All posts by sndden

Suspected New Zealand mosque gunman pleads not guilty

Christchurch killingsOfficials said Tarrant was fit to stand trial following an assessment of his mental state [File: Reuters]

Christchurch, New Zealand – The man accused of killing 51 people during a shooting spree in March at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, has pleaded not guilty to all charges levelled against him.

A lawyer for Australian-born Brenton Tarrant, 28, said on Friday his client pleaded not guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 attempted murders and one charge of committing a terrorist act. This is the first time a terrorism charge has been brought in New Zealand.

Tarrant was not in court in person in Christchurch; instead he appeared via a video link from a maximum-security prison where he’s being held in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.

Throughout the half-hour hearing on Friday, Tarrant – wearing a plain grey top – stood looking slightly up at a camera positioned above him.  He did not say a word during the hearing.  He nodded once to acknowledge he could hear the judge, and at times smirked.

When his lawyer entered the ‘not guilty’ pleas on his behalf, he grinned and – at one point – winked at the camera.

Fit for trial

Tarrant, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, is suspected of acting alone during the March 15 atrocity – New Zealand’s worst peacetime mass shooting.

He is accused of using modified semi-automatic weapons to massacre Muslims at Christchurch’s Al Noor and Linwood mosques during Friday prayers. The attack was live-streamed from a head-mounted camera.

New Zealand’s government tightened the country’s gun laws in the wake of the attack and has said it would review laws dealing with hate speech.

It has also supported international efforts to ensure that social media giants to do more to combat online “extremism”.

More than 100 family members of victims – and a few people who were shot but survived the attacks – were in court.  Most, throughout the hearing, looked intently at the screens showing Tarrant.

At the last hearing on April 5, the court had ordered Tarrant to undergo a mental assessment first to determine whether he was fit to stand trial.

The judge, Justice Cameron Mander, said the accused’s mental state had been assessed and he was fit to stand trial.

“The court endeavours to bring serious criminal cases to trial within a year of arrest. The scale and complexity of this case makes this challenging,” Mander said.

Because of the volume of evidence the prosecution and defence will have to consider, that trial will not take place until May 4.  It is expected to last at least six weeks and possibly as long as three months.

Tarrant has been remanded in custody until August 16 when a case review hearing is scheduled.

Mander barred news outlets from taking photographs or video of Tarrant’s appearance, although he said images from an earlier hearing in March could be used.

‘He will pay’

On the steps of the court after the hearing, people injured in the attacks, and relatives of those killed gave their reactions to what they’d seen and heard.

Temel Atacocugu was shot nine times and attended court on crutches.  On Friday he said: “He [Tarrant] is going to be the loser. We will win. He will pay for what he’s done.”

Janna Ezat whose 35-year-old son Hussein Al-Umari was killed in the attacks said she wanted to see the death penalty for Brenton Tarrant, if he is found guilty.

“This is the only way. In this specific case he has to be killed. [If] he killed [more than] fifty people. He has to be killed.”

New Zealand abolished the death penalty in 1989 and has not executed anyone since 1957. If found guilty, Tarrant faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The people killed in March’s attacks came from more than a dozen countries and their relatives speak a variety of different languages. The court had translators on hand for many and, both before and after the hearing, community representatives explained what would happen, and had happened in court. Even so, some were confused at why the trial won’t take place until next year.

“It was totally not explained,” said Didar Hossain “Why can’t the case be finalised within six months? That would be good for us.

Hossain described himself as heartbroken. “I lost my uncle” he said, “and all my friends”.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/suspected-zealand-mosque-shooter-pleads-guilty-190613233346021.html

 

Jurors refuse to convict activist facing 20 years for helping migrants

HumanitarianScott Daniel Warren, a 36-year-old college geography instructor, was charged with conspiracy to transport and harbor migrants. Photograph: Kelly Presnell/AP

A US jury could not reach a verdict on Tuesday against a border activist who, defense attorneys say, was simply being kind by providing two migrants with water, food and lodging when he was arrested in early 2018.

Scott Daniel Warren, a 36-year-old college geography instructor, was charged with conspiracy to transport and harbor migrants in a trial that humanitarian aid groups said would have wide implications for their work. He faced up to 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors maintained the men were not in distress and Warren conspired to transport and harbor them at a property used for providing aid to migrants in an Arizona town near the US-Mexico border.

The case played out as humanitarian groups say they are coming under increasing scrutiny under Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies.

Outside the courthouse, Warren thanked his supporters and criticized the government’s efforts to crack down on the number of immigrants coming to the US.

