Investigators vow to find Imam Hassan Sharif killer

Investigators vow to find Imam Hassan Sharif killer
Imam Hassan Sharif, who served at the Masjid Muhammad-Newark, was shot outside the mosque in New Jersey on Wednesday. (Masjid Muhammad-Newark mosque)
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Updated 05 January 2024
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Investigators vow to find Imam Hassan Sharif killer

Investigators vow to find Imam Hassan Sharif killer
  • Sharif, 52, victim of ‘senseless gun-violence epidemic’ but Islamophobia not ruled out, says New Jersey attorney general
  • Another New Jersey imam, Sayed Elnakib, 65, survived a stabbing in April 2023

CHICAGO: New Jersey prosecutor Attorney General Matthew Platkin vowed at a press conference here to find the assailant involved in the Jan. 3 shooting of Hassan Sharif, 52, the imam of the Masjid Muhammad-Newark mosque.

Platkin and other New Jersey law enforcement officials said they do not believe, at this stage of the probe, that the killing was motivated by Islamophobia but insisted the investigation into identifying the killer was moving forward.

The shooter was dressed in all-black clothing and was seen by witnesses in the mosque running from the scene after the attack on Sharif which occurred at around 6:15 in the morning, police said. 

“Imam Sharif is just the latest casualty in the senseless gun-violence epidemic that plagues our state and our country. Combatting the gun-violence epidemic is our core priority in my office and law enforcement throughout the state,” Platkin said at a media briefing Thursday.

“We will bring these perpetrators to justice and we will do so, there is nothing we can do to bring Imam Sharif back to his loved ones and to his community.”

So far, no suspect has been identified.

Speaking about the impact the killing has had on the region’s Muslim community, Platkin said: “That wound, tragically, will never fully heal. And because of that we must collectively redouble our efforts to end this senseless gun-violence epidemic and do everything we can to spare future families the pain that Imam Sharif’s loved ones are enduring right now.”

Platkin said the probe “remains an active criminal investigation” but does not indicate any form of religious or racial bias. That could change as the investigation progresses.

Other sources including Democracy Now! reported that Sharif was assaulted last August.

Platkin acknowledged seeing a “rise in violence particularly against the Muslim community.”

The congregation of Masjid Muhammad-Newark is predominantly African American and located in an African-American community. Sharif’s murder is the second violent attack on an imam in New Jersey recently.

Imam Sayed Elnakib, 65, the imam at the Omar Mosque in Paterson, about 15 miles north of Newark, was stabbed in his back in April 2023 while leading prayers. After the assault, congregants restrained the knife-wielding assailant, identified as Serif Zorba, 32, until police arrived. Zorba has been charged with attempted murder.

The Council on American Islamic Relations of New Jersey announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the assailant. Crime Stoppers USA, a national organization, has offered a $25,000 reward.

Sharif’s killing drew condolences from across the nation.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles said: “MPAC sends its prayers to the Newark Muslim community following Wednesday’s tragic shooting that claimed the life of Masjid Muhammad Imam Hassan Sharif. Imam Sharif served selflessly, working to build bridges of understanding between faith communities.”

Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, who has been criticized for her alleged lack of empathy toward the killing of Muslims and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, issued a statement expressing condolences to Sharif’s family and concern about the rise in gun violence in America.

“The fatal shooting of Imam Hassan Sharif is devastating. My heart is with the Muslim community in New Jersey — which is already facing an alarming rise in Islamophobia — his loved ones and all who were inspired by his leadership,” Duckworth said on X.

Platkin, the attorney general, had earlier joined New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy in announcing the state’s first-ever Muslim-American Heritage Month.


North Korea fires missile off east coast, South Korea, Japan say

North Korea fires missile off east coast, South Korea, Japan say
Updated 22 April 2024
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North Korea fires missile off east coast, South Korea, Japan say

North Korea fires missile off east coast, South Korea, Japan say
  • The projectile appeared to have landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone area

SEOUL: North Korea fired “several” ballistic missiles on Monday toward the sea off its east coast, South Korea’s military said.
A Japanese government alert and its coast guard also said North Korea had fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile. The projectile appeared to have landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone area, the NHK broadcaster said.
Japan’s NTV broadcaster said the projectile was a short-range ballistic missile, citing a Japanese government official.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North launched what it suspected to be several short-range ballistic missile from near its capital, Pyongyang, without providing further details.
The reports of the launch came as South Korea said its top military officer, Admiral Kim Myung-soo, had hosted the commander of US Space Command, General Stephen Whiting, on Monday to discuss the North’s reconnaissance satellite development and growing military cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow.
After a summit between the two countries’ leaders in September, North Korea has been suspected of supplying arms and munitions to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, although both deny that claim.
The North is believed to be preparing to launch another spy satellite, after successfully putting a reconnaissance satellite in orbit in November.
North Korea said last week that it had fired a strategic cruise missile to test a large warhead, and a new anti-aircraft missile.
Earlier in April, the North fired a new hypersonic missile as part of its development of solid-fueled missiles for all ranges of its arsenal.
The North has defied a ban by the United Nations Security Council on developing ballistic missiles, rejecting Council resolutions as infringing on its sovereign right to defend itself.


