North Dakota: Muslim refugee gets 20 years for sexually assaulting and terrorizing young women

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘CREEPING SHARIA’ WEBSITE)

North Dakota: Muslim refugee gets 20 years for sexually assaulting and terrorizing young women

Abdirahman Sahel listens to his attorney Monty Mertz during his sentencing hearing Monday, April 10, 2017, in District Court in Fargo for gross sexual imposition and terrorizing in 2013. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

His second conviction. Source: Fargo teen who spent childhood in refugee camp gets 20 years for sex assault | Grand Forks Herald

A Fargo teenager who endured a “feral” childhood in a refugee camp was sentenced Monday, April 10, to 20 years in prison for sexually assaulting and terrorizing a young woman nearly four years ago.

Abdirahman P. Sahel, who is believed to be 18 years old, approached two young female guests in the parking lot of the Fargo Holiday Inn in August 2013 and threatened them with a handgun before forcing one of the girls to perform a sexual act, prosecutor Cherie Clark said during Monday’s sentencing hearing.

Clark said the victim was traumatized by the attack, as was the young woman who witnessed the incident.

The essence of the sentence—20 years behind bars—was endorsed by both Clark and Sahel’s attorney, Monty Mertz. Sahel earlier pleaded guilty to gross sexual imposition and terrorizing in connection with the attack.

The sentence will be served at the same time as a 12-year sentence Sahel received after he was convicted at trial in September of attacking a woman in the parking lot of the West Acres Shopping Center in September 2014. In that case Sahel was convicted on charges of robbery, attempted kidnapping, terrorizing and simple assault. DNA collected from Sahel while he was in custody for the West Acres assault tied him to the Holiday Inn attack.

At Sahel’s earlier plea hearing, the victims in the Holiday Inn case said they wanted the sentence for that crime to be served consecutive to the 12 years behind bars ordered in the West Acres case. That would have meant a much longer sentence for Sahel, since he wouldn’t serve the sentence for the 2013 crime until serving the 12-year term. The women said the two cases were separate and deserved separate sentences.

Mertz said during Monday’s sentencing hearing that Sahel will likely spend more than 15 years behind bars and when he gets out there is a strong chance he will be deported.

The defense attorney called Sahel’s situation a complex one, as it was possible Sahel was 14 when the crime at the hotel parking lot was committed. He said Sahel, who is from Somalia, lost his parents at a very early age and lived the “life of a feral child” in a refugee camp.

Mertz said because Sahel’s believed birth date in January 1999 is not a certainty, at least one psychologist who has assessed him thinks he may still be a juvenile.

“Which was very fascinating to me,” Mertz said.

Sahel was given credit for having already served about two and a half years of his sentence.

China’s Government Shows It Has Some Morals: Punishes Weibo For Porn

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

China punishes Weibo for porn

WEIBO, a Chinese Twitter-like service, has been punished for spreading pornography, as part of a nationwide crackdown, the anti-pornography authority said Friday.

The National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications in February launched a new round of its national campaign against the production, sale and distribution of illegal publications and online erotic content that could affect juveniles.

Investigators found that Weibo started providing audio-visual programs in February 2015 without obtaining a license, and such content contained obscene videos.

Weibo was fined 30,000 yuan (US$4,359) by Beijing administrative law enforcement, and required to immediately rectify the problem.

The office asked all online service providers to learn lessons from the Weibo case, tackle pornography and shut down accounts with illegal content.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad says news of gas attack ‘100% fabrication’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWS)

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad says news of gas attack ‘100% fabrication’

WORLD Updated: Apr 13, 2017 20:51 IST

AFP
AFP
Damascus
Assad on chemical attack

In the interview, Assad asked: “We don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhun. Were they dead at all?”(AFP)

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad said a suspected chemical weapons attack was a “fabrication” to justify a US strike on his forces, in an exclusive interview with AFP in Damascus.The embattled leader, whose country has been ravaged by six years of war, said his firepower had not been affected by the attack ordered by US President Donald Trump, but acknowledged further strikes were possible.Assad insisted his forces had turned over all their chemical weapons stocks years ago and would never use the banned arms.

The interview on Wednesday was his first since a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun.

“Definitely, 100 percent for us, it’s fabrication,” he said of the incident.

Read more

“Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack,” added Assad, who has been in power for 17 years.

At least 87 people, including 31 children, were killed in the alleged attack, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

But Assad said evidence came only from “a branch of Al-Qaeda,” referring to a former jihadist affiliate that is among the groups that control Idlib province, where Khan Sheikhun is located.

