Canadian man who ran over Muslim family convicted of murder

Family and friends of the Afzaal family, including Tabinda Bukhari, front-left, the mother of Madiha Salman, exit the Superior Court of Justice after a verdict in the Nathaniel Veltman murder trial was reached, on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, in Windsor, Canada. (The Canadian Press via AP)
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Updated 17 November 2023
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Canadian man who ran over Muslim family convicted of murder

OTTAWA: A Canadian man who used his truck to run down a Muslim family out for a walk was found guilty Thursday in Canada’s first murder trial in which jurors were asked to consider a terrorism motive related to white supremacy.
Nathaniel Veltman, 22, was convicted of four counts of first degree or premeditated murder, and one count of attempted murder. He faces up to life in prison when sentenced.
He acknowledged striking the Afzaal family with his pick-up truck in June 2021 in London, Ontario, which left three generations of the family dead and a young boy orphaned.
The prosecution argued at trial that he was motivated by white supremacist ideology and sought to intimidate or terrorize Muslims.
The defense said he’d suffered a mental decline — which did not, however, meet the requirements for an insanity plea — and was in “a state of extreme confusion” after consuming hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms that weekend.
“Today’s verdict is a monumental step in the fight against hate and Islamophobia,” Imam Abdul Fattah Twakkal said outside the courthouse.
“It sets a precedent against white nationalist terrorism,” he said. “It sends a clear message that such hate has no place in our society.”
But he added, “the evidence that came out of this trial shows us that there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the next radicalized young man is not out there.”
Tabinda Bukhari, the mother of one of the adult victims, told reporters: “The enduring grief, trauma and the irreplaceable void left by the loss of multiple generations of one family has pierced us profoundly.”
The verdict, she added, provides “some solace.”
The jury in the almost 10-week trial heard Veltman had penned a “terrorist manifesto,” found on his computer, in which he espoused white nationalism and described his hate for Muslims.
He “dressed like a soldier,” wearing body armor and a helmet, with a “crusader T-shirt” with a red cross, prosecutor Fraser Ball said in closing arguments earlier this week.
“He was hunting for Muslims to kill,” he said.
When Veltman passed the Afzaal family on a London street on that warm Sunday evening, the Crown attorney said, he turned his pick-up truck around and accelerated “pedal to the metal,” jumping the curb as he drove into them.
Bodies flew into the air.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumnah and her grandmother Talat Afzaal, 74, were killed. A nine-year-old boy orphaned in the ramming suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
Bits of the victims’ clothing were found embedded in the grill of Veltman’s truck after he surrendered in a nearby parking lot. He told police he’d wanted to “send a strong message” against Muslim immigration.
Ball said that message was “brutal and terrifying: leave this country or you and your loved ones could be next.”
The defense argued that a combination of mental disorders, childhood traumas and drug use left Veltman feeling detached or disconnected from reality.
The attack two years ago “changed Canadian Muslims’ relationship with their country,” said Omar Khamissa, head of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “For the first time for many of us, we felt unsafe and targeted just for walking down the street.”
Former federal minister Omar Alghabra said on X, formerly Twitter, that this case was “an example of how hateful words could lead to radicalization which could lead to deadly violence.”
Defense lawyer Christopher Hicks said that Veltman was, after the verdict, “in shock, because he knows he’s looking at 25 years in jail without hope of parole.”
A date for a sentencing hearing will be scheduled on December 1.
The slaying was the deadliest anti-Muslim attack in Canada since a shooting at a mosque in Quebec City in 2017 that left six dead. The perpetrator of that shooting was not accused of terrorism.