“Today it remains as necessary as ever for local residents and humanitarian aid volunteers to stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees, and we must also stand for our families, friends and neighbors in the very land itself most threatened by the militarization of our borderland communities,” Warren said.

Glenn McCormick, a spokesman for the US attorney’s office in Arizona, declined to comment on whether Warren would face another trial. The judge set a 2 July status hearing for the defense and prosecution.

Warren is one of nine members of the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths who have been charged with crimes related to their work. But he is the only one to face felony charges.

In west Texas, a county attorney was detained earlier this year after stopping her car on a dark highway to pick up three young migrants who flagged her down. Teresa Todd was held briefly, and federal agents searched her cellphone.

Border activists say they worry about what they see as the gradual criminalization of humanitarian action.

Warren has said his case could set a dangerous precedent by expanding the definition of the crimes of transporting and harboring migrants to include people merely trying to help border-crossers in desperate need of water or other necessities.

Warren and other volunteers with the No More Deaths group also were targeted this year in separate federal misdemeanor cases after leaving water, canned food and other provisions for migrants hiking through the Cabeza Prieta national wildlife refuge in southern Arizona.

In Warren’s felony case, the defense team headed by Greg Kuykendall argued that Warren could not, in good conscience, turn away two migrants who had recently crossed the desert to enter the US.

Jurors said on Monday that they could not reach a consensus on the charges against Warren, but a federal judge told them to keep deliberating. They were still deadlocked on Tuesday and ultimately dismissed.

Thousands of migrants have died crossing the border since the mid-1990s, when heightened enforcement pushed migrant traffic into Arizona’s scorching deserts.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/11/arizona-activist-migrant-water-scott-daniel-warren-verdict

At least 7 dead as refugee boat sinks off Greek island

BoatInternational Organisation for Migration says more than 300 refugees and migrants have died this year in total while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe [File: Kostis Ntantamis/AP Photo]

A boat carrying dozens of refugees and migrants to a Greek island from the nearby Turkish coast has capsized, leaving seven people dead, including two children.

Greece’s coastguard said 57 people had been rescued on Tuesday, while seven people – two girls, four women and a man – were pulled from the water unconscious and later confirmed dead.

A search and rescue operation in the area off the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos was called off after all those on board had been accounted for, the coastguard said.

There were no further passengers reported missing.

It was not immediately clear why the boat capsized, and the coastguard did not provide further details on the incident or the nationality of the refugees and migrants.

Greece became one of the main gateways for refugees entering Europe in recent years, many of them fleeing conflict in countries like Syria and Afghanistan, in the continent’s worst migration crisis since World War II.

The number of people heading to the Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast has decreased significantly since the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, dropping from 875,000 in 2015 to under 40,000 a year in 2017 and 2018, according to Frontex, the European Union’s border force.

However, hundreds of people continue to make the treacherous journey.

Although the distance from Turkey is short, smugglers often use unseaworthy boats and pack them way beyond capacity, leading to many sinking or capsizing.

Nearly 10,700 refugees and migrants have reached Greece so far this year by sea, and 39 people have lost their lives while attempting the journey, the UNHCR said.

The influx of migrants and refugees to Greece was drastically curtailed by a 2016 accord between Turkey and the EU.

Greece is hosting some 70,000 mostly Syrian refugees and migrants who have fled their countries since 2015 and crossed over from neighbouring Turkey.

More than 300 refugees and migrants have died this year in total while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/dead-refugee-boat-sinks-greek-island-190611095725520.html

“This tragedy is a painful reminder that people continue to take perilous journeys to reach the Greek Aegean islands,” said Philippe Leclerc, the UNHCR representative in Greece.

“Redoubled efforts are needed to ensure safe and legal ways to reach Europe, so people stop risking their lives in the hands of ruthless traffickers and smugglers.”

‘Reaching end game’: New paper on climate change raises alarm

Climate changeProtesters march demanding urgent measures to combat climate change in Kolkata, India last week [Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters]

A climate change paper grabbed headlines this week with its terrifying prediction of what the world will be in 30 years’ time – absent drastic and immediate change to human societies.

“World of outright chaos,” “Climate apocalypse,” “We’re all gonna die,” the media banners blared.

The sobering headlines and equally disconcerting stories beneath described a “scenario analysis” by an Australian think-tank, Breakthrough National Center for Climate Restoration.

The paper portrayed what the year 2050 will look like if urgent action to build carbon-neutral energy systems around the world fails to come to fruition in the next 10 years.

It’s worse than any of the apocalyptic Hollywood horror films making the rounds.

