PARIS, April 18, (Agencies): French security services on Tuesday swooped on two men accused of plotting an attack just five days before the first round of the presidential election. The men were arrested in the southern city of Marseille by agents from France’s domestic intelligence agency. Interior Minister Matthias Fekl said the attack was to be carried out in the “next few days” by the two men, aged 23 and 29, who are known to be “radicalised”. He gave no further details on the nature of the plot. More than 230 people have been killed in terror attacks in France since January 2015. Candidates have been heavily guarded during the election campaign, but so far there have been few security scares. “Everything will be done to ensure security” for the election, Fekl said. The race was narrowing ahead of Sunday’s vote, with the pack closing behind frontrunners Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, while a quarter of voters remained undecided. For weeks, centrist former banker Macron and National Front (FN) leader Le Pen have been out in front but opinion polls now show there is a very real chance that any of the four leading candidates could reach the second-round runoff on May 7. Scandal-plagued conservative Francois Fillon and far-left firebrand Jean- Luc Melenchon have closed the gap substantially in the last two weeks.
“We have never seen a four-way contest like this in the first round of a presidential election,” Frederic Dabi of the Ifop polling institute told AFP. “There has been a real tightening of the race with four candidates between 19 percent and 23 percent,” he added. Macron and Le Pen are tied on 22-23 percent, with Fillon improving to around 21 percent and Melenchon surging as high as 20 percent in some polls. With Le Pen expected to reach the second round, polls continue to indicate that whoever faces her will win, although after Brexit and Donald Trump’s US election win, no one is taking anything for granted. Meanwhile, Le Pen sought on Tuesday to turn the debate in the final week of France’s presidential election to immigration as she looked to reverse a dip in polls. Speaking to a rally in Paris on Monday she vowed to suspend all immigration with an immediate moratorium, shield voters from globalisation and strengthen security, subjects that have won her core backing and that she hopes can give her boost with about 30 percent of voters still undecided.
“For several weeks, we will need to assess the situation. The reality is that immigration is massive in our country and that migration flood that we are experiencing is not a fantasy,” Le Pen told RTL radio on Tuesday — fleshing out details of the moratorium announcement.
The measure has not been part of her programme, although she has put on record that she wants to limit annual immigration to just 10,000 people a year. “I will carry out this moratorium for the exact purpose of implementing this 10,000 figure,” she said. Until now, Le Pen has struggled to entice her opponents in the presidential race to debate her party’s trademark tough security and immigration stance. She, by contrast, has been put on the defensive over her position on leaving the euro zone, a proposal that lacks wide support. High noon on Sunday will bring the first hard sign of just how close France’s presidential race really is with the release of early turnout figures for the first round eight hours before expected results.
With indecision also a major factor, polls show the race is so tight between the top four candidates that each has a chance of making the two-person run-off vote — therefore presenting no fewer than six second round scenarios. Reuters research into past elections shows that the lower the firstround turnout, the greater the uncertainty about which two candidates will contest that run-off on May 7. Investors are poring over the arithmetic of past votes for clues about the likelihood of an unexpected result this time. Judging from history, turnout will be the key variable. In past elections, the higher the abstention rate in the first round of voting, the lower the hurdle candidates had to clear in order to qualify.
French bond yields have risen in recent months and equity investors have massively hedged positions in the options market to reduce exposure to the risk of a market-unsettling surprise vote. The Interior Ministry was to publish a first turnout estimate at midday (1000 GMT) on Sunday followed by an update at 5:00 PM, three hours before the last polling stations close at 8:00 PM. “This (closeness) creates a risk of surprise because it substantially lowers the vote required to make it to the second round,” Swiss fund managers Unigestion, with 23 billion euros ($24.5 billion) under management, said in a research note. In French presidential elections since 1965, the lowest scoring of the two candidates to qualify for the runoffs has had a vote of 25 percent on average. However, Le Pen’s father Jean- Marie, when he was head of the party she took over in 2011, qualified in 2002 with only 16.9 percent of the vote – a record low qualification level on a record abstention rate of 28 percent, proving polls at the time embarrassingly wrong.
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday assured lawmakers that New Delhi would go "out of its way" to save sentenced spy Kulbhushan Jadhav from death row in Pakistan, according to Indian media reports.
Calling Jadhav "a son of India", Swaraj issued a warning to Pakistan saying, "I would caution the Pakistani government to consider the consequences for our bilateral relationship if they proceed on this matter."
