Salman Rushdie attack suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder, assault

Hadi Matar, the man charged with stabbing Salman Rushdie on a lecture stage in western New York said he was surprised to learn the accomplished author had survived the attack. (AP)
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Updated 18 August 2022

Salman Rushdie attack suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder, assault

  • Matar was arraigned at the Chautauqua County Courthouse on an indictment returned earlier in the day
  • His next court appearance was scheduled for Sept. 22

MAYVILLE, New York: A man accused of stabbing novelist Salman Rushdie last week in western New York pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder and assault charges on Thursday during an arraignment hearing and was remanded without bail.
Hadi Matar, 24, is accused of wounding Rushdie, 75, on Friday just before the “The Satanic Verses” author was to deliver a lecture on stage at an educational retreat near Lake Erie. Rushdie was hospitalized with serious injuries in what writers and politicians around the world decried as an attack on the freedom of expression.
Matar was arraigned at the Chautauqua County Courthouse on an indictment returned earlier in the day by a grand jury that charged him with one count of second-degree attempted murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, and one count of second-degree assault. He has been in jail since his arrest and wore a gray-striped jumpsuit, a white COVID-19 face mask and his hands were shackled.
His next court appearance was scheduled for Sept. 22.
The attack came 33 years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Muslims to assassinate Rushdie a few months after “The Satanic Verses” was published. Some Muslims saw passages about the Prophet Muhammad as blasphemous.
Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim Kashmiri family, has lived with a bounty on his head, and spent nine years in hiding under British police protection.
In 1998, Iran’s pro-reform government of President Mohammad Khatami distanced itself from the fatwa, saying the threat against Rushdie was over.
But the multimillion-dollar bounty has since grown and the fatwa was never lifted: Khomeini’s successor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was suspended from Twitter in 2019 for saying the fatwa against Rushdie was “irrevocable.”
In an interview published by the New York Post on Wednesday, Matar said he respected Khomeini but would not say if he was inspired by the fatwa. He said he had “read a couple of pages” of “The Satanic Verses” and watched YouTube videos of the author.
“I don’t like him very much,” Matar said of Rushdie, as reported in the Post. “He’s someone who attacked Islam, he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.”
Iran’s foreign ministry on Monday said that Tehran should not be accused of being involved in the attack. Matar is believed to have acted alone, police have said.
Matar is a Shiite Muslim who was born in California to a family from Lebanon.
Prosecutors say he traveled to Chautauqua Institution, a retreat about 12 miles (19 km) from Lake Erie, where he bought a pass to Rushdie’s lecture.
Witnesses said there were no obvious security checks at the lecture venue and that Matar did not speak as he attacked the author. He was arrested at the scene by a New York State Police trooper after being wrestled to the ground by audience members.
Rushdie sustained severe injuries in the attack, including nerve damage in his arm, wounds to his liver, and the likely loss of an eye, his agent said.


US designates Pakistan militant group, Al-Qaeda branch ‘terrorist’ groups

Updated 25 min 29 sec ago

US designates Pakistan militant group, Al-Qaeda branch ‘terrorist’ groups

  • Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan ended a monthslong cease-fire with Pakistan and resumed attacks
  • Pakistani Taliban were behind the 2014 attack on a Peshawar school that killed 147 people