One billion people displaced and fighting desperately for survival, with half the world’s population subjected to “lethal heat” conditions for more than 20 days a year – “beyond the threshold of human survivability”.

Drought, wildfires, and floods collapse entire ecosystems as two billion people struggle for potable water. Mega-cities such as Mumbai, Hong Kong, Lagos, and Manila are largely abandoned because of massive floods.

“This scenario provides a glimpse into a world of ‘outright chaos’ on a path to the end of human civilisation and modern society as we have known it,” said the paper, co-authored by Ian Dunlop, a former chair of the Australian Coal Association, and David Spratt, a long-time climate researcher.

‘The end game’

Spratt told Al Jazeera the eye-catching headlines were “somewhat over the top”, but he maintained the dire warnings were legitimate.

“We are reaching the end game, there are not a lot of pieces left on the chess board. We have to take action really fast,” said Spratt.

He challenged climate scientists, including those from the leading Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to be more forthright with the global public about the calamity awaiting humanity if nothing is immediately done to halt the pumping of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The planet is currently on track for a 4.5 degree Celsius increase in global temperature as CO2 emissions continue to rise each year.

Dunlop noted the IPCC set a target of staying below a 1.5C increase in the coming decades. “This IPCC analysis assumes only a 50-66 percent chance of meeting the targets. Not good odds for the future of humanity,” he wrote this week.

Asked about the criticism, IPCC’s Nina Peeva responded: “We can’t comment on individual papers on climate science. Our job is to inform policymakers about the current state of knowledge on climate change… If this paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal, it will probably be considered in the next assessment appearing in 2021.”

US intelligence warnings

Congressional testimony from two US government intelligence analysts on Wednesday seemed to corroborate Breakthrough’s grim climate change analysis.

Peter Kiemel, from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told a House committee investigating the global effects of climate change on national security that it played a role in the bloody civil wars in Syria and Libya, and will do the same in the future.

Just prior to the outbreak of Syria’s devastating war in 2011, the region suffered one of the most severe droughts in its history, quadrupling rural-to-urban migration and causing food riots.

Climate change impacts on food and water systems were also “catalysts for social breakdown and conflict” in the Maghreb and the Sahel, contributing to the European migration crisis, Breakthrough’s paper said.

“We already have seen water crises exacerbate social unrest in and emigration from fragile states in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Kiemel.

“As the climate changes, disputes over water and access to arable land are likely to grow, prompting more such local conflicts.”

Rod Schoonover, a senior State Department analyst, told members of the House Intelligence Committee no nation would be immune from the ravages of climate change.

“Most countries, if not all, are already unable to fully respond to the risks posed by climate-linked hazards under the present conditions,” said Schoonover.

“Absent extensive mitigating factors or events, we see few plausible future scenarios where significant harm does not arise from the compounded effects of climate change.”

The Washington Post reported on Friday that Trump administration officials ordered the words “possibly catastrophic” erased from Schoonover’s written statement.

What can’t be deleted is a 2007 climate change security report titled The Age of Consequences, co-authored by former CIA director James Woolsey. Its wording leaves no doubt about the threat to the human species.

“Armed conflict between nations over resources, such as the Nile and its tributaries, is likely and nuclear war is possible. The social consequences range from increased religious fervour to outright chaos,” the study warned.

Race against time

While the immense challenge of abruptly ending fossil fuel use seems extremely daunting, there are reasons for hope.

Spratt and others noted the technology to shift away from fossil fuels to clean energy is already in place, and more could be done if government budgets were allocated towards decarbonisation.

“We have the technological and economic capacity. If we would have made the shift in 2009, we would be all right today,” said Spratt.

Climate watchers say what is desperately needed is political leadership worldwide to rein in C02-burning corporations and shift the global economic system to green technology.

Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told USA Today the technology for a carbon-free economic system is already in place.

“We’re not waiting for solutions. We’re simply waiting for political will to understand that the solutions are here. Clean energy is not a matter of waiting, it’s a matter of implementing,” said Patz.

But with US President Donald Trump, who denies human-induced climate change and oversees the world’s largest economy, there is ample reason for serious concern.

The winds of change are blowing, however, as climate change protest movements sprout up worldwide.

In the US, the world’s second largest CO2 emitter after China, presidential candidate Joe Biden announced a $5 trillion climate proposal on Tuesday as part of his campaign for 2020. The same day, Hollywood actor Robert Downey Jr said he would launch a new hi-tech venture called the Footprint Coalition to combat climate change.

On Thursday, US billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would spend $500m in the “fight of our time” to move the US away from carbon energy.

Breakthrough’s paper stated “a massive global mobilisation” of resources was needed in the next decade to build a zero-emissions industrial system.

