Authorities face calls to declare a hate crime in Vermont shooting of 3 men of Palestinian descent

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People hold up signs and protest following a vigil held on the grounds of Brown University, after three students of Palestinian descent were shot and wounded in Vermont, at the school's main green in Providence, Rhode Island on Nov. 27, 2023. (Reuters)
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People hold up signs and protest following a vigil held on the grounds of Brown University, after three students of Palestinian descent were shot and wounded in Vermont, at the school’s main green in Providence, Rhode Island on Nov. 27, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Authorities face calls to declare a hate crime in Vermont shooting of 3 men of Palestinian descent

  • Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested and held without bail on three counts of attempted murder
  • The US Department of Justice, along with Vermont authorities, are still investigating whether Saturday’s gunfire on a Burlington street was a hate crime

BURLINGTON, USA: Vigils for three college students of Palestinian descent who were shot in Vermont over the weekend prompted calls for authorities to recognize the violence as a hate crime, and for unity among the Jewish and Arab communities.
Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested and held without bail on three counts of attempted murder. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf on Monday.
The US Department of Justice, along with Vermont authorities, are still investigating whether Saturday’s gunfire on a Burlington street was a hate crime amid an increase in threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities across the US since the Israel-Hamas war began, Attorney General Merrick Garland said. “There is understandable fear in communities across the country,” he said.
One vigil was held Monday night at Brown University in Rhode Island, where one of the victims, Hisham Awartani, is a student. Participants shouted at school president Christina Paxson as she addressed the crowd, demanding that Brown divest from investments that support Israel, according to media reports.
Robert Leikend, New England regional director for the American Jewish Committee, called for unity and finding common ground between the Jewish and Arab communities, saying in a statement Monday night that “hate should not beget more hate.”
He said a vigil after Eaton’s arrest “featured anti-Israel and antisemitic statements from some participants.” He didn’t name the location.
“The anger is understandable. The finger-pointing is not,” he said.
The vigil at Brown was closed to media. NBC News reported that Awartani said in a statement read by a professor that as much as he appreciates the love and support of the community, “I am but one casualty in a much wider conflict.”
The statement read, “Had I been shot in the West Bank, where I grew up, the medical services which saved my life here would have likely been withheld by the Israeli army. The soldier who would have shot me would go home and never be convicted.”
Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, all age 20, were spending their Thanksgiving break in Burlington, and were out for a walk while visiting one of the victims’ relatives when they were confronted by a white man with a handgun, police said. The victims were speaking in a mix of English and Arabic and two of them were also wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves when they were shot, Police Chief Jon Murad said.
Abdalhamid told police he ran away, jumped a fence, and hid behind a house. He eventually knocked on another door, begging the woman who answered to call 911. At that point, he sat down, felt pain, and saw blood, according to an affidavit.
Two of the students were struck in their torsos, while one was hit in the lower body, Murad said. All three were being treated at the University of Vermont Medical Center, and one faces a long recovery because of a spinal injury, a family member said.
One of the students has been released from the hospital, according to media reports.
“I’ve been with them almost constantly since Saturday evening. I’ve been listening to them talk to one another and try to process the events, and I’m blown away by their resilience, by their good humor in the face of these difficult times,” said Rich Price, Awartani’s uncle.
The three have been friends since first grade at Ramallah Friends School, a private school in the West Bank, and all are “remarkable, distinguished students,” said Rania Ma’ayeh, head of the school.
Awartani is studying mathematics and archaeology at Brown; Abdalhamid is a pre-med student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania; and Ali Ahmad is studying mathematics and IT at Trinity College in Connecticut, Ma’ayeh said. Awartani and Abdalhamid are US citizens while Ali Ahmad is studying on a student visa, Ma’ayeh said.
Abdalhamid’s uncle Radi Tamimi, said at a news conference Monday his nephew grew up in the West Bank and “we always thought that that could be more of a risk in terms of his safety and sending him here would be a right decision.
“We feel somehow betrayed in that decision here and we’re just trying to come to terms with everything,” he said.
Eaton moved to Burlington over the summer from Syracuse, New York, and legally purchased the gun used in the shooting, Murad told reporters. According to a police affidavit, federal agents found the gun in Eaton’s apartment on Sunday. Eaton came to the door holding his hands, palms up, and told the officers he’d been waiting for them.
Eaton’s mother, Mary Reed, told the Daily Beast that Eaton, who had held various jobs as a farmer, ski instructor and researcher, had struggled with mental health issues, including depression. But she said he was in “such a good mood” when she saw him on Thanksgiving.
Syracuse police said Eaton’s name appeared in 37 police reports from 2007 until 2021, but never as a suspect. The cases ranged from domestic violence to larceny, and Eaton was listed as either a complainant or victim in 21 reports, according to Lt. Matthew Malinowski, the department’s public information officer.
Sarah George, state’s attorney, said that law enforcement officials do not yet have evidence to support a hate crime charge, which under Vermont law must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But, she said, “I do want to be clear that there is no question that this was a hateful act.”
Demonstrations have been widespread and tensions in the US have escalated as the death toll rises in the Israel-Hamas war. A fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was set to continue for two more days past Monday as 11 more hostages were handed over to the Red Cross in Gaza under what was originally a four-day truce deal.