Images of the aftermath, showing victims convulsing and foaming at the mouth, sent shockwaves around the world.

But Assad insisted it was “not clear whether it happened or not, because how can you verify a video? You have a lot of fake videos now.”

“We don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhun. Were they dead at all?”

He said Khan Sheikhun had no strategic value and was not currently a battle front.

“This story is not convincing by any means.”

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has begun an investigation into the alleged attack, but Russia on Wednesday blocked a UN Security Council resolution demanding Syria cooperate with the probe.

And Assad said he could “only allow any investigation when it’s impartial, when we make sure that unbiased countries will participate in this delegation in order to make sure that they won’t use it for politicised purposes.”

He insisted several times that his forces had turned over all chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013, under a deal brokered by Russia to avoid threatened US military action.

Read more

“There was no order to make any attack, we don’t have any chemical weapons, we gave up our arsenal a few years ago,” he said.

“Even if we have them, we wouldn’t use them, and we have never used our chemical arsenal in our history.”

The OPCW has blamed Assad’s government for at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 involving the use of chlorine.

The Khan Sheikhun incident prompted the first direct US military action against Assad’s government since the war began, with 59 cruise missiles hitting the Shayrat airbase three days after the suspected chemical attack.

Assad said more US attacks “could happen anytime, anywhere, not only in Syria.”

But he said his forces had not been diminished by the US strike.

“Our firepower, our ability to attack the terrorists hasn’t been affected by this strike.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Bought And Paid For: Costs Taxpayers Millions?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOUISVILLE (KENTUCKY) INSIDER NEWSPAPER)

News Commentary: The curious case of a hefty political contribution that coincided with the VA hospital site selection

The proposed site of the new VA medical facility in Louisville, next to the city of Crossgate and the intersection of Brownsboro Road and the Watterson Expressway

For years, the public has pondered why the Veterans Administration paid an investment group led by Louisville businessman Jonathan Blue millions too much for a proposed hospital site near two of the region’s 10 most congested hotspots. Now emerges another question: Was the VA’s site-selection process for sale, too?

Here’s what we know:

On Sept. 22, 2010, David S. Blue, Jonathan’s father, contributed $30,400 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. According to the elder Blue, the donation was made at the behest of Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, then and now the GOP’s most powerful U.S. senator.

In a telephone interview, I asked David Blue, “Have you ever made a donation that large?” He replied only, “I made the donation because Sen. McConnell requested the donation.”

The bequest was extraordinary, even for Blue, who sold the lucrative Louisville Scrap Materials Co., an industry giant, in 1998.

The hefty handout far exceeds the sum of his other campaign donations dating back to 1999: The $30,400 is more than six times his second-highest single contribution of $5,000 in 2001 to the Bluegrass Committee (McConnell’s leadership PAC) and 12 times his third-highest of $2,500 to the 2002 Kentucky Republican Victory Committee.

Critics of Jonathan Blue’s Brownsboro Road site first brought the donation to my attention last year, beginning an exhaustive search to follow the money via the most detailed, discoverable chain of events.

Research revealed the contribution coincides with the controversial sharp turn and acceleration of the site selection, according to a timeline former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki provided to the chairman of the VA Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

The donation came the month after three undeveloped “greenfield” sites, including Blue’s, cleared a crucial VA hurdle: approval by Shinseki for “due diligence” or reasonable steps to satisfy agency requirements for buying real estate.

“I had no idea of that,” David Blue says. “I had nothing to do with that property.”

However, his son and McConnell apparently knew the greenfield sites had been greenlighted shortly before his Sept. 22, 2010, donation: According to Shinseki’s timeline, “The Kentucky congressional delegation was notified of the Secretary’s decision on September 14, 2010, and the landowners were notified shortly thereafter.”

What are the odds that the donor’s crest would coincide, by chance, with the sudden surge of his son’s site?

McConnell spokeswoman Stephanie Penn declined to answer emailed questions including 1) what did McConnell know about the emergence of the Brownsboro site, and 2) why did he solicit the large donation from its owner’s dad?

And so questions persist: Did the $30,400 donation purchase leverage? And if so, how much did it advance McConnell’s goal of becoming the most powerful person on Capitol Hill?

At the time, the minority leader, then 68, was eager to become majority leader, which would remain beyond reach until GOP senators outnumbered Democrats. Thus he and the NRSC shared a top priority: maximize giving to overtake a party amid a forbidding climate — just two years beyond McConnell’s narrow re-election.

