Beijing accuses couple of spying for Britain’s MI6

China’s main intelligence service said the couple identified only by their surnames, Wang and Zhou, were allegedly recruited by Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6. (AFP)
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Updated 03 June 2024
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Beijing accuses couple of spying for Britain’s MI6

  • China’s main intelligence service says it uncovered a major espionage case involving a couple identified only by their surnames
  • Couple worked for the Chinese government in a ‘central state agency’ and handled government secrets, which they passed to MI6

TAIPEI: Beijing has accused two Chinese citizens of spying for Britain, in the latest test of a relationship that has grown increasingly fraught.
China and the UK have clashed over Beijing’s clampdown on free speech and open elections in Hong Kong, a former British territory that was guaranteed its own economic and political freedoms for 50 years after its handover to Chinese rule in 1997.
In a message on social media on Monday, the Ministry of State Security, China’s main intelligence service, said it uncovered a major espionage case involving a couple identified only by their surnames, Wang and Zhou, who were allegedly recruited by Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, M16. It said Wang had gone to Britain as a student in 2015 and was later joined by his wife. It said Wang was given hotel rooms, trips around the country and financial incentives.
It said the couple worked for the Chinese government in a “central state agency” and handled government secrets, which they passed to MI6. No information was given about what specific information the couple may have provided. The ministry said the case was still under investigation and gave no word on the location of the couple.
There was no immediate comment from Britain.
Last month, Britain said two men would go on trial on suspicion of collecting sensitive information for Hong Kong authorities. A third suspect, 37-year-old Briton Matthew Trickett, was also charged in the case, but was found dead in a park under what police said were unexplained circumstances.


Terrorism and organized crime rampant in Sahel and spilling into West Africa coastal states, UN says

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Terrorism and organized crime rampant in Sahel and spilling into West Africa coastal states, UN says

  • Guterres said regional insecurity “continues to impact negatively on the humanitarian and human rights situation”

UNITED NATIONS: Terrorism and organized crime by violent extremist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh are a “pervasive threat” in Africa’s volatile Sahel region and are spilling over to West Africa’s coastal countries, the top UN envoy for the area warned Friday.
Leonardo Simão, the UN special representative for the Sahel and West Africa, said the focus on combating terrorism has had limited effect in stopping rampant illegal trafficking in the Sahel and the effort needs more police.
“It’s drugs, it’s weapons, it’s human beings, it’s mineral resources, and even food,” Simão said after briefing the UN Security Council.
According to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ new report on the Sahel and West Africa, hundreds of people have been killed in the first half of 2024 alone in terrorist attacks, many of them civilians..
The vast majority of deaths occurred in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, whose ruling military juntas in March announced a joint security force to fight terrorism, though the force has yet to begin operations. The three countries are increasingly cutting ties with the US military and allying with Russia on its security challenges.
Last week, the three juntas doubled down on their decision to leave the Economic Community of West African States, the nearly 50-year-old regional bloc known as ECOWAS, following the creation of their own security partnership, the Alliance of Sahel States, in September.
Simão did not comment on the countries’ international alliances, but said their withdrawals from ECOWAS will be “harmful to both sides.” He lauded ECOWAS for taking a’ “vigorous approach” to engaging with Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and urged the countries to maintain regional unity.
He called for the UN’s continued support of the Accra Initiative, a military platform involving Burkina Faso and nearby coastal countries to contain the spread of extremism in the Sahel. He also said the Security Council should pursue financing regionally led police operations.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield expressed support for ECOWAS and UN efforts in West Africa and the Sahel and said the Security Council “must also step up.”
Thomas-Greenfield urged increased funding and the appointment of a UN resident coordinator in the region, saying a UN presence is critical to support UN development efforts “as well as ensuring the delivery of much needed humanitarian assistance.”
Russia’s deputy ambassador, Anna Evstigneeva, countered that international security efforts amount to an “attempt to continue imposing new colonial models” on Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. She accused Western donors of limiting assistance for “political reasons.”
“Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are conducting an uncompromising and coordinated fight against terrorist groups and they are achieving success and stabilizing their territories,” Evstigneeva said.
The region’s deadliest terrorist attacks this year took place in Burkina Faso, where the militant terrorist groups Jama’at Nusrat Al-Islam wal-Muslimin, which has ties to Al-Qaeda, and the Daesh claim “extensive swaths” of territory, Guterres said in the report. In February alone, major terrorist attacks killed 301 people, including a single assault that claimed 170 lives.
According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, there were 361 conflict-related deaths in Niger during the first three months of 2024, a significant increase from 250 over the same period last year.
Guterres encouraged the “accelerated implementation” of remaining security agreements, including recent plans for a counterterrorism center in Nigeria and the deployment of an ECOWAS standby force to help eradicate terrorism.
The military juntas of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have ended long-standing foreign military partnerships in recent years.
In 2022, France withdrew its troops from Mali over tensions with the junta, followed by a military withdrawal from Niger at the government’s request..
The UN ended its 10-year peacekeeping mission in Mali in December 2023 at the junta’s insistence. It had been the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission, with more than 300 personnel killed.
The US military is set to conclude its withdrawal from Niger, also at the junta’s request, by Sept. 15.
Guterres said regional insecurity “continues to impact negatively on the humanitarian and human rights situation.”
The report said 25.8 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria need humanitarian assistance this year. Those four countries had more than 6.2 million people internally displaced and 630,000 refugees in April. In addition, 32.9 million people faced food insecurity.
Guterres said humanitarian agencies lack adequate funding, having received only 13 percent of the $3.2 billion needed for 2024. “Without additional funding, millions of vulnerable people will be left without vital support,” he said in the report.

