US Supreme Court reinstates Boston Marathon bomber’s death sentence

The Supreme Court has reinstated the death sentence for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Friday. (AP)
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Updated 04 March 2022
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US Supreme Court reinstates Boston Marathon bomber’s death sentence

  • The court's six conservative justices were in the majority, with its three liberals dissenting
  • Lawyers for Tsarnaev have argued that he played a secondary role in the marathon bombing to his brother

WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court on Friday reinstated convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence for his role in the 2013 attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others, ruling in favor of the federal government.
In a 6-3 decision, the justices sided with the Justice Department’s challenge to a 2020 federal appeals court ruling that had upheld Tsarnaev’s conviction but overturned his death sentence.
The Supreme Court faulted the Boston-based 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals on its findings both that Tsarnaev’s right to a fair trial under the US Constitution’s Sixth Amendment was violated and that the trial judge wrongly excluded certain evidence about a separate crime.
“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes. The Sixth Amendment nonetheless guaranteed him a fair trial before an impartial jury. He received one,” conservative Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court.
The court’s six conservative justices were in the majority, with its three liberals dissenting.
President Joe Biden as a candidate promised to work to pass legislation in Congress to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level and set incentives for states to do as well, instead endorsing life sentences without probation or parole. But his administration last year opted to proceed with an appeal initially launched by the Justice Department under his predecessor Donald Trump to defend Tsarnaev’s death sentence.
In a dissenting opinion, liberal Justice Stephen Breyer agreed with 1st Circuit that evidence about the separate crime, a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts linked to Tsarnaev’s older brother Tamerlan, was improperly excluded.
Lawyers for Tsarnaev, who is 28 now and was 19 at the time of the attack, have argued that Tsarnaev played a secondary role in the marathon bombing to his brother, who they called “an authority figure” with “violent Islamic extremist beliefs.” As such, the evidence about another crime Tamerlan allegedly committed would be relevant, they argued.
“This evidence may have led some jurors to conclude that Tamerlan’s influence was so pervasive that Dzhokhar did not deserve to die for any of the actions he took in connection with the bombings, even those taken outside of Tamerlan’s presence,” Breyer wrote.
“And it would have taken only one juror’s change of mind to have produced a sentence other than death, even if a severe one,” added Breyer, who in the past has questioned the constitutionality of the death penalty.
The primary source of the evidence about the other murders, a man named Ibragim Todashev, was killed by an FBI agent in 2013 when he attacked officers during an interview.
The Supreme Court also found that US District Judge George O’Toole, who presided over the trial, did not violate Tsarnaev’s right to a trial in front of an impartial jury by failing to properly screen jurors for potential bias following pervasive news coverage of the bombings.
CONVICTED ON ALL COUNTS
The Tsarnaev brothers detonated two homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the marathon’s finish line on April 15, 2013, and days later killed a police officer. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after the gunfight with police.
Jurors convicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in 2015 on all 30 counts he faced and determined he deserved execution for a bomb he planted that killed Martin Richard, 8, and Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 23. Restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, was killed by the second bomb.
Marc Fucarile, who lost his right leg in the second blast, said the Supreme Court “did the right thing” and that the three justices who dissented “should be ashamed.” But Fucarile said he has no confidence that the death sentence would ultimately be carried out, especially under the Biden administration.
“He got what he deserves,” said Fucarile, 43. “I think we need to send a message, you can’t just kill innocent people and set off bombs in crowds of people.”
No federal inmates were executed for 17 years before Trump oversaw 13 executions in the last six months of his term. Biden’s attorney general, Merrick Garland, last July imposed a moratorium on federal executions while the Justice Department reviews the death penalty.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in March 2021 that Biden continues to have “grave concerns about whether capital punishment, as currently implemented, is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness.”


