German TV debate between Merkel and Schulz focuses on migration and Islam, catering to populists

German voters will choose a new chancellor on September 24 in an electoral contest pitting incumbent Christian Democrat Angela Merkel against Social Democrat Martin Schulz. After a brief surge in the polls earlier this year, Schulz’ SPD now looks set to lose the election to Merkel, trailing her CDU by about 15 percentage points in recent polls.

Four journalists steering the debate

Against this backdrop, the campaign’s only TV debate took place on September 03. Seen as the highlight of a previously rather lukewarm electoral contest, the debate was supposed to discuss four main topics in equal measure: migration, foreign policy, social justice, and internal security. Yet it was the first item on the list that took up nearly 60 of the debate’s 90 minutes.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/tv-duell-die-angst-der-moderatoren-vor-dem-mob-1.3652046 ))

The four TV journalists hosting the programme – and particularly Claus Strunz of the Sat. 1 TV network – honed in on questions of immigration and integration, giving the discussion distinctly populist overtones.

It was above all the hosts who presented refugees and migrants as a threat to internal security and as a drain on Germany’s resources; who insinuated that Islam was inherently irreconcilable with German constitutional principles; and who claimed that Muslims were unwilling and unable to participate in German society – in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary.

Populist demeanour

In order to pressure the two candidates into conceding that politicians were unable to take effective control of migration and to ensure migrants’ integration, the hosts (again with Strunz in the lead) resorted to all available means. Shortly after the onset of the broadcast, Strunz appeared to deliberately falsify a quote by Martin Schulz, in which the SPD politician had stated that refugees were “more valuable than gold” – a fact that Schulz managed to call out.

Other misrepresentations went unquestioned, however – such as the claim that Germany was home to 226,000 people who had no legal right to stay and remained in the country only due to politicians’ failure to expulse them.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/claus-strunz-internetnutzer-empoert-ueber-tv-duell-moderator-a-1165932.html ))

One-sided discussion of migration

Summing up the TV event, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper noted that it was as if the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) had been a prominent guest in the studio. It also castigated the complete failure to discuss the issue of migration from any other but the most myopic of all perspectives.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/tv-duell-die-angst-der-moderatoren-vor-dem-mob-1.3652046 ))

For instance, not one of the hosts’ questions dealt with the deplorable conditions faced by migrants in Libyan camps or with the deaths of thousands of men and women in the Mediterranean. Neither did anyone inquire about the hundreds of attacks on refugee shelters or the resurgence of right-wing terrorism plots in Germany.

Negative Muslim reactions

The reactions of the targeted ‘foreigners’ and ‘Muslims’ were, predictably, negative. Author and activist Imran Ayata summed up their sentiment when he asserted that the “clear winner” of the debate had been the AfD.(( https://twitter.com/ImranAyata/status/904416160086716417 ))

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, noted that the hosts had fallen for the own “populist trap”. While moderator Claus Strunz had recently claimed that “populism is the Viagra of a flailing democracy”, Mazyek asserted that “populism is the Viagra of a flailing and ever more shallow media coverage”.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.de/aiman-mazyek/merkel-schulz-muslime-_b_17907854.html ))

Luay Mudhoon, renowned commentator on Islamic affairs, deemed the TV duel a “black day for German TV journalism” and bemoaned the “AfD-leaning leading questions”.(( https://twitter.com/Loay_Mudhoon/status/904426758325366785 )).

“Islam is a part of Germany”

Yet some Muslim observers chose to concentrate on the – rare – positive elements in the debate. The German-Turkish Journal welcomed the fact that both Chancellor Merkel and her challenger Martin Schulz had stressed the positive contributions of many Muslims to German society and that they had agreed to the statement that “Islam is a part of Germany”, albeit in a somewhat roundabout manner.(( https://dtj-online.de/angela-merkel-bekraeftigt-der-islam-gehoert-zu-deutschland-tv-duell-87597 ))

This question – “Is Islam a part of Germany” or “Does Islam belong to Germany” (“Gehört der Islam zu Deutschland?”) – has been a staple of public controversy since a 2010 speech by then-President Christian Wulff. Wulff asserted that Islam was indeed part of Germany’s social fabric.

A question of belonging

Ever since, commentators have argued about whether ‘Islam’ can belong to Germany or whether only ‘Muslims’ can (but not ‘Islam’). The same discussion regularly resurfaces and never yields any conclusion, in part because the question is itself a non-starter and any answer to it always seems to degenerate into nothing more than semantic sophistries.(( An entire academic literature has focused on this debate. For an overview see Spenlen, Klaus (ed.) (2013), Gehört der Islam zu Deutschland? Fakten und Analysen zu einem Meinungsstreit. Düsseldorf: Düsseldorf University Press. ))

Many have nevertheless rejected the notion of allowing either Islam or Muslims any part in German identity, citing the country’s inherent and primordial ‘Judeo-Christian’ make-up. (There is always something slightly odd about this claim, given that not too long ago Germany thoroughly erased Judaism from European lands by killing six million of its adherents.)

