US Capitol riots: Arkansas man accused of beating officer with flagpole

Workers install razor wire atop the unscalable fence surrounding the US Capitol in the wake of the January 6th riot and ahead of the upcoming inauguration in Washington on January 14, 2021. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
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Updated 15 January 2021

US Capitol riots: Arkansas man accused of beating officer with flagpole

  • Prosecutor says retired Air Force officer aimed ‘to take hostages’
  • More than 100 people have been arrested in the assault incited by President Trump

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas: An Arkansas man was accused Thursday of beating a police officer with a pole flying a US flag during last week’s riot at the US Capitol, according to court documents.
In an arrest affidavit filed Thursday in federal court in Washington, an FBI agent said Peter Francis Stager is shown in video and photographs striking a prone police officer repeatedly with the flagpole after rioters dragged the officer down the Capitol’s west stairs.
Confidential informants had recognized Stager in riot video and photographs and alerted authorities, who have charged Stager with interfering with law enforcement officers during a civil disorder, according to the affidavit.
Stager was in custody Thursday, said Allison Bragg, spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s Office in Little Rock, Arkansas. She referred all questions about the arrest to the US Attorney’s Office in Washington, where a spokesman did not immediately return a message Thursday.
No attorney was listed for Stager in court records.
Stager is the second Arkansas resident to be arrested and charged with participating in the Jan. 6 attack of the Capitol by pro-Trump loyalists that left five people dead, including a police officer. A detention hearing is scheduled for Friday in federal court in Little Rock for Richard Barnett, 60, of Gravette, Arkansas, who remains in federal custody after his arrest on charges that included unlawfully entry to a restricted area with a lethal weapon — in this case, a stun gun.
The FBI identified Barnett as a rioter photographed sitting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office chair during the Capitol insurrection. He surrendered to federal agents on Jan. 8.

'Rioter aimed to take hostages’
In Texas, a prosecutor said in a court that a retired Air Force officer who was part of the mob that stormed the US Capitol carried plastic zip-tie handcuffs because he intended “to take hostages.”
“He means to take hostages. He means to kidnap, restrain, perhaps try, perhaps execute members of the US government,” Assistant US Attorney Jay Weimer said of retired Lt. Col. Larry Rendall Brock Jr. without providing specifics.
The prosecutor had argued that Brock should be detained, but Magistrate Judge Jeffrey L. Cureton said he would release Brock to home confinement. Cureton ordered Brock to surrender any firearms and said he could have only limited Internet access as conditions of that release.
“I need to put you on a very short rope,” Cureton said. “These are strange times for our country and the concerns raised by the government do not fall on deaf ears.”
Brock appeared in court in a light green jumpsuit, a mask and with shackles at his hands and feet.
Weimer did not detail a specific plan by Brock but noted “his prior experience and training make him all the more dangerous.”
He also read in court social media posts from Brock, including one posted on the day of the Capitol riot that said: “Patriots on the Capitol. Patriots storming. Men with guns need to shoot their way in.”
Brock was arrested Sunday in Texas after being photographed on the Senate floor during the deadly riot wearing a helmet and heavy vest and carrying plastic zip-tie handcuffs. The 53-year-old is charged with knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
Brock’s attorney, Brook Antonio II, noted that Brock has only been charged with misdemeanors. Antonio said there was no direct evidence of Brock breaking doors or windows to get into the Capitol, or doing anything violent once he was inside.
“It’s all talk. It’s all speculation and conjecture,” said Antonio, who noted Brock’s long service in the military, including being reactivated after Sept. 11 and his four tours in Afghanistan.
Weimer said Brock will likely face additional charges.

More than 100 charged
More than 100 people have been arrested in the Capitol riot, with charges ranging from curfew violations to serious federal felonies related to theft and weapons possession.
The FBI has been investigating whether some of the rioters had planned to kidnap members of Congress and hold them hostage.
Before his arrest, Brock told The New Yorker magazine that he found the zip-tie cuffs on the floor and that he had planned to give them to a police officer.
“I wish I had not picked those up,” he said.
There was no evidence presented that Brock had a firearm on the day of the Capitol riot.
Antonio asked an FBI agent who was testifying whether it was possible Brock had just picked up the cuffs, and the agent acknowledged that was a possibility.
Weimer read a termination letter from Brock’s former employer that said he had talked in the workplace about killing people of a “particular religion and or race.” Weimer also read social media posts in which Brock referred to a coming civil war and the election being stolen from President Donald Trump.
Weimer said Brock’s posts also referenced the far-right and anti-government Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, a loose anti-government network that’s part of the militia movement. The Oath Keepers claim to count thousands of current and former law enforcement officials and military veterans as members.
The FBI agent though testified there was no evidence beyond the social media posts that Brock was involved with either of those groups.
Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and Attorney General William Barr has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.


Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

Updated 6 sec ago

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

NEW MEXICO: Police in New Mexico have found evidence that appears to tie a father and son to the killings of Muslim men in New Mexico, federal prosecutors said on Monday.
Both Muhammad Syed, 51, and his son Shaheen Syed were in the same area of Albuquerque shortly after an Aug. 5 murder took place, based on cellphone data, federal prosecutors said in court documents.
Agents believe Shaheen Syed observed Aug. 5 murder victim Naeem Hussain attending a funeral service that day for two other Muslim men who were murdered, based on FBI analysis of cell tower data.
Shaheen Syed then followed Hussain to the location where he was gunned down, prosecutors said in documents for a Monday detention hearing.
“Telephone calls between Muhammad Atif Syed and the defendant would be consistent with quick surveillance calls, both before and after the shooting,” federal prosecutors said, citing an FBI analysis of cell tower data.
The reference to the defendant is Shaheen Syed, who was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address.
An attorney representing Shaheen Syed described the latest allegations as “exceedingly thin and speculative.”
In a court filing, lawyer John Anderson said federal prosecutors provided no evidence as to the size of the “general area” the father and son’s phones were both in shortly after the Aug. 5 murder.
Muhammad Syed was formally charged with killing Aftab Hussein, 41, on July 26 and Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, 27, on Aug. 1.
Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, as well as Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, who was shot dead on Nov. 7, 2021.

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Updated 15 August 2022

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

  • Razoni was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed
  • The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed

BEIRUT: The first grain ship to leave Ukraine under a wartime deal has had its cargo resold several times and there is now no information about its location and cargo destination, the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut said Monday.
The Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni, which left Odesa on Aug. 1, and moved through the Black Sea carrying Ukrainian corn, later passed inspection in Turkey. It was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed. The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed.
The Razoni hasn’t had its tracker on for the last three days and it appeared off the east coast of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus at last transmission.
It was not clear if the Razoni had its tracker off because it was heading to a port in Syria, a strong ally of Russia that Ukraine had accused of importing grain stolen from Ukraine.
Syria is also under Western sanctions because of the 11-year conflict there that has killed hundreds of thousands. Syrian port officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Our task has been to reopen seaports for grain cargo and it has been done,” Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut said in a statement in English, adding that to date, 16 vessels have left Ukraine carrying more than 450,000 tons of agricultural products since a breakthrough agreement was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations with Russia and Ukraine.
The embassy said the Razoni was the first vessel that left Ukraine under the agreement and later successfully passed inspection in Istanbul before moving toward its destination.
“We don’t have any information about (the) position of the vessel and cargo destination,” it said. “We have also information that cargo has been resold a few times after that.”
The embassy said: “We are not responsible for (the) vessel and cargo, especially when it left Ukraine, moreover after vessel’s departure from foreign port.”
The Black Sea region is dubbed the world’s breadbasket, with Ukraine and Russia key global suppliers of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil that millions of impoverished people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on for survival.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain — most of it said to be destined for livestock — has been stuck in Ukraine since the start of the 6-month-old war.


One year since takeover, Taliban urge world to ‘improve relations’ with Afghanistan

Taliban fighters and supporters ride in a convoy to celebrate their victory day in Kandahar on August 15, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 39 min 37 sec ago

One year since takeover, Taliban urge world to ‘improve relations’ with Afghanistan

  • Countries have refused to recognize the new government
  • Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy has been in freefall since Taliban seized power

KABUL: Afghanistan’s acting Prime Minister Mohammed Hassan Akhund called on the international community to improve relations with the country on Monday as the Taliban marked the first anniversary of their return to power.

After the Taliban captured Kabul last August and US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the group’s stunning takeover marked the end of two decades of war that killed tens of thousands of Afghans on their soil.

The Taliban had declared Aug. 15 a national holiday just a day earlier, following a year that saw improved security but also increasing uncertainties about the country’s future.

With the new government still struggling to gain recognition from the international community a year later, the acting premier has urged for better relations.

“The world must improve its relations with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. We are not a threat to any country,” Akhund said in a statement.

“Other countries should also have positive political and economic engagement with Afghanistan.”

Under its new rulers, Afghanistan has been struggling to achieve growth and stability, as foreign governments’ refusal to recognize the Taliban has kept the country isolated.

The aid-dependent economy has been in freefall since the Taliban took over, with billions of dollars in foreign aid suspended and some $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets parked overseas have been frozen.

On Monday, Taliban soldiers celebrated the anniversary with marches on the streets of Kabul as they carried their flags of the Islamic Emirate and played anthems.

