German migrant rescue captain appears in Italy court

Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete, center, from Germany, is approached by Italian finance police as she arrives in the Sicilian port of Porto Empedocle, from the island of Lampedusa, Italy. (AP Photo)
Updated 01 July 2019

German migrant rescue captain appears in Italy court

  • Sea-Watch 3 skipper Carola Rackete was arrested after hitting a police speed boat while entering Lampedusa port
  • Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he had been asked about the case by German Chancellor Angela Merkel

AGRIGENTO, Italy: The German captain of a migrant rescue ship appeared in an Italian court on Monday, as her case sparked fresh tension between Rome and Berlin.
Sea-Watch 3 skipper Carola Rackete was arrested after hitting a police speed boat while entering Lampedusa port with 40 people rescued from the Mediterranean.
Her vessel, banned from docking by Italian authorities, knocked the speedboat while pulling up to the pier on Saturday after a two-week stand-off at sea.
The 31-year-old, who was escorted by police to court in the Sicilian city of Agrigento, stands accused of putting the speedboat and the safety of its occupants at risk.
Rackete, who faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted, is likely to be released pending trial.
“My client will answer all the judge’s questions,” Leonardo Marino, one of Rackete’s lawyers, said on arrival at the court.
“Miss Rackete acted out of necessity and had no intention of using violence,” he told journalists.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the hearing’s only result can be “the release of Carola Rackete.”
“I will again make this clear to Italy,” he added.
Maas had already said that someone who saves lives “cannot be a criminal.”
Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini retorted that Maas should “invite his fellow citizens not to break Italian laws.”
Salvini, who has described the incident as an “act of war,” said Monday that he had not changed his mind about “the German criminal.”
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he had been asked about the case by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but told her he “cannot intervene to dictate how judges behave.”
France was also quick to criticize the arrest, accusing Rome of creating “hysteria.”
Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella called for those involved to “tone it down.”
If the skipper is freed on bail, Salvini might enforce an order already prepared by his ministry to expel her from the country.
The case has sparked two fund-raising appeals for Rackete’s legal costs, which have collectively raised almost 1.2 million euros ($1.36 million).
Rackete picked up 53 migrants drifting on an inflatable raft off the coast of Libya on June 12.
The Italian authorities allowed 13 migrants to be taken in for health reasons but refused entry to the 40 others.
They have now been allowed to disembark at Lampedusa and are expected to be taken in by France, Germany, Finland, Luxembourg and Portugal.
Dreadlocked Rackete has become a leftwing hero in Italy for challenging Salvini’s “closed-ports” policy.
She was cheered and applauded by a crowd of supporters waiting for her on her arrival in Agrigento.
But she has drawn criticism from some by knocking the police boat, which was attempting to stop her from docking.
The German charity Sea-Watch has accused the Italian police of causing the incident at the port by nipping into the closing gap between the vessel and the pier.
Rackete “performed all maneuvers very slowly, in a non-confrontational manner,” it said in a statement.
It said the police “obviously miscalculated the right time to sail away,” and insisted the vessels “only slightly touched each other.”
Lampedusa mayor Salvatore Martello said Monday that 600 migrants had sailed across the Mediterranean to the tiny island in less than month, despite Salvini’s claim that the ports are closed.


France targets mosques in extremism crackdown

Updated 3 min 40 sec ago

France targets mosques in extremism crackdown

  • Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that if any of the 76 prayer halls inspected were found to promote extremism they would be closed down
  • Inspections are part of France’s response to two attacks — the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty and the killing of three people in a Nice church

PARIS: French authorities will inspect dozens of mosques and prayer halls suspected of radical teachings starting Thursday as part of a crackdown on extremists following a spate of attacks, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

Darmanin told RTL radio that if any of the 76 prayer halls inspected was found to promote extremism they would be closed down.

The inspections are part of the government’s response to two brutal recent attacks that shocked France — the October 16 beheading of a teacher who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and the stabbing to death of three people in a church in Nice on October 29.

Darmanin did not reveal which places of worship would be inspected. In a note he sent to regional security chiefs, seen by AFP, he cites 16 addresses in the Paris region and 60 others around the country.

On Twitter Wednesday he said the mosques were suspected of “separatism” — a term President Emmanuel Macron has used to describe ultraconservative Muslims closing themselves off from French society by, for example, enrolling their children in underground schools or forcing young girls to wear the Muslim headscarf.

The rightwing minister told RTL the fact that only a fraction of the around 2,600 Muslim places of worship in France were suspected of peddling radical theories showed “we are far from a situation of widespread radicalization.”

“Nearly all Muslims in France respect the laws of the Republic and are hurt by that (radicalization),” he said.
The killing of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his pupils cartoons of Mohammad in a class on free speech, at a school outside Paris sent shockwaves through France, where it was seen as an attack on the republic itself.

In the aftermath of his murder the authorities raided dozens of associations, sports groups and charities suspected of promoting extremism.
They also ordered the temporary closure of a large mosque in the Paris suburb of Pantin that had shared a vitriolic video lambasting Paty.

The government has also announced plans to step up the deportations of illegal migrants on radicalization watchlists.
Darmanin said that 66 of 231 foreigners on a watchlist had been expelled, around 50 others had been put in migrant detention centers and a further 30 had been placed under house arrest.

The minister announced the latest clampdown after receiving fierce criticism for pushing a bill that would make it harder to document police brutality.

Images of officers beating up black music producer Michel Zecler in his studio brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets last weekend against Darmanin’s push to restrict the filming of the police in the new bill.
MPs from Macron’s ruling Republic on the Move party have since announced plans to rewrite the legislation.