Father of boy accused of stabbing 2 Sydney clerics saw no signs of extremism, Muslim leader says

Police stand outside the Assyrian Christ The Good Shepherd Church after a knife attack that took place during a service the night before, in Wakeley in Sydney, Australia, April 16, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 April 2024
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Father of boy accused of stabbing 2 Sydney clerics saw no signs of extremism, Muslim leader says

SYDNEY: The father of a boy accused of stabbing two Christian clerics in Australia saw no signs of his son’s extremism, a Muslim community leader said on Wednesday as police prepared to file charges against rioters who besieged a Sydney church demanding revenge.
The 16-year-old boy spoke in Arabic about the Prophet Muhammad after he stabbed Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel and the Rev. Isaac Royel during a church service on Monday night that was being streamed online. Neither cleric sustained life-threatening injuries.
The Orthodox Assyrian congregation overpowered the boy and he remained in an undisclosed hospital on Wednesday under police guard. He sustained severe hand wounds in the struggle.
Lebanese Muslim Association secretary Gamel Kheir, an advocate for Sydney’s largest Muslim community, said he spent two hours with the boy’s distraught father at the family home soon after the attack. The family has since left their home for fear of retaliation.
“He was in shock,” Kheir told Australian Broadcasting Corp. of the father, who has not been identified.
“He was not aware of any signs of becoming more extreme other than the fact that he was becoming more disobedient to his father. But that was about it. He didn’t see any tell-tale signs, so to speak,” Kheir added.
Kheir is among several community leaders who have accused police of unnecessarily raising community tensions with a premature declaration on Tuesday that the attack at Christ the Good Shepherd Church fit the definition of a terrorist act under New South Wales state law.
“I’m concerned that we’ve rushed to a pre-judgment of a 16-year-old child,” Kheir said.
“He used the language of religion, we’re not debating that at all. In a sense that he targeted another religion, that’s not debatable,” Kheir said.
“What’s debatable is what mental state was this child in? Was he of a sane mind to even make such a rational call? All we’re saying is surely there was time for the police to do a more thorough investigation and a review before they labelled it a terrorist act,” Kheir added.
New South Wales Police Commissioner Karen Webb on Wednesday stood by her declaration of a terrorist incident as defined by the Terrorism (Police Powers) Act 2002.
The act gives police expanded powers to stop and search people, premises and vehicles without a warrant and to detain suspects in response to a terrorist attack or an imminent threat of an attack.
The church attack met the act’s criteria of having a political, religious or ideological motivation and was intended to cause intimidation, she said.
“I was satisfied based on the information that was provided very early Tuesday morning that it met that criteria and I made that declaration without any hesitation,” Webb said.
She said whether the boy would be charged with terrorism offenses was a separate consideration and would depend on the results of the police investigation.
According to media reports, the boy had been convicted in January of a range of offenses including possession of a switchblade knife, being armed with a weapon with an intention to commit an indictable offense, stalking, intimidation and damaging property. He was released from court on a good behavior bond.
Police are also investigating the conduct of 600 people who converged on the church on Monday night and demanded police hand over the boy, who was temporarily barricaded inside for his own safety.
The crowd hurled bricks, bottles and fence boards at police. Two police officers were hospitalized and several police vehicles were damaged.
Webb said police were attempting to identify perpetrators of crimes during the riot from various sources of video and from fingerprints left on police cars. She expected arrests to be made as early as Wednesday.
“Not all those people there were rioting against the police, but those people who were, they can expect to be identified and arrested and put before the courts,” Webb said.
The Lebanese Muslim Association runs Australia’s largest mosque in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba. Security has been elevated at that mosque and several others since Monday when fire bombing threats were made.
Security has also been increased at shopping malls around Australia after a lone assailant stabbed six people to death at Sydney’s Westfield Bondi Junction mall on Saturday. The rampage ended when the 40-year-old assailant, who had a history of mental illness and no apparent motive, was shot dead by police. No terror declaration was made in that case.
Westfield Bondi Junction will open its doors on Thursday for the first time since it was shut down on Saturday as a crime scene. Shops will remain closed for what is described as a “community reflection day.”
Elliott Rusanow, chief executive of Scenter Group, which owns the mall, said families of victims made private visits on Tuesday.
The church attack is only the third to be classified by Australian authorities as a terrorist act since 2018.
Two police officers and a bystander were shot dead in an ambush by three Christian fundamentalists near the community of Wieambilla in Queensland state in December 2022. The shooters were later killed by police.
In November 2018, a Somalia-born Muslim stabbed three pedestrians in a downtown Melbourne street, killing one, before police shot him dead.


