Archive for February, 2019


February 17, 2019

LONDON (AP) — The family of a British teenager who ran away to join the Islamic State group and now wants to return to the U.K. said Sunday she has given birth to a baby boy. The family’s lawyer said 19-year-old Shamima Begum and the baby are in good health. In a recent interview with The Times newspaper, Begum said she had previously lost two babies to illness and malnutrition.

Begum was one of a group of schoolgirls from London’s Bethnal Green neighborhood who went to Syria to marry IS fighters in 2015 at a time when the group’s online recruitment program lured many impressionable young people to its self-proclaimed caliphate.

Speaking to Britain’s Sky News from Syria, where she has been living in a refugee camp, Begum said she didn’t know what she was getting into when she left and wants to bring her baby back to Britain with her.

“I think a lot of people should have sympathy towards me for everything I’ve been through,” she said in an interview broadcast Sunday. “I just was hoping that maybe for me, for the sake of me and my child, they let me come back, the young woman said. “Because I can’t live in this camp forever. It’s not really possible.”

“I don’t want to take care of my child in this camp because I’m afraid he might even die in this camp,” she said. Begum said she had been only a “housewife” during her time with IS militants. “I never did anything dangerous. I never made propaganda. I never encouraged people to come to Syria. So they’d only have proof I didn’t anything that is dangerous,” she said.

She added she had been “OK with” beheadings carried out by Islamic State adherents because she had heard it was allowed under Islamic law. News about Begum and her desire to go back to Britain have ignited a debate in the U.K. about how to deal with citizens who joined IS and want to leave Syria now that the extremist group is on the verge of collapse.

While it is unclear whether Begum committed any crimes, many have focused on her apparent lack of remorse. In the earlier interview with The Times, Begum said she did not regret her decision to join the extremists.

Her legal situation remains uncertain; she could face charges for supporting IS if she returns to Britain. Two days before the baby’s birth was announced, Begum’s relatives in Britain said they were “shocked” by her comments but thought she should be brought back and dealt with by the British justice system.

“The welfare of Shamima’s unborn baby is of paramount concern to our family, and we will do everything within our power to protect that baby, who is entirely blameless in these events,” the family had said.

The family said it is concerned about Begum’s mental health and characterizes her as having been groomed by Islamic State fighters.

February 16, 2019

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — India’s prime minister warned of a “crushing response” to the suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 41 people and was the deadliest in the divided region’s volatile history.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi placed the blame for Thursday’s bombing squarely on neighboring Pakistan, which India accuses of supporting rebels in Kashmir. “Our neighboring country thinks such terror attacks can weaken us, but their plans will not materialize,” he said Friday, adding that government forces have been “given total freedom” to deal with the militants.

“Security forces have been given permission to take decisions about the timing, place and nature of their response,” he said. Pakistan’s ruling party rejected Modi’s allegation, saying India’s governing party was blaming Islamabad for political gains in the upcoming national election.

“The Indian allegations against Pakistan over yesterday’s incident are part of the election campaign,” said Naeemul Haq, a senior leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which came to power in last year’s parliamentary election. He said the violence in Kashmir was “the result of the brutalities of Indian occupied forces in Kashmir.”

The attack has ratcheted up already high tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors, who both administer parts of the disputed territory but each claim it entirely. Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced Friday that New Delhi was withdrawing the most-favored nation trade status given to Pakistan and would take all possible diplomatic steps “to ensure the complete isolation from international community of Pakistan of which incontrovertible evidence is available of having a direct hand in this gruesome terrorist incident.”

India’s Foreign Ministry also summoned the Pakistani ambassador to protest the attack. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said the country condemns acts of violence anywhere in the world and denied any involvement. “We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian media and government that seek to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations,” it said in a statement.

Rebels, many of whom want Kashmir united with Pakistan, have been fighting Indian control since 1989. But the Muslim-majority region has experienced renewed attacks and repeated public protests in recent years as a new generation of Kashmiri rebels, especially in the southern parts of the region, has challenged New Delhi’s rule with a mixture of violence and social media.

About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian crackdown. Last year’s death toll was the highest since 2009, with at least 260 militants, 160 civilians and 150 government forces killed.