Extraordinary pressure for selection
Sen. Mitch McConnell

In the year after receiving a sizable donation from David Blue, McConnell repeatedly sought to expedite VA Secretary Shinseki’s decision on the site of the replacement Robley Rex VA Medical Center (RRVAMC). In an Oct. 1, 2011, letter to Shinseki obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, McConnell recalls past pushes — and then gives one last shove:

As you know, this is not my first attempt to obtain answers from the Department about this delay. Just last year it required holding one of your nominees whose appointment was pending before the Senate in order to obtain the Department’s assurances that a decision would be made by “summer 2011.”

Since the VA’s timetable was issued in a June 22, 2010 letter to me, my office has been reassured on a number of occasions — including in writing — that the Department would select a site by September 2011. Summer has past (sic); September has now come and gone and still no site has been selected. Each month of delay means the longer that Kentucky veterans have to wait to get the quality of care they need and deserve

I, therefore, strongly urge you to make selecting a site in a timely manner one of your top priorities.

The letter also includes his ubiquitous disclaimer: “I myself have taken no position on where the RRVAMC should be located.”

However, during a March 2012 conference of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Louisville, he telegraphed where it should not be located. He reportedly criticized “a recent Courier-Journal editorial that was supportive of a downtown location” and added, “This is not an economic development project.”

Ignoring the steroidal stimulus of this billion-dollar project aligns the lawmaker with the VA against neighborhood attorneys who claim the agency, in its site selection, unlawfully ignored an executive order (No. 12898) requiring the VA “to the greatest extent practicable” to make “achieving environmental justice part of its mission.”

The senator’s discouragement of a downtown site also aligned him with Jonathan Blue, whose Brownsboro property stood a better chance of selection if a major roadblock was eliminated.

Red flags emerge

On Nov. 10, 2011, less than six weeks after McConnell’s memo to the VA, Sec. Shinseki unexpectedly named the Brownsboro Road site the preferred alternative and a Factory Lane site (before it dropped off the market) the second choice. McConnell’s statement said, “I’m pleased the VA Secretary made the decision.”

Three weeks later, Shinseki wrote McConnell that construction would take about three-and-a-half years after the purchase of the property, which was finalized on July 9, 2012.

Four-and-a-half years later, ground has yet to be broken. During that time, however, many red flags have emerged.

In July 2012, The Courier-Journal’s Chris Otts (now at WDRB-TV) reported that Blue and his co-investors sold the VA the site for almost $8 million more than the $4.96 million they paid for it eight years prior.

Otts subsequently petitioned the VA, under the federal Freedom of Information Act, for appraisal information. A month later, he reported that his open-records request remained unfulfilled. Stunningly, McConnell intervened to obtain from the VA an appraisal for the Louisville daily he often disparaged as “The Curious-Journal.”

In February 2014, the specter of a cover-up emerged with news that there were two appraisals separated by only 14 months. McConnell had helped the C-J obtain only the second appraisal of $12.9 million — which the VA paid in full. It was 31 percent higher than the first appraisal of $9.8 million. The inspector general concluded on Sept. 17, 2015, that the VA may have overpaid in excess of $3 million for the property.

McConnell’s office has declined to answer whether the senator was aware there were two appraisals, and it remains unclear whether anyone involved in the scandal sought his intervention.

The senator has steadfastly maintained he takes “no position” on the location of a new VA.

In recent months, the standard cut-and-paste reply to VA-related questions from McConnell’s office reaffirms the need for speed: “It is time to build the new facility.”

Given escalating controversy, however, the fate of the location remains uncertain.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer recently alerted the VA to multiple issues that “could impede the success” of the site amid growing public, political, veteran and medical opposition. In addition, opposition groups including Grow Smart Louisville have retained lawyers, and litigation overshadows the process — a process that seems too fouled by favoritism not to fail.

21 Year Old Female British Student Stabbed To Death In Jerusalem

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

A British exchange student was fatally stabbed Friday by a Palestinian attacker just steps from Jerusalem’s Old City, where thousands of Jews and Christians gathered for religious holidays at one of the busiest times of the year, officials said.

Thousands of people filled parts of the ancient city: Jews to celebrate Passover, which ends Monday in Israel; and Christian pilgrims for Good Friday. The attack took place inside a car of the city’s light-rail train near the entrance to the Old City’s Christian Quarter.

The woman identified as Hannah Bladon, 21, was treated for stab wounds in a hospital and later died, police said.