Somalia government asks African peacekeepers to slow withdrawal

A Somali security officer stands guard near the scene of a terror attack in Mogadishu. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 4 sec ago
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Somalia government asks African peacekeepers to slow withdrawal

  • Warning on potential security vacuum
  • US, EU concerned about long-term financing

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s government is seeking to slow the withdrawal of African peacekeepers and warning of a potential security vacuum, documents seen by Reuters show, with neighboring countries fretting that resurgent Al-Shabab extremists could seize power.

The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, a peacekeeping force, is committed to withdrawing by Dec. 31, when a smaller new force is expected to replace it.
However, in a letter last month to the acting chair of the African Union Peace and Security Council, the government asked to delay until September the withdrawal of half the 4,000 troops due to leave by the end of June. The letter has not been reported before.

BACKGROUND

The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia — a peacekeeping force — is committed to withdrawing by Dec. 31, when a smaller new force is expected to replace it.

The government had previously recommended, in a joint assessment with the AU in March, reviewed by Reuters, that the overall withdrawal timeline be adjusted “based on the actual readiness and capabilities” of Somali forces.
The joint assessment, mandated by the UN Security Council, warned that a “hasty drawdown of ATMIS personnel will contribute to a security vacuum.”
“I’ve never been more concerned about the direction of my home country,” said Mursal Khalif, an independent member of the defense committee in parliament.
The EU and US, the top funders of the AU force in Somalia, have sought to reduce the peacekeeping operation due to concerns about long-term financing and sustainability, four diplomatic sources and a senior Ugandan official said.
Three of the diplomatic sources said that negotiations about a new force have proven complicated, with the AU initially pushing for a more robust mandate than Somalia wanted. A heated political dispute could lead Ethiopia to pull out some of the most battle-hardened troops.
Somalia’s presidency and prime minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Mohammed El-Amine Souef, AU special representative to Somalia and head of ATMIS, said there was no definitive timeline for concluding negotiations but that all parties were committed to an agreement that helps achieve sustainable peace and security.
“The AU and Somalia’s government have emphasized the importance of a conditions-based drawdown to prevent any security vacuum,” he said.
The Peace and Security Council was due to discuss the drawdown and follow-up mission.
With 5,000 of around 18,500 troops leaving last year, the government has projected confidence as the drawdown proceeds.
It has said the new force should not exceed 10,000 and should be limited to tasks like securing major population centers.
The call for a smaller force likely reflects views of nationalists who oppose a heavy foreign presence in Somalia, said Rashid Abdi, an analyst with Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank focused on the Horn of Africa.
Uganda and Kenya, which contributed troops to the departing mission, are also worried.
Henry Okello Oryem, Uganda’s state minister of foreign affairs, said that despite intensive training efforts, Somali troops could not sustain a long-term military confrontation.
“We do not want to get into a situation where we are fleeing, the kind of thing that we saw in Afghanistan,” he told Reuters.
Oryem said Kenya accepted the drawdown requested by the US and EU but that countries’ concerns with forces in Somalia should be heard.
Kenyan President William Ruto said in Washington last month that a withdrawal that did not account for conditions on the ground would mean “the terrorists will take over Somalia.”
In response to questions, an EU spokesperson said it was focused on building domestic security capacities and supported, in principle, a Somali government proposal for a new mission with a reduced size and scope.
A US State Department spokesperson said the force should be large enough to prevent a security vacuum.
The spokesperson said that Washington has supported all requests submitted by the AU to the UN Security Council to modify the drawdown timeline.
In response to a question about Ethiopian forces, the spokesperson said it was critical to avoid security gaps or unnecessary expenses “incurred by swapping out existing troop contributors.”