"Our position is very clear, there is no evidence of wrongdoing by Kulbhushan Jadhav," Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament.
"This is an act of premeditated murder," she said, referring to the death sentence handed to the Indian spy by a Field General Court Martial (FGCM) on Monday.
When asked by a lawmaker if the government would fight Jadhav's case in the Pakistani apex court, Swaraj said: "We will do more. We will take it up with the president [Mamnoon Hussain]," The Hindu reported.
The Indian minister of external affairs, Swaraj, alleged that Jadhav was awarded the death sentence on "concocted charges".
"Jadhav was doing a business in Iran and he was abducted and taken to Pakistan. We sought consular access, but were denied," she claimed. "He is innocent. They [Pakistan] seek through him to cast aspersions in India to hide their own role in terror."
The lower house of the Indian parliament, the Lok Sabha, was united in condemning Jadhav's sentence.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh, addressing the Lok Sabha, said: "I condemn it [Jadhav's death sentence] as an illegal act against the norms of the rule of law and international convention."
"Whatever has to be done to do justice with Kulbhushan will be done by the government," he added.
Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav was arrested on March 3, 2016, through a counter-intelligence operation in Balochistan's Mashkel area for his involvement in espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement on Monday.
Although the accused had been provided with a defending officer as per legal provisions, according to ISPR, Pakistan had turned down India's request seeking consular access to Jadhav last year due to his involvement in "subversive activities" in the country.
Jadhav was tried by the FGCM under Section 59 of the PAA and Section 3 of the official Secret Act of 1923, the statement said.
Jadhav confessed before a magistrate and court that he was tasked by Indian spy agency Research and Analysis wing to plan, coordinate and organise espionage and sabotage activities seeking to destabilise and wage war against Pakistan through impeding the efforts of law enforcement agencies for the restoration of peace in Balochistan and Karachi, the ISPR said.
Following the announcement, India summoned Pakistan's High Commissioner to New Delhi Abdul Basit on Monday and handed over a demarche saying, "If this sentence against an Indian citizen, awarded without observing basic norms of law and justice, is carried out, the government and people of India will regard it as a case of premeditated murder."
Dawn reported that Jadhav now has 40 days to file an appeal against the FGCM in the army’s court of appeal, according to retired Col Inamur Rahim, a military law expert.
In case the appeal court upholds the FGCM verdict, Jadhav would have the opportunity to seek mercy from the army chief and the president of Pakistan.
Simultaneously, Col Inam said, the convict could approach a high court if he felt that due process was not observed during his trial and his fundamental rights as an accused were not fulfilled.
Experts view the military's announcement about Jadhav's trial and prosecution as an unprecedented move, viewing it as a strong message to India as well as other foreign intelligence agencies.
BERLIN, April 3, (Agencies): Chancellor Angela Merkel said refugees in Germany must respect tolerance, openness and freedom of religion, while senior members of her party called for a ban on foreign funding of mosques. Merkel, who will seek a fourth term as chancellor in what is expected to be a tight election in September, has come under fire for allowing more than one million refugees to enter Germany over the past two years. Interviewed by a Syrian journalist who came to Germany in 2015 and asked about what Germany was expecting from refugees, Merkel said in her weekly podcast: “We expect the people who come to us to stick to our laws.”
Merkel said it was paramount that new arrivals respected and understood the liberal values of modern Germany such as tolerance, openness, freedom of religion and freedom of opinion. The centre-right leader urged Germans to show openness in return. “We know very few things about Syria, we know very few things about Iraq or African countries. And we must see this as an opportunity to learn more and experience more,” she said. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party has lost support since her decision in 2015 to leave Germany’s borders open for hundreds of thousands refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria and Iraq.
Immigration and security are set to be major issues in the election, in which the far-right, antiimmigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is expected to enter parliament. In an apparent attempt to address unease among traditional CDU voters over Merkel’s migration policy, CDU deputy party leader Julia Kloeckner called for stricter rules for Islamic preachers and a ban on foreign funding of mosques, echoing comments by other senior CDU members in recent days. Most of the four million Muslims living in Germany have a Turkish background and some mosques in Germany are financed by the Turkish government.