Eight in hospital after reports of ‘odour’ at Sweden intel service

Updated 57 min 45 sec ago
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Eight in hospital after reports of ‘odour’ at Sweden intel service

  • Images from the scene showed police wearing gas masks alongside several ambulances and emergency vehicles
  • After ending their emergency operation, police said they had started an investigation into “causing bodily harm” but did not have any suspects

STOCKHOLM: Police opened an investigation Friday after a suspicious odour at Sweden’s Security Service office left eight people needing hospital treatment with respiratory symptoms.
Images from the scene showed police wearing gas masks alongside several ambulances and emergency vehicles as an area around the office of the agency, known as Sapo, was closed off.
“Around 1:00 p.m. today, there were indications that there was a dangerous substance at Sapo’s offices,” Patrik Soderberg, chief physician at the local health care authority Region Stockholm, told AFP.
“A total of eight people with symptoms have been treated at hospital,” Region Stockholm said in a statement, adding that the “cause of the leak was still unclear.”
After ending their emergency operation, police said they had started an investigation into “causing bodily harm” but did not have any suspects.
Police said an area of “a couple of hundred meters” around the building had been closed off after “a potential gas leak.”
Some of those taken to hospital were officers who had “smelled an odour when they arrived,” the service added in a statement.
Sapo spokeswoman Karin Lutz told AFP the intelligence agency had called emergency services after receiving an alarm.
Lutz said the building had been “partly evacuated” during the emergency but declined to give further details or comment on whether they suspected foul play.
In a later statement, Sapo said “emergency services ended the operation after confirming that there was no gas inside the premises or outside the building.”
The Nordic country is on high alert as it is expecting to clear the final hurdle to its bid to join NATO on Monday, with the last holdout Hungary scheduled to vote on ratifying its membership.
The Aftonbladet newspaper said witnesses had reported smelling something that reminded them of paint, and that locals had been told to close their windows.
Swedish media also reported that a gas sensor on the roof of the building had alerted the presence of phosgene, but these reports have not been confirmed.
The gas was used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I, but is also widely used in industry for the production of plastics and pesticide.


Ukraine military destroys Russian surveillance plane — air force commander

Updated 23 February 2024
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Ukraine military destroys Russian surveillance plane — air force commander

  • The A-50 was downed over Russian territory, between the cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar
  • The operation was carried out by the air force and the intelligence directorate