ISLAMABAD: The United States has added the key Pakistani militant group and the Al-Qaeda branch to its list of “global terrorists,” triggering sanctions against the groups amid a resurgence of militant violence in this Islamic nation.
Thursday’s move by the State Department comes days after the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, known as TTP, ended a monthslong cease-fire with Pakistan and resumed attacks across the country.
The threat issued by the TTP forced Pakistani authorities to take additional measures, and security was tight on orders from the Interior Ministry outside worship and other public places Friday amid fears of more attacks. TTP has asked its fighters to target security forces across the country. Pakistani Taliban were behind the 2014 attack on a Peshawar school that killed 147 people, mostly schoolchildren.
The State Department said Thursday it has designated TTP and Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists.”
The agency’s statement said the US is “committed to using its full set of counterterrorism tools to counter the threat posed by terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, including Al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP)” to keep militants from using Afghanistan as “a platform for international terrorism.”
“As a result of these actions,” the statement said, “all property and interests in property of those designated (Thursday) that are subject to US jurisdiction are blocked, and all US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them.”
The United States also named four members of TTP and Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent Osama Mehmood, the head of the Al-Qaeda branch, Yahya Ghouri, the deputy chief of Al-Qaeda’s branch, and Muhammad Maruf, who is responsible for recruitment for the group.
It also designated TTP’s leader, Qari Amjad, who oversees militant attacks in northwest Pakistan.
Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden was killed in a US Navy SEALs operation in May 2011 in his hiding place in the garrison city of Abbottabad, not far from the capital of Islamabad, and TTP emerged after Pakkistan became a key ally of the United States in its war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
There was no immediate comment from Pakistan, but the latest development comes after Islamabad asked the Taliban in Afghanistan to prevent TTP from using their soil for attacks inside the Islamic nation. The demand from Pakistan came after a suicide bomber dispatched by TTP blew himself up near a truck carrying police assigned to protect polio workers in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province.
TTP has claimed responsibility for the attack, which has drawn nationwide condemnation.
The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but allied with Afghanistan’s Taliban, who have ruled their country since the US and NATO troops withdrew last year. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan emboldened their Pakistani allies, whose top leaders and fighters are hiding in the next door country.


Philippines’ largest prison holds mass burial for 70 inmates

Updated 02 December 2022

Philippines’ largest prison holds mass burial for 70 inmates

  • They were among 176 corpses found by police during an investigation into the death of an inmate
  • Bodies are normally held at accredited funeral homes for three months to give relatives time to retrieve them

MANILA: The bodies of 70 inmates from the Philippines’ largest prison were laid to rest Friday in a mass burial, weeks after their decomposing remains were discovered in a Manila funeral home.
They were among 176 corpses found by police during an investigation into the death of an inmate, who was accused of being involved in the killing of a journalist in early October.
Most of the deaths were due to “natural causes,” said Cecilia Villanueva, the Bureau of Corrections’ acting director for health and welfare services.
Among them was a Japanese national.
Villanueva said 127 of the 140 bodies buried so far were badly decomposed and could not be autopsied again.
The bodies began piling up in the funeral home in December 2021 after their families — most of them poor — did not claim them.
Villanueva blamed “constraints” for the failure of corrections staff to ensure the inmates were given timely burials.
Bodies are normally held at the accredited funeral home for three months to give relatives time to retrieve them.
Friday’s mass burial was the biggest ever by the Bureau of Corrections, Villanueva told reporters.
Minimum security inmates carried the 70 plywood coffins to their final resting place — cheap concrete tombs in a cemetery inside the prison complex.
The gruesome discovery at the funeral home was only the latest scandal to rock the troubled Bureau of Corrections, which runs the country’s overcrowded prison system.
Its chief Gerald Bantag is accused of ordering the killing of radio broadcaster Percival Mabasa, as well as Cristito Villamor Palana, an inmate who allegedly passed on the kill order to the gunman.
After Bantag was suspended from his job as director general, a huge pit was discovered next to his former official residence inside the prison complex.
Bantag claims it was for scuba diving, not an escape tunnel for inmates.
Among the remaining bodies still at the funeral home, eight would be re-examined by Raquel Fortun, one of the country’s two forensic pathologists.
Villanueva said an average of one to two prisoners died every day inside New Bilibid Prison, where about 29,000 inmates are held in a facility designed for 6,435.
There were only five doctors to treat the prisoners, but the Bureau of Corrections was trying to hire more.
“We are doing everything we can, we try to provide health care, just as health care is provided to the public, but there are so many constraints,” Villanueva said.


Finnish PM warns Russian win would empower aggressors

Updated 02 December 2022

Finnish PM warns Russian win would empower aggressors

  • First-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand
  • ’Make no mistake, if Russia wins its terrible gamble, it will not be the only one to feel empowered’

