Appeals court upholds conviction of British national linked to Daesh

Appeals court upholds conviction of British national linked to Daesh
A federal appeals court upheld the conviction Friday of El Shafee Elsheikh, a British national, for his role in a hostage-taking scheme by Daesh group that took roughly two dozen Westerners captive a decade ago. (Screengrab)
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Updated 07 June 2024
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Appeals court upholds conviction of British national linked to Daesh

Appeals court upholds conviction of British national linked to Daesh
  • He argued that confessions he gave in media interviews after his capture in 2018 should have been tossed out of court
  • Elsheikh’s lawyers also argued that FBI interviews of him while he was in foreign custody violated his constitutional rights

VIRGINIA, USA: A federal appeals court upheld the conviction Friday of a British national for his role in a hostage-taking scheme by Daesh group that took roughly two dozen Westerners captive a decade ago.
El Shafee Elsheikh was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2022 in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. His jury trial established that he was one he was one of the notorious “Beatles,” captors nicknamed for their accents and known for torturing and beating prisoners.
Elsheikh appealed his conviction. He argued that confessions he gave in media interviews after his capture in 2018 should have been tossed out of court. He alleged that the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces tortured him and forced him to conduct the interviews.
Elsheikh’s lawyers also argued that FBI interviews of him while he was in foreign custody violated his constitutional rights. Elsheikh said he was confused by the process, in which he was initially interrogated by investigators with the Department of Defense who did not read him his rights and used the information to gather intelligence.
He was later questioned by FBI agents who did read him his rights and told him that anything he said going forward could be used against him in court.
In both cases, a unanimous three-judge panel of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled against Elsheikh. The judges said the evidence did not support his contention that he was beaten or tortured. And the judges ruled that interrogators followed proper procedures in their two-step interrogation process to inform Elsheikh of his rights.
Elsheikh was one of two “Beatles” brought to the US to face trial. The United Kingdom agreed to the extradition and provided intelligence and evidence to assist with the prosecution after the US promised it would not seek the death penalty.
The other Beatle who faced trial, Alexanda Kotey, pleaded guilty under a deal that provided a possibility he could, after 15 years, serve the remainder of his life sentence in the United Kingdom.
Elsheikh’s convictions revolved around the deaths of four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. All but Mueller were executed in videotaped beheadings circulated online. Mueller was forced into slavery and raped multiple times by Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi before she was killed.
They were among 26 hostages taken captive between 2012 and 2015, when the Daesh group controlled large swaths of Iraq and Syria.


French police clash with water demonstrators after port blockade

French police clash with water demonstrators after port blockade
Updated 6 sec ago
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French police clash with water demonstrators after port blockade

French police clash with water demonstrators after port blockade
  • Running battles erupted around barricades and burning rubbish bins as some protesters threw projectiles and police fired tear gas grenades

LA ROCHELLE, France: Protesters clashed with police in France’s western port of La Rochelle Saturday, as conservationists and small farmers mobilized against massive irrigation reservoirs under construction.
Local government officials had banned demonstrations in the city, which is a popular tourist site in summer.
A 2,000-strong march, one of two through the city, was charged by police at around 1:30 p.m. (1130 GMT).
Running battles erupted around barricades and burning rubbish bins as some protesters threw projectiles and police fired tear gas grenades.
“We were in the demo, they started blocking ahead and behind,” said Lilia, a 25-year-old who declined to give her full name. “They isolated us off to one side to charge everyone else.”
Police said around 500 participants in the march were so-called “black bloc” far-left radicals.
Prosecutors in La Rochelle said four members of the police and five demonstrators received medical care for minor injuries.
Several shops were damaged or looted, along with bus shelters and advertising hoardings. A building site was ransacked for cinder blocks and wood to construct barricades.
Police arrested seven people, mostly for trespassing.
The second, more peaceful march, made up of around 3,000 people family groups, moved from the city center toward the commercial port. Many wore costume disguises.
Some used kayaks or inflatable boats to approach the La Pallice agricultural export terminal, singled out by organizers as the target for the demonstrations.
The two marches joined up mid-afternoon along the waterfront before turning back and dispersing calmly.
Police had used tear gas earlier Saturday to clear around 200 people who entered the terminal at dawn, including farmers with old tractors.
That confrontation broke up mostly peacefully.
The protests in the city on France’s Atlantic coast were intended to show that new “reservoirs aren’t being built to grow food locally, but to feed international markets,” said Julien Le Guet, a spokesman for the “Reservoirs, No Thanks” movement.
Activists say the reservoirs, set to be filled from aquifers in winter to provide summer irrigation, benefit only large farmers at the expense of smaller operations and the environment.
Several dozen are under construction in western France, their supporters arguing that without them farms risk vanishing as they suffer through repeated droughts.
Last year, clashes between thousands of demonstrators and police in Sainte-Soline, around 90 kilometers (56 miles) inland from La Rochelle, left two protesters in a coma and injured 30 officers.
Further scuffles broke out Saturday as demonstrators returned to La Rochelle’s center from the agricultural port, some launching fireworks at the police, who responded with tear gas and water cannons.
“Cease fire, there are children in the march,” Le Guet shouted. “Don’t make the same mistake as at Sainte-Soline.”
Fears of clashes had been high all week. More than 3,000 police deployed around a “Water Village” protest camp in Melle, a few kilometers from Sainte-Soline, as authorities warned of a risk of “great violence.”
The prefecture banned the demonstrations in popular summer tourist destination La Rochelle, but organizers went ahead with them.
On Saturday, “our aim wasn’t to clash with law enforcement, it’s often law enforcement who aim to clash with us,” said Juliette Riviere, an SLT member.
Prosecutors said that six people had been taken into custody by mid-afternoon Saturday.


