Macron says beheaded teacher was victim of stupidity, hate

A ceremonial military guard carried the teacher’s coffin into the cobblestone courtyard of the Sorbonne. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 October 2020

Macron says beheaded teacher was victim of stupidity, hate

  • Macron: “Samuel Paty ... became the face of the Republic”
  • Authorities have identified the killer as Abdoullakh Anzorov

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron promised Wednesday that France will not renounce freedoms taught by a schoolteacher beheaded by a radical Islamist last week after showing caricatures of the prophet of Islam to his class.
At a national memorial at the Sorbonne University in central Paris, Macron praised history teacher Samuel Paty as the “face of the Republic” who “believed in knowledge.”
Paty, 47, was murdered on Friday by an 18-year-old of Chechen origin who had become radicalized. He was in turn shot dead by police.
“Samuel Paty ... became the face of the Republic, of our will to shatter terrorists, to (do away with) Islamists, to live like a community of free citizens in our country,” Macron said. “We will continue.”
A ceremonial military guard carried the teacher’s coffin into the cobblestone courtyard of the Sorbonne where the memorial took place before his family, government members and select guests. A giant screen was installed outside.
The stirring ceremony, with readings that included a poem by Albert Camus to his own teacher, came hours after the prosecutor sketched out how the teenager came to kill Paty, with the suspected help of two young students at the school in a northwest Paris suburb.
Jean-Francois Ricard said a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old are among seven people taken before an investigating magistrate on accusations of “complicity in murder in relation with a terrorist undertaking” and “criminal conspiracy.”
The killer offered students at the school where Paty taught 300-350 euros ($355-$415) to help him pick out the educator, Ricard said during a news conference.
“The investigation has established that the perpetrator knew the name of the teacher, the name of the school and its address, yet he did not have the means to identify him,” the prosecutor said. “That identification has only been possible with the help of students from the same school.”
He said the implication of the two young adolescents “appeared to be conclusive.”
Authorities have identified the killer as Abdoullakh Anzorov., a Moscow-born Chechen refugee.
Anzorov claimed responsibility in a text accompanied by a photograph of the victim found on his phone.
The other suspects include a student’s father who posted videos on social media that called for mobilization against the teacher and an Islamist activist who helped the man disseminate the virulent messages, which named Paty and gave the school’s address, Ricard said.
Two more men, aged 18 and 19, are accused of accompanying the attacker when he bought the weapons, including a knife and an airsoft gun, the prosecutor said. One of them allegedly drove Anzorov, who lived in the Normandy town of Evreux about 90 kilometers (56 miles) of the school, to near the school about three hours before the killing.
Another 18-year-old suspect had close contacts with the attacker and endorsed radical Islamism, Ricard said.
Al three of them, who were friends of Anzorov, allegedly said that “he was ‘radicalizing’ for several months, marked by a change of behavior, physical appearance, isolation, an assiduous frequentation of the mosque and ambiguous remarks about Jihad and the Daesh group.”
“Samuel Paty was the victim of a conspiracy of stupidity, hate, lies ... hate of the other ... hate of what we profoundly are,” Macron said during his speech, which blended honors to the victim and the teaching profession with his government’s efforts to root out Islamist radicals.
On Wednesday morning, the French government issued an order to dissolve a domestic militant Islamic group, the Collective Cheikh Yassine. Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said it was “implicated, linked to Friday’s attack” and it was used to promote anti-republican hate speech. Other groups will be dissolved “in the coming weeks” for similar reasons, Attal said.
Named after a slain leader of the Palestinian Hamas, Collective Cheikh Yassine was founded in the early 2000s by the Islamist activist who is among the seven people accused of being accomplices to the attacker.
Attal also confirmed that the government ordered a mosque in the northeast Paris suburb of Pantin to close for six months.
The Pantin mosque is being punished for relaying the angry father’s message on social media.
Authorities say it has long had an imam following the Salafist path, a rigorous interpretation of the Muslim holy book.
A national memorial event is scheduled to be held Wednesday evening in the courtyard of the Sorbonne university.