So can humanity save itself with the clock ticking down fast?

Admiral Chris Barrie – the former chief of Australia’s defence forces who wrote the foreword to Breakthrough’s paper – said human societies must act collectively to survive.

“A doomsday future is not inevitable, but without immediate drastic action, our prospects are poor.”

India: six guilty of child rape and murder that outraged nation

IndiaA bus carrying the accused arrives at court in Pathankot, Jammu and Kashmir state, on Monday. Photograph: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images

An Indian court has convicted six men of involvement in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state last year, in a case that sparked outrage and criticism of the country’s ruling party after some of its members opposed charges being laid.

The girl, from a nomadic Muslim community that roams the forests of Kashmir, was drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January 2018.

The abduction, rape and killing of the child was part of a plan to remove the minority nomadic community from the area, the 15-page charge sheet said.

Among those accused were a Hindu priest and police officers, raising communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the area.

“This is a victory of truth,” the prosecution lawyer M Farooqi said outside the court. “The girl and her family have got justice today. We are satisfied with the judgment.”

The prosecution was seeking the death penalty for three men – the priest Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar – who were convicted of rape and murder, he said.

Three others, Surinder Kumar, Tilak Raj and Anand Dutta, were convicted of lesser crimes of destroying evidence.

AK Sawhney, a lawyer leading the legal team representing the accused, said they planned to appeal against the verdict.

The trial, held in private, began more than a year ago in Pathankot, a town about 45 miles from Rasana village in Kathua district, where the incident happened.

The supreme court shifted the trial to the neighbouring state of Punjab after the girl’s family and lawyer said they faced death threats, and local lawyers and Hindu politicians, including some from the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, held protests against police filing charges.

India has long been plagued by violence against women and children. Reported rapes climbed 60% to 40,000 from 2012 to 2016, according to government statistics, and many more go unreported, especially in rural areas.

Eight people are accused of involvement in the case. The seventh man, named as Vishal, was found not guilty on Monday, Farooqi said, while the eighth, a juvenile, is awaiting trial.

Frightened and displaced, Papua children haunted by conflict

TeenageChildren sit on benches at a temporary school built for those feeling unrest in Nduga [Febriana Firdaus/Al Jazeera]

Wamena, Indonesia – Under the pine trees, a nine-year-old girl is sitting on a blue tarpaulin, rubbing her feet.

For the past six months, she’s been living in a church-run shelter after escaping the chaos that enveloped her village in Nduga, a remote highland region in the western part of the island of Papua.

“I was just sitting in my house and a ‘bomb’ dropped from the sky,” she said, recalling the bang of what could have been a grenade. “I fled with my family,” the young girl continued. “I saw houses were burning. We walked and slept like nomads in the jungle for three weeks.”

She is one of an estimated 35,000 civilians, many of them children, forced from their homes in the remote territory’s central highlands as the military attempted to root out Papuan independence fighters who attacked a road construction project in December last year, killing at least 17 people.

Major General Sisriadi, a spokesman for Indonesia’s armed forces, told Al Jazeera 600 troops had been sent to the area in what he described as a law enforcement operation to support the police.

“As mentioned in our constitution, we must defend our country’s land,” Sisriadi said. “We have to do anything to defend it.”

Indonesia took control of the vast and remote territory bordering Papua New Guinea in 1969 after a controversial referendum in which only 1,026 people were allowed to participate. The vote gave new momentum to the separatist West Papua National Liberation Army, which has continued the struggle for independence ever since.

The region is Indonesia’s poorest, despite its wealth of natural resources. Access to the area for foreign journalists remains restricted and even those who get permission to visit can run into trouble with the authorities.

Nduga, a mountainous area that is one of the world’s last pristine tropical forests, has been at the centre of much of the instability.

The local communities are indigenous Melanesian people, who are mostly Christian and speak their own languages rather than Bahasa Indonesia. Subsistence farmers, they live on their ancestral lands, growing crops and raising pigs, and supplementing their diet with leaves gathered from the forest and the wild boar that forage among the trees.

An investigation by the local administration into the military’s operations in Nduga in December alleged the armed forces had destroyed homes and churches in their bid to flush out the rebels.

Sisriadi accused the independence movement of using local villagers as cover, but none of the displaced people Al Jazeera met said they had been threatened by the rebels.

Theo Hesegem, a human rights activist who helped research the local administration’s report, told Al Jazeera that eyewitnesses who preferred not to be named had also told him that bombs had been dropped from helicopters on both December 4 and December 5. The military denies the allegations.