Malaysia marks coronation of new king

Malaysia marks coronation of new king
Updated 20 July 2024
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Malaysia marks coronation of new king

Malaysia marks coronation of new king
  • Billionaire King Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar pledges to govern fairly during the 5-year term

KUALA LUMPUR: Traditional pomp and cannon fire on Saturday marked the coronation of Malaysia’s billionaire King Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, who pledged to govern fairly during the five-year term he will serve under a unique rotating monarchy system.
Sultan Ibrahim, 65, was sworn in on Jan. 31. Saturday’s coronation at the national palace formalized his role as Malaysia’s 17th king in a ceremony steeped in Malay culture and pageantry.
Nine ethnic Malay state rulers take turns as Malaysia’s king for five-year terms under the country’s rotating monarchy, which began when Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957. Malaysia has 13 states but only nine have royal families, some which trace their roots to centuries-old Malay kingdoms that were independent states until they were brought together by the British.
Donned in black and gold traditional ceremonial outfit and headgear, Sultan Ibrahim and Queen Raja Zarith Sofiah were greeted by military salute before they proceeded to the throne. The heads of the other royal families, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Bahrain King Hamad Isa al Khalifa were seated on a stage beside the throne.
At the start of the proceedings, a copy of the Qur’an was presented to the Sultan who kissed it. The monarch received a gold dagger, a symbol of power. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim then pledged his government’s loyalty and said the royal institution was a pillar of strength for the nation. He then proclaimed Sultan Ibrahim as Malaysia’s new king.

 


Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats is tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
Updated 20 July 2024
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Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats is tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
  • Rep. Mark Takano, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called on Biden to “pass the torch,” to Vice President Kamala Harris

WASHINGTON DC: Despite a week of campaign stops, interviews and insistence that he is the best candidate to confront Republican Donald Trump, President Joe Biden hasn’t softened the push for him to exit the 2024 race.
Biden has weighty options before him this weekend that could set the direction of the country and his party as the nation heads toward the November election with an energized GOP after the Republican nominating convention to send Trump back to the White House.
Rep. Mark Takano, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, on Saturday added his name to the list of nearly three dozen Democrats in Congress who say it’s time for Biden to leave the race. The Californian called on Biden to “pass the torch,” to Vice President Kamala Harris.
Harris, meanwhile, earned backing from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who told MSNBC on Saturday that the vice president is “ready to step up” to unite the party and take on Trump should Biden decide to bow out. Warren said knowing that “gives me a lot of hope right now.”
More lawmakers are expected to speak out in the days ahead. Donors have raised concerns. And an organization calling on Biden to “Pass the Torch” planned a rally Saturday outside the White House. Biden has insisted that he’s all in.
“There is no joy in the recognition he should not be our nominee in November,” said Democratic Rep. Morgan McGarvey of Kentucky, one of the Democrats urging Biden’s exit from the race. “But the stakes of this election are too high and we can’t risk the focus of the campaign being anything other than Donald Trump.”
The standoff has become increasingly untenable for the party and its leaders, a month from the Democratic National Convention that should be a unifying moment to nominate their incumbent president to confront Trump. Instead the party is at a crossroads unseen in generations.
It’s creating a stark juxtaposition with Republicans who, after years of bitter and chaotic infighting over Trump, have essentially embraced the former president’s far-right takeover of the GOP, despite his criminal conviction in a hush money case and pending federal criminal indictment for trying to overturn the 2020 election before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
From his beach home in Delaware, Biden, 81, is isolating with a COVID infection, but also politically with a small circle of family and close advisers. White House doctor Kevin O’Connor said Friday that the president still had a dry cough and hoarseness, but his COVID symptoms had improved.
The president’s team insisted he’s ready to return to the campaign this coming week to counter what he called a “dark vision” laid out by Trump.
“Together, as a party and as a country, we can and will defeat him at the ballot box,” Biden said in a statement Friday. “The stakes are high, and the choice is clear. Together, we will win.”
But outside the Rehoboth enclave the debate and passions are intensifying.
A donor call with some 300 people Friday was described as a waste of time by one participant, who was granted anonymity to discuss the private conversation. While the person was complimentary of Harris, who spoke for five minutes, the rest of the time was filled by others who brushed aside donor concerns, according to the participant.
Not only are Democrats split over what Biden should do, they also lack consensus about how to choose a successor.
Democrats who are agitating for Biden to leave do not appear to have coalesced around a plan for what would happen next, for now. Very few of the lawmakers have mentioned Harris in their statements, and some have said they favor an open nominating process that would throw the party’s endorsement behind a new candidate.
Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Peter Welch of Vermont have both called for Biden to exit the race and said they would favor an open nominating process at the convention.
“Having it be open would strengthen whoever is the ultimate nominee,” Welch said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Other Democrats say it would be politically unthinkable to move past Harris, the nation’s first female vice president, who is Black and Southeast Asian, and logistically unworkable with a virtual nominating vote being planned for early next month, before the Democratic convention opens in Chicago on Aug. 19.
Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum, who has called on Biden to step aside, explicitly endorsed Harris as a replacement.
“To give Democrats a strong, viable path to winning the White House, I am calling upon President Biden to release his delegates and empower Vice President Harris to step forward to become the Democratic nominee for President,” McCollum said in her statement.
It’s unclear what else, if anything, the president could do to reverse course and win back lawmakers and Democratic voters, who are wary of his ability to defeat Trump and serve another term after his halting debate performance last month.
Nearly two-thirds of Democrats say Biden should withdraw from the presidential race and let his party nominate a different candidate, according to a new AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, sharply undercutting his post-debate claim that “average Democrats” are still with him even if some “big names” are turning on him.
At the same time, a majority of Democrats believe Kamala Harris would do a good job in the top slot, according to a separate AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.
Biden, who sent a defiant letter to Democrats in Congress vowing to stay in the race, has yet to visit Capitol Hill to shore up support, an absence noticed by senators and representatives.
The president did conduct a round of virtual conversations with various caucuses in the past week — some of which ended poorly.
During a call with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, one Democrat, Rep. Mike Levin of California, told Biden he should step aside. During another with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Biden became defensive when Rep. Jared Huffman of California asked him to consider meeting with top party leaders about the path forward.
Huffman was one of four Democratic lawmakers who called Friday for Biden to step aside.
At the same time, Biden still has strong backers. He picked up support Friday from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ campaign arm and has backing from leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.