Two years ago, an army offensive in central Somalia initially seized large swathes of territory from Al-Shabab. In August, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed declared his intention to “eliminate” the powerful Al-Qaeda offshoot within five months.
But just a few days later, Al-Shabab counter-attacked, retaking the town of Cowsweyne.
They killed scores of soldiers and beheaded several civilians accused of supporting the army, according to a soldier, an allied militiaman, and a resident.
“This broke the hearts of Somalis but gave courage to Al-Shabab,” Ahmed Abdulle, the militiaman from a clan in central Somalia, said in an interview in April.
The Somali government has never publicly provided a death toll for the Cowsweyne battle and didn’t respond to a request for a toll for this story.
“There were enough troops in Cowsweyne, over a battalion, but they were not organized well,” said a soldier named Issa, who fought in the battle there last August.
Issa said car bombs had blasted through the gates of the Cowsweyne army camp on the day of the attack, citing a shortage of defensive outposts to protect bases from such attacks.
Ten soldiers, militiamen from local clans, and residents in areas targeted by the military campaign reported that there had been no army operations in the past two months following additional battlefield setbacks.
Reuters could not independently establish the extent of the territorial losses to Al-Shabab.
On X this week, Somalia’s National Security Adviser said that the army had held most of its gains.
The peacekeepers’ withdrawal could make it more difficult to hold territory.
While analysts estimate Somalia’s army to be around 32,000 soldiers, the government acknowledged, in the assessment with the AU, a shortage of some 11,000 trained personnel due to “high operational tempo” and “attrition.”
The government has said its soldiers can confront Al-Shabab with limited external support.
Somalia has defied gloomy predictions and expanded its security forces in recent years.
Residents of the seaside capital Mogadishu — whose ubiquitous blast walls testify to the threat of Shabab suicide bombers and mortars — say security has improved.
Once-quiet streets bustle with traffic, and upscale restaurants and supermarkets are opening.
An assessment published in April by the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy said an Afghanistan-like collapse was unlikely, helped by ongoing external support.
The US, for instance, has about 450 troops in Somalia to train and advise local forces and conduct regular drone attacks against suspected militants.
But the assessment’s author, Paul D. Williams, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University, said the militants’ estimated 7,000-12,000 fighters would be “slightly militarily stronger” than Somali forces because of superior cohesion and force employment.
Foreign resources have underwritten Somalia’s security since Ethiopia invaded in 2006, toppling an extremist-led administration but galvanizing an insurgency that has since killed tens of thousands of people.
According to a study by Brown University, the US has spent more than $2.5 billion on counterterrorism assistance since 2007. That number does not include undisclosed military and intelligence spending on activities like drone strikes and deployments of American ground troops.
The EU says it has provided about $2.8 billion to ATMIS and its predecessor since 2007.
Middle Eastern countries also provide security assistance.
But resources are under strain. Four diplomatic sources said that the EU, which pays for most of ATMIS’s roughly $100 million annual budget, is shifting toward bilateral support to reduce its overall contributions in the medium term.
Two diplomats interviewed by Reuters said the US and EU want to scale back peacekeeping operations because of competing spending priorities, including Ukraine and Gaza, and a sense Somalia should take responsibility for its security.
The four diplomatic sources said that some European countries would like to see the new mission financed through assessed contributions of UN member states, which would increase the financial burden on the US and China.
The State Department spokesperson said that the US did not believe such a system could be implemented by next year but that there was strong international consensus to support the follow-on mission.
The EU did not address questions about the financing of the replacement mission
Financing for the new mission can only be formally addressed once Somalia and the AU agree on a proposed size and mandate.

 


Thousands of young Kenyans protest tax hikes

Updated 19 sec ago
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Thousands of young Kenyans protest tax hikes

  • Hours after Tuesday’s demonstrations, which saw hundreds of youth face off against the police, the government agreed to make concessions, rolling back several of the tax hikes laid out in a new bill