India’s massive election faces heatwave challenge in penultimate phase

Updated 57 min 4 sec ago
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India’s massive election faces heatwave challenge in penultimate phase

  • Next-to-last phase of voting with temperatures forecast to surge to 47° Celsius in the capital New Delhi
  • More than 111 million people in 58 constituencies across eight states and federal territories are eligible to vote

NEW DELHI: The world’s largest election may become the hottest on Saturday, as Indians participate in the next-to-last phase of voting with temperatures forecast to surge to 47 degrees Celsius in the capital New Delhi.
More than 111 million people in 58 constituencies across eight states and federal territories are eligible to vote in the general election’s sixth phase, which recorded a turnout of 10.82 percent in the first two hours of the 11-hour poll.
The overall turnout in the same phase of the last elections in 2019 was about 63 percent.
“There is a concern, but we hope that people will overcome the fear of the heatwave and come and vote,” Delhi Chief Electoral Officer P. Krishnamurthy said.
Voting in the elections began on April 19 and will conclude on June 1, with counting set for June 4.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who is favored to win a third consecutive term, also asked people to “vote in large numbers” in a message on social media platform X on Saturday.
Opposition politician Arvind Kejriwal urged citizens to “vote against dictatorship” Saturday after casting his ballot in the country’s six-week election.
“Please vote, use your right to vote, and vote against dictatorship,” said Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi party and chief minister of the Delhi region, who was arrested in March in a graft probe and held for several weeks of the election campaign.
The Election Commission has deployed paramedics with medicines and oral hydration salts at polling stations in Delhi, which have additionally been equipped with mist machines, shaded waiting areas and cold water dispensers for voters.
In some parts of the northern state of Haryana, people residing near polling booths also pitched in to help voters beat the heat, handing out cold drinks, dry fruits and milk free of cost.
Among those who cast their ballot early in Delhi were Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress party and Modi’s main rival, his mother Sonia Gandhi and sister Priyanka Vadra.
“We are keeping all our grievances aside and casting our vote for our constitution and democracy,” Vadra told reporters.
Price rise and unemployment were two of the major issues mentioned by voters when asked about the factors that determined their ballot.
“The government boasts about fast economic growth but the reality on the ground is very different,” said Delhi voter Fazal, 46, who only gave his first name and works at a multinational corporation, adding he also voted to “save democracy.”
Ashok Ghana, a plumber in the eastern state of Odisha, who said he voted for the BJP, added that “price rise and the non-availability of jobs” were the issues he considered.
Among those who voted based on the situation in their region was property dealer Praveen Chauhan, 43, in Delhi.
“My main issues are clean water, electricity, access to good health care and education,” he said, adding that the Kejriwal-led Delhi government “has given us that till now.”
While the heatwave was a concern in Delhi, a cyclone that is expected to hit land tomorrow was being closely watched in eastern Odisha and West Bengal, parts of which are also voting on Saturday.


Taiwan calls China’s military drills a ‘blatant provocation’ to world order

Updated 25 May 2024
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Taiwan calls China’s military drills a ‘blatant provocation’ to world order

  • The drills were launched three days after Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te took office
  • Exercises involved simulating strikes targeting the island’s leaders as well as its ports and airports

TAIPEI: China’s two-day military drills around Taiwan were a “blatant provocation to the international order,” Taipei said in a statement Saturday after the war games encircling the self-ruled island ended.
The drills were launched three days after Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te took office and made an inauguration speech that China denounced as a “confession of independence.”
China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, regards Lai as a “dangerous separatist.”
By Friday evening, a presenter for state-run military news channel CCTV-7 said the Chinese army had “successfully completed” the operation dubbed “Joint Sword-2024A.”
In a statement, Lai’s presidential spokesperson Karen Kuo reiterated that ensuring peace and stability across the region was “related to the common interests of the international community.”
“However, China’s recent unilateral provocation not only undermines the status quo of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait but it is also a blatant provocation to the international order, triggering serious concern and condemnation from the international community,” she said.
Kuo added that Taiwan hopes “China will take the safety and happiness of the people on both sides into consideration, pursue mutual benefit, coexistence... stop all kinds of political and military intimidations on Taiwan and the region.”
Self-ruled Taiwan has its own democratically elected government, military and currency, but Beijing has said it would never renounce the potential use of force to bring the island under its control.
Chinese military analysts told state news agency Xinhua that the People’s Liberation Army vessels had inched “closer than ever before” to Taiwan’s shores during the two-day military drills.
The exercises involved simulating strikes targeting the island’s leaders as well as its ports and airports, they said.
In regards to China’s various military actions, Kuo said that “the president and the national security team have a full grasp of the situation” and called for the public to “rest assured.”


