Iranian dissidents in UK facing surge in violent threats

An Iranian woman walks past an Iranian flag painted on a wall in a street in Tehran on April 10, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 30 January 2024
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Iranian dissidents in UK facing surge in violent threats

  • New police unit advises opposition figures to change daily routines
  • Police ‘are taking it very seriously,’ dissident tells The Times

LONDON: Iranian dissidents in the UK are facing an increased risk of violence and threats, with counterterrorism police taking the matter “very seriously,” The Times reported on Tuesday.

Amid the turbulent situation in the Middle East since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Tehran is engaging criminal groups in the UK and Europe to attempt assassinations, death threats and intimidation of Iranian dissidents, police said.

The Metropolitan Police’s new hostile state threat unit has visited several dissident figures in London over the past fortnight, advising them to take measures to minimize risks.

Dissidents were told to change their daily routines and avoid traveling to countries neighboring Iran due to the threat of kidnapping.

Over the past two years, Tehran has been accused of staging more than 12 violent plots in the UK aimed at dissidents and opposition media outlets.

The UK government on Monday sanctioned an Iranian spy network whose members planned the assassination of two prominent Iranian opposition journalists in London last year.

The two Iran International journalists, Fardad Farahzad and Sima Sabet, were given the code name “the bride and groom” by their assassins, who were exposed by a UK TV investigation.

The failed plot to kill the two journalists was orchestrated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and resulted in the channel temporarily relocating to the US.

Assassins hired by the IRGC’s Unit 840 had initially planned to kill Farahzad and Sabet using a car bomb, but later changed their strategy to a knife attack.

Unit 840, as well as the criminal networks involved in the failed assassination, were the subject of Monday’s new sanctions.

UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said: “The Iranian regime has tried to undermine our democracy through repression — we will continue to take action when necessary to protect our country, values and freedom of speech.

“We cannot allow foreign regimes to collaborate with criminals to threaten us. Sanctioning these criminal networks working for the Iranian regime will remind them that we will fight back.”

One Iranian dissident who was visited by police told The Times: “Police came and told me they have set up this new unit and they are keeping a closer eye on things.

“They are taking it very seriously, offering safety advice and keeping in regular contact. They said that since the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel there is a greater threat.”

A Counter Terrorism Policing spokesperson said: “Everything we have learned from our efforts in countering terrorism, we are now applying to this threat.

“The skills, the knowledge, the tactics that have thwarted 39 terrorist plots since 2017 are now shaping our response in this area.”


DR Congo weighs legal move against Apple in mining dispute

Updated 7 sec ago
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DR Congo weighs legal move against Apple in mining dispute

  • RC’s Paris-based lawyers said Apple had purchased key minerals smuggled from the DRC into neighboring Rwanda
  • DRC is rich in tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold — known as 3T or 3TG — that are used in producing smartphones and other electronic devices

KINSHASA: The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is studying legal action against Apple in France and the United States, after accusing the US tech giant of using “illegally exploited” minerals, its lawyers said Thursday.

In April, the DRC’s Paris-based lawyers said Apple had purchased key minerals smuggled from the DRC into neighboring Rwanda, where they were laundered and “integrated into the global supply chain.”
On Thursday, lawyer William Bourdon said that after receiving a formal notice, Apple had given only a “terse” response that could be considered “a form of contempt, cynicism and arrogance.”
The government’s lawyers were meeting in Kinshasa to discuss strategic options for the case, and held talks with President Felix Tshisekedi.
“The legal options are on the table” for both France and the United States, Bourdon said, adding that other challenges could be lodged in countries “on all the continents.”
The DRC is rich in tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold — known as 3T or 3TG — that are used in producing smartphones and other electronic devices.
The country’s mineral-rich Great Lakes region has been wracked by violence since regional wars in the 1990s.
Tensions resurged in late 2021 when rebels from the March 23 Movement (M23) began recapturing swathes of territory.
The DRC, the United Nations and Western countries accuse Rwanda of supporting rebel groups including M23 in a bid to control the region’s vast mineral resources, an allegation Kigali denies.
Apple said in April: “Based on our due diligence efforts... we found no reasonable basis for concluding that any of the smelters or refiners of 3TG determined to be in our supply chain as of December 31, 2023, directly or indirectly financed or benefited armed groups in the DRC or an adjoining country.”
 


Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti

Updated 27 min 31 sec ago
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Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti

  • Protesters barricaded the multistory Student Services Building with university President Berenecea Johnson Eanes and others inside
  • Images from the scene showed graffiti on the building, furniture blocking doorways and overturned golf carts, picnic tables and umbrellas barricading the plaza out front

LOS ANGELES: Demonstrators protesting Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza occupied and trashed a building at California State University, Los Angeles, while the campus president was inside, but the takeover ended early Thursday without arrests, a spokesperson said.

Protesters barricaded the multistory Student Services Building at 4 p.m. Wednesday with university President Berenecea Johnson Eanes and dozens of other employees inside, said spokesperson Erik Frost Hollins.
Most of the 58 employees got out by 6 p.m. except for a group of administrators who remained until after midnight to manage the situation. The group included Eanes, but Frost Hollins would not say whether the president interacted with the protesters.
“That falls under tactics that we are not discussing at this point,” the spokesperson said.
Most of the protesters left the building around 1:15 a.m. Thursday and returned to an encampment on the campus. A few remaining protesters left when university police ordered them out, Frost Hollins said.
In a statement Thursday afternoon to the school community, Eanes said she has engaged with protesters who have occupied the campus encampment for some 40 days.
“So long as the encampment remained non-violent, I was committed that the university would continue to talk,” the president wrote. But in the wake of destruction and theft that occurred Wednesday, a line was crossed and “those in the encampment must leave.”
“I am saddened, and I am angry,” Eanes said. “Campus community: Know that we will recover from this, but also know that I am committed to doing everything we can to ensure this will never be allowed to repeat. I cannot and would not protect anyone who is directly identified as having participated in last night’s illegal activities from being held accountable.”
There were no arrests and no injuries were reported, but “assaults” were reported by three employees and one student, according to Eanes. Officials said those were a law enforcement matter.
The university, meanwhile, announced that all main campus classes and operations would be remote until further notice.
Images from the scene showed graffiti on the building, furniture blocking doorways and overturned golf carts, picnic tables and umbrellas barricading the plaza out front.
“We don’t have an exact appraisal on it but there was damage to the exterior, the interior, equipment, materials, structure — it was significant damage,” Frost Hollins said.
The CSULA Gaza Solidarity Encampment, a group that has camped near the campus gym for about 40 days, sent an email indicating that members were staging a sit-in in the building, Hollins said.


Cheers, cake and a fist-bump from GOP as Trump returns to Capitol Hill in a first since Jan. 6 riot

Updated 43 min 18 sec ago
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Cheers, cake and a fist-bump from GOP as Trump returns to Capitol Hill in a first since Jan. 6 riot

  • Despite pending federal charges against him, Trump arrived emboldened as the party’s presumptive nominee
  • He has successfully purged the GOP of critics, silenced most skeptics and enticed once-critical lawmakers aboard his MAGA-fueled campaign
  • Even Trump's most prominent Republican critic, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, shook hands, and fist-bumped with him

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump made a triumphant return to Capitol Hill on Thursday, his first with lawmakers since the Jan. 6, 2021 attacks, embraced by energized House and Senate Republicans who find themselves reinvigorated by his bid to retake the White House.

Despite pending federal charges against Trump for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, and his recent guilty verdict in an unrelated hush money trial, the Republican former president arrived emboldened as the party’s presumptive nominee. He has successfully purged the GOP of critics, silenced most skeptics and enticed once-critical lawmakers aboard his MAGA-fueled campaign.
A packed room of House Republicans sang “Happy Birthday” to Trump in a private breakfast meeting at GOP campaign headquarters across the street from the Capitol. The lawmakers gave him a baseball and bat from the annual congressional game, and senators later presented an American flag cake with “45” candles — and then “47” — referring to the next presidency. Trump bragged that even his telephone rallies for lawmakers could draw bigger crowds than mega-popstar Taylor Swift, who has yet to make any endorsement.
In one remarkable moment, Trump and his most prominent Republican critic, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, shook hands, and fist-bumped.