NAIROBI: Thousands of young demonstrators took to the streets across Kenya on Thursday to protest tax hikes, blowing whistles and chanting slogans in a vivid show of anger by Gen-Z protesters against the government.
Police in Nairobi fired tear gas and water cannon against groups of protesters near parliament, but apart from isolated scuffles earlier in the day, the action — dubbed “Occupy Parliament” — remained mostly peaceful.
Led largely by young Kenyans, the demonstrations began in Nairobi on Tuesday before spreading nationwide on Thursday.
They have galvanized widespread discontent over President William Ruto’s economic policies in a country already grappling with a cost-of-living crisis.
Hours after Tuesday’s demonstrations, which saw hundreds of youth face off against the police, the government agreed to make concessions, rolling back several of the tax hikes laid out in a new bill.
However, the government still intends to proceed with some tax increases and has defended the proposed levies necessary for filling its coffers and cutting reliance on external borrowing.
On Thursday, protests were held across Kenya, with thousands assembling across Nairobi, the Indian Ocean city of Mombasa, the Rift Valley city of Nakuru, and the opposition bastion of Kisumu, according to images broadcast on TV.
Isolated scuffles broke out in Nairobi between protesters and police, who used tear gas and water cannons at demonstrators gathering near the parliament, which began debating the bill on Wednesday.
Despite a heavy police presence and roadblocks along several roads leading to parliament, hundreds of protesters gathered in groups, blowing whistles and vuvuzelas, waving placards and chanting: “Ruto must go.”
Ivy, a 26-year-old job seeker dressed in a T-shirt and leggings, said she was prompted to protest for the first time on Thursday because she was “scared” for her future.
“This bill cannot pass. This bill is going to finish us. We don’t have jobs. We cannot even open businesses. We cannot do anything in this country,” she said.
Another first-time protester, Bella, said she had shown up “to ensure the finance bill is rejected.”
The 22-year-old university graduate said she was “not impressed” with the government’s concessions earlier this week.
On Tuesday, the presidency announced the removal of proposed levies on bread purchases, car ownership, and financial and mobile services, prompting a warning from the treasury of a 200-billion-shilling shortfall due to budget cuts.
The government has now targeted an increase in fuel prices and export taxes to fill the void left by the changes, a move critics say will make life more expensive in a country already battling high inflation.
“They are just trying to lie to us. The taxes they have removed on bread they have added somewhere else,” Bella said, describing it as a tactic to “blindfold” citizens.
A parliament source said that a vote on the proposals was expected on June 27, three days before the deadline for passing the bill.
The taxes were projected to raise 346.7 billion shillings ($2.7 billion), equivalent to 1.9 percent of GDP, and reduce the budget deficit from 5.7 percent to 3.3 percent.
The protest in Nairobi on Tuesday saw black-clad protesters forced into cat-and-mouse chases with police who fired volleys of teargas.
At least 335 people were arrested, according to a consortium of lobby groups, including the Human Rights Commission, KNCHR, and Amnesty Kenya.
“We have changed tack. Today, we will be in colorful and defiant clothing to avoid a repeat of them arresting everyone in black,” said an organizer of the march, who requested anonymity due to fear of reprisals.
Kenya is one of the most dynamic economies in East Africa, but a third of its 51.5 million people live in poverty.
Overall inflation has remained stubbornly high, at an annual rate of 5.1 percent in May, while food and fuel inflation stood at 6.2 percent and 7.8 percent, respectively, according to central bank data.

 


India court grants top Modi opponent bail

Updated 50 min 43 sec ago
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India court grants top Modi opponent bail

  • Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, was first detained over long-running corruption probe in March 
  • PM Modi’s party lost its overall parliamentary majority in the polls and now leads a coalition government

New Delhi: An Indian court granted bail Thursday to one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s chief opponents, who was first detained over a long-running corruption probe in March.

Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi and the leader of the opposition Aam Aadmi party, denies the charges as a “political conspiracy” by Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

He was released from detention to campaign partway through the country’s weeks-long national election but returned to jail after voting ended earlier this month.

Modi’s BJP lost its overall parliamentary majority in the poll and now leads a coalition government.

“Truth alone triumphs,” Atishi, a minister in Kejriwal’s regional government, posted on X after the court ruling.