 


Judge ends Rudy Giuliani bankruptcy case, says he flouted the process with his lack of transparency

Updated 9 min 42 sec ago
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Judge ends Rudy Giuliani bankruptcy case, says he flouted the process with his lack of transparency

NEW YORK: A judge threw out Rudy Giuliani ‘s bankruptcy case on Friday, slamming the former New York City mayor as a “recalcitrant debtor” who thumbed his nose at the process while seeking to shield himself from a $148 million defamation judgment and other debts.
US Bankruptcy Judge Sean Lane criticized Giuliani for repeated “uncooperative conduct,” self-dealing, and a lack of transparency. The judge cited failures to comply with court orders, failure to disclose sources of income, and his apparent unwillingness to hire an accountant to go over his books.
“Such a failure is a clear red flag,” Lane wrote.
Dismissing the case ends his pursuit of bankruptcy protection, but it doesn’t absolve him of his debts. His creditors can now pursue other legal remedies to recoup at least some of the money they’re owed, such as getting a court order to seize his apartments and other assets.
Giuliani is now free to also pursue an appeal of the defamation verdict, which arose from his efforts to overturn Republican Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential election loss.
Lane indicated at a hearing Wednesday that he would probably dismiss the case. Giuliani’s lawyer had floated other options to keep the case alive, but agreed ultimately that dismissing it was the best way forward. The dismissal includes a 12-month ban on Giuliani filing again for bankruptcy protection.
“Transparency into Mr. Giuliani’s finances has proven to be an elusive goal,” Lane wrote, and he “sees no evidence that this will change.”
Among his concerns, the judge said, were that Giuliani funneled his income — including at least $15,000 a month from his now-canceled talk radio show — into companies he owned; never reported any income from those entities; failed to disclose that he had started promoting his own “Rudy Coffee” brand; and was late to disclose a contract he has to write a book.
Giuliani’s spokesperson Ted Goodman — drawing a parallel to what he deemed the “grossly unfair” defamation case — said Friday that the bankruptcy matter had been “burdened with many of the same voluminous and overly broad discovery requests and other actions.” Among them, he claimed, were leaks “intended to harm the mayor and destroy his businesses.”
Goodman ascribed political motives to Giuliani’s legal troubles, stating without evidence that they were meant to punish him for investigating President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and “to deter anyone else from asking questions or getting to the truth.” Nevertheless, he said, they’re confident “our system of justice with be restored and the mayor will be totally vindicated.”
Giuliani, a longtime Trump ally, filed for bankruptcy last December just days after the eye-popping damages award to former Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss. The bankruptcy filing froze collection of the debt.
A lawyer for Freeman and Moss accused Giuliani at Wednesday’s hearing of using bankruptcy as a “bad-faith litigation tactic” and a “pause button on his woes,” and urged Lane to dismiss it so they could pursue the damages they were awarded.
“Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss have already waited too long for justice,” the women’s lawyer, Rachel Strickland, said Friday. “We are pleased the court saw through Mr. Giuliani’s games and put a stop to his abuse of the bankruptcy process. We will begin enforcing our judgment against him ASAP.”
The other people and entities to whom Giuliani owes money wanted to keep the bankruptcy case going with a court-appointed trustee taking control of Giuliani’s assets.
Earlier this month, Giuliani requested the case be converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation — in which an appointed trustee would sell off assets to help pay creditors.
Giuliani’s lawyer Gary Fischoff reconsidered that idea at Wednesday’s hearing and pushed to dismiss the case instead, noting that administrative fees related to liquidation would “consume if not 100 percent, a substantial portion of the assets.”
Freeman and Moss can now bring their effort to collect on the award back to the court in Washington, D.C., where they won their lawsuit. The women said Giuliani’s targeting of them after Trump narrowly lost Georgia to Biden led to death threats that made them fear for their lives.
The bankruptcy is one of a host of legal woes consuming the 80-year-old Giuliani, the ex-federal prosecutor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate who was once heralded as “America’s Mayor” for his calm and steady leadership after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Last week, he was disbarred as an attorney in New York after a court found he repeatedly made false statements about Trump’s 2020 election loss. He is also facing the possibility of losing his law license in Washington after a board in May recommended that he be disbarred.
In Georgia and Arizona, Giuliani is facing criminal charges over his role in the effort to overturn the 2020 election. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.
When he filed for bankruptcy, Giuliani listed nearly $153 million in existing or potential debts, including almost $1 million in state and federal tax liabilities, money he owes lawyers, and many millions of dollars in potential judgments in lawsuits against him. He estimated he had assets worth $1 million to $10 million.
In his most recent financial filings in the bankruptcy case, he said he had about $94,000 cash in hand at the end of May while his company, Giuliani Communications, had about $237,000 in the bank. A main source of income for Giuliani over the past two years has been a retirement account with a balance of just over $1 million in May, down from nearly $2.5 million in 2022 after his withdrawals, the filings say.
In May, he spent nearly $33,000 including nearly $28,000 for condo and co-op costs for his Florida and New York City homes. He also spent about $850 on food, $390 on cleaning services, $230 on medicine, $200 on laundry and $190 on vehicles.