Bladon was an exchange student from the University of Birmingham in Britain, and she arrived in Israel in January to spend a semester at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the latter said in a statement.

Israel’s Shin Bet security agency named the suspected attacker as 57-year-old Jamal Tamimi from East Jerusalem, a mostly Arab area. They said he had mental health issues and had attempted suicide this year while hospitalized. Tamimi was arrested at the scene, the report said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared the attack to other violent acts around the world in recent weeks. “Radical Islam strikes at the capitals of the world and, unfortunately, terrorism has hit the capital of Israel — Jerusalem,” he wrote on Facebook.

Israel considers Jerusalem its united capital, and all of its official offices are based there. Palestinians want part of Jerusalem as the capital of any future state.

Friday’s killing is the latest in a spate of stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks by Palestinians over the past 18 months.

Israel has been accused internationally of being too heavy-handed in response to the attacks, which have left nearly 50 Israelis and more than 200 Palestinians dead. Israel says most of the Palestinians killed were attempting to carry out attacks against Israeli civilians, soldiers or police officers.

The targeted stabbings and other attacks started in October 2015 with almost daily assaults. Incidents slowed in mid-2016 and, with Israeli forces stepping up their response, fatal attacks are now rare.

The violence contrasts with the first and second intifadas of the 1980s and 2000s, which were centrally organized and included mass unrest.

Michigan Doctor Charged With Performing Female Genital Mutilations

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC)

APR 13 2017, 8:22 PM ET

Michigan Doctor Charged With Performing Female Genital Mutilations

A Michigan doctor has become the first to be charged under federal law for allegedly performing female genital mutilation on several girls, ranging from 6 to 8 years old, officials said Thursday.

A federal complaint lodged against emergency room physician Jumana Nagarwala alleges the doctor was performing the procedure, where part or all of the female genitalia is removed, on numerous girls out of a medical office in Livonia, Michigan.

Nagarwala is charged with female genital mutilation, a five-year felony, and transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, a 10-year felony, according to the complaint.

Related: Hospital Shut Down After Egyptian Girl Dies During Circumcision

This is believed to be the first case brought under a law passed in 1996 and amended in 2012, which criminalizes female genital mutilation, according to the Department of Justice.

“Female genital mutilation constitutes a particularly brutal form of violence against women and girls. It is also a serious federal felony in the United States,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch in a statement. “The practice has no place in modern society and those who perform FGM on minors will be held accountable under federal law.

According to the complaint, federal officials launched an investigation after being tipped off that Nagarwala performed the procedure on two 7-year-old girls who were brought by their families from Minnesota for the procedure.

The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building in Washington. Andrew Harnik / AP file

Phone records and surveillance tapes linked the families of the girls to Nagarwala, and when questioned the girls’ parents admitted to law enforcement that they traveled to see the doctor for “extra cleansing of skin.”

A medical examination on the girls showed abnormal genitalia, and one of the girls said “her parents told her that the procedure is a secret and she is not supposed to talk about it,” the complaint alleges.

Further investigation found other children in Michigan were also seen by Nagarwala from 2005 to 2007, according to the complaint. Some of the parents of those children have admitted to having the procedure done by the Michigan doctor.

Nagarwala, who couldn’t be reached for comment, allegedly told investigators she was “aware the procedure was illegal” but denied ever performing them.

“The allegations against the defendant in this investigation are made even more deplorable, given the defendant’s position as a trusted medical professional in the community,” said Special Agent in Charge Francis in a statement.

Nagarwala is listed on staff at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit Michigan, but the hospital said the physician was on “administrative leave” in a statement on Thursday.

“The alleged criminal activity did not occur at any Henry Ford facility. We would never support or condone anything related to this practice,” said David Olejarz, a hospital spokesman.

Image: Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit
Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit Benjamin Beytekin / dpa via AP

Female genital mutation is performed to make a girl more acceptable in certain communities and is thought to increase her eligibility for marriage by ensuring her virginity in many cultures, according to human rights organization Equality Now.

An estimated 200 million women and girls have been subjected to the procedure, according to the World Health Organization. The practice is more prevalent in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, but has picked up momentum in the United States.

“Approximately 513,000 women and girls in the United States were at risk for [genital mutilation of circumcision] or its consequences in 2012 which was more than three times higher than the earlier estimate, based on 1990 data,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Related: Horrific Taboo: Female Circumcision on the Rise in U.S.