 

“There’s tremendous unity in the Republican Party,” Trump said in brief remarks at Senate GOP headquarters.

Trump spent about an hour each with House and Senate Republicans delivering free-wheeling remarks, fielding questions and discussing issues — including Russia and immigration, tax cuts and other priorities for a potential second term.
During the morning session, Trump said House Speaker Mike Johnson is doing a “terrific job,” according to a Republican in the private meeting and granted anonymity to discuss it. Trump asked Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the speaker’s chief Republican critic, if she was being “nice” to Johnson, another Republican said.
“President Trump brought an extraordinary amount of energy, excitement and enthusiasm this morning,” Johnson said afterward, noting high fund-raising tallies since the guilty verdict. “We’re feeling good.”
The Republican speaker had demurred earlier over whether he’s asked Trump to respect the peaceful transfer of presidential power and commit to not doing another Jan. 6. “Of course he respects that, we all do, and we’ve all talked about it, ad nauseum.”
Many potential priorities for a new White House administration are being formulated by a constellation of outside groups, including Project 2025, laying the groundwork for executive and legislative actions, though Trump has made clear he has his own agenda.
“Anybody who thought that this president was going to be down after the sham trial. it’s only giving him even more energy,” said Rep. Tom Emmer, the GOP whip. “Donald Trump is crushing this election.”

Donald Trump reacts as he is applauded by Republicans at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters in Washington, DC, on June 13, 2024. (REUTERS)

But Trump’s private meetings with House and Senate Republicans so close to the Capitol were infused with the symbolism of his return as the US president who threatened the American tradition of the peaceful transfer of power.
“It’s frustrating,” said former US Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who made his own unsuccessful run for Congress as a Maryland Democrat in the aftermath of Jan. 6, the day when police engaged in hand-to-hand fighting to stop Trump supporters who stormed the building in an effort to overturn President Joe Biden’s election.
Dunn spoke of the “irony” of Trump returning to the area and lawmakers now embracing him. “It just shows the lack of backbone they have when they’re truly putting party and person over country,” he said. “And it’s sad.”
Biden was overseas Thursday attending a summit of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, but the president’s campaign unveiled a new ad blaming Trump for lighting the “fire” of Jan. 6 and threatening democracy.
Many of those who once stood up to Trump are long gone from office and the Republicans who remain seem increasingly enthusiastic about the possibility of him retaking the White House, and the down-ballot windfall that could mean for their own GOP majorities in Congress.
Thursday afternoon offered the first encounter in years between Trump and McConnell, who once blamed Trump for the “disgraceful” attack that he called an “insurrection” but now endorses the party’s presumptive nominee.
Trump addressed the situation directly, saying he intends to work with everyone and that McConnell had “done his best” as leader, said Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Oklahoma, an ally of the former president.

According to Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, who organized the conference meeting, after Trump addressed the group McConnell gave a thumbs up and the two approached each other and exchanged the fist-bump.
“We had a really positive meeting,” McConnell said. “He and I got a chance to talk a little bit, shook hands a few times.”
As democracies around the world come under threat from a far-rightward shift, some analysts warn that the US system, once seemingly immune from authoritarian impulses, is at risk of populist and extremist forces like those that Trump inspired to sack the Capitol.
“This is just another example of House Republicans bending the knee to Donald Trump,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus.

