and pulled out a pistol.
Rich Price, Awartani’s uncle, said the gunman “shot them without saying any words” and all three are now in the ICU.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger is expected to join Murad at a press conference Monday to discuss the investigation. Murad, who expressed sympathies for the victims and their families, said there is no additional information to suggest a motive.
“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime. And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven,” he said.
“The fact is that we don’t yet know as much as we want to right now,” Murad added. “But I urge the public to avoid making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less.”
The White House said President Joe Biden was briefed on the shooting and would continue to receive law enforcement updates.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest or conviction of the person or people responsible for the shootings.
Ramallah Friends School posted a statement on Facebook saying the three young men were graduates of the private school, in the West Bank.
“While we are relieved to know that they are alive, we remain uncertain about their condition and hold them in the light,” the school said. “We stand united in hope and support for their well-being during this challenging time.”
In response to the shooting, US House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries encouraged people to “unequivocally denounce the startling rise of anti-Arab hate and Islamophobia in America.”
“No one should ever be targeted for their ethnicity or religious affiliation in our country,” the New York Democrat said in the statement posted on X. “We will not let hatred win.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, also denounced the shooting.
“It is shocking and deeply upsetting that three young Palestinians were shot here in Burlington, VT. Hate has no place here, or anywhere. I look forward to a full investigation,” Sanders said in a statement.
Gov. Phil Scott called the shooting a tragedy, calling on the state’s residents to unite and “not let this incident incite more hate or divisiveness.”
The Vermont-New Hampshire chapter of Jewish Voice For Peace, which has urged an end to the Israel-Hamas war, released a statement saying it was “appalled by the shooting.”
“We are in solidarity with the students, their families and all those affected by this clear act of hate,” the organization said Sunday. “We are in solidarity with all Palestinian people in occupied Palestine, around the world, and here in Vermont — and we are committed to creating a Vermont that is safe and welcoming for all.”
The American Jewish Committee, an advocacy organization for Jewish people worldwide, also said via X it was “horrified” by the attack and urged “law enforcement to investigate this act as a possible hate crime.”
Last month, an Illinois landlord was charged with a hate crime after being accused of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old Muslim boy and seriously wounding his mother in suburban Chicago. Police and relatives said he singled out the victims because of their faith.
Demonstrations have been widespread and tensions in the US have escalated as the death toll rises in the Israel-Hamas war. A fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was back on track Sunday as the militants freed more hostages and Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners. It was the third exchange under a four-day truce deal.


Muslim school student loses UK court bid over prayer rituals ban

Michaela Community School is a state-funded but independently run school located in northwest London. (Shutterstock)
Michaela Community School is a state-funded but independently run school located in northwest London. (Shutterstock)
Updated 56 min 11 sec ago
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Muslim school student loses UK court bid over prayer rituals ban

Michaela Community School is a state-funded but independently run school located in northwest London. (Shutterstock)
  • The High Court in London hearing the case was told the ban introduced last year stemmed from several dozen students beginning to pray in the school’s yard

LONDON: A Muslim pupil lost a UK court challenge Tuesday against a top London school’s ban on prayer rituals, in a case about freedom of religion in schools that captured national attention.
The student, who cannot be named, took legal action against Michaela Community School in northwest London, claiming the policy was discriminatory and “uniquely” affected her faith due to its ritualized nature.
She argued the school’s prohibition of on-site prayer unlawfully breached her right to religious freedom and was “the kind of discrimination which makes religious minorities feel alienated from society.”
The school — state-funded but independently run and renowned for its academic achievement record and strict rules — countered that the policy imposed last year was justified.
The High Court in London hearing the case was told the ban introduced last year stemmed from several dozen students beginning to pray in the school’s yard, using blazers to kneel on, the BBC reported.
It then imposed the new rules due to concerns about a “culture shift” toward “segregation between religious groups and intimidation within the group of Muslim pupils,” the court reportedly heard.
In a written ruling, judge Thomas Linden dismissed the pupil’s arguments, ruling that by enrolling at the school she had effectively accepted being subject to restrictions on manifesting her faith.
He concluded that the prayer ritual policy was “proportionate” and that its aims and ability to achieve them “outweighs” any “adverse effects” on the rights of Muslim pupils at the school.
Responding to the decision Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher of Michaela Community School, said “a school should be free to do what is right for the pupils it serves.”
“The court’s decision is therefore a victory for all schools,” she added on X (formerly Twitter).
“Schools should not be forced by one child and her mother to change its approach simply because they have decided they don’t like something at the school.”
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan also welcomed the ruling, saying “headteachers are best placed to make decisions in their school.”
“Michaela is an outstanding school and I hope this judgment gives all school leaders the confidence to make the right decisions for their pupils.”