US Navy pilots come home after months of shooting down Houthi missiles and drones

Updated 13 July 2024
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US Navy pilots come home after months of shooting down Houthi missiles and drones

  • Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have been attacking ships linked to Israel, the United States or Britain in what they say is a campaign to support the militant group Hamas in its war the Gaza against Israel

VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia: US Navy fighter pilots came home to Virginia feeling relieved Friday after months of shooting down Houthi-launched missiles and drones off Yemen’s coast in the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II.
F/A-18 Super Hornets swooped over waiting families in a low formation before landing at their base in Virginia Beach. Dressed in green flight suits, the aviators embraced women in summer dresses and kids carrying American flags. Some handed red roses to their wives and daughters.
“We’re going to go sit down on the couch, and we’re going to try and make up for nine months of lost time,” Cmdr. Jaime Moreno said while hugging his two young daughters, ages 2 and 4, and kissing his wife Lynn.
Clearing the emotion from his voice, Moreno said he couldn’t be prouder of his team and “everything that the last nine months have entailed.”
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier strike group, which includes three other warships, was protecting merchant vessels and allied warships under fire in a vital Red Sea corridor that leads to the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have been attacking ships linked to Israel, the United States or Britain in what they say is a campaign to support the militant group Hamas in its war the Gaza against Israel, though they frequently have targeted ships with no clear links to Israel or its supporters, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade.
The US and its allies have been fighting back: One round of fire in January saw F/A-18s from the Eisenhower and other ships shoot down 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and a ballistic missile launched by the Houthis.
US Navy sailors have seen incoming Houthi-launched missiles seconds before they are destroyed by their ship’s defensive systems. Officials in the Pentagon have been talking about how to care for the sailors when they return home, including counseling and treatment for possible post-traumatic stress.
Cmdr. Benjamin Orloff, a Navy pilot, told reporters in Virginia Beach on Friday that most of the sailors, including him, weren’t used to being fired on given the nation’s previous military engagements in recent decades.
“It was incredibly different,” Orloff said. “And I’ll be honest, it was a little traumatizing for the group. It’s something that we don’t think about a lot until you’re presented with it.”
But at the same time, Orloff said sailors responded with grit and resilience.
“What’s impressive is how all those sailors turned right around — — and given the threat, given that stress — — continued to do their jobs beyond reproach,” Orloff said, adding that it was “one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”
The carrier strike group had left Virginia in mid-October. Its deployment was extended twice because of the importance of having a powerful carrier strike group, which can launch fighter jets at a moment’s notice, in the volatile region.
The months of fighting and extensions placed extra stress on roughly 7,000 sailors and their families.
Caitlyn Jeronimus, whose husband Keith is a Navy lieutenant commander and pilot, said she initially thought this deployment would be relatively easy, involving some exercises with other NATO countries. But then Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, and plans changed.
“It was going to be, if you could call it, a fun deployment where he’s going to get lots of ports to visit,” Jeronimus said.
She said the Eisenhower’s plans continued to change, which was exacerbated by the knowledge that there were “people who want to harm the ship.”
Jeronimus leaned on counselors provided by the Navy.
Her two children, aged 5 and 8, were old enough to understand “that daddy has been gone for a long time,” she said. “It was stressful.”