In this photo taken during on January 6, 2021, rioting pro-Trump supporters occupy parts of the attack on the US Capitol building to protest Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election. Returning to the Capitol for the first time since the riot, Trump described as "patriots" those rioters. some of whom had been charged or sentenced to prison for insurrection. (Shutterstock)

Making Jan. 6 a cornerstone of his reelection campaign, Trump celebrates those who stormed the Capitol as “warriors” and “patriots,” and he has vowed to pardon any number of the more than 1,200 people charged with crimes for the assault on the seat of US democracy.
Moreover, Trump has vowed to seek retribution by ousting officials at the US Justice Department, which is prosecuting him in a four-count indictment to overturn the election ahead of the Jan. 6 attack and another case over storing classified documents at his Mar-A-Largo home.
Republicans, particularly in the House but increasingly in the Senate, are vigorously following his lead, complaining of an unfair justice system. It’s having noticeable results: the House and Senate GOP campaign arms scored some of their highest fundraising periods yet after a jury found him guilty in the New York hush money case.
When former GOP Speaker Paul Ryan on Fox News reiterated this week that he wouldn’t be voting for Trump and wished Republicans had another choice for president, he was immediately ostracized by Trump allies.
“Paul Ryan, you’re a piece of garbage,” said Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas. “We should kick you out of the party.”
Of the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over Jan. 6 and convict him on the charge of inciting the insurrection, only a few remain in office.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, had not been expected to attend Thursday’s closed-door session with Trump. But Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, joined as did Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana
Cassidy said he’s attending the Trump meeting expecting “he’s going to be the next president, so you have to work” together.
Asked if he was concerned about the direction of the Trump Republican Party, Cassidy said: “Let the day’s own troubles be sufficient for the day. You can fill yourself up with anxiety about tomorrow, but will it change a thing? No.”


Minnesota man who joined Daesh sentenced to 10 years in prison

Updated 14 June 2024
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Minnesota man who joined Daesh sentenced to 10 years in prison

MINNEAPOLIS: A Minnesota man who once fought for the Daesh group in Syria after becoming radicalized expressed remorse and wept in open court Thursday as he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

Abelhamid Al-Madioum, 27, cooperated with federal authorities ahead of Thursday’s hearing, which prosecutors factored into their recommendation for a lower sentence than the statutory maximum of 20 years.

US District Judge Ann Montgomery said among the cases she has presided over in her 40 years on the bench, Al-Madioum’s was “extraordinary.” She cited his confounding path from a loving Minnesota home to one of the world’s most notorious terror organizations and his subsequent collaboration with the government he betrayed.

When Al-Madioum rose to speak before being sentenced, he thanked the US government for giving him another chance. He then turned to address his parents and two young sons, who were rescued from a Syrian orphanage and brought to America with the help of federal authorities.

“I know I put you through so much, and I did with the belief that it was my religious duty,” Al-Madioum said while fighting back tears. “That’s no excuse. My first duty should have been to you.”

Al-Madioum, a naturalized US citizen, was among several Minnesotans suspected of leaving the US to join the Daesh group, along with thousands of fighters from other countries worldwide. Roughly three dozen people are known to have left Minnesota to join militant groups in Somalia or Syria. In 2016, nine Minnesota men were sentenced on federal charges of conspiring to join Daesh.

But Al-Madioum is one of the relatively few Americans who have been brought back to the US who actually fought for the group. According to a defense sentencing memo, he’s one of 11 adults as of 2023 to be formally repatriated to the US from the conflict in Syria and Iraq to face charges for terrorist-related crimes and alleged affiliations with IS. Others received sentences ranging from four years to life plus 70 years.

Prosecutors had asked for a 12-year sentence, arguing that Al-Madioum’s suffering did not make his crimes any less serious. Assistant US Attorney Andrew Winter said Al-Madioum self-radicalized online and helped daesh, also known as Daesh, carry out its goals.

“Young men just like him all over the world ... allowed Daesh to flourish,” Winter said.

Manvir Atwal, Al-Madioum’s attorney requested a seven-year sentence. She said Al-Madioum was taken in as an impressionable teenager by a well-oiled propaganda machine. He rejected extremist ideology years ago and had helped the government in other terrorism cases, which prosecutors confirmed.

Montgomery opted for a 10-year sentence, weighing sentencing guidelines with Al-Madioum’s cooperation and letters on his behalf, including one from an unnamed former US ambassador. He has already served over five years and might get credit for that time, Atwal said.