US wasted billions on cars, buildings in Afghanistan - report

Updated 01 March 2021

US wasted billions on cars, buildings in Afghanistan - report

  • US agency said it reviewed $7.8 billion spent since 2008 on buildings and vehicle 
  • Worsening security situation in Afghanistan also greatly impeded the monitoring of projects – says former Afghan government adviser

ISLAMABAD: The United States wasted billions of dollars in war-torn Afghanistan on buildings and vehicles that were either abandoned or destroyed, according to a report released Monday by a US government watchdog. 
The agency said it reviewed $7.8 billion spent since 2008 on buildings and vehicles. Only $343.2 million worth of buildings and vehicles “were maintained in good condition,” said the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, which oversees American taxpayer money spent on the protracted conflict. 
The report said that just $1.2 billion of the $7.8 billion went to pay for buildings and vehicles that were used as intended.
“The fact that so many capital assets wound up not used, deteriorated or abandoned should have been a major cause of concern for the agencies financing these projects,” John F. Sopko, the special inspector general, said in his report.
The US public is weary of the nearly 20-year-old war and President Joe Biden is reviewing a peace deal his predecessor, Donald Trump, signed with the Taliban a year ago. He must decide whether to withdraw all troops by May 1, as promised in the deal, or stay and possibly prolong the war. Officials say no decision has been made.

Afghan security forces stand outside a USAID compound in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, after it was stormed by militants wearing suicide vests on July 2, 2010. (AP/File)

Meanwhile, Taliban insurgents and the Afghan government have been holding on-again-off-again talks in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar but a deal that could bring peace to Afghanistan after 40 years of relentless war seems far off.
Analyst Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal said the findings by SIGAR are not surprising. The reasons for the financial losses include Taliban attacks, corruption and “throwing money at the problem without considering the implications,” he said.
“It is one thing to build a clinic and school, it is another to operate, maintain, and in many cases defend this infrastructure from Taliban attacks,” said Roggio. “Additionally, the West has wildly underestimated the impact of Afghan corruption and in many cases incompetence. It was always a recipe for failure.”
US agencies responsible for construction didn’t even ask the Afghans if they wanted or needed the buildings they ordered built, or if they had the technical ability to keep them running, Sopko said in his report.
The waste occurred in violation of “multiple laws stating that US agencies should not construct or procure capital assets until they can show that the benefiting country has the financial and technical resources and capability to use and maintain those assets effectively,” he said.
Torek Farhadi, a former adviser to the Afghan government, said a “donor-knows-best” mentality often prevailed and it routinely meant little to no consultation with the Afghan government on projects.
He said a lack of coordination among the many international donors aided the wastefulness. For example, he said schools were on occasion built alongside other newly constructed schools financed by other donors. The construction went ahead because once the decision was made — contract awarded and money allocated — the school was built regardless of the need, said Farhadi.
The injection of billions of dollars, largely unmonitored, fueled runaway corruption among both Afghans and international contractors. But experts say that despite the waste, the need for assistance is real, given the Afghan governments heavy dependence on international money.
The worsening security situation in Afghanistan also greatly impeded the monitoring of projects, with shoddy construction going undetected, said Farhadi, the former Afghan government adviser.
“Consult with the locals about their needs and sustainability of the project once the project is complete,” he urged US funding agencies looking to future projects. “Supervise, supervise, supervise project progress and implementation and audit every single layer of expenditure.”
Going forward, Roggio said smaller, more manageable projects should be the order of the day. To build big unmanageable projects that Afghanistan has neither the capacity nor technical expertise for after 40 years of relentless war “feeds into the Taliban narrative that the government is corrupt, incompetent, and incapable of providing for the Afghan people,” he said.


