Man who carried Confederate flag into Capitol heads to trial

Kevin Seefried, left, walks on a hallway after a confrontation with police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington. (AP)
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Updated 13 June 2022

Man who carried Confederate flag into Capitol heads to trial

  • US District Judge Trevor McFadden will hear testimony without a jury for the Seefrieds’ bench trial

A federal judge’s acquittal of a New Mexico man in April was a rare blemish on the Justice Department’s record of securing convictions in US Capitol riot cases. More than two months later, a Delaware father and son hope the same judge will clear them, too.
Widely published photographs showed Kevin Seefried carrying a Confederate battle flag inside the Capitol after he entered the building with his son, Hunter. The Seefrieds were “early, aggressive and active participants” in the Capitol breach and among the first rioters to enter the bulling on Jan. 6, 2021, prosecutors have said.
US District Judge Trevor McFadden will hear testimony without a jury for the Seefrieds’ bench trial, which is scheduled to start Monday. They waived their right to a jury trial, which means McFadden will decide their cases.
McFadden, whom President Donald Trump nominated in 2017, has criticized prosecutors’ handling of Capitol riot cases. He suggested that the Justice Department has been unjustly tougher on Capitol riot defendants compared to people arrested at protests against police brutality and racial injustice after George Floyd’s 2020 murder by a Minneapolis police officer.
McFadden also has criticized prosecutors for seeking jail time for some nonviolent Capitol riot defendants but not for left-wing activists who protested Trump’s nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, The Washington Post reported.
In April, McFadden acquitted New Mexico resident Matthew Martin of misdemeanor charges that he illegally entered the Capitol and engaged in disorderly conduct after he walked into the building.
Martin testified that a police officer waved him into the building. A prosecutor rejected that testimony as “nonsense,” but McFadden said it was reasonable for Martin to believe that outnumbered police officers allowed him to enter the Capitol through the Rotunda doors.
In March, McFadden acquitted a New Mexico elected official of engaging in disorderly conduct but convicted him of illegally entering restricted Capitol grounds. The judge said there was ample evidence that Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin knew he was in a restricted area and didn’t leave. However, McFadden concluded prosecutors didn’t meet their burden to prove that Griffin engaged in disorderly conduct.
McFadden is the only judge to a hold a bench trial for a Capitol riot case so far.
On Tuesday, US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is scheduled to preside over a bench trial for Jesus Rivera, a Pensacola, Florida, man charged with four riot-related misdemeanors. President Bill Clinton nominated Kollar-Kotelly to the court in 1997.
At least four other Capitol riot defendants have bench trials scheduled for this year.
Juries have unanimously convicted five Capitol riot defendants of all charges, a perfect record for prosecutors so far. More than 300 others have pleaded guilty to riot offenses, mostly misdemeanors punishable by no more than one year in prison. Approximately 100 others have trial dates in 2022 or 2023. More than 800 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack.
The Seefrieds traveled to Washington from their home in Laurel, Delaware, to hear Trump’s speech at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6. After the rally, they stopped by their car before joining the mob that stormed the Capitol, prosecutors say.
The Seefrieds climbed over a wall near a stairwell and scaffolding in the northwest section of the Capitol and were among the first rioters to approach the building near the Senate Wing Door, according to prosecutors. After watching other rioters use a police shield and a wood plank to break a window, Hunter Seefried used a gloved fist to clear a shard of glass in one of the broken windowpanes, prosecutors said.
“The defendants and scores of other rioters entered the Capitol building through that window,” prosecutors wrote.
The Seefrieds joined other rioters in confronting Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman and in looking for members of Congress and the location where they would be counting the Electoral College votes for the 2020 presidential election, according to prosecutors.
Goodman, who is expected to testify at the Seefrieds’ trial, has been hailed as a hero for leading a group of rioters away from Senate chamber and up a set of stairs to an area where other officers were waiting. Goodman also directed Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, to turn around and head away from the mob.
Kevin Seefried told the FBI that he threatened Goodman with violence, saying: “And then I threw my stick down. I said, ‘You can shoot me, man, but we’re comin’ in,’” according to prosecutors.
Kevin Seefried brought a Confederate battle flag from home and was photographed displaying it on a large flagpole as he walked through the Capitol.
“Indeed, the flag that Kevin Seefried carried itself served to signal his intent: the Confederate Battle Flag, a symbol of violent opposition to the United States government,” prosecutors wrote.
The charges against both Kevin and Hunter Seefried include a felony count of obstruction of an official proceeding, the joint session of Congress for certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Hunter Seefried told the FBI that he went to Washington because he was concerned about “fraud” tied to the election, prosecutors said.


Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Updated 55 min 44 sec ago

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.


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.


Myanmar court convicts Suu Kyi on more corruption charges

Updated 15 August 2022

Myanmar court convicts Suu Kyi on more corruption charges

BANGKOK: A court in military-ruled Myanmar convicted the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on more corruption charges on Monday and sentenced her to an additional six years in prison, a legal official said.

The trial was held behind closed doors, with no access for media or the public, and her lawyers were forbidden by a gag order from revealing information about the proceedings.

In the four corruption cases decided Monday, Suu Kyi was alleged to have abused her position to rent public land at below market prices and to have built a residence with donations meant for charitable purposes. She received sentences of three years for each of the four counts, but the sentences for three of them will be served concurrently, giving her a total of six more years in prison.

She denied all the charges, and her lawyers are expected to appeal.

She already had been sentenced to 11 years in prison on sedition, corruption and other charges at earlier trials after the military ousted her elected government and detained her in February 2021.

Analysts say the numerous charges against her and her allies are an attempt to legitimize the military’s seizure of power while eliminating her from politics before the military holds an election it has promised for next year.


‘Day of conquest’ as Taliban mark first year in power

Updated 15 August 2022

‘Day of conquest’ as Taliban mark first year in power

  • Taliban fighters expressed happiness that their movement was now in power
  • For many ordinary Afghans, however, the return of the Taliban has only increased hardships

KABUL: Taliban fighters chanted victory slogans next to the US embassy in Kabul on Monday as they marked the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan following a turbulent year that saw women’s rights crushed and a humanitarian crisis worsen.
Exactly a year ago, the hard-line Islamists captured Kabul after a nationwide lightning offensive against government forces just as US-led troops were ending two decades of intervention in a conflict that cost tens of thousands of lives.
“We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” said Niamatullah Hekmat, a fighter who entered the capital on August 15 last year just hours after then-president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
“It’s the day of victory and happiness for the Afghan Muslims and people. It is the day of conquest and victory of the white flag,” government spokesman Bilal Karimi said on Twitter.
The chaotic withdrawal of foreign forces continued until August 31, with tens of thousands of people rushing to Kabul’s airport hoping to be evacuated on any flight out of Afghanistan.
Images of crowds storming the airport, climbing atop aircraft — and some clinging to a departing US military cargo plane as it rolled down the runway — aired on news bulletins around the world.
Authorities have so far not announced any official celebration to mark the anniversary, but state television said it would have a special program later on Monday to mark the event.
Many Taliban fighters gathered in Kabul’s central Massoud Square, where they displayed the regime’s white banners and performed a traditional dance, some holding weapons and others taking pictures on their mobile phones.
“We all are happy that we are celebrating our independence in front of the US embassy,” Aminullah Sufi Omar said.
Taliban fighters expressed happiness that their movement was now in power — even as aid agencies say that half the country’s 38 million people face extreme poverty.
“The time when we entered Kabul, and when the Americans left, those were moments of joy,” said Hekmat, now a member of the special forces guarding the presidential palace.
For many ordinary Afghans, however, the return of the Taliban has only increased hardships — especially for women.
Initially, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterized their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have been imposed on women to comply with the movement’s austere vision of Islam.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
And in May, they were ordered to fully cover up in public, including their faces, ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
“From the day they have come, life has lost its meaning,” said Ogai Amail, a resident of Kabul.
“Everything has been snatched from us, they have even entered our personal space,” she added.
Taliban fighters on Saturday dispersed a rare women’s rights rally by firing gun shots into the air and beating some protesters.
“Our call for justice was silenced with gunfire, but today we are pleading from inside our home,” Munisa Mubariz said on Monday.
She was among about 30 women who gathered at an undisclosed location to stage an indoor protest.
The women, who mostly had their faces uncovered, posted photographs online of themselves holding banners, including one that read: “Afghanistan’s history is tarnished with the closure of girls’ schools.”
While Afghans acknowledge a decline in violence since the Taliban seized power, the humanitarian crisis has left many helpless.
“People coming to our shops are complaining so much of high prices that we shopkeepers have started hating ourselves,” said Noor Mohammad, a shopkeeper from Kandahar, the de facto power center of the Taliban.
The country is in economic crisis, with its overseas assets frozen by Washington and aid curtailed in order to keep funds out of the Taliban’s hands.
No country has officially recognized the new government.
“All those powers who came here have lost here, but today we want good relations with everybody,” said fighter Hazi Mubariz.
For Taliban fighters the joy of victory overshadows the current economic crisis.
“We might be poor, we might be facing hardships, but the white flag of Islam will now fly high forever in Afghanistan,” said a fighter guarding a public park in Kabul.