Al-Madioum grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park in a loving and nonreligious family, the defense memo said. He joined Daesh because he wanted to help Muslims he believed were being slaughtered by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in that country’s civil war. IS recruiters persuaded him “to test his faith and become a real Muslim.”

Al-Madioum was 18 in 2014 when IS recruited him. The college student slipped away from his family on a visit to their native Morocco in 2015. Making his way to Syria, he became a soldier for Daesh until he was maimed in an explosion in Iraq. His leg was shattered and his arm had to be amputated. Unable to fight, he used his computer skills to serve the group.

While still a member of Daesh, he married and had children with two women.

He had thought his second wife and their daughter had died. But in court Thursday, Al-Madioum said he had heard there is a chance she and their daughter might still be alive. That possibility remains under investigation, Atwal said.

Al-Madioum’s first wife died in his arms after she was shot in front of him by either rebel forces or an Daesh fighter in 2019, the defense said. Al-Madioum said in court that he dug a trench and buried her.

The day after that shooting, he walked with his sons and surrendered to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which held him under conditions the defense described as “heinous” for 18 months until the FBI returned him to the US

He pleaded guilty in 2021 to providing material support to a designated terrorist organization. His sons were eventually found in a Syrian orphanage, the culmination of what he and Montgomery described as a unique effort from US diplomats and other officials.

Al-Madioum’s parents were awarded custody of his sons after they arrived in America. Sitting in the court’s gallery Thursday, his sons, ages 7 and 9, sat on their grandparents’ laps and smiled at their father as he turned to face them.


US, Britain, Canada accuse Russia of plot to sway Moldova election

Updated 14 June 2024
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US, Britain, Canada accuse Russia of plot to sway Moldova election

KYIV/WASHINGTON: The United States, Britain and Canada accused Russia on Thursday of carrying out a plot to sway the outcome of the Moldovan presidential election in October and incite protests if a pro-Moscow candidate should lose.
Russia is working to exacerbate societal tensions and foment negative perceptions of the West and the incumbent team of Moldova’s pro-Western President Maia Sandu through disinformation and online propaganda, they said in a statement issued by the State Department in Washington.
“We are taking this step to warn our democratic partners and allies that Russian actors are carrying out a plot to influence the outcomes of Moldova’s fall 2024 presidential election,” they said.
The plot, they said, is part of wider attempts by Moscow to subvert democratic elections to “secure results favorable to the Kremlin.”
The threat is especially relevant this year as hundreds of million of voters in Europe and North America cast ballots in national, regional and local elections, the statement said.
The Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Moldovan Prime Minister Dorin Recean said on social media platform X that he was grateful for support from the three allies and vowed that the “Kremlin’s attempts to undermine our sovereignty and incite unrest will not succeed.”

Moldova, a former Soviet republic of 2.5 million people, has fiercely condemned Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, accused Moscow of plotting the Moldovan government’s overthrow and expelled Russian diplomats.
Russia, the allies said, is backing presidential candidates in Moldova and unidentified pro-Russia actors are “actively using disinformation and propaganda online, on the air and on the streets to further their objectives.”
These actors are fanning criticism of Sandu and her Party of Action and Solidarity to incite protests and plan to spread lies about her character and “supposed electoral irregularities.”
The allies issued the statement a day after the United States imposed sanctions on Evgenia Gutul, the pro-Russia governor of Moldova’s Gagauzia region.

Yevgenia Gutsul, leader of Moldovia's Gagauzia region. R)EUTERS/File Photo

Gutul faces criminal allegations of channelling funds from Russia to finance the now-banned Shor Party set up by Ilan Shor, an exiled pro-Russia businessman convicted of fraud in Moldova.
She denies the allegations as fabricated.
During a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Chisinau last month, Sandu accused the Kremlin of using criminal groups in Gagauzia to bring in Russian money to finance de-stabilizing activities and attempts “to bribe the elections.”
In the joint statement, the allies said they shared Sandu’s concerns that the Kremlin is using criminal groups to finance political activities.
Moscow’s political interference, they said, dates back years, and they cited as an example “direct support” that employees of Russia’s state-funded RT media network have provided to Shor.