In Thursday’s attack, a local Kashmiri militant rammed an explosive-laden van into a bus traveling in the paramilitary convoy. In addition to the dead, the attack wounded nearly two dozen other soldiers, India’s paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force spokesman Sanjay Sharma said.

Police said the bus was destroyed and at least five other vehicles were damaged. The Greater Kashmir newspaper reported that militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility. A pre-recorded video circulated on social media sites showed the purported attacker in combat clothes and surrounded by guns and grenades.

Authorities imposed a security lockdown in the southern Kakapora area to stop people from assembling at the home of the militant who allegedly attacked the convoy. Still, hundreds of people were able to reach his home by crossing rice fields and orchards, and offered prayers there.

Authorities suspended security convoys in the Kashmir Valley on Friday and Home Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in Srinagar to review the security situation. He said civilian traffic would be stopped during the movement of convoys in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, three top Kashmiri leaders known as the Joint Resistance Leadership who challenge India’s sovereignty over Kashmir said they regretted the killings. They said in a statement that India’s “muscular military approach to counter an essentially political and human problem is wreaking havoc in Kashmir, especially on the next generation.”

“Those who are here to execute this policy are also under stress and paying a price with their lives,” they said. The attack has raised tensions elsewhere in Hindu-majority India. Hundreds of residents carrying India’s national flag in Hindu-dominated Jammu city in the Muslim-majority state burned vehicles and hurled rocks at homes in Muslim neighborhoods, officials said. Authorities imposed a curfew and appealed for restraint.

Some people were reported injured in the mob attacks. Nearly 100 protesters chanting slogans such as “Pakistan down, down!” and “Attack Pakistan, Attack,” burned an effigy of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in a park close to India’s Parliament in New Delhi. They later dispersed.

The U.S. singled out Pakistan in a statement condemning the attack. “The United States calls on Pakistan to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region,” the statement from the White House press secretary’s office said.

It said the attack strengthened U.S. resolve to bolster counterterrorism cooperation with India. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947 and regularly exchange fire along their highly militarized border in Kashmir.

Associated Press writers Ashok Sharma in New Delhi and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

February 15, 2019

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — The death toll from a car bombing on a paramilitary convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir has climbed to 41, becoming the single deadliest attack in the divided region’s volatile history, security officials said Friday.

A local Kashmiri militant rammed an explosive-laden van into the convoy along a key highway Thursday. In addition to the dead, the attack wounded nearly two dozen other soldiers, India’s paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force spokesman Sanjay Sharma said.

The attack is ratcheting up already hostile tensions between India and Pakistan, who both administer parts of the disputed territory but each claim it entirely. India has blamed Pakistan for supporting the bombing, while Islamabad cautioned India not to link it to the attack.

India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced Friday that New Delhi was withdrawing the most favored nation trade status given to Pakistan and would take all possible diplomatic steps “to ensure the complete isolation from international community of Pakistan of which incontrovertible evidence is available of having a direct hand in this gruesome terrorist incident.”

He said Home Minister Rajnath Singh would visit Kashmir later Friday and review security situation there, and warned that they will ensure “those who have committed this heinous act of terrorism and those who have supported it actively are made to pay a heavy cost.”

Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989, but the Muslim-majority region has experienced renewed attacks and repeated public protests in recent years as a new generation of Kashmiri rebels, especially in the southern parts of the region, has challenged New Delhi’s rule with a mixture of violence and social media.

Officials said the militant in Thursday’s attack drove into a bus traveling in the convoy as it reached Lethpora, a town outside Srinagar. Police said the bus was destroyed and at least five other vehicles were damaged.

“The blast was so powerful that one cannot recognize whether the vehicle was a bus or a truck. Just pieces of mangled steel remain,” Sharma said. Videos circulated by local news groups showed ambulances rushing to the site and people running as smoke billowed from the damaged vehicles. Debris and body parts littered the road.

The Greater Kashmir newspaper reported that militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility. A pre-recorded video circulated on social media sites showed the purported attacker in combat clothes and surrounded by guns and grenades.