“An ‘Islam law’ can place the rights and duties of Muslims living in Germany on a new legal basis,” Kloeckner told Bild am Sonntag. Kloeckner also called for a public register that would list all mosques in Germany and provide background information on sponsors and financiers. Such rules should also include a right to a Muslim religious counsellor in prisons, hospitals and nursing homes, she added. The CDU’s coalition partner and rival party the SPD, whose new leader Martin Schulz will stand against Merkel in September’s election, flatly rejected the idea. “In my opinion, the proposals are hardly compatible with the German constitution,” SPD deputy leader Olaf Scholz told the Funke media group, adding that a law could not only be made for a single religious community. The chairman of the Islamic Council in Germany, Burhan Kesici, said the proposals were populist and put Muslims under blanket suspicion.
Meanwhile, the German government says there’s no need for new legislation to regulate Islamic organizations in the country. Members of Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union party have called for a ban on foreign funding of Islamic organizations, and for Muslims to get statutory rights to pastoral care from an imam in prisons and hospitals. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Monday that such a law was “a non-issue” at the moment and noted that religious freedom is guaranteed by the German constitution. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of Muslim migrants in Germany in recent years has rekindled public debates about the country’s relationship with Islam. A recent report by public broadcaster ARD found that the Islam preached in some mosques is more conservative than in many Muslim countries. A German court handed lengthy prison sentences Monday to four Islamic extremists over plots to bomb a train station and kill a far-right politician.
The Duesseldorf regional court found 29-yearold Marco G., whose surname wasn’t published in line with privacy laws, guilty of attempted murder for placing an explosive device at the main train station in the western city of Bonn in December 2012. Although the home-made bomb was discovered and defused before it detonated, the court said the German convert to Islam deserved a life sentence due to the seriousness of the crime, the dpa news agency reported. It ruled out his release after 15 years, the usual life term in Germany. He and three others were also found guilty of forming a terrorist organization and planning to kill a member of the far-right Pro NRW party who had taken part in protests against mosques during which caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad were shown. Judges sentenced Albanian citizen Enea B., 46, German-Turkish dual national Koray D., 28, and German citizen Tayfun S., 27, to between 9-ó years and 12 years in prison. Prosecutors said the men’s plan was partly fueled by an audio message disseminated by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They were arrested in March 2013, the night before the planned killing. Their lawyers had asked the court to acquit the men, according to dpa.
ST. PETERSBURG, April 3, (RTRS): Ten people were killed and more than 20 were injured when an explosion tore through a train carriage in a St. Petersburg metro tunnel on Monday in what authorities called a probable terrorist attack Russian news media reported that police were searching for a man recorded on surveillance cameras who was thought to have been involved in the attack, which coincided with a visit to the city by President Vladimir Putin. A grainy photograph published by the Fontanka news outlet showed a middle aged man with beard and black hat.
Interfax news agency cited unnamed sources as saying the bomb, packed with shrapnel, may have been hidden in a train carriage inside a briefcase. Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee said an explosive device had been found at a different metro station, hidden under a fire extinguisher, but had been made safe. The Investigative Committee, a state body which investigates major crimes, opened a criminal case on charges of terrorism.
Russia has been the target in the past of numerous bomb attacks, frequently targeting public transport. Most were blamed on Islamist rebels from Russia’s North Caucasus region. The rebellion there has been largely crushed, but security experts say Russia’s military intervention in Syria has made Russia a potential target for Islamic State attacks. Soon after the blast happened at 2:40 pm, ambulances and fire engines descended on the concrete-and-glass Sennaya Ploshchad metro station as a helicopter hovered overhead. “I appeal to you citizens of St Petersburg and guests of our city to be alert, attentive and cautious and to behave in a responsible matter in light of events,” St Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko said in an address.
The blast raised security fears beyond Russian frontiers. France, which has itself suffered a series of attacks, announced additional security measures in Paris. Video from the scene of Monday’s blast showed injured people lying bleeding on a platform, some being treated by emergency services and fellow passengers. Others ran away from the platform amid clouds of smoke, some screaming or holding their hands to their faces. “I saw a lot of smoke, a crowd making its way to the escalators, people with blood and other people’s insides on their clothes, bloody faces,,” St Petersburg resident Leonid Chaika, who said he was at the station where the blast happened, told Reuters by phone. “Many were crying.”
A huge hole was blown open in the side of a carriage with metal wreckage strewn across the platform. Passengers were seen hammering at the windows of one closed carriage. Russian TV said many had suffered lacerations from glass shards and metal, the force of the explosion maximised by the confines of the carriage and the tunnel. Officials said earlier on Monday that the death toll from the explosion was 9, but the health minister later revised that upwards to 10 dead. Authorities closed all St Petersburg metro stations.