Kejriwal is expected to walk out of jail on Friday, days before a new parliamentary session starts Monday.\

The Delhi chief minister is a key member of the opposition INDIA bloc, led by the main opposition Congress party, which defied all polls and observers’ expectations to significantly improve its national tally.

“When power becomes dictatorship, then jail becomes a responsibility,” Kejriwal said before surrendering himself to authorities earlier this month.

He is one of several opposition leaders in India under criminal investigation over various corruption-related probes, which Modi’s opponents say are being used by the premier to weaken any potential challengers.\

Kejriwal, 55, has been chief minister of Delhi, the region which includes the capital New Delhi, for nearly a decade and first came to office as a staunch anti-corruption crusader.

His government was itself accused of corruption when it liberalized liquor sales in 2021 and gave up a lucrative government stake in the sector.

The policy was withdrawn the following year but a resulting probe into the allegedly corrupt allocation of licenses has since led to the jailing of two top Kejriwal allies.


Treason trial of Russian American woman opens as tensions rise between Washington and Moscow

Updated 20 June 2024
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Treason trial of Russian American woman opens as tensions rise between Washington and Moscow

  • The defendant was identified by Russian authorities as Los Angeles resident Ksenia Karelina
  • Russia's main domestic security agency, the Federal Security Service, charges that Karelina raised money for a Ukrainian organization

MOSCOW: The trial of a Russian American dual citizen whom Russia accuses of treason opened on Thursday as tensions rise between Washington and Moscow, including over the arrests of two American journalists.
The trial is being held behind closed doors in Yekaterinburg, in the same court that next week is to begin hearing the case of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was arrested in March 2023 and charged with espionage.
The defendant was identified by Russian authorities as Los Angeles resident Ksenia Karelina, although U.S. media reports frequently use the surname Khavana, the name of her ex-husband.
Karelina was born in Yekaterinburg and was arrested in February while visiting her family.
Russia's main domestic security agency, the Federal Security Service, charges that Karelina raised money for a Ukrainian organization that was providing weapons, ammunition and other supplies to the Ukrainian military. Her boyfriend has said she made a single donation of about $50 to a Ukrainian organization, according to media reports.
Karelina faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Almost all Russian criminal cases that make it to court end in convictions. The trial was adjourned in the afternoon and the next session was set for Aug. 7, Russian news agencies said.
Gershkovich, the highest-profile American behind bars in Russia, is accused of gathering secret information from a tank factory in Nizhny Tagil, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Yekaterinburg. His employers deny the allegation, and the U.S. State Department has declared him to be wrongfully detained.
Gershkovich's trial, also closed, is to begin next Wednesday.
A journalist for U.S.-funded Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe with U.S. and Russian dual citizenship has been held since October on charges of gathering military information and failing to register as a foreign agent.
Since sending troops into Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has sharply cracked down on dissent and has passed laws that criminalize criticism of the operation in Ukraine and remarks considered to discredit the Russian military. Concern has risen since then that Russia could be targeting U.S. nationals for arrest.


WHO issues warnings on fake diabetes and weight-loss drugs

Updated 20 June 2024
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WHO issues warnings on fake diabetes and weight-loss drugs

  • WHO has also noted increased demand for these medicines
  • Falsified products could be harmful

DUBAI: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday issued warnings on falsified semaglutides used in diabetes and weight-loss drugs in light of three altered batches of products detected in Brazil, the UK and the United States.
Semaglutide is the active ingredient used in Novo Nordisk’s diabetes drug Ozempic and weight-loss treatment Wegovy.
The WHO has been observing increased reports of falsified semaglutide products in Brazil, the UK and the United States since 2022, it said, though Thursday’s was the first official notice issued by the agency after confirmation of some reports.
It has also noted increased demand for these medicines.
Falsified products could be harmful and if they do not have the necessary raw components, they can lead to health complications resulting from unmanaged blood glucose levels or weight, the WHO said.