CANBERRA: Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin warned an Australian audience Friday that a Russian victory over Ukraine would empower other aggressors and urged democracies against forming “critical dependencies” on authoritarian states such as China.
Marin was speaking in Sydney at the end of the first-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand. Australia’s pursuit of a free trade deal with the European Union was on the agenda.
She used a speech to urge democracies to ramp up sanctions against Russia.
“Make no mistake, if Russia wins its terrible gamble, it will not be the only one to feel empowered,” Marin told the Lowy Institute international policy think tank.
“Others will also be tempted by the same dark agenda,” she added.
A free trade agreement being finalized between the European Union, which includes Finland, and Australia was an opportunity to develop resilient supply chains, she said.
“We have become far too dependent on cooperation with regimes that do not share our common values,” Marin said, using Finland’s reliance on Russian energy as an example.
“Our dependencies are becoming our weaknesses faster and in more important areas of our societies than we would like to happen,” she added.
She described trade with China as a “reality.”
“We all have worries when it comes to China and we must make sure that we don’t have that kind of critical dependencies when it comes to China,” Marin said.
“We cannot be dependent, for example, on microchips or semiconductors or any kind of critical technologies when it comes to authoritarian countries. Because if those trading routes would be cut suddenly, then we would be in trouble,” she added.
Marin later met Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at his official Sydney residence. The pair released a joint statement saying their talks “underlined the need to work together in strengthening their resilience as open and democratic societies and in fostering sustainable development.”
They prime ministers “agreed that managing complex supply chains, energy sources and investing in trustworthy critical and emerging technologies was needed to promote economic, political, social and environmental stability as well as human rights,” the statement said.
Australia, which is the most generous donor to Ukraine’s war effort outside NATO, and Finland, a country that is soon to become a NATO member and shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia, demanded in the statement Moscow immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine.


Up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russian invasion: Zelensky aide

Updated 02 December 2022

Up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russian invasion: Zelensky aide

  • 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting

KYIV: As many as 13,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed since Russia’s invasion in February, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky has said.
“We have official estimates from the General Staff... And they range from 10,000 ... to 13,000 dead,” Mykhailo Podolyak told Ukraine’s Channel 24 on Thursday.
Zelensky would make the official data public “when the right moment comes,” he added.
In June, as Russian forces battled to take full control of the easternmost Lugansk region, Zelensky said Ukraine was losing “60 to 100 soldiers per day, killed in action, and around 500 people wounded in action.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in September said 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting to that point.
Both sides are suspected of minimizing their losses to avoid damaging the morale of their troops.
Top US general Mark Milley last month said more than 100,000 Russian military personnel have been killed or wounded in Ukraine, with Kyiv’s forces likely suffering similar casualties.
Those figures — which could not be independently confirmed — are the most precise to date from the US government.
Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed in the worst fighting in Europe in decades.


US, South Korea and Japan impose fresh sanctions on North Korea

Updated 02 December 2022

US, South Korea and Japan impose fresh sanctions on North Korea

  • US Treasury Department threatened sanctions against anyone dealing with those directly involved in weapons development
  • Washington’s action blocks assets of three North Korean officials in the US

WASHINGTON: The United States, Japan and South Korea have imposed fresh sanctions on North Korean individuals and entities in response to Pyongyang’s recent slew of missile tests.
Washington’s action, announced Thursday, blocks any assets of three North Korean officials in the United States, a largely symbolic step against an isolated country that has defied international pressure over its weapons programs.
The US Treasury Department also threatened sanctions against anyone who conducts transactions with Jon Il Ho, Yu Jin and Kim Su Gil, who were identified as directly involved in weapons development.
The recent North Korean missile launches, including the test of an intercontinental ballistic missile with the range to hit the US mainland, “pose grave security risks to the region and entire world,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
The sanctions “underscore our sustained resolve to promote accountability in response to Pyongyang’s pace, scale and scope of ballistic missile launches.”
Blinken added that the action was taken in coordination with US allies South Korea and Japan, and noted that the European Union issued similar designations of the three in April.
Tokyo and Seoul on Friday also announced new sanctions.
South Korea said it would target eight individuals, including a Taiwanese and a Singaporean national.
They have “contributed to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and evasion of (pre-existing) sanctions,” the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement.
All are already subject to US sanctions, the ministry added, and South Korea’s new restrictions are expected to “alert the domestic and international community of the risks of transactions with these entities.”
And Japan said that in response to Pyongyang’s “provocative acts,” it was freezing the assets of three North Korean groups — Korea Haegumgang Trading Corp, Korea Namgang Trading Corp. and Lazarus Group — and one person, Kim Su Il.
The United States has voiced frustration that China, North Korea’s closest ally, and Russia have blocked efforts at the UN Security Council to impose tougher sanctions.

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