Desperate to escape the fighting, many people trekked through the forest for weeks to find safety surviving on leaves and ferns.

Innah Gwejangge, the head of Nduga Health Department whose team has been providing medical services to the displaced villagers, said many of the children were suffering from illnesses, including respiratory infections and diarrhoea brought on by their ordeal.

“They told me there was no food,” Gwejangge said. “They ate anything they could find, such as roots from trees. Some of them were naked. I saw babies wearing nothing, their parents put them inside noken [traditional woven bag] and covered them with leaves,” she added.

Hundreds of displaced people have found refuge in the 23 shelters set up by a local Protestant Church in the town of Wamena, the largest settlement in the central highlands.

In one shelter, dozens of children and adults are living in a single house with only one bathroom and kitchen. Most shelters provide a temporary home for between two and 10 families.

“They are still scared,” Dolu Bruangge, a volunteer, said of the displaced. “They don’t trust outsiders.”

Many are desperate to return home so they can get back to their land and what is left of their crops. Church volunteers have given them clothing and other basic necessities.

They have also built a school, staffed with teachers from the local authority. Inside, the students sit on wooden benches beneath a tin roof, surrounded by walls fashioned out of tarpaulin, which billows and rips when the wind picks up.

Jennes Sampouw, the head of Nduga’s educational department, said 695 students from 32 districts had now joined the emergency schools. His goal was to make sure the students could take part in the national exams that took place in April.

But the displaced children still find it difficult to get medical services because hospitals can only treat people who are registered locally.

“These children have a right to be protected by the country as mentioned in our children protection law,” Retno Listyarti of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI), an independent agency, told Al Jazeera, stressing that trauma counselling was also crucial.

Fighting between the military and the separatists continues. On May 13, local media reported an officer had been killed after the rebels attacked an airfield in Nduga.

The continuing unrest means the children are unlikely to return home any time soon. But even when they do go back to their villages, the spectre of violence will continue to haunt them.

“I am afraid the soldiers will come back again,” said the nine-year-old girl.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/frightened-displaced-papua-children-haunted-conflict-190531060054648.html

Fake Saudi prince Anthony Gignac jailed for $8m fraud

Fraud

For years, Anthony Gignac lived a life of luxury fit for a royal.

He wore expensive jewellery, travelled in private jets or cars with diplomatic licence plates, and carried business cards referring to himself as “Sultan”.

But the story of the self-proclaimed prince finally unravelled on Friday, as he was jailed for 18 years for fraud.

A Florida judge said Gignac, 48, was a con man who posed as a Saudi royal to swindle $8 million (£6.3 million) from investors.

“Over the course of the last three decades, Anthony Gignac has portrayed himself as a Saudi prince in order to manipulate, victimise, and scam countless investors from around the world,” US Attorney Fajardo Orshan said in a statement.

“As the leader of a sophisticated, multi-person, international fraud scheme, Gignac used his fake persona – Prince Khalid Bin Al-Saud – to sell false hope. He sold his victims on hope for their families, careers, and future. As a result, dozens of unsuspecting investors were stripped of their investments, losing more than $8 million,” Ms Orshan added.

Born in Colombia, Gignac was adopted by a family in the US state of Michigan at the age of seven.

By 17, he had already started taking on the persona of a Saudi royal, using his alter-ego to con credit card companies, shop staff and investors.

According to court documents, he has been arrested 11 times in the past three decades for “prince-related schemes”.

From as early as May 2015, he has been using the name Khalid Bin Al-Saud, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida says.

To support his fraudulent persona, he purchased fake diplomatic licence plates and papers for his bodyguards. He wore traditional Saudi clothes and expensive rings and watches.

He often travelled on private jets or luxury yachts, and collected expensive artwork.

His fake life was chronicled on an Instagram account, where he shared photos of his dog sitting in designer bags and Saudi royals with captions like “my dad”.

When meeting with investors, he would refer to himself as a prince and demand that royal protocols such as gift giving were followed.

Prosecutors said Gignac used his fake royal persona to convince people to invest in non-existent business ventures around the world.

However, the scheme started to fall apart in May 2017, when he tried to invest in a luxury hotel in Miami.

Over the course of the negotiations, the hotel’s owners became suspicious of Gignac, in part because of his willingness to eat pork products that would normally be off-limits to a devout Muslim prince, the Miami Herald reports.

They then hired a private security group to investigate him, which ultimately led to a federal investigation.

Gignac pleaded guilty earlier this year to wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and impersonating a diplomat, court documents show.

In her statement, Ms Orshan said “justice spoke for the victims” in Friday’s verdict.