At least 66 killed in Afghanistan as heavy rains set off flash floods

At least 66 killed in Afghanistan as heavy rains set off flash floods
Updated 16 April 2024
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At least 66 killed in Afghanistan as heavy rains set off flash floods

At least 66 killed in Afghanistan as heavy rains set off flash floods
  • Number of reported casualties has doubled since Sunday
  • Many were killed when their homes collapsed on them

Kabul: Extreme rainfall in Afghanistan and devastating flash floods have killed at least 66 people and damaged homes, infrastructure, and farmlands across most of the country’s provinces, authorities said on Tuesday.

The storms, which started over the weekend, are adding to the challenges facing Afghanistan, which is still recovering from decades of conflict and natural disasters, including unprecedented droughts in the past four years, as well as a series of deadly earthquakes.

“According to primary reports from the provinces, at least 66 people lost their lives, and 36 others are injured,” Janan Sayeq, spokesperson of the National Disaster Management Authority, told Arab News on Tuesday.

The number of reported casualties has doubled since Sunday, raising fears the actual toll could be higher. Many of the victims were killed when their homes collapsed on them.

Sayeq said that 1,235 houses were destroyed.

Flash floods were reported in 23 of the country’s 34 provinces, damaging crops ahead of the harvest season, and further affecting food security in the country as UN agencies estimate that more than half of its population has been in need of humanitarian assistance.

“The wheat crops will be ready for collection in a few weeks. But the rainfalls could destroy most of it,” said Gul Hussain, a farmer from the eastern Laghman province, which is one of the main agricultural regions.

The impact of drought, and now also floods, has been devastating for rural families struggling with access to water.

“The floods have had severe effects on the lives of people in the southeast, southwest and east of the country and have caused loss of life and damage to houses, as well as economic and agricultural effects as crops are destroyed and livestock are killed,” Najibullah Sadid, a hydromophologist, told Arab News.

The country’s mountainous topography and reduced vegetation left little to no space for people to escape flood events, as preparedness and prevention in the face of the changing climate are almost nonexistent.

Water management infrastructure — such as check dams, trenches, terraces, and reservoirs that could help reduce flooding — is insufficient.

“For instance, Afghanistan has 22 percent less water storage compared to Iran and 13 percent less compared to Pakistan, making the country more vulnerable to floods during rainfalls,” Sadid said.

“Considering the increasing climate change effects as well as frequency and intensity of rainfalls, steps taken during the past two decades and now are limited and are not sufficient to control the situation.”


Indonesian coffee takes lead in Egyptian market 

Indonesian coffee takes lead in Egyptian market 
Updated 16 April 2024
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Indonesian coffee takes lead in Egyptian market 

Indonesian coffee takes lead in Egyptian market 
  • Indonesia is the world’s 4th-largest coffee producer and Asia’s second-biggest
  • Egypt was second-biggest export destination for Indonesian coffee in 2023, behind the US

JAKARTA: Indonesia has become Egypt’s main source of coffee, authorities said on Tuesday, as annual exports reached nearly $93 million, or about 43 percent of the market. 

Indonesia is the world’s fourth-largest coffee producer and Asia’s second-biggest. In 2023, the Southeast Asian nation exported around 276,000 metric tons of the commodity worth almost $916 million, according to the Central Statistics Agency. 

Egypt was the second-biggest export destination for Indonesian coffee, just behind the US, accounting for about 5.2 percent of the country’s total coffee exports. 

“Indonesian coffee has successfully dominated the Egyptian market. Total export value reached $92.96 million, making Indonesia the biggest coffee-exporting country to Egypt in 2023,” Indonesian Ambassador in Cairo Lutfi Rauf said in a statement. 

“This shows how Indonesian coffee products are loved by Egyptian consumers. The unique aroma and flavor are the main factors attracting consumers from Egypt.” 

Indonesian officials held an annual meeting with Egyptian coffee buyers in Damanhour over the weekend, as they seek to foster good trade relations. 

“We hope to continue and to improve trade relations. If there are any challenges, everything can be discussed well for the prosperity and welfare of the people of both countries,” Rauf said. 

Indonesian officials have been increasing trade engagement with Egypt as a gateway for exports to other African countries in recent years, while Indonesian coffee producers are seeking to further their exports to the Middle East amid rising interest from the region. 

Hariyanto, a coffee exporter from East Java province, said promotion efforts by the Indonesian Embassy in Cairo have helped boost the popularity of Indonesian coffee in Egypt. 

“Egypt is a great market, and now there is a high demand for Indonesian-origin coffee products,” Hariyanto, a coffee exporter from East Java province, told Arab News. 

“Egyptians found a match in Indonesian-origin coffee, as there is a good fit in terms of price and taste.”