“This is the day of the victory of right over wrong and the day of salvation and freedom of the Afghan nation,” Taliban Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

The country is safer compared to when the Taliban were fighting against US-led troops and their Afghan allies, even as a local offshoot of the Islamic State has carried out several attacks in the past year.

But the UN has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the country, where nearly 20 million people out of the 38 million population are facing acute hunger.

Forty-year-old Mohammed Ali, a shopkeeper at Kabul’s commercial area of Pul-e-Surkh, went about his daily business on Monday morning, despite the national holiday.

Amid increasing hardships, feeding his family is what matters most for Ali.

“We have to work every day to earn some income and feed our children. It doesn’t matter who’s in power, no one cares much about ordinary people,” Ali told Arab News.

“There are so many anniversaries. This is just another one. When we have enough food on our destarkhan, that’s the best celebration for us,” he said, referring to the meal-setting placement on the ground or floor that is commonplace across Afghanistan.  

The day prompted questions about the future for 21-year-old Shamsia Amini, whose dream of becoming a soccer player was shattered last year when the Taliban barred women from all sports.

“So many women’s aspirations were put on hold for an uncertain time. We don’t even know whether we will have a future under the Taliban,” she told Arab News.

Women’s rights have been curtailed in the past year, as women were ordered to wear face coverings in public, banned from making long-distance journeys alone and prevented from working in most sectors outside of health and education. Education has also been limited for women, even though allowing girls into schools and colleges was one of the key demands made by the international community.

“We should all, men and women, remember Aug. 15 as a dark day for Afghan women,” she added.

Qasim Haqmal, a Taliban soldier based in Kabul, told Arab News that the victory and freedom the group gained a year ago was what Afghans wanted.

“We are trying our best to serve the people the best way possible,” Haqmal said. “I ask people to have some patience.”

 


Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17

Updated 15 August 2022

Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17

  • The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit over Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk region

AMSTERDAM: The Dutch court handling the murder trial of four suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 said on Monday it would hand down its verdict on Nov. 17.
Prosecutors say the one Ukrainian and three Russian defendants, who are all at large, helped supply a missile system that Russian-backed separatists used to fire a rocket at the plane on July 17, 2014. All 298 people on board were killed.
The prosecution is seeking life terms for all suspects.
Lawyers for Oleg Pulatov, the only defendant who has chosen to participate in the proceedings through counsel, have argued that the trial was unfair and prosecutors did not properly examine alternative theories about the cause of the crash or the involvement of Pulatov.
The other suspects, named as Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, and Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko, are being tried in absentia. Under Dutch law Pulatov, while he is also at large, is not considered to be tried in absentia because he is represented through lawyers he has instructed.
The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit over Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk region by what international investigators say was a Russian-made surface-to-air missile. The eastern region has also become a key focus of Russia’s nearly six-month-old war in Ukraine.
Most of the victims on board MH17 were Dutch nationals. The Dutch government holds Russia responsible for the crash. Authorities in Moscow deny any involvement.
The MH17 case has seriously strained the Netherlands’ diplomatic relations with Moscow, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started on Feb. 24.


3 injured in shooting at amusement park near Chicago

Updated 15 August 2022

3 injured in shooting at amusement park near Chicago

GURNEE, Illinois:Three people were injured in a shooting in the parking lot of an amusement park north of Chicago that sent visitors scrambling for safety, authorities said.
Officers responded about 7:50 p.m. Sunday after 911 calls reporting shots fired at Six Flags Great America, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Chicago, the Gurnee Police Department said.
“The shooting ... was not a random act, and appeared to be a targeted incident that occurred outside the park,” police said in statement posted to Facebook.
According to an initial investigation, police said a white sedan entered the parking lot and drove toward the park’s front entrance. People got out of the car and shot at another person in the parking lot before driving away, police said.
Additional detail about the suspects, including the number of people who fired shots, wasn’t immediately released. Police were investigating.
A 17-year-old boy from Aurora, Illinois, had a thigh wound and a 19-year-old woman from Appleton, Wisconsin, had a leg wound, police said. They were taken to a hospital and their wounds were described as non-life-threatening. A third victim had a shoulder injury and declined to be taken to a hospital.
In a statement, Six Flags Great America said park security responded immediately along with Gurnee officers.
WGN News in Chicago spoke with Laurie Walker and her daughter, Grace, who were inside the park when the shooting occurred. Walker said they were waiting in line for an attraction around 7:50 p.m. when she noticed people running.
“There is an active shooter, get down, get down,” Walker said she heard someone shouting. “We didn’t know what was going on, so we get down.”
Walker and her daughter climbed two fences to get where she could call her husband. Walker told WGN she was able to leave the park a short while later.
Gurnee is in Lake County, about 5 miles south of the Wisconsin border. It’s about 20 miles north of Highland Park, where seven people died in a mass shooting during a July Fourth parade.