UK’s Labour pledges to recognize Palestinian state as part of peace process

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UK’s Labour pledges to recognize Palestinian state as part of peace process

MANCHESTER: Britain’s opposition Labour Party, which is far ahead in polls before a July 4 election, pledged on Thursday to recognize a Palestinian state as a contribution to a renewed peace process.
“Palestinian statehood is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people,” said Labour’s election manifesto — the collection of policies it would enact if it forms the next government.
“We are committed to recognizing a Palestinian state as a contribution to a renewed peace process which results in a two-state solution with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.”
The current Conservative-led government has previously said Britain could formally recognize a Palestinian state before the end of a peace process, and that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip must be given “the political perspective of a credible route to a Palestinian state and a new future.”
In May, Spain, Ireland and Norway officially recognized a Palestinian state, prompting an angry reaction from Israel, which has found itself increasingly isolated after more than seven months of conflict in Gaza.

NATO defense ministers thrash out new security aid and training support plan for Ukraine

Updated 13 June 2024
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NATO defense ministers thrash out new security aid and training support plan for Ukraine

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Ukraine’s beleaguered armed forces need longer-term predictability about the kinds of weapons

BRUSSELS: NATO defense ministers gathered Thursday hoping to agree on a new plan to provide long-term security assistance and military training to Ukraine, after Hungary promised not to veto the scheme as long as it’s not forced to take part.
The ministers are meeting over two days at NATO headquarters in Brussels in the last high-level talks before a summit hosted by US President Joe Biden in Washington on July 9-11, where the military organization’s leaders are expected to announce financial support for Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Western allies are trying to bolster their military support as Russian troops launch attacks along the more than 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line, taking advantage of a lengthy delay in US military aid. European Union money was also held up by political infighting.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who is chairing Thursday’s meeting, said that Ukraine’s beleaguered armed forces need longer-term predictability about the kinds of weapons, ammunition and funds they can expect to receive.
“The whole idea is to minimize the risk for gaps and delays as we saw earlier this year,” Stoltenberg told reporters. The hold-up, he said, “is one of the reasons why the Russians are now able to push and to actually occupy more land in Ukraine.”
Since Russia’s full-fledged invasion in February 2022, Ukraine’s Western backers have routinely met as part of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, run by the Pentagon, to drum up weapons and ammunition for Kyiv. A fresh meeting was held at NATO headquarters on Thursday.
While those meetings have resulted in significant battlefield support, they have been of an ad-hoc and unpredictable nature. Stoltenberg has spearheaded an effort to have NATO take up some of the slack.
The idea is for the 32-nation military alliance to coordinate the security assistance and training process, partly by using NATO’s command structure and drawing on funds from its common budget.
Stoltenberg said he hopes Biden and his counterparts will agree in Washington to maintain the funding level for military support they have provided Ukraine since Russia launched its full-fledged invasion in February 2022.
He estimates this at around 40 billion euros ($43 billion) worth of equipment each year.
On Wednesday, Hungary announced that it would not veto the plan as long as it’s not forced to take part.
“I asked the Secretary-General to make it clear that all military action outside NATO territory can only be voluntary in nature, according to NATO rules and our traditions,” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said. “Hungary has received the guarantees we need.”
The world’s biggest security alliance does not send weapons or ammunition to Ukraine as an organization, and has no plans to put troops on the ground. But many of its members give help on a bilateral basis, and jointly provide more than 90 percent of the country’s military support.
The other 31 allies see Russia’s war on Ukraine as an existential security threat to Europe, but most of them, including Biden, have been extremely cautious to ensure that NATO is not drawn into a wider conflict with Russia.
NATO operates on the basis that an attack on any single ally will be met with a response from them all.