The Moscow metro said it was taking unspecified additional security measures in case of an attack there. Russia has been on particular alert against Chechen rebels returning from Syria, where they have fought alongside Islamic State, and wary of any attempts to resume attacks that dogged the country several years ago. At least 38 people were killed in 2010 when two female suicide bombers detonated bombs on packed Moscow metro trains. Over 330 people, half of them children, were killed in 2004 when police stormed a school in southern Russia after a hostage taking by Islamist militants. In 2002, 120 hostages were killed when police stormed a Moscow theatre to end another hostage-taking. Putin, as prime minister, launched a 1999 campaign to crush a separatist government in the Muslim southern region of Chechnya, and as president continued a hard line in suppressing rebellion.
A 41-year-old citizen of India was sentenced Tuesday to 15 years in a US prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiring while living in northern Nevada to plot terror strikes in his home country on the border with Pakistan.
US District Judge Larry Hicks in Reno also ordered Balwinder Singh to remain under lifetime federal supervision upon his release from prison after prosecutors argued that Singh has had ties to known terrorist groups in India for more than two decades.
“This is such an incredibly serious offence,” Hicks said.
Assistant US Attorney Brian Sullivan said he expects Singh to be released in about 10 years, given that he's already served about three years and likely to earn credit for good time. Following his prison term, a federal immigration judge will determine whether Singh will be deported.
“It will be up to an (immigration) judge to decide whether to send someone back to a country where he has been tortured or whether we as a country still stand in opposition to those sort of things,” Kennedy said after the sentencing.
FBI Special Agent Aaron Rouse of Las Vegas said the plot was foiled after a co-conspirator was arrested trying to board a flight in San Francisco bound for Bangkok, Thailand, with two sets of night vision goggles purchased by Singh at a Cabela's sporting goods store in Reno.
Sullivan said it's possible Singh still will be extradited to India where he faces criminal charges in connection with a terror attack on a passenger bus that killed three people in India in April 2006.
“This isn't somebody who was just recruited like some of the young people who think it's really cool to go get involved with the Jihad,” Sullivan said.
“Mr. Singh has been involved with terrorism or terrorist organisations for over 20 years.”
“We are hoping he has learned a lesson. But we think he needs to be watched not just for three or four years, but for his entire lifetime,” he said.
Singh, who has been jailed since his arrested in December 2013, agreed to the terms of the plea agreement in exchange for dropping a series of other charges, including conspiracy to murder, kidnap or maim persons in a foreign country.
“My only request is I should not be deported. I should be released here,” Singh told the judge through a Punjabi interpreter.
Prosecutors in the Justice Department's counterterrorism section say Singh worked with two terrorist organisations Babbar Khalsa International and Khalistan Zindabad Force to try to establish an independent Sikh state in the Punjab region.
Daniel Bogden, US attorney for Nevada, said Singh sought asylum in San Francisco using a false identity to elude Indian authorities and eventually obtained a permanent residence card in the US.
“These groups engage in violent crimes in India to intimidate and compel the Indian government to create the state of Khalistan,” Bogden told reporters.
“These groups also target for assassination persons who are considered traitors of the Sikh religion and government officials who it considers responsible for atrocities against the Sikhs.“
TEHRAN, March 7, (Agencies): Iran said Tuesday it would continue its retaliatory measure of barring US visitors in response to US President Donald Trump’s updated travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries. “Our earlier counter-measure against Trump’s previous order is still in place,” said deputy foreign minister Majid Takht Ravanchi at a conference entitled “What to do about Trump’s America”.
“There is no need for a new decision,” he said, according to the ISNA news agency. Iran’s foreign ministry announced in January it would ban Americans from entering the country in response to Trump’s “insulting” order restricting arrivals from Iran and six other Muslim states. It called the decision “illegal, illogical and contrary to international rules”.
The White House re-issued the ban on Monday — this time excluding Iraq but still targeting Iranians — following legal challenges. Trump’s ban was halted by a federal court in February, allowing an Iranian archery team into the US. Iran reciprocated by allowing entry to an American wrestling team for a competition. Iranians have been the most affected by the ban since more than one million live, work and study in the United States.