“This is a form of child abuse,” said Shelby Quast, director of Equality Now’s Americas Office. “We are encouraged seeing a doctor charged with FGM, because this will have a big impact on others who are performing this illegal act,” she said.

“This sends a message to other doctors that if you violate the law, you will be arrested, and you will be prosecuted.”

Turkey detains 5 Islamic State suspects over planned attacks: Anadolu

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Turkey detains Islamic State suspects over planned attacks: Anadolu

Police in Istanbul have detained five Islamic State suspects, some of whom were believed to be planning an attack in Turkey ahead of Sunday’s referendum, the state-run Anadolu news agency said on Friday.

Anadolu said three of the detained people were suspected of planning an attack in the name of Islamic State. Two others, including one of Tajik origin, had traveled to “conflict zones” and carried out operations for the jihadist group.

Islamic State has been blamed for at least half a dozen attacks on civilian targets in Turkey in recent months, including a New Year’s Day attack on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub which killed 39 people.

NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and launched an incursion into Syria in August to drive the jihadist group and Kurdish militia fighters away from its borders.

Turks will vote on Sunday on changing the country’s political system and giving President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers. Two opinion polls on Thursday showed a narrow majority of voters would vote in favor of the changes.

Security efforts have been heightened ahead of the vote, but Kurdish militants on Wednesday claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on a police compound in southeast Turkey that killed three people.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

United Passenger Will Need Surgery: Has ‘Significant’ Concussion, Broken Nose, Missing 2 Front Teeth

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

United passenger will need surgery

A PASSENGER dragged from a United Express flight suffered “significant” concussion and a broken nose, and he lost two front teeth, one of his lawyers said yesterday.

Dr David Dao has been discharged from hospital but he will require reconstructive surgery, said attorney Thomas Demetrio, whose firm is representing the 69-year-old Kentucky physician.

Dao was removed from the plane on Sunday after he refused to give up his seat on the full flight from Chicago to Louisville.

One of Dao’s five children, Crystal Pepper, said the family was “horrified, shocked and sickened” to learn and see what happened. She said seeing her father removed from the flight was “exacerbated” by the fact it was caught on video and widely distributed.

Demetrio said he will likely file a lawsuit on Dao’s behalf, adding that airlines — and United in particular — have long “bullied” passengers.

The video of the passenger being dragged by an officer from the flight also shone an unwanted spotlight on the little-known police force that guards Chicago’s two main airports.

Chicago’s aviation officers are not part of the regular police force, unlike in many other big cities. They get less training than regular officers and can’t carry firearms inside the airports. Three are now on leave amid outrage over how they treated the passenger.

Cellphone footage of the confrontation “really has put it (the force) at risk,” Alderman Chris Taliaferro said on Wednesday, the day before aldermen were due to grill United and the Chicago Aviation Department about why Dao was yanked out of his seat at O’Hare Airport.

The city council is looking for answers about the embarrassing video seen around the world. At the top of the list of questions is whether the airport officers even had the legal authority to board the plane, said Alderman Michael Zalewski, who leads the council’s aviation committee.

“They are allowed in the terminal and baggage area, but my understanding is they may not be allowed on a plane,” he said. Zalewski also said he is not sure if the officers have the authority to make arrests or if they are only authorized to write tickets.

An aviation department spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the duties of the police force, but Zalewski said the agency’s commissioner was to be asked about them.

The department will also be asked about training. Zalewski said airport officers receive four months of training compared with the six months cadets must complete before joining the city’s police department.

“We don’t know what that two-month gap means,” he said, adding that he will ask if the airport officers receive the same kind of training in de-escalating tense situations that city police officers get.

The roughly 300 aviation police officers earn between US$50,000 and US$88,000 a year and cost the city about US$19 million a year. They are city employees but not members of the Chicago Police Department.

The city also assigns approximately 200 regular police officers to the two airports, all of them armed.

One possibility for reform could be to disband the aviation force in favor of more city police officers, though Taliaferro thinks that is unlikely.

UK Scientists Confirm Idlib Sarin Use, Weapons Experts in Turkey to Investigate

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

UK Scientists Confirm Idlib Sarin Use, Weapons Experts in Turkey to Investigate

The British delegation at the world’s chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday that samples taken from the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province last week tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.

The toxic gas attack in Idlib’s Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, which killed scores of children, prompted the United States to launch missile strikes on an air base in Shayrat that lies in central Syria’s Homs and widened a rift between Washington and Moscow, a close Syrian ally.