G7 leaders seek deal to use interest from Russian assets for Ukraine

Updated 13 June 2024
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G7 leaders seek deal to use interest from Russian assets for Ukraine

  • The Middle East, migration and artificial intelligence are also on the packed agenda
  • For a second year running, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will attend the summit, taking part in talks on Thursday

BARI: Group of Seven leaders will aim to boost funding for Ukraine in its war with Russia and offer a united face in confronting China’s political and economic ambitions at their annual summit in southern Italy on Thursday.
For a second year running, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will attend the summit, taking part in talks on Thursday, and he is due to sign a new, long-term security accord with US President Joe Biden.
The G7 leaders look likely to announce they have agreed at least in principle on plans to issue $50 billion of loans for Ukraine using interest from Russian sovereign assets frozen after its invasion of Ukraine to back the multi-year debt package.
“I think we will have the major tentpoles of this decided, but some of the specifics left to be worked through by experts on a defined timetable,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said of the discussions.
“I think we are on the verge of a good outcome here,” he added.
Officials acknowledge the plan is complex, with legal experts still having to thrash out the details that will need the backing of European nations, particularly Belgium, which is not in the G7.

Packed Agenda
With the Middle East, migration and artificial intelligence also on a packed agenda, the June 13-15 summit in the southern Italian region of Puglia would be taxing for leaders at the best of times, but most of them are also bowed down by their own domestic woes.
Only the host, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, is riding high after triumphing in Italy’s European election last weekend, but achieving meaningful results in the luxury Borgo Egnazia hotel resort will be a tall order.
Biden’s goal at the G7 was to reinforce the idea that the United States is best served if it is closely aligned with its democratic allies and partners, Sullivan said, when asked about the prospects of it being the president’s last summit given he faces a re-election battle in November.
Underscoring US determination to punish Moscow for its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Washington on Wednesday dramatically broadened sanctions on Moscow, including by targeting China-based companies selling semiconductors to Moscow.
By announcing new restrictions on Chinese firms on the eve of the G7 meeting, Biden is no doubt hoping to persuade Western allies to show greater resolve in confronting Beijing over its support for Russia and its industrial over-capacity.
Speaking ahead of the start of the summit, Sullivan said that China was a significant creditor to many heavily indebted countries.
“The G7 communique is not singling out or focusing on a single country,” he said, but added that China needed to play a constructive role in dealing with the debt burden.


Eight EU countries call for restricting Russian diplomats’ movement

Updated 13 June 2024
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Eight EU countries call for restricting Russian diplomats’ movement

PRAGUE: Eight European Union foreign ministers called on the EU to ban Russian diplomats from moving freely around the bloc and restrict them to countries where they are accredited, in a letter to EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
“Free movement of holders of Russian diplomatic and service passports, accredited in one host state, across the whole Schengen area is easing malign activities,” according to the letter, dated June 11, seen by Reuters.
The ministers said that intelligence, propaganda “or even preparation of sabotage acts are the main workload for a large number of Russian ‘diplomats’ in the EU,” and while expulsions were important, the threat remained.
“We believe the EU should strictly follow the reciprocity principle and restrict the movement of members of Russian diplomatic missions and their family members to territory of a state of their accreditation only,” they said.
“This measure will significantly narrow operational space for Russian agents,” added the letter, which was signed by ministers from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania.


French citizen Louis Arnaud held in Iran arrives in Paris

Updated 13 June 2024
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French citizen Louis Arnaud held in Iran arrives in Paris

  • Arnaud, a 36-year-old consultant, set off in July 2022 on a round-the-world trip that led him to Iran

PARIS: French citizen Louis Arnaud returned to Paris Thursday after being held in Iran since September 2022 and sentenced last year to five years in jail on national security charges.
Emerging from a small plane at Le Bourget airport outside Paris, a visibly tired but smiling Arnaud shook hands with Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne before embracing his parents, according to images aired on television.
Arnaud linked arms with his relatives as they entered a private room at the airport out of view of the cameras.
“I am very glad to welcome one of our hostages who was indeed held arbitrarily in Iran,” Sejourne said.
“Our diplomatic service is still at work” to free three other French citizens: Jacques Paris, Cecile Koller and a man named only as Olivier held in Iranian jails, he added.
Arnaud, a 36-year-old consultant, set off in July 2022 on a round-the-world trip that led him to Iran.
It was “a country he had long dreamed of visiting for the richness of its history and its welcoming people,” his mother Sylvie said several months ago.
But he was arrested in September 2022 with other Europeans accused of joining demonstrations over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd who died after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly breaching the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
While Arnaud’s traveling companions were soon released, he was kept in prison before his November sentencing for propaganda and harming Iranian state security.
Frenchman Benjamin Briere and French-Irish dual national Bernard Phelan were freed by Iran in May 2023 for “humanitarian reasons.”
Both had been severely weakened by a hunger strike.
Tehran, which holds around a dozen Western citizens, is accused by their supporters and rights groups of using the prisoners as bargaining chip in international negotiations.