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.
WASHINGTON: A US State Department report released on Friday labelled the Altaf Khanani group as a money laundering organisation and accused it of laundering billions of dollars for organised crime and terrorist outfits.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William R. Brownfield told a briefing in Washington that the State Department had delivered its 32nd International Narcotics Control Strategy Report to Congress on Wednesday. “It is, however, the first time that we are discussing and rolling this report out before the media in nine years,” he added.
In its section on Pakistan, the report notes: “The Altaf Khanani money laundering organisation (Khanani MLO) is based in Pakistan. The group, which was designated a transnational organised crime group by the United States in November 2015, facilitates illicit money movement between, among others, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), United States, UK, Canada, and Australia.”
The group “is responsible for laundering billions of dollars in organised crime proceeds annually. The Khanani MLO offers money laundering services to a diverse clientele, including Chinese, Colombian, and Mexican organised crime groups and individuals associated with designated terrorist organisations”, the report adds.
It describes Pakistan as strategically located country at the nexus of south, central and western Asia, with a coastline along the Arabian Sea. The report notes that Pakistan’s porous borders with Afghanistan, Iran and China facilitate the smuggling of narcotics and contraband to overseas markets.
“The country suffers from financial crimes associated with tax evasion, fraud, corruption, trade in counterfeit goods, contraband smuggling, narcotics trafficking, human smuggling/trafficking, terrorism and terrorist financing,” the report points out.
“There is a substantial demand for money laundering and illicit financial services due to the country’s black market economy and challenging security environment.”
The report notes that money laundering in Pakistan affects both the formal and informal financial systems. Pakistan does not have firm control of its borders, which facilitates the flow of illicit goods and monies into and out of Pakistan.
The report, however, acknowledges that most Pakistanis living abroad use legal channels for sending money home. From January to December 2016, the Pakistani diaspora remitted $19.7 billion back to Pakistan via the formal banking sector, up by 2.3 per cent from 2015.
The report notes that while it is illegal to operate a hawala without a licence in Pakistan, the practice remains prevalent because of poor ongoing supervision efforts and a lack of penalties levied against illegally operating businesses. “Unlicensed hawala/hundi operators are also common throughout the broader region and are widely used to transfer and launder illicit money through neighbouring countries,” the report adds.
Common methods for transferring illicit funds include fraudulent trade invoicing, unlicensed hundis and hawalas and bulk cash smuggling.
The report says that criminals exploit import/export firms, front businesses and the charitable sector to carry out their activities. Pakistan’s real estate sector is another common money laundering vehicle, since real estate transactions tend to be poorly documented and cash-based, it adds.
The report notes that in January 2015, Pakistan launched the National Action Plan (NAP), addressing primarily counter-terrorist financing. The government’s implementation of the NAP “has yielded mixed results, which is in part due to the lack of institutional capacity as well as political will,” the report adds.
“Unlicensed hawaladars continue to operate illegally throughout
Pakistan, particularly in Peshawar and Karachi, though under the NAP Pakistan has reportedly been pursuing illegal hawala/hundi dealers and exchange houses.”
The report says that Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, which is responsible for investigating money laundering cases, lacks the capacity to pursue complicated financial investigations.
Last year, Altaf Khanani pleaded guilty to a money laundering charge before a US court and signed a plea agreement on Oct 27. Khanani was arrested in September last year following a sting operation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and has been in jail ever since. He was indicted in the US District Court of the Southern District of Florida on 14 counts of money laundering in June 2015.
Khanani was among the four men the United States blacklisted in October for purported ties to an organisation accused of laundering money for drug traffickers and Chinese, Colombian and Mexican crime groups. Among them was his son Obaid Khanani.
In a statement issued then, the US Department of Treasury said that Obaid Khanani, 29, continued to help lead his father’s money laundering organisation after the arrest. Another man on the list, Hozaifa Khanani, also 29, was Altaf Khanani’s nephew and was involved in real estate investments on behalf of his uncle’s organisation, the Treasury Department added.
It said Mohammad Javed Khanani, Altaf Khanani’s brother, was “heavily involved in laundering criminal proceeds via money service businesses”.
Javed Khanani, a director of Khanani and Kalia International (KKI) money changers, died in December 2016 after reportedly falling from an under-construction building in Karachi.
A fourth man, Atif Polani, helped move funds on behalf of Khanani’s organisation.
The White House budget director confirmed Saturday that the Trump administration will propose "fairly dramatic reductions" in the US foreign aid budget later this month.
Reuters and other news outlets reported earlier this week that the administration plans to propose to Congress cuts in the budgets for the US State Department and Agency for International Development by about one third.
"We are going to propose to reduce foreign aid and we are going to propose to spend that money here," White House Office of Management Budget director Mick Mulvaney told Fox News on Saturday, adding the proposed cuts would include "fairly dramatic reductions in foreign aid."
Mulvaney said the cuts in foreign aid would help the administration fund a proposed $54 billion expansion of the US military budget.
"The overriding message is fairly straightforward: less money spent overseas means more money spent here," said Mulvaney, a former South Carolina Representative.
The United States spends just over $50 billion annually on the State Department and USAID, compared with $600bn or more each year on the Pentagon.
Several Republicans this week on Capitol Hill raised concerns about the planned cuts to the State Department.
"I am very concerned by reports of deep cuts that could damage efforts to combat terrorism, save lives and create opportunities for American workers," said US Representative Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
A US government website said 20 government agencies plan to award $36.5bn in foreign assistance programs in more than 100 countries around the world during the current budget year.
Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, tweeted earlier this week: "Foreign Aid is not charity. We must make sure it is well spent, but it is less than 1 per cent of budget & critical to our national security."
Mulvaney said the Trump administration will release its budget proposal on March 16. Reuters has reported the administration plans significant proposed cuts in many other domestic programs.