Myanmar’s Suu Kyu seen in court for first time since coup

Updated 01 March 2021

Myanmar’s Suu Kyu seen in court for first time since coup

  • Suu Kyi’s appearance came as demonstrators took to the streets again across the country in defiance
  • Suu Kyi, 75, appeared healthy during Monday’s court appearance

YANDON: Ousted Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi faced court on Monday via video link, being seen by her lawyer for the first time since a military coup one month ago triggered relentless and massive protests.
Suu Kyi’s appearance came as demonstrators took to the streets again across the country in defiance of an escalation of force from the junta that on Sunday resulted in the deadliest day of unrest since the takeover.
At least 18 people died on Sunday as troops and police fired live bullets at demonstrators in cities across Myanmar, according to the United Nations, which cited its own credible information.
Suu Kyi, 75, appeared healthy during Monday’s court appearance, lawyer Khin Maung Zaw, told AFP by telephone during a break in proceedings.
Suu Kyi was detained in Naypyidaw, the nation’s capital, before dawn on the day of the coup, and had not been since in public since.
She has reportedly been kept under house arrest in Naypyidaw, an isolated city that the military built during a previous dictatorship.
The military has justified its takeover, ending a decade-long democratic experiment, by making unfounded allegations of widespread fraud in last November’s national elections.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won the election in a landslide.
The generals have hit Suu Kyi with two charges the international community widely regards as frivolous — relating to importing walkie talkies and staging a campaign rally during the pandemic.
Monday’s court proceedings were preliminary matters in the case, including with Khin Maung Zaw seeking to formally represent her.


Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to streets regularly over the past month to oppose the coup.
While the military has steadily increased the type of force used to try to contain the uprising, beginning with tear gas and water cannons, this weekend’s violence saw the biggest escalation.
One person was shot while crouching behind rubbish bins and other makeshift shields, and had to be dragged away by others, with the incident filmed by media.
AFP independently confirmed 10 deaths in Sunday’s violence, although there were fears the toll could be much higher.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a reliable monitoring group, estimated that about 30 people had been killed by security forces since the coup on February 1.
On Monday, protests erupted again in multiple cities across the country, with demonstrators in Yangon using bamboo poles, sofas and tree branches to erect barricades across streets.
In one clash broadcast live on Facebook and verified by AFP, unarmed protesters fled after a volley of shots were fired.
It was not immediately clear if the security forces had fired live rounds or rubber bullets.
Hundreds of people were also arrested over the weekend with many in Yangon taken to Insein Prison, where Myanmar’s leading democracy campaigners have served long jail terms under previous dictatorships.
More than 1,100 people have been arrested, charged, or sentenced since the coup, according to The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
One reporter was also shot with rubber bullets on the weekend while covering a protest in the central city of Pyay, their employer said.
Several journalists documenting Saturday’s assaults by security forces were detained, including an Associated Press photographer in Yangon.
“We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar and call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protesters,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN human rights office, said.
The United States has been one of the most outspoken critics of the junta, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken also reacted with horror after Sunday’s violence.
“We condemn the Burmese security forces’ abhorrent violence against the people of Burma & will continue to promote accountability for those responsible,” Blinken tweeted, using the country’s old name.


Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 4,732

Updated 01 March 2021

Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 4,732

BERLIN: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 4,732 to 2,447,068, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Monday. The reported death toll rose by 60 to 70,105, the tally showed.


Trump targets disloyal Republicans, repeats election lies and hints at 2024 run

Updated 01 March 2021

Trump targets disloyal Republicans, repeats election lies and hints at 2024 run

  • The volatile former president made his pronouncements during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida
  • Aside from attacking President Joe Biden's policies, Trump rallied Republicans to get rid of "disloyal" members