New Iran sanctions should include Revolutionary Guards - Belgian FM

New Iran sanctions should include Revolutionary Guards - Belgian FM
Updated 22 April 2024
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New Iran sanctions should include Revolutionary Guards - Belgian FM

New Iran sanctions should include Revolutionary Guards - Belgian FM
  • There is no consensus on what legal basis the Guards could be added to bloc-wide list of entities seen as terrorist origanisaions

PARIS: New European Union sanctions against Iran in response to the country’s recent attack on Israel should include the Revolutionary Guards, Belgium’s Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said on Monday.
Speaking to journalists ahead of an EU ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg, Lahbib said that so far there was no consensus on what legal basis the Guards could be added to bloc-wide list of entities seen as terrorist origanisaions.
“We will discuss it together,” she said, adding:
“I also think we have to expand sanctions against violent settlers (in the Palestinian West Bank). We have to be balanced and make sure we won’t be accused of having double standards.”


Iranian president arrives in Pakistan for three-day visit

 Iranian president arrives in Pakistan for three-day visit
Updated 22 April 2024
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Iranian president arrives in Pakistan for three-day visit

 Iranian president arrives in Pakistan for three-day visit
  • Ebrahim Raisi arrives in Islamabad with high-level delegation and “large” team of businesspersons, says foreign office
  • Raisi’s visit to Pakistan takes place amid surging Middle East tensions following Israel’s airstrikes against Iran last week

ISLAMABAD: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi arrived in Islamabad on Monday for a three-day visit to the country, Pakistan’s foreign office said, with his trip aimed at strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries amid surging tensions in the Middle East.

The Iranian president arrived in the federal capital with his spouse, a high-level delegation of cabinet members and a team of businesspersons. He was welcomed at the Islamabad Airport by Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Housing and Works Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada and Pakistan’s Ambassador to Iran Mudassir Tipu. 

Raisi’s visit takes place days after Iran and Israel exchanged drone and missile strikes, escalating tensions in the already volatile Middle East.

“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi will meet at the Prime Minister’s House,” Sharif’s office said in a statement. “A round of delegation-level talks between Pakistan and Iran will also be held.”

The PMO said Sharif and Raisi would take part in a ceremony where several MoUs between the two countries would be signed.

During his visit from April 22-24, the Iranian head of state is scheduled to meet Pakistan’s prime minister, president, Senate chairman and National Assembly speaker, the foreign office said in a statement on Friday, adding that he would also visit Karachi and Lahore cities to meet the country’s provincial leadership.

Raisi’s visit will is the first by any head of state to Pakistan after the contentious elections of February 2024.

Pakistan and Iran are often at odds with each other over instability on their shared porous border, with both countries routinely trading blame for not rooting out militancy.

Tensions surged in January when Pakistan and Iran exchanged airstrikes, both claiming to target alleged militant hideouts in each other’s countries. Both sides have since then undertaken peace overtures and restored bilateral ties.

“The two sides will have a wide-ranging agenda to further strengthen Pakistan-Iran ties and enhance cooperation in diverse fields including trade, connectivity, energy, agriculture, and people-to-people contacts,” the foreign office said.

Discussions would also focus on regional and global developments as well as bilateral cooperation to combat “terrorism,” the statement added.

“Pakistan and Iran enjoy strong bilateral ties anchored in history, culture and religion,” the foreign office said. “This visit provides an important opportunity to further strengthen Pakistan-Iran relations.”

This article was originally published in Arab News Pakistan


Taiwan thanks US for aid package, says will ‘safeguard peace’

Taiwan thanks US for aid package, says will ‘safeguard peace’
Updated 22 April 2024
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Taiwan thanks US for aid package, says will ‘safeguard peace’

Taiwan thanks US for aid package, says will ‘safeguard peace’
  • Taiwanese premier Chen Chien-jen: ‘A peaceful and stable Taiwan Strait is a most important key to peace and prosperity in the world’

TAIPEI: Taiwan will work with the United States to “safeguard peace and freedom” in the region, the island’s premier said on Monday, after Washington approved billions in military aid for Taipei in the face of an increasingly assertive China.
The US House of Representatives on Saturday passed four bills in a $95 billion package, approving military aid to Ukraine and bolstering Israel’s defenses.
Some $8 billion under one bill would be used to counter China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to bring the democratic island under its control.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said Sunday that about $1.9 billion is earmarked for replenishing its military equipment and training and another $2 billion will used for “foreign military financing” for countries in the region including Taiwan.
The announcement also comes days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits China, hoping to press Beijing to curb wartime support for Russia.
“A peaceful and stable Taiwan Strait is a most important key to peace and prosperity in the world,” Taiwanese Premier Chen Chien-jen said Monday.
“Taiwan will continue to work with like-minded countries including the United States and all countries in the free democratic camp... to safeguard peace and freedom in the Indo-Pacific region and make the Taiwan Strait area more stable,” he added.
The 180-kilometer waterway separates Taiwan from China and is among the world’s busiest shipping routes.
It is also a hotspot of tensions between Beijing and Taipei, as relations have plummeted since 2016 after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen came into power.
She has refused to acknowledge Beijing’s claim over the island, saying instead that Taiwan is “already independent,” and during her two terms has bolstered defense spending for the island’s armed forces.
Her office on Sunday thanked the US Congress for approving the bills, which “shows that the United States’ security commitment to Taiwan has a clear bipartisan consensus,” said Presidential spokeswoman Olivia Lin.
Washington’s top diplomat Blinken’s trip marks a lowering of US-China friction that soared under former president Donald Trump.
High on his agenda will be what US officials say is a major push by China that has helped Russia, in the throes of the Ukraine invasion, carry out its biggest militarization since Soviet times.
But Beijing has regularly expressed anger at international support for Taipei and criticized the US of meddling in its affairs.


Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election

Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election
Updated 22 April 2024
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Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election

Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election
  • In fake viral videos, two A-lister Bollywood stars are seen criticizing PM Modi, asking people to vote for Congress
  • Deepfakes are being increasingly used in elections elsewhere in the world, including US, Pakistan and Indonesia

MUMBAI: In fake videos that have gone viral online, two of India’s A-lister Bollywood actors are seen criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and asking people to vote for the opposition Congress party in the country’s ongoing general election.

In a 30-second video that shows Aamir Khan and another 41-second clip of Ranveer Singh, the two Bollywood actors purportedly say Modi failed to keep campaign promises and failed to address critical economic issues during his two terms as prime minister.

Both AI-generated videos end with the Congress election symbol and slogan: “Vote for Justice, Vote for Congress.”

The two videos have been viewed on social media more than half a million times since last week, a Reuters review shows.

Their spread underlines the potential role such AI (artificial intelligence)-generated content can play in the mammoth Indian election that started on Friday and will continue until June. AI and AI-generated fakes, or deepfakes, are being increasingly used in elections elsewhere in the world, including in the US, Pakistan and Indonesia.

Campaigning in India has long focused on door-to-door outreach and public rallies, but extensive use of WhatsApp and Facebook as campaigning tools started in 2019. This year’s general election — in which Modi is expected to secure a rare third term — is the first in which AI is being used.

A Congress spokesperson, Sujata Paul, shared actor Singh’s video with her 16,000 followers on X on April 17 and by Saturday afternoon, her post had been reshared 2,900 times, liked 8,700 times and received 438,000 views.

Paul told Reuters by telephone she was aware the video was marked “manipulated media” by X, but she did not want to delete it as, while posting, she thought the person was a look alike of Singh and “it has creativity for sure.”

The post was no longer visible on X on Sunday, hours after Reuters sent a request for comment to Congress’ head of social media cell, who did not respond.

Both actors have said the videos are fake. Facebook, X and at least eight fact-checking websites have said they are altered or manipulated, which the Reuters digital verification unit has also confirmed.

Reuters could not ascertain who created the videos. Khan was “alarmed” by the viral “fake” video and Singh’s team was looking into the matter, according to a spokesperson for both actors. Singh wrote on X on Friday: “Beware of deepfakes, friends.”

Modi’s office, and the IT head of his Bharatiya Janata Party, did not respond to requests for comment.

POLICE PROBE

Nearly 900 million people in India have access to the Internet and a survey conducted by research organization Esya Center and the Indian Institute of Management business school showed an average Indian spends over three hours a day on social media. The country has nearly one billion voters.

Some versions of the videos have been blocked on social media but at least 14 were still visible on X on Saturday. Facebook deleted two videos Reuters flagged to the company but one other was still visible.

Facebook in a statement said it has “removed the videos” for violation of its policies. X did not respond to Reuters queries.

The videos have sparked one police investigation with Khan registering a case in Mumbai against unnamed persons on April 17 for alleged impersonation and cheating for creating the fake video.

Mumbai police did not return a request for comment, but two officers working on Khan’s case, who declined to be named, said they wrote to Facebook and X to take down the video and the companies had said it was done.

The officers said they were up until 2 a.m. on Friday, refreshing pages to check if Khan’s online videos were removed. Asked about progress in the case, one of them said: “Such technical investigations take time.”

AI VIDEO OF DEAD FATHER

In this year’s election, politicians are using AI in other ways.

In southern India, Congress leader Vijay Vasanth’s spokesperson said his team has created a 2-minute audio-video clip using AI that was shared on social media platforms and shows his now dead but more popular politician father, H. Vasanthakumar, seeking votes for him.

The late politician is seen saying “even though my body left you all, my soul is still around.”

In videos put out on YouTube by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), Samata, an AI-generated anchor dressed in a traditional saree and speaking in a style that mimics regular news channels, criticizes the ruling party in West Bengal state.

In one clip, the anchor alleges the party does not care about the environment as many water bodies have vanished due to illegal construction.

A spokesperson for the ruling party denied the allegation and said the state government has ensured no such construction takes place. The CPM did not respond to requests for comment.

In the video, which has been seen 12,000 times, anchor Samata declares: “These are questions that we the citizens of this city need to ponder over.”