Indian Prime Minister Modi condemned the attack in a speech at a government function Friday saying India would give “a crushing response.” “Our neighboring country thinks such terror attacks can weaken us, but their plans will not materialize,” he said. He said government forces have been “given total freedom” to tackle militants.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said the country condemns acts of violence anywhere in the world, and denied any involvement. “We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian media and government that seek to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations,” it said in a statement.

The U.S., however, specifically singled out Pakistan in its statement condemning the attack. “The United States calls on Pakistan to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region,” the statement from the White House press secretary’s office said.

It said the attack strengthened U.S. resolve to bolster counterterrorism cooperation with India. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947 and regularly exchange fire along their highly militarized border in Kashmir.

Kashmir experienced many car bombings from 2000 through 2005 that inflicted high casualties on Indian troops. The attacks prompted Indian authorities to procure bombproof armored vehicles for soldiers operating in the region.

Indian soldiers are ubiquitous in Kashmir and local residents make little secret of their fury toward their presence in the Himalayan region. Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.

Since 1989, about 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian crackdown. Last year’s death toll was the highest since 2009, with at least 260 militants, 160 civilians and 150 government forces killed.

Associated Press writer Ashok Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this report.

January 28, 2019

CAIRO (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is to hold talks Monday with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo, saying beforehand that he wants to boost ties with an important ally to fight terrorism but also use the visit to encourage respect for human rights.

Macron, heading a large delegation on a three-day trip to the Arab world’s most populous country, said he wants to “pursue a truthful dialogue on topics of public freedoms and human rights” — an area he feels Egypt has not progressed enough on since he raised it with officials earlier in his mandate.

France, which considers itself the birthplace of human rights, has come under pressure by advocates to raise the matter with general-turned-President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, whose human rights record has been widely condemned and is seen as worsening.

Macron said that too many normal people “who do not threaten the regime’s stability” were being jailed. “It is on this area of what is happening in Egypt that I will continue to focus things. I will do it more openly during this trip,” Macron told reporters late on Sunday, adding that better treatment for political opponents was in the interest of el-Sissi and Egypt.

Macron said he felt the current crackdown on opposition in Egypt, begun after el-Sissi overthrew his elected but divisive Islamist predecessor in 2013, had become worse than under the country’s longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

“I think what is happening here sooner or later threatens the stability of Egypt,” Macron said. “That’s to say, I think that the policies as they are being done are perceived by intellectuals, the Egyptian civil society, as being even stronger than (under) the Mubarak regime.”

Macron also said that he would raise specific names with el-Sissi in a confidential discussion. Aside from heightened public emphasis on human rights, he did not mention raising any new specific levers to try and incentivize the Egyptian leader, who has faced no real competition in parliament or elections.

Rights groups and activists have urged France and other Western powers to halt weapons sales to Egypt, a major purchaser, until it shows improvement on the way it treats its own citizenry. But Macron dismissed using such pressure, saying it was important to respect Egypt’s sovereignty and not cut it off because that could drive it further into the arms of the West’s authoritarian rivals, Russia and China, which el-Sissi has courted.

Asked specifically if human rights issues could affect specific arms sales, such as one under discussion for additional Rafale advanced fighter jets to Egypt, Macron said such matters were separate. “I would differentiate between the two subjects, they are not linked for us and they never were.”

Macron arrived Sunday in Egypt and visited the country’s south, where he toured the famed temple of Abu Simbel and other archaeological sites. He is to meet el-Sissi later on Monday, when he will sign several bilateral accords.

His delegation includes government ministers, two dozen representatives from academic, cultural, and scientific fields, and a dozen business leaders — including the heads of Rafale producer Dassault.

Macron will also dine with local business leaders and meet the heads of Egypt’s Christian and Muslim communities during the trip, his first to Egypt since taking office in 2017.

January 28, 2019

ISTANBUL (AP) — A U.N. human rights expert has arrived in Turkey for a weeklong visit over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard and her team of experts on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara on Monday.

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency said they are also expected to meet Turkey’s justice minister and the Istanbul prosecutor heading the investigation. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who wrote critically about the Saudi crown prince, was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. His remains have still not been found.

Turkish officials have called for an international investigation and complained of a lack of cooperation by Riyadh. Saudi Arabia has indicted 11 people in the killing and is seeking the death penalty against five of them.