Advocates for Americans held in Iran worried by Trump’s hard line

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Advocates for Americans imprisoned by Iranian authorities said on Friday they were concerned the Trump administration’s hard line on Iran would close off the chance for talks to secure the prisoners’ release.

In a major shift in U.S. policy, President Donald Trump announced he would not certify that Iran is complying with a 2015 nuclear deal and warned that he might ultimately terminate the agreement.

The administration also designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the dominant player in the country’s security, economy and politics, as a terrorist group, a move one expert said would make the group less willing to negotiate over the prisoners.

Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who was detained by Iran for 18 months, said on Twitter that Trump’s Iran strategy “will only hurt American hostages being held in Iran.”

“I hope I‘m wrong, but it looks to me as though Americans being held hostage in #Iran were just abandoned by @realDonaldTrump,” Rezaian wrote, using Trump’s Twitter handle.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment. A State Department official said the United States calls for the “immediate release” of U.S. citizens held “unjustly” in Iran.

The seven known American citizens and permanent residents who have been detained in the last two years in Iran are businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father Baquer Namazi; Princeton doctoral student Xiyue Wang; art gallery owner Karan Vafadari and his wife Afarin Niasari; Robin Reza Shahini, an Iranian-American from California; and Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national with U.S. permanent residency.

“My biggest frustration is still the U.S. government has no plan for how to resolve this, and my husband has been in prison for 15 months,” Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, told Reuters.

She said the new U.S. sanctions made her “afraid” for her husband’s fate, because they show “that the relationship is deteriorating.”

FILE PHOTO: Jason Rezaian (2R), Washington Post reporter and one of the U.S. citizens recently released from detention in Iran, poses to media together with his wife Yeganeh Salehi (L) and mother Mary Rezaian outside the Emergency Room of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in the southwestern town of Landstuhl, Germany, January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Wang was arrested in August 2016 while doing dissertation research and has been sentenced to 10 years in prison on espionage charges, allegations his family and university deny.

“I don’t know when the U.S. government is going to engage Iran,” Qu said. “He is living in this terror everyday. He is in despair.”

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said on a conference call with reporters that designating the IRGC as a terrorist group would “make it far more difficult to have a direct line of communication with them.”

“The IRGC is going to be in much less of a mood to engage in a serious negotiation with the United States after this,” said Sadjadpour, a friend of Namazi.

In January 2016, the Obama administration secured the release of five Americans imprisoned in Iran by agreeing to a much-criticized prisoner swap after protracted direct talks with Iran.

In the months following the swap, the Iranian government arrested several more Americans. The IRGC is typically the entity that has detained and interrogated the Americans, according to their family members and human rights groups.

Jason Poblete, a U.S.-based attorney for Zakka, said the sanctions could be helpful “if it gets these parties talking to each other.”

He criticized the Obama administration’s approach to Iran as not being focussed enough on “the unconditional release of hostages.”

“Anything that moves us to speaking clearly with one another, which is what the president’s doing, is much better than all this flimsy talk that had been taking place until now,” Poblete said.

Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and James Dalgleish

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Family held captive by Taliban-linked group released

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An American woman, her Canadian husband and their three young children have been released after years held captive by a network with ties to the Taliban.

U.S. officials say Pakistan secured the release of Caitlan Coleman and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle. The two were abducted five years ago while traveling in Afghanistan and have been held by the Haqqani network.

Coleman was pregnant when she was captured. The couple had three children while in captivity.

The family’s current location, however, was unclear. And officials declined to say when the family planned to return to North America.

The U.S. has criticized Pakistan for failing to aggressively go after the Haqqanis.

A U.S. national security official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing operation, commended Pakistan for their assistance.

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Man held over Oval crossbow arrow which ended cricket match

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A man has been arrested after a crossbow bolt was fired into the Oval cricket ground during a match.

The 35-year-old was held on on suspicion of attempted grievous bodily harm following the incident at the south London stadium on 31 August.

Spectators watching Surrey’s match with Middlesex were asked to take cover and the players left the field.

Armed police carried out a controlled evacuation of the ground and the game was called off.

Det Con Dominic Landragin said: “Although nobody was injured, this was a reckless action taken with no regard for the safety and wellbeing of the spectators or the players.

“It is important that we trace those responsible and I urge anyone who has footage of the incident to get in touch as soon as possible.”

The arrested man has been released on police bail pending further enquiries.