Utah man declined $100K offer to travel to Congo on ‘security job’ that was covert coup attempt

Updated 25 May 2024
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Utah man declined $100K offer to travel to Congo on ‘security job’ that was covert coup attempt

  • American Daniel Gonzalez said one of his friends from West Jordan, Utah, was among the 6 killed last week during a foiled coup attempt in DR Congo
  • He said the offer was made by the son of coup leader Christian Malanga, who was killed by Congo security forces while resisting arrest

SALT LAKE CITY: The friend of a prominent Congolese opposition leader’s son said he turned down a six-figure offer to travel there from the US as part of the family’s security detail in what turned out to be a failed coup attempt.

Marcel Malanga, the 21-year-old son of eccentric coup leader Christian Malanga, was detained by Congolese forces Sunday morning, along with a former classmate from their hometown of West Jordan, Utah, after his father was killed in a shootout while resisting arrest. His high school football teammate, Tyler Thompson, 21, was one of two other Americans arrested after an ill-fated attack on the presidential palace in Kinshasa.
Six people were dead and dozens arrested, including the three Americans, following that attack and another on the residence of a close ally of President Felix Tshisekedi, the Congolese army spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Sylvain Ekenge, said.
Daniel Gonzalez, a former teammate of the two Utah residents caught up in the foiled coup, told The Associated Press that Marcel had offered him $50,000 to $100,000 to spend four months in Congo as a security guard for his politician father. The 22-year-old FedEx worker strongly considered it, but said it lacked concrete details. He ultimately declined so he could spend the summer with his girlfriend.
“I feel really sad for Tyler and Marcel but, at the end of the day, I can just be grateful that I didn’t go because I would be stuck in the same scary situation,” Gonzalez said.
Marcel’s lucrative offer to Gonzalez sheds light on how he might have enticed Thompson to come along on what his stepmother, Miranda, said was supposed to be a vacation.
It was one of many propositions the coup leader’s American son made to former football teammates in what many described as a desperate effort to bring someone with him to Congo. He pitched the trip to some as a family vacation and still to others as a service trip to build wells in drought-stricken communities.
Although it’s unclear whether Thompson was offered money, multiple teammates told the AP that he had alluded to such incentives, telling one friend that the trip could be a “big financial opportunity.”
Thompson’s family insists he’s a political pawn who was dragged into an international conflict under false pretenses. They’ve had no direct communication with their son since the coup and are worried for his safety, his stepmother said.
Marcel’s mother, Brittney Sawyer, said her son is innocent and had followed his father.
Christian Malanga, the slain leader of the Congolese opposition political party, considered himself president of a shadow government in exile, which he called the “New Zaire.” He described himself on his website as a refugee who settled in Salt Lake City with his family in the 1990s, pursuing business opportunities in gold mining and used car sales before eventually moving back to Congo to fight for political reforms.
While campaigning for the Congolese Parliament, he claimed he was jailed and endured torturous beatings. He later published a manifesto detailing plans to reform Congo’s security services and described his movement as an effort to organize fellow emigres against the “current Congolese dictatorship government regime.”
“Marcel was pretty secretive about his dad. He didn’t even know him well until he spent last summer in Africa,” Gonzalez said. “There’s no way Marcel had any idea what he’d be getting us into or he never would’ve offered. He’s one of the best friends a person could have.”
In the early hours Sunday, Christian Malanga began livestreaming video on social media from inside the palace. He is seen with his armed son, who hastily pulls a neck gaiter over his face, looking around wide-eyed. Congo officials have not commented on how the attackers were able to get inside.
Gonzalez, of Herriman, Utah, said he had communicated with Marcel about the financial offer over Snapchat, in messages that have since disappeared, in the months leading up to the coup attempt. He was shocked to learn how the trip played out.
Marcel had told Gonzalez that his father was letting him hire a friend so he would have company during his summer abroad. He seemed excited to be able to offer such a substantial amount of money to a close friend who needed it, Gonzalez explained.
The Malangas had promised on-the-job training, full coverage of travel expenses and the chance to explore a new part of the world while making an income, he said. Marcel insisted repeatedly that it was safe, but didn’t share details about his father’s background.
Neither Gonzalez nor his mother thought the trip would be unsafe, he said, despite the US State Department strongly discouraging travel to Congo — but he turned it down when his girlfriend asked him not to leave for four months.
He later saw private Snapchat videos filmed by Marcel that showed Thompson looking frightened as armed Congolese soldiers surrounded their vehicle. In Gonzalez’s final Snapchat exchange with his friend before their capture, he asked whether Thompson was OK and urged them to stay safe.
Marcel assured him that they were.
Other former football teammates, including Luke Barbee and Jaden Lalor, had heard different pitches about the trip and wondered why Marcel seemed so desperate to bring someone along. Neither could fathom their friends’ possible involvement in a violent attack.
“I consider Marcel a brother to me and Tyler a friend, and I truly believe Marcel’s father must have pressured them for his own wants,” Lalor said. “I just want them back safely.”


Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resumes duty after undergoing procedure at Walter Reed

Updated 25 May 2024
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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resumes duty after undergoing procedure at Walter Reed

WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin underwent a medical procedure at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Friday evening and has resumed duty after temporarily transferring power to his deputy, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.
Austin is continuing to deal with bladder issues that arose in December following his treatment for prostate cancer, Ryder said.
The procedure was successful, elective and minimally invasive, “is not related to his cancer diagnosis and has had no effect on his excellent cancer prognosis,” the press secretary said.
Austin transferred authority to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks for about two-and-a-half hours while he was indisposed, the Pentagon said.
The Pentagon chief returned home after the procedure. “No changes in his official schedule are anticipated at this time, to include his participation in scheduled Memorial Day events,” Ryder said.
Austin, 70, has had ongoing health issues since undergoing surgery to address a prostate cancer diagnosis. He spent two weeks in the hospital following complications from a prostatectomy. Austin faced criticism at the time for not immediately informing the president or Congress of either his diagnosis or hospitalization.
Austin was taken back to Walter Reed in February for a bladder issue, admitted to intensive care for a second time and underwent a non-surgical procedure under general anesthesia at the time.
The Pentagon has notified the White House and Congress, Ryder said.


More than 300 buried in Papua New Guinea landslide, local media says

Updated 25 May 2024
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More than 300 buried in Papua New Guinea landslide, local media says

  • Hundreds are feared dead in the landslide that hit Kaokalam village

SYDNEY: More than 300 people and over 1,100 houses were buried by a massive landslide that levelled a remote village in northern Papua New Guinea, local media reported on Saturday.
Hundreds are feared dead in the landslide that hit Kaokalam village in Enga Province, about 600 km (370 miles) northwest of capital Port Moresby, around 3 a.m. on Friday (1900 GMT on Thursday).
The landslide in the Pacific nation north of Australia buried more than 300 people and 1,182 houses, the Papua New Guinea Post Courier said, citing comments from a member of the country’s parliament, Aimos Akem. Akem did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment via social media.
More than six villages had been impacted by the landslide in the province’s Mulitaka region, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said on Saturday.
“Australia’s High Commission in Port Moresby is in close contact with PNG authorities for further assessments on the extent of the damage and casualties,” a DFAT spokesperson said in a statement.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported on Saturday that four bodies had been retrieved from the area after emergency teams reached the sparsely populated area, where the death toll is expected to rise.
The landslide has blocked highway access, making helicopters the only way to reach the area, the broadcaster reported.
Social media footage posted by villager Ninga Role showed people clambering over rocks, uprooted trees and mounds of dirt searching for survivors. Women could be heard weeping in the background.
Prime Minister James Marape has said disaster officials, the Defense Force and the Department of Works and Highways were assisting with relief and recovery efforts.