 


Webb Space Telescope’s latest cosmic shot shows pair of intertwined galaxies glowing in infrared

Updated 13 July 2024
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Webb Space Telescope’s latest cosmic shot shows pair of intertwined galaxies glowing in infrared

  • The Penguin and Egg galaxies have been tangled up and will eventually merge into a single galaxy, according to NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: The Webb Space Telescope has captured a pair of intertwined galaxies glowing in the infrared.
The observatory operated by NASA and the European Space Agency photographed the two galaxies 326 million light-years away, surrounded by a blue haze of stars and gas. A light-year is 5.8 trillion miles.
The pictures, released Friday, marks the second anniversary of Webb’s science operations.
The neighboring galaxies, nicknamed Penguin and the Egg, have been tangled up for tens of millions of years, according to NASA. They’ll eventually merge into a single galaxy. The same interaction will happen to our own Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy in 4 billion years, the space agency said.
Considered the successor to the aging Hubble Space Telescope, Webb is the biggest and most powerful astronomical observatory ever launched. It rocketed away in 2021 and underwent six months of commissioning, before its first official images were released in July 2022.
It’s positioned 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth.
“In just two years, Webb has transformed our view of the universe,” NASA’s Mark Clampin said in a statement.
 


Alabama agrees to forgo autopsy of Muslin inmate scheduled to be executed next week

Keith Edmund Gavin. (Photo/Social media)
Updated 13 July 2024
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Alabama agrees to forgo autopsy of Muslin inmate scheduled to be executed next week

  • “No autopsy will be performed on Keith Edmund Gavin. His remains will be picked up by the attending funeral home,” the Alabama Department of Corrections said in an emailed statement

MONTGOMERY, Alabama: Alabama has agreed to forgo an autopsy on a Muslim death row inmate, scheduled to be executed next week, who said the post-mortem procedure would violate his religious beliefs.
Keith Edmund Gavin had filed a lawsuit against the state seeking to avoid the autopsy, which is typically performed after executions in Alabama. The Alabama prison system in a Friday statement said it had agreed to forgo the autopsy.
“No autopsy will be performed on Keith Edmund Gavin. His remains will be picked up by the attending funeral home,” the Alabama Department of Corrections said in an emailed statement.
Gavin, 64, is set to be executed July 18 by lethal injection at a south Alabama prison.
Gavin filed a lawsuit last month asking a judge to block the state from performing an autopsy after his execution. His attorneys did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
“Mr. Gavin is a devout Muslim. His religion teaches that the human body is a sacred temple, which must be kept whole. As a result, Mr. Gavin sincerely believes that an autopsy would desecrate his body and violate the sanctity of keeping his human body intact. Based on his faith, Mr. Gavin is fiercely opposed to an autopsy being performed on his body after his execution,” his attorneys wrote in the lawsuit filed in state court in Montgomery.
His attorneys said they filed the lawsuit after being unable to have “meaningful discussions” with state officials about his request to avoid an autopsy. They added that the court filing is not an attempt to stay the execution and that “Gavin does not anticipate any further appeals or requests for stays of his execution.”
William Califf, a spokesman for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, said earlier this week that “we are working on a resolution” in the case,
Gavin was convicted of capital murder for the 1998 shooting death of William Clinton Clayton Jr. in Cherokee County in northeast Alabama. Clayton, a delivery driver, had stopped at an ATM to get money to take his wife to dinner when he was shot, prosecutors said.
A jury voted 10-2 in favor of the death penalty for Gavin. The trial court accepted the jury’s recommendation and sentenced him to death.