The game ended in a draw, with John Simpson’s unbeaten 88 helping Middlesex into a lead of 181 runs with three wickets in hand when the players were taken off the pitch.

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A Cavs Official Thinks LeBron Might Have Held Kyrie Irving Back

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After more than a month of waiting for something to go down, the Kyrie Irving trade has finally happened. While there were a few roadblocks that popped up along the way, Irving is now a member of a Boston Celtics, while the Cleveland Cavaliers got pieces back that could potentially help them now (Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas if he’s healthy) and in the future (Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s first round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft).

Much has been made about everything that led up to this deal occurring, but now that it’s official, basketball fans can look to the immediate and distant futures for all sides involved. This is especially true for Irving, who will get the chance to consistently be the No. 1 option with the Celtics, something that was never going to be the case in Cleveland as long as he shared the floor with LeBron James.

In fact, one executive in the Cavaliers’ organization told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that they think LeBron might have kept Irving from reaching his potential, and now that he’s in Boston, we’re going to see just how good Irving can be.

“He’s evolved more the last three years than anyone else on our team,” says one Cavs official, who declared himself “really bullish” on Irving’s future in Boston. “He’s just scratching the surface of who he can be, and he’s not going to find out playing with [James].”

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Chris Christie: Harvey aid should ‘not be held political hostage like Sandy aid’

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called on lawmakers Tuesday to quickly approve federal disaster aid for communities affected by Tropical Storm Harvey, saying funds should “not be held political hostage like Sandy aid was.”

“Disasters should not be politicized,” Christie told Fox News’ “Your World with Neil Cavuto.” “It’s about people’s lives and getting their lives rebuilt … [People] want to hear that their government’s going to come in and partner with the state to get their homes and their businesses rebuilt and get their lives back together.”

After Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey in 2012, Christie harshly criticized Republican lawmakers who voted against an initial $51 billion aid package. Two dozen Republican House members from Texas and Republican U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn were among those who voted against the measure.

Many lawmakers who voted against the Sandy legislation have since cited additional spending in initial drafts of the legislation as the reason. Christie described those claims Tuesday as “disingenuous” and “political re-writing.”

“What matters is not rehashing that argument,” the governor said. “What matters is … people waited over 65 days for federal relief aid … during Sandy. That was six times the amount of time they waited after Hurricane Andrew and ten times more than they waited [after] Hurricane Katrina.”

Christie also praised President Donald Trump for visiting Texas so soon after the storm and said criticism of Trump for doing so was “outrageous.”

“President Trump has put together a great team of folks to go with him to Texas. This is not some type of photo op,” Christie said. “This a working time where he sits with [Texas] Governor [Greg] Abbott and they figure out what’s really needed … and it will form the basis of a relationship that’s going to continue for months going forward to make sure that challenges are met. So I think that President Trump has done an extraordinary job so far. He and the first lady are right to be down there.”

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Teen held in New Mexico library rampage sought ‘inner peace’

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Shortly before 16-year-old Nathaniel Jouett allegedly fatally shot two people and injured four others at the Clovis-Carver City Library on Monday afternoon, the New Mexico teen was searching for “inner peace,” said Pastor David Stevens.

Jouett, who had contemplated suicide in the past, started attending Living Word Church of God three months ago and appeared to be turning his life around, Stevens said.

Authorities plan to charge Jouett with two counts of first-degree murder, four counts of assault with intent to commit a violent felony, four counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and one count of child abuse.

Clovis City Commissioner Juan F. Garza said Monday the motive for the deadly shooting rampage was unclear. Authorities said an investigation is underway.

Clovis has an estimated population of 40,000 people, and is home to Cannon Air Force Base. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Barcelona terror attack suspect freed by judge, three others ordered held

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One of the four surviving suspects in last week’s twin terror attacks in Spain was ordered released by a judge Tuesday. 

National Court Judge Fernando Andreu said the evidence against Mohamed Aalla was “not solid enough.”

However, Andreu did determine there was enough evidence to hold 21-year-old Mohamed Houli Chemlal and 28-year-old Driss Oukabir on preliminary charges of causing homicides and injuries of terrorist nature and of belonging to a terrorism organization.

The fourth man, Sahl El Karib, was to remain in custody for at least 72 more hours while police inquiries continue.

Andreu issued his orders after listening to the men answer questions about the vehicular assaults in Barcelona and Cambrils that killed 15 people and injured more than 120 others. 