KYIV: Ukraine’s military on Friday destroyed a Russian A-50 surveillance aircraft, Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk said, the second time in a little more than a month that Ukraine has reported downing the sophisticated plane.
“The A-50 with the call sign ‘Bayan’ has flown its last!” Oleshchuk wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted military sources as saying the A-50 was downed over Russian territory, between the cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar. The operation was carried out, it said, by the air force and the intelligence directorate.
Russian news agencies quoted emergency services in southern Krasnodar region as saying that fragments of an aircraft were found in marshland in Kanevskoy district and firefighters extinguished a blaze.
The report made no reference to the A-50.
Ukraine’s military in January said its air force destroyed a Russian Beriev A-50 surveillance plane and an Ilyushin Il-22 airborne command post in the Sea of Azov.
The A-50, which first came into service near the end of the Soviet era, is a large airborne early warning and control aircraft that can scan several hundred kilometers for enemy aircraft, ships and missiles.
Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate, told the Financial Times a month ago that Russia had eight A-50s at that time.


Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

Updated 23 February 2024
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Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

  • Alejo Vidal-Quadras was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger
  • "I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference

MADRID: A right-wing Spanish politician who was shot in November in Madrid on Friday accused Iran of being behind his attempted murder during his first public appearance since the attack.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a founder of Spain's far-right Vox party and former head of its centre-right People's Party in Catalonia who has long supported Iran's opposition movement, was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger.
"I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference in the Spanish capital.
Tehran has "a long tradition, a track record, of extraterritorial terrorist activities" against "dissidents and against foreigners who support then," he added, without offering any proof to back up his claim.
Four people have been arrested as part of the investigation into the shooting, but the suspected gunman -- a French national of Tunisian origin with several previous convictions in France, remains at large.
Police have not commented on a possible motive for the shooting.
Vidal-Quadras, who already pointed the finger at Iran when he was questioned by police after the shooting, said it was a "miracle" that he survived.
"I made a movement of my head that meant that the shot, which was supposed to be fatal, was not," he said.
The bullet entered one side of his jaw and exited the other, and Vidal-Quadras spent time in hospital recovering from a jaw fracture.
"The detonation sounded like a thunderclap in my head, in fact I have a perforated eardrum, and I started bleeding, it caused a puddle on the floor," he said.
Vidal-Quadras said he believes the quick intervention of a passer-by, who stopped the bleeding with a piece of clothing, saved his life.
He said he has suffered from after-effects since the shooting, including "some paralysis of the facial muscles".
Vidal-Quadras, a top member of the International Committee in Search of Justice which supports the "Iranian resistance", has long called for the international community to harden its position towards Iran.


Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

Updated 23 February 2024
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Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

  • Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center
  • They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt

VALLETTA, Malta: Five migrants, including a woman, died when their boat capsized as they were being rescued off Malta on Friday, the island’s armed forces said.
Another eight were injured and taken to hospital, including two who swallowed a considerable amount of seawater and fuel.
Armed Forces of Malta deputy commander Col. Edric Zahra told reporters that the incident happened at about midday when the eight-meter (26-ft) boat was four miles (6.5 km) south of Malta.
Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center. They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Mediterranean sea crossings from North Africa to Italy or Malta are among the most dangerous migration routes in the world. Last year almost 2,500 migrants died or went missing on those routes, the International Organization for Migration says.
The vast majority of migrants head for Italy. Malta’s armed forces rescued 380 migrants at sea last year, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said in parliament in January.


Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

Updated 23 February 2024
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Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

  • Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons
  • The frontlines in the war had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka

MOSCOW: Russian forces have advanced further to the west after taking control of the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, the defense ministry said on Friday.
It said Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons in the past week including seven British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles, a US Patriot anti-aircraft guided missile and launch vehicle, and 42 HIMARS rockets fired by multiple launch systems.
Reuters could not independently verify battlefield reports.
The frontlines in the war, which started two years ago on Saturday, had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka, and Russia still controls just under a fifth of Ukrainian territory.
The capture of Avdiivka, following months of fighting with heavy casualties on both sides, was Russia’s first significant gain since taking the city of Bakhmut last May.
After taking Avdiivka, units of the “Center” group of Russian forces “continued advancing in a westerly direction,” the defense ministry statement said.
“In cooperation with aviation and artillery, they defeated accumulations of manpower and equipment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces” in six nearby settlements, it said.