More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza
Updated 20 July 2024
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More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza
  • Rides will run across London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales

LONDON: For three weeks, more than 1,200 people will be cycling in cities across the UK, calling on the newly-elected Labour government to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and to end arms sales to Israel.
The Big Ride was founded in 2015 by activists seeking to combine a passion for cycling with solidarity for Palestine.
This year’s events start on Saturday and run until Aug. 10 in London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales.
The grassroots organization will also be raising funds for Palestinian charities, including the Middle East Children’s Alliance, The Amos Trust, and the Gaza Sunbirds para cycling team, which continue their work in Gaza amidst the ongoing conflict.
Ellen Logan, one of the organizers of The Big Ride, said: “For years we’ve witnessed the daily oppression of the Palestinian people — discrimination, subjugation, and inhumanity. And now we’ve spent the last 10 months watching a live-streamed genocide. Everyone should be outraged and campaigning for an end to this violence.”
Logan added: “We use our bikes and freedoms to raise awareness and provide crucial aid for children and disabled cyclists on the ground in Gaza.”
A recent letter published in British medical journal, The Lancet, estimated the actual death toll in Gaza could be as high as 186,000.
British actress Maxine Peake, who is participating in the cycling event, said: “The Big Ride for Palestine has been raising awareness of this for nearly 10 years now. This year, more riders than ever have signed up, so please join a Big Ride near you.”
 


Monsoon rains pound India financial hub

Monsoon rains pound India financial hub
Updated 20 July 2024
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Monsoon rains pound India financial hub

Monsoon rains pound India financial hub
  • A woman died and four others were injured after sections of a four-story building came crashing down in Grant Road
  • Monsoon rains lash much of India from June to September and are vital to replenishing rivers, groundwater in the country

Mumbai: Monsoon rains pounded India’s financial hub of Mumbai on Saturday, causing the partial collapse of a residential building that killed at least one person, a municipal official said.
A woman died and four others were injured after sections of a four-story building came crashing down in Grant Road, an affluent suburb in the south of the city.
“The woman who died was not a resident of the building,” a spokesperson for the city’s municipal body told AFP.
The spokesperson did not confirm whether any residents of the building were missing or had been trapped under the rubble.
Images posted on social media showed rescuers clearing the rubble in the rain.
Monsoon rains lash much of India from June to September and are vital to replenishing rivers and groundwater in the country but the deluge also causes widespread destruction.
Building collapses are common during this period, with old and rickety structures buckling under days of non-stop rain.
In 2021, in the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, 200 people were killed by monsoon-triggered floods and landslides that also forced a quarter of a million to evacuate their homes.