WASHINGTON: Former President Donald Trump hinted on Sunday at a possible presidential run in 2024, attacked President Joe Biden and repeated his fraudulent claims he won the 2020 election in his first major appearance since leaving the White House nearly six weeks ago.
Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, Trump vowed to help Republicans try to regain majorities — lost during his presidency — in the US House of Representatives and Senate in 2022 congressional elections and dangled himself as a possibility for president in 2024.
“With your help, we will take back the House, we will win the Senate and then a Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House. I wonder who will that be?” he said, smiling. “Who, who, who will that be, I wonder.”
Trump’s weeks away from Washington do not appear to have dimmed his anger at Republicans who voted to impeach or convict in a failed congressional effort to hold him responsible for inciting a deadly attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6.
He singled out several such Republicans by name, like Senators Mitt Romney and Pat Toomey and House lawmakers Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and suggested he would support candidates who opposed them in Republican primaries.
“Get rid of ‘em all,” he thundered.
Trump repeated lies he has told about his Nov. 3 presidential election loss to Biden, and offered a withering critique of his Democratic successor’s first weeks in office. “They just lost the White House,” the Republican former president said after criticizing Biden’s handling of border security. “But who knows, who knows, I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”
Trump and his allies spent two months denying his election defeat, and claiming without evidence it was the result of widespread voter fraud, before his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 seeking to disrupt congressional certification of Biden’s win.
A civil war has erupted within the Republican Party, with establishment figures such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell eager to put Trump in the rearview mirror, and others, like Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham, believing the party’s future depends on the energy of the pro-Trump base.
Trump declared the Republican Party united behind him, with opposition coming only from “a handful of Washington, D.C., political hacks.” When he mentioned McConnell’s name, the crowd booed.

No plans for third party
He said he had no plans to try to launch a third party, an idea he has discussed with advisers in the past couple of months.
“We’re not starting new parties. We have the Republican Party. It’s going to be united and be stronger than ever before. I am not starting a new party,” he said.
In a straw poll, 55% of CPAC conference participants said they would vote for Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential nominating race. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis came in second at 21%.
Without Trump, DeSantis led the field with 43%, and other potential Republican candidates had single digits.
But not everyone supported Trump. A separate question on the poll asked whether Trump should run again in 2024, with 68% saying he should and 32% opposed or having no opinion.
Still, Trump fervor at the four-day CPAC event was so strong that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., declared it “T-PAC” and participants rolled out a golden statue of the former president.
Trump’s flirtation with another run could freeze the Republican field for 2024 as other potential candidates try to decide whether they will have to compete against him. Many of those 2024 possible candidates spoke during the CPAC event.
The Biden White House dismissed Trump’s speech.
“While the GOP casts about for a path forward, President Biden is going to remain laser-focused on crushing the virus, re-opening schools, and getting Americans back to work,” White House spokesman Michael Gwin said after the speech.
An hour into his 90-minute speech, Trump dove deeply into his unfounded claims of election fraud, going against the advice of confidants who believe he needs to look to the future.
“We have a very sick and corrupt electoral process that has to be fixed immediately. This election was rigged,” Trump said. “And the Supreme Court and other courts didn’t want to do anything about it.”
“You won! You won!” the crowd shouted. Trump’s campaign and his supporters brought dozens of failed lawsuits trying to overturn the results of the election, which Biden won by more than 7 million votes. The fraud claims were repeatedly rejected by state and federal officials.
In the short term, Trump is making plans to set up a super PAC political organization to support candidates who mirror his policies, an adviser said.
He sought to position himself as the lead critic of the new president, including on immigration and security along the US border with Mexico, and the slow reopening of schools closed due to the pandemic.
“Joe Biden has had the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history,” Trump said.
Recent Gallup polls have given Biden a job approval rating well past 50%. Trump never achieved above 49%.


On Doha deal anniversary, Taliban pushing US for total troop withdrawal

Updated 28 February 2021

On Doha deal anniversary, Taliban pushing US for total troop withdrawal

  • Any move to replace historic accord is ‘doomed to fail,’ militant group warns
  • Demands follow rumors Biden administration looking to ‘review’ deal

KABUL: The Taliban on Sunday demanded that the US complete its troop withdrawal process from Afghanistan by May 1, in line with a historic agreement signed between the two sides in Doha last year

The militant group warned that any move to replace the deal was “doomed to fail.”

“The Islamic Emirate (the name of the Taliban’s former government) is committed on its part to all contents of the agreement and views its implementation as the sole effective tool for resolving the Afghan issue and establishing peace, that shall be realized under the shade of an Islamic system,” it said in a statement.