The new, more narrowly tailored temporary travel ban President Donald Trump signed on Monday will be more difficult to challenge successfully in court, legal experts said. They said that since his order no longer covers legal residents or existing visa holders, and makes waivers possible for some business, diplomatic and other travelers, challengers are likely to have a harder time finding people in the United States who can legally claim they have been harmed, and thus have so-called “standing” to sue. Trump’s first executive order signed on Jan 27 banned travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — for 90 days and halted refugee admission for four months, barring Syrian refugees indefinitely.
Its hasty implementation caused chaos and protests at airports. The order was hit with more than two dozen lawsuits, many that claimed it discriminated against Muslims. The new ban, which goes into effect on March 16, removes Iraq and adds categories of people who would be exempt from the order. The Trump administration said the executive order is necessary for national security reasons. It also lists groups of people that could be eligible for waivers, including travelers who have previously been admitted to the United States for work or school, those seeking to visit or live with a close relative and who would face hardship if denied entry; infants, young children and adoptees or people in need of medical care, employees of the US government and international organizations among others. All the exceptions make the new order “a lot harder to attack,” said Andrew Greenfield, an immigration attorney with Fragomen law firm in Washington D.C. Trump had promised to make the new directive harder to fight in court and many of the changes were expected. “They dotted their ‘i’s’ and crossed their ‘t’s’ in trying to anticipate what litigation might result,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a Cornell Law School professor who specializes in immigration. He said opponents might still be able to find plaintiffs — a US citizen could potentially sue if the government denies a waiver to their foreign spouse for an arbitrary reason, for example.
In a legal challenge to the original order, the state of Washington was successful in preventing it from being carried out. A federal judge in Seattle and then an appeals court in San Francisco ruled that Washington could claim standing, in part because the order adversely affected legal permanent residents, known as green card holders, in the state.
More than 100 businesses, including many of the best-known tech companies, filed briefs in court that argued their employees were harmed. Bob Ferguson, the Attorney General for Washington State said on Monday that he will likely decide on the next litigation steps this week after consulting with state universities and businesses about potential harms. “We need to do our homework and be thoughtful about this,” Ferguson said. The US Department of Justice, in a filing in Seattle federal court on Monday, said the new order applies “only to those who are overseas and without a visa.”
NEW YORK, March 7, (RTRS): New York City’s police department has agreed to a new settlement in a lawsuit accusing it of illegally targeting Muslims for surveillance, according to court papers filed on Monday, after a federal judge rejected an earlier deal.
The new settlement gives additional powers to a civilian representative charged with reviewing the department’s counterterrorism efforts. Arthur Eisenberg, legal director for New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that the settlement was “even more protective of religious and political freedoms” than the version announced in January 2016. The civil liberties organization represents Muslim individuals and organizations who sued New York City in 2013 in Brooklyn federal court claiming they were targeted by police surveillance. In an order made public last October, US District Judge Charles Haight in Manhattan rejected the original settlement, which also called for a civilian representative. Haight said that deal did not go far enough in ensuring that the police department adhere to court-approved regulations, called the Handschu guidelines, that limit how it can monitor political and religious activity.
The settlement is subject to approval by Haight, who oversees a decades-old class action that gave rise to the Handschu guidelines, and the judge in the Brooklyn case. The new deal gives the civilian representative the power to report on violations of the guidelines to the court at any time, and requires the mayor to get court approval before removing the representative, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The earlier version allowed the mayor to eliminate the position after five years. The civilian representative can now also review how investigations are conducted, not just how they are started or extended. The Handschu Guidelines took the name of the lead plaintiff, Barbara Handschu, in a 1971 lawsuit that challenged surveillance of war protesters in the 1960s and ‘70s. Those guidelines were relaxed after Sept. 11 to help police fight terrorism. The agreement covers two cases, the Handschu case and another case filed in 2013 on behalf of mosques, community leaders and other groups who said they were wrongly the target of NYPD surveillance. Hina Shamsi, National Security Project director with the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the 2013 suit with the New York Civil Liberties Union, praised the decision. “As religious bigotry rises to a fever pitch nationwide, this settlement sends the message that Muslims and all New Yorkers will have even stronger protections from unconstitutional religious profiling and surveillance. Federal officials and local police elsewhere should take heed that courageous people like our clients and their supporters will always stand up for constitutional rights and freedoms.” A spokesman for the city said New York is committed to making the relationship between communities and the police stronger.