The Muslim ‘other’

Responding to these pressures, some Muslim voices seek to highlight that they are ‘more German’ than others, also in order to advance their own agendas. Ercan Karakoyun, leader of the Gülen movement in Germany, tweeted during the debate: “A form of Islam that can be reconciled with the Basic Law? There is one! #Gülen movement.”(( https://twitter.com/ercankarakoyun/status/904417326442962944 ))

Ultimately, however, the enduring lesson of an evening spent in front of the television remains that people of Muslim faith are still seen as ‘other’ in significant parts of German society: ‘they’ really do not belong to ‘us’. The TV debate between Merkel and Schulz did nothing to challenge this perception and almost everything to reinforce it.

Road Rage Cited in Killing of Muslim Girl in Virginia

The Fairfax County Police Department are blaming “road rage” as the mostly likely reason, instead of a hate crime, in the killing of a Muslim teenager in Virginia whose body was found in a pond later.

Nabra Hassanen, 17, was killed on Sunday after she and a group of nearly 15 friends encountered a driver, Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, about 3:40 a.m., the police said in a statement.  The group of teenagers had been at a late-night event at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Va., and were headed back to the mosque after a trip to a fast-food restaurant.

Mr. Torres was arrested at 5:15 a.m. on Sunday and charged with the murder after the Ms. Hassanen’s body was found.

The commonwealth’s attorney for Fairfax County, Raymond F. Morrogh,  who is prosecuting the case, said Mr. Torres was arraigned on Monday and was jailed without bond.  Hate crime charges could still be filed as the investigation progresses, he said earlier on Monday, adding, “I wouldn’t rule it out until I see all of the evidence.”

The news of the young girl’s murder emerged against the backdrop of the British attack of a mosque in London.

Terror attack at Orly airport

A “radicalized Muslim” known to security services has been shot dead after attempting to steal a soldier’s gun at Paris Orly Airport.

The 39-year-old French citizen, identified as Ziyed Ben Belgacem, shot at police officers manning a checkpoint in northern Paris with an “air pistol” before launching the airport attack, the French interior minister said.

During a visit to the airport, Bruno Le Roux said one officer was shot during the routine check and was undergoing hospital treatment for injuries to his face.

“We can link the [airport attacker’s] identity with a check carried out at Garges-les-Gonesse by a patrol in Stains this morning,” he added.

 

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told a news conference on Saturday evening that at the airport, Belgacem yelled he wanted to die in the name of Allah and said “whatever happens, there will be deaths”.

Mr Molins said the attacker held an air pistol to a soldier’s head and used her as a shield. He apparently wanted to use her weapon to shoot people in the busy airport.

Contrary to earlier reports by French officials, Mr Molins said the attacker did wrench away her powerful military-grade assault rifle.

The soldier’s colleagues fired three bursts – eight rounds in all – when they killed him.

Belgacem had a lengthy criminal history of violence, robbery and drug offences but was not on the “fiche S” list of terror threats, despite being investigated by the DGSI as a potential jihadi after indications of Islamist radicalisation emerged in 2015.

Mr Molins said three people were being held in police custody, and that Belgacem’s choice of target and evidence that he had been radicalised justified launching a terrorism investigation.

Belgacem is believed to have been radicalized in prison and was put under surveillance after being freed, although it was unclear when monitoring stopped.

Prosecutors said no evidence of extremism was uncovered in a search of his home, which was among scores raided in the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks.

“The individual’s identity is known to the police and intelligence services.” Belgacem’s father and brother, as well as a cousin, have been detained for questioning.

Meet Frank Gaffney, the anti-Muslim gadfly reportedly advising Donald Trump’s transition team

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that amid the Trump transition team shuffle, Frank Gaffney had been brought in to help advise on security issues. (On Wednesday, the Trump team denied Gaffney was advising the transition, but would not confirm or deny whether he’d spoken with Trump this week.) Last year, we took a closer look at the former Reagan official’s controversial career:

In June 2009, shortly after President Obama wrapped up his visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the Washington Times ran an opinion piece suggesting that the newly inaugurated president might be the first to be a Muslim.

It starts slowly, saying that Obama might be the “first Muslim president” in the same sense that Bill Clinton was once dubbed the “first black president” — which is to say that he’s not Muslim, he’s just sympathetic to the community. But a few paragraphs later, that conceit evaporates.

“With Mr. Obama’s unbelievably ballyhooed address in Cairo Thursday to what he calls ‘the Muslim world’,” columnist Frank Gaffney wrote, “there is mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself.” That evidence? Obama referred to the “Holy Koran.” He said he knew about Islam. And he used the phrase “peace be upon them” when mentioning Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Obama, Gaffney wrote, was engaged in “the most consequential bait-and-switch since Adolf Hitler duped Neville Chamberlain over Czechoslovakia at Munich.”

CNN’s Chris Cuomo, confronting Trump about the proposal on Tuesday, told Trump that CNN “wouldn’t even put that poll on the air. It’s a hack organization with a guy who was dismissed from the conservative circles for conspiracy theories. You know that.” (Trