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.


Putin says Ukraine’s Zelensky lacks legitimacy after term expired

Updated 9 sec ago
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Putin says Ukraine’s Zelensky lacks legitimacy after term expired

  • With Ukraine under martial law in the third year of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Zelensky has not faced elections
  • Putin won a new six-year term in March in a closely managed election that Russia’s opposition called a sham

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had no legitimacy following the expiry of his five-year term and this would raise a legal obstacle if Russia and Ukraine were to hold peace talks.

With Ukraine under martial law in the third year of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Zelensky has not faced elections despite the expiry of his five-year term this week — something he and Ukraine’s allies deem the right decision in wartime.
Putin is ready to halt the war in Ukraine with a negotiated ceasefire that recognizes the current battlefield lines, Reuters reported on Friday, citing four Russian sources, but is ready to fight on if Kyiv and the West do not respond.
At a televised press conference during a visit to Belarus, Putin said Zelensky’s status was problematic.
“But who to negotiate with? That’s not an idle question... Of course we realize the legitimacy of the incumbent head of state is over,” he said.
Ukrainian officials dismiss any notion of Zelensky lacking legitimacy in a time of war.
Ruslan Stefanchuk, speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, said this week that anyone questioning the president’s legitimacy was an “enemy of Ukraine” spreading false information.
Putin said the West would use a Swiss-hosted conference on the war, due to take place next month, to endorse Zelensky’s legitimacy but these would be “PR steps” with no legal meaning.
He said peace should be worked out through common sense, not ultimatums. It should be based on draft documents that were worked out between the two sides in the early weeks of the war, and on “today’s realities on the ground” — a reference to the fact that Russia controls nearly 20 percent of Ukraine.
“If it gets to that point, we will need of course to understand who we should and can deal with, to arrive at signing legally binding documents. And then we must be fully sure we are dealing with legitimate (Ukrainian) authorities,” Putin said.
Putin won a new six-year term in March in a closely managed election that Russia’s opposition called a sham.
Two anti-war candidates were barred from running on technical grounds, and all Russia’s leading opposition figures are in jail or abroad. The best known, Alexei Navalny, died in February in an Arctic penal colony.
Putin’s comments are likely to be taken by Ukraine and its Western allies as further evidence that he has no real intention of entering peace talks, despite frequently stating his willingness to negotiate.

Peace summit
Zelensky, in his nightly video address, made no reference to the Russian president’s remarks, but said Putin was determined to scuttle next month’s peace summit.
“He is afraid of what the summit may produce. The world is capable of forcing Russia into peace and compliance with international security norms,” Zelensky said.
“Russia has nothing to counter the world majority. The peace summit is a formula that will allow Putin to lie no longer.”
Russia is not invited to the summit in Switzerland and has dismissed the event as meaningless without its participation.
Zelensky has repeatedly said peace on Putin’s terms is a non-starter. He has vowed to retake lost territory, including Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. He signed a decree in 2022 that formally declared any talks with Putin “impossible.”
The head of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate, Kyrylo Budanov, warned in February that Russia would pursue a campaign aimed at undermining the legitimacy of both Zelensky and Ukraine’s political system.


Israeli private eye accused of hacking was questioned about DC public affairs firm, sources say

Updated 20 min 22 sec ago
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Israeli private eye accused of hacking was questioned about DC public affairs firm, sources say

  • Private investigator Amit Forlit was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport on April 30 over American cybercrime and wire fraud charges

WASHINGTON: An Israeli private investigator sought by the United States over hack-for-hire allegations previously told colleagues that he had been questioned by FBI agents over his work for the Washington public affairs firm DCI Group, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Federal law enforcement’s interest in DCI, which has not been previously reported, shows a years-long US probe into cybermercenary activity is wider than publicly known.

The FBI declined to comment. DCI, a public relations firm that has worked on behalf of hedge funds and multinationals, said in a written statement that “we direct all our employees and consultants to comply with the law.”

Private investigator Amit Forlit was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport on April 30 over American cybercrime and wire fraud charges.

Prosecutors in London said only that Forlit engaged in a “hack for hire scheme” on behalf of several clients, including an unidentified Washington-based PR and lobbying firm. He was released two days after his arrest following a procedural error by British authorities.
He was rearrested on Thursday on the same charges and has since been released on bail, according to Britain’s National Crime Agency and a London court register published Friday.

The register said Forlit surrendered his passport and was ordered not to leave the country. The 56-year-old’s lawyers did not return repeated messages.

In a deposition made public in 2022, Forlit said, “I’ve never commissioned hacking and never paid for hacking.” Reuters revealed the existence of an FBI investigation into the cybermercenary industry in 2020.

The only person known to have been convicted in connection with the inquiry, Israeli private investigator Aviram Azari, was given a 6 2/3 year sentence last year.

Forlit acknowledged in his deposition that Azari had done work on his behalf. Privately, he expressed concern that he was being sought by American law enforcement following Azari’s arrest, according to three associates. The associates said Forlit told them he arranged a meeting with FBI officials in the US embassy in London in late 2021 to gauge whether he would be arrested if he visited the United States.

It was at that meeting that the FBI quizzed him about his work for DCI, they said. The associates spoke on condition of anonymity to relay the content of private conversations.

Forlit is separately being sued in New York federal court by aviation executive Farhad Azima, who accuses the Israeli of being party to the theft of his emails in 2016. He denies the allegations.

A review of court records tied to Azima’s litigation shows that Forlit had business with DCI.

A Citibank document made public in August 2022 as part of Azima’s discovery effort in Florida shows Forlit’s company, then known as SDC-Gadot, listed DCI Group as one of its three “major customers.” Citibank declined to comment on the document.


NYC college suspends officer who told pro-Palestinian protester ‘I support killing all you guys’

Updated 36 min 32 sec ago
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NYC college suspends officer who told pro-Palestinian protester ‘I support killing all you guys’

  • An unidentified protester filmed the officer at Thursday’s graduation for the College of Staten Island, part of the public City University of New York system that was rocked by a recent police crackdown on campus protests

NEW YORK: A campus safety officer at a public college in New York City has been suspended after footage circulated online showing him cursing at pro-Palestinian protesters during a graduation ceremony and saying he supported killing them all, the school confirmed Friday.

An unidentified protester filmed the officer at Thursday’s graduation for the College of Staten Island, part of the public City University of New York system that was rocked by a recent police crackdown on campus protests.
In a highly edited video shared by Instagram accounts affiliated with student protest organizers, a demonstrator can be heard yelling at the officer, “You support genocide!”
“Yes I do, I support genocide,” says the officer. “I support killing all you guys, how about that?”
In another clip posted in the video, the officer can be heard hurling an expletive at another protester, followed by “your mother.”
Phone calls and emails seeking comment from the officer on Friday were unsuccessful. A person who answered a number listed under his name hung up when a reporter identified themself, and emails were not immediately returned.
CUNY confirmed the suspension Friday but declined to provide details, such as whether the officer was on paid leave.
“We condemn the offensive language used by a CUNY officer,” College of Staten Island spokesperson David Pizzuto said in a statement. “His words don’t reflect the values of the College of Staten Island or the 50 officers on our Public Safety staff. The officer has been suspended pending a full review of the incident, and we will take further action as appropriate.”
Protest camps sprang up across the US and in Europe as students demand their universities stop doing business with Israel or companies that support its war efforts. Organizers seek to amplify calls to end Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, which they describe as a genocide against the Palestinians.
The United Nations’ top court ordered Israel on Friday to immediately halt its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, but stopped short of ordering a ceasefire for entire Palestinian territory. The International Court of Justice has said there is a “plausible risk of genocide” in Gaza — a charge Israel strongly denies.


French city postpones Israeli film festival amid Gaza tensions

Updated 24 May 2024
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French city postpones Israeli film festival amid Gaza tensions

  • The city council did not give a reason for the postponement
  • The Shalom Europa festival said on its Facebook page that “events” had forced the decision to hold the event at a “calmer” time

STRASBOURG, France: An Israeli film festival in the eastern French city of Strasbourg has been indefinitely postponed as the Gaza war rages, authorities said Friday.
The Shalom Europa festival has been hosted in the city for 15 years and was scheduled to be held from June 16 to June 20. But France has reported an increased number of anti-Semitic attacks since the Gaza war erupted on October 7.
The city council did not give a reason for the postponement but said Strasbourg “has always supported the Shalom Europa festival and will continue to do so. It promises to help hold the festival on a date that is opportune for the organizers.”
The Israeli community group that organizes the event did not reply to AFP requests for comment.
The Shalom Europa festival said on its Facebook page that “events” had forced the decision to hold the event at a “calmer” time, adding that “The safety and well-being of our participants is our absolute priority.”
The French Jewish community, the third largest in the world, has for months been on edge in the face of a growing number of attacks and desecrations of memorials.
On May 17, French police shot dead a man who set fire to a synagogue in the northern city of Rouen.


UK government ‘unequivocally failing’ Palestinians in Gaza, says charity adviser

Updated 24 May 2024
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UK government ‘unequivocally failing’ Palestinians in Gaza, says charity adviser

  • Save the Children official questions UK’s commitment to upholding international humanitarian law
  • Young people in Gaza enduring ‘the most dangerous and dire situation for children anywhere in the world’

LONDON: Palestinians in Gaza, and particularly young people, are being “unequivocally failed” by the British government, a charity adviser said on Friday.

Liz Bradshaw, Save the Children’s senior adviser on the Israel-Hamas conflict, told The Independent newspaper that a “shameful failure by the UK government” was having a huge impact on youngsters living through “the most dangerous and dire situation for children anywhere in the world.”

Health officials in Gaza say more than 35,000 Palestinians, over half of them women and children, have been killed in the territory since Oct. 7 and the outbreak of an Israeli retaliation for a Hamas attack in southern Israel, which claimed around 1,200 lives.

Bradshaw said UK arms sales to Israel were having a “high impact” on the lives of Palestinian civilians. David Cameron, the UK foreign secretary, recently admitted that he was “not really interested” in stopping weapon sales to Israel.

Children in Gaza faced immediate physical risk “from horrific blast injuries caused by the use of explosive weapons in intensely dense populated areas, like Rafah, or from amputations, leaving them in agonizing pain,” Bradshaw said.

She added that, in places like Rafah where the Israeli military is engaged in an offensive, people were facing repeated displacement “in some cases, four or five, six times condensed into ever smaller areas, where frankly, there just simply aren’t the conditions for that number of people to survive.”

According to Bradshaw, children in Gaza are in acute need of mental health support to deal with the “lifelong” psychological scars they will have gained from what they have witnessed.

She also called into question the UK government’s commitment to upholding international humanitarian law and to protecting civilians suffering in Gaza.

“The UK speaks in very powerful terms about protection of civilians in other parts of the world like Ukraine, so why are we not seeing the same level of commitment and concern in relation to Palestinian children in Gaza?” she asked.

“It’s pretty abject stuff. We hear a lot about the deep concern that they have, but frankly, their deep concern is meaningless to children in Gaza. And it’s meaningless to our staff who are desperately battling against the odds to help children. We need action, not words from this government, and it’s long, long overdue.”