“UK scientists have analyzed samples taken from Khan Sheikhoun. These have tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, or a sarin-like substance,” the delegation said during a special session at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.

Earlier testing by Turkish authorities had also said the chemical used in the attack was sarin.

A fact finding mission from OPCW was sent to Turkey to gather bio-metric samples and interview survivors, sources told Reuters earlier Thursday.

The OPCW mission will determine whether chemical weapons were used, but is not mandated to assign blame. Its findings, expected in 3-4 weeks, will be passed to a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation tasked with identifying individuals or institutions responsible for using chemical weapons.

Last week’s bombing in the town of Khan Sheikhoun near the Turkish border was the most lethal since a sarin attack on Aug. 21, 2013 killed hundreds in a suburb of the capital, Damascus.

On the battlefield, US-backed forces fighting ISIS launched a new phase of their offensive on Thursday, a statement said, but they have not yet begun to attack the militant group’s stronghold of Raqqa city in an apparent delay in the operation.

The multi-phased campaign by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance made up of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighting groups, was launched in November and aims ultimately to drive the jihadists from Raqqa, their de facto Syrian capital.

Officials in the Kurdish YPG militia, a powerful component of the SDF, said last month that assaults on Raqqa city itself would start in early or mid-April.

But the fourth phase of the campaign aims to clear ISIS pockets from the countryside north of the city, the SDF statement said. It did not say when the assault on Raqqa itself would begin.

“We aim to liberate dozens of villages in the Wadi Jallab area and the northern countryside … and clear the last obstacles in front of us to pave the way for the operation to liberate Raqqa city,” it said.

The SDF have closed in on Raqqa from the north, east and west.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Stockholm Sweden: Moment Of Silence Observed For Victims Of Terrorist Attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS GROUP ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Minute of Silence Observed for Stockholm Attack Victims

People attend a memorial ceremony at Sergels Torg plaza in Stockholm, close to the point where a truck drove into a department store two days before on April 9, 2017. AFP

Sweden on Monday observed a minute of silence for the victims of last week’s truck attack by a man whom police believe is a jihadist sympathizer and who had gone underground after receiving a deportation order.

A solemn ceremony was held outside Stockholm’s City Hall, under grey and rainy skies with flags flying at half-mast, attended by Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, King Carl XVI Gustaf and most of the royal family, as well as other representatives of Swedish society.

After the minute of silence, the Swedish army’s music corps played a solemn piece then Stockholm Mayor Karin Wanngard gave an address.

“We will never give in to violence. We will never let terror prevail,” Wanngard said, adding: “Stockholm will remain an open and tolerant city.”

To the families of the victims, Prime Minister Lofven said: “You are not alone, we are thinking of you. All of Sweden stands with you.”

In Friday’s attack, the assailant ploughed a hijacked beer truck down a pedestrian street in the heart of Stockholm before crashing it into the facade of the busy Ahlens department store.

Four people were killed and 15 were wounded.

Outside the department store, a huge crowd also observed the minute of silence, some visibly moved with tears streaming down their cheeks.

The motive for the attack was not known, but the method resembled previous attacks using vehicles in London, Berlin and Nice, all of them claimed by ISIS.

Sweden’s police chief Dan Eliasson said he remained confident that the person in custody is the truck driver.

“I am confident and certain that we have the right perpetrator. Then it is up to the prosecutor to prove this in court,” Eliasson told a news conference.

The main suspect has been identified as a 39-year-old Uzbek who went underground when he received a deportation order after his permanent residency application in 2014 was rejected.

Swedish media have identified the suspect as Rakhmat Akilov, a construction worker and father of four children living with their mother in Afghanistan.

Two sources who had worked with Akilov independently identified him to Reuters from images distributed by police as the manhunt got underway on Friday.

Two police spokespersons declined to confirm his identity as did the suspect’s court-appointed lawyer.

Many Swedes were on Monday back at work for the first time since the attack, while the department store into which the truck slammed had already reopened.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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El blog de Aurora Luna. Talleres de escritura creativa en Valencia. Club de lectura. Cursos de novela, poesía, cuento y narrativa breve. Recursos para escritores y herramientas para aprender a escribir en el taller literario. Reflexiones sobre creatividad y literatura. Master class, profesores, clases presenciales y seminarios de creación literaria adscritos a "LIBRO, VUELA LIBRE". Comunidad de escritores y lectores en Valencia. Dinámicas en curso y ejercicios de escritura creativa. Palabras, concursos, vuelos y encuentros literarios.

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