Chemlal, the first to testify, confirmed media reports that a much larger attack had been planned in Barcelona, the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region. He identified imam Abdelbaki Es Satty as the leader of the 12-man cell, and said Es Satty planned to carry out a suicide bombing at a monument in the city.

However, Es Satty and another man blew themselves up Wednesday while preparing explosives in a house in the coastal town of Alcanar, south of Barcelona.

Chemlal testified Tuesday that he only survived because he was on the ground floor of the house washing dishes after dinner. Police later found in the house over 100 tanks of butane gas and materials to make TATP, an explosive frequently used in attacks by ISIS militants. The group has claimed responsibility for both attacks

INSIDE THE FILTHY APARTMENT OF BARCELONA TERROR ATTACK SUSPECT

Oukabir, the second suspect to testify, denied any involvement with the extremist cell despite his brother being one of the five radicals shot dead by police in Cambrils early Friday. He admitted he rented the vans used in the assaults, but said he thought they would be used for a house move.

Oukabir initially told police after the attack that his younger brother had stolen his identification documents to rent the van used in the Barcelona attack. On Tuesday, he testified that he had told this initial story out of fear.  

Aalla and El Karib denied being part of the extremist cell. Aalla said an Audi A3 used in the Cambrils attack was registered under his name but used by another sibling. Police say one of Aalla’s younger brothers died in Cambrils and another one is believed to be the second casualty in the Alcanar house blast where the imam died.

El Karib, the owner of a cybercafe in Ripoll, told the judge on Tuesday that he was only trying to make a profit when he bought at least two plane tickets for two alleged members of the cell.

Earlier Tuesday, raided that cybercafe in Ripoll as well as a house in Vilafranca del Penedes, searching for more evidence.

ATTACK VICTIMS CAME FROM AROUND WORLD TO CELEBRATE BARCELONA

The lone fugitive from the cell — 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub — was shot to death Monday west of Barcelona after a massive, dayslong manhunt. Police say he flashed what turned out to be a fake suicide belt at two officers who confronted him in a vineyard.

Police said they had “scientific evidence” that Abouyaaqoub drove the van that barreled through Barcelona’s crowded Las Ramblas promenade and that he hijacked a car and fatally stabbed its driver while making his getaway.

Abouyaaqoub’s brother and friends made up the rest of the 12-man extremist cell. Police said with Abouyaaqoub’s death, the group’s members were all dead or in custody.

Chemlal was born in Melilla, one of Spain’s two North African coastal enclaves that have borders with Morocco. Spanish media say the other 11 suspects are all reportedly Moroccans who lived in Spain.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Submarine builder held in journalist’s suspected death

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A Danish inventor was detained Saturday in the death of a female journalist who was believed killed when a submarine he built nearly a decade ago sank.

Peter Madsen, 46, was ordered held for 24 days after a detention hearing in Copenhagen behind closed doors.

Danish police have charged him with manslaughter.

Kim Wall, 30, a New York and Beijing-based journalist, hasn’t been seen since Madsen’s 40-ton, nearly 60-foot-long submarine sank off Denmark’s eastern coast Friday.

“It was with great horror that we were informed that Kim is missing. We believe and sincerely hope that she is found safe and sound,” the 30-year-old’s family wrote in a statement to Danish broadcaster TV2, according to The Local.

Madsen’s defense lawyer, Bettina Hald Engmark, said her client maintains he is innocent.

Hald Engmark says Madsen is “willing to cooperate” and hasn’t decided whether to appeal the detention ruling.

Madsen was rescued by a private motorboat Friday morning in Denmark’s Koge Bay after the submarine sank, authorities said. He and Wall had not returned to Copenhagen’s Refshale Island after departing in the craft Thursday evening, Reuters reported.

Madsen told police he had dropped off Wall not far from where their journey began, but after she was later reported missing, authorities suspected she may have been inside the submarine when it sank.

Meanwhile, police in Demark were asking any witnesses who may have seen Madsen or Wall to come forward, BuzzFeed reported.

Wall had been writing about Madsen and his submarine and was reported missing by her boyfriend, Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet reported. It also reported that police were looking to determine if Madsen had sunk the submarine deliberately.

Wall  freelanced for prestigious publications such as the New York Times, The Guardian and Vice Magazine.

She studied at the Sorbonne university in Paris and the London School of Economics.

She also received a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York in 2013.

 

 

 

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