UK MPs vote down plan to protect Afghan ‘heroes’ from deportation

UK MPs vote down plan to protect Afghan ‘heroes’ from deportation
Updated 16 April 2024
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UK MPs vote down plan to protect Afghan ‘heroes’ from deportation

UK MPs vote down plan to protect Afghan ‘heroes’ from deportation
  • 10B amendment seeks to exclude Afghan veterans from removal to Rwanda
  • Top military officials warn of ‘grave damage to our ability to recruit local allies in future military operations’

London: Conservative MPs in the UK have voted against a plan to prevent Afghan veterans who served alongside British soldiers from facing deportation to Rwanda.

An amendment to the controversial Rwanda bill was overturned by 312 votes to 253 on Monday, in a rejection of plans to exempt agents, allies and employees of the UK from being deported to the African country, The Independent reported.

The House of Lords’ amendment 10B is part of the larger bill, which seeks the deportation of illegal migrants to Rwanda.

Several amendments set in the House of Lords have sought to prevent Afghan veterans who fought alongside the British military in the decade-long war from being included in deportation orders.

The 10B amendment included people eligible to enter the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, which supports Afghans who helped the British campaign in their country and who are at risk under the Taliban government.

After the vote, the Rwanda bill will now return to the House of Lords for new scrutiny.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had told Conservative MPs to vote against all amendments to the bill, including 10B.

The move to exclude Afghan veterans from potential deportation to Rwanda has received support from the highest levels of Britain’s military establishment.

Thirteen senior military officials, two former chiefs of defense staff, a former defense secretary and a former UK ambassador to the US have supported the amendment.

The Sunday Telegraph carried a letter from top military officials ahead of Monday’s vote. They warned that a rejection of the amendment would cause “grave damage to our ability to recruit local allies in future military operations.”

The letter added: “It is essential that those who have made it to British shores are not unduly punished by being removed to Rwanda when the government’s scheme is up and running.”


India’s Lok Sabha election 2024: What you need to know

India’s Lok Sabha election 2024: What you need to know
Updated 16 April 2024
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India’s Lok Sabha election 2024: What you need to know

India’s Lok Sabha election 2024: What you need to know
  • India is holding the world’s biggest election starting this month, with nearly one billion people eligible to vote
  • Votes to be counted on June 4 after polling done on April 19, April 26, May 7, May 13, May 20, May 25, June 1

India is holding the world’s biggest election starting this month, with nearly 1 billion people eligible to vote and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the pole position.

WHAT IS IT?

Elections to the 543 contested seats in the lower house of parliament, called the Lok Sabha, for a term of five years. To rule, a party or a coalition needs a simple majority of 272 seats. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 303 seats the last time, followed by 52 for the main opposition Indian National Congress (INC).

In addition to the contested seats, India’s president can nominate up to two Anglo-Indians to the Lok Sabha.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, won 303 seats in 2019 general election. The second largest party, the Indian National Congress, INC, won 52 seats. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, DMK, emerged as the third largest party.

People walk past a model of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) displayed outside the office of the Election Commission of India, ahead of the country's upcoming general elections, in New Delhi on April 15, 2024. (AFP)

WHERE AND WHEN IS IT TAKING PLACE?

The elections will be conducted in seven phases partly to ensure sufficient security at polling booths across the vast country. Voters can make their choice by pressing a button on an electronic voting machine, first used in India in 1982 and more widely since the early 2000s.

Votes will be counted on June 4 after polling is done on April 19, April 26, May 7, May 13, May 20, May 25 and June 1.

The elections in the world’s largest democracy for 543 seats will be held in 7 phases.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The world’s most populous nation follows the first-past-the-post system, where voters cast a vote for a single candidate in a constituency and the candidate with the most votes wins the seat. The voting age is 18 years and contestants need to be at least 25 years old.

A total of 968 million voters are registered, out of which 497 million are men and 471 million are women. A higher percentage of women voters than men are likely to vote for the second time in a row.

WHO ARE THE MAIN CANDIDATES?

Modi headlines the race, followed by his de facto deputy Amit Shah and the main opposition face, Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party. Gandhi’s mother Sonia, the matriarch of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, is not contesting this time.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Modi is chasing a record-equalling third straight term like India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Modi says another overwhelming victory for the National Democratic Alliance, led by the BJP, is crucial to meet his goal of lifting India to a developed economy by 2047 from middle-income levels. The world’s fifth-largest economy has grown fast in the past few years and Modi has “guaranteed” to take it to the third position if he wins the election.

The BJP draws its support mainly from Hindus, who form 80 percent of the country’s 1.42 billion people and for whom Modi earlier this year delivered on a key party promise of building a grand Hindu temple on a disputed site.

The opposition “INDIA” alliance, largely a center-left grouping of more than two dozen disparate parties, says a victory for it is essential to save the country’s democratic and secular setup, lift its marginalized communities, raise prices for farmers and create jobs for its young. Opinion polls, which have a mixed record in India, predict another thrashing of the Congress alliance at the hands of the BJP.