The demands were issued on the anniversary of the controversial deal that followed almost a year and half of secret talks between the Taliban and US delegates. The insurgent group has said that its fighters had not attacked foreign troops and major Afghan cities since signing the agreement.

“The Islamic Emirate also calls on the other party to the agreement to honor its own commitments towards security and stability in Afghanistan by implementing all parts of the agreement,” the group said.

The Taliban further termed the Doha deal as a “historic accord,” and one that had “created a practical framework for bringing peace and security to Afghanistan.”

It added: “If any other pathway is pursued as a replacement, then it is already doomed to fail.”

The Taliban’s statement follows repeated comments by officials in US President Joe Biden’s administration that Washington will review the deal signed under former President Donald Trump’s watch.

In addition, NATO delivered a recent announcement saying that it would withdraw foreign troops from Afghanistan “when the time was right,” suggesting that the Taliban had not abided by the accord.

Besides US and NATO officials, the Afghan government has also insisted that the Taliban have not severed their relationship with Al-Qaeda, nor reduced violence — two critical components of the Doha deal — allegations that the Taliban have vehemently denied.

While the militant group pushed for the total departure of all foreign troops and overseas contractors by May 1, 2021, the Doha deal also served as a catalyst for the Taliban and President Ashraf Ghani’s government to begin intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar by March 10 last year.

The talks finally began six months later, amid an intensification of violence that both Kabul and the Taliban have blamed on one another.

The crucial negotiations have faced several setbacks — the latest being a plan by Washington to review the deal.

Rahmatuallah Andar, a spokesman for the office of Ghani’s national security advisor, said that the Doha talks had failed to meet expectations.

“Afghans have not gained the expectations they had from Doha deal for peace and security. This agreement so far only has ensured the Taliban’s cease-fire with the US,” he told Arab News.

He added that the Taliban’s relationship with Afghans was “still confined to killing, terror and horror.”

Andar said: “So far, there is no hope for Afghans in this deal. Even the intra-Afghan talks have been stopped because of the Taliban. If seen from the perspective of Afghanistan, the time has been wasted in the hope of peace, while heavy material and heavy casualties have been inflicted on Afghans.”

Taliban representatives were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Sunday.

However, despite the government blaming the Taliban for a surge in violence and failing to pursue negotiations, Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for the government-appointed High Council of Peace, said that officials are “still hopeful for the peace process.”

He said: “A year on since the Doha deal, we are still hopeful that the opportunity created for peace is not wasted, and that the war ends in Afghanistan and talks are pursued earnestly, so that a political compromise acceptable to all is created.”

On the other hand, Afghan, US and NATO officials have warned that any resumption of serious intra-Afghan talks will require foreign troops to remain in the country until the Taliban end their violent attacks.

The UN said last week that 3,035 Afghan civilians had been killed in 2020 due to a surge in violence since the signing of the Doha deal a year ago — a 15 percent spike from the previous year.

“Since the Doha deal, more than 350,000 Afghans have been internally displaced by the violence,” Abdul Basit Ansari, an advisor for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, told Arab News.

Meanwhile, with the fate of the Doha deal in limbo, some fear an imminent escalation of violence in Afghanistan.

“The US may want to extend the presence of the troops, and the Taliban may oppose it altogether. This will mean fighting and a serious drop in the trust both sides have built in recent years, with so much difficulty,” Taj Mohammad, an Afghan analyst and former journalist, told Arab News.

Tameem Bahiss, an analyst and expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan, agreed, adding that while the US and Taliban have blamed each other for breaching the Doha deal, neither side has come forward to nullify the agreement.

“The Biden administration is ‘reviewing’ the Doha agreement. In the meantime, experts are calling for an extension to the May 1 deadline,” he said.

“It seems very unlikely that the Taliban will agree to an extension. If Biden unilaterally decides to stay past the deadline, this could propel the Taliban to walk away from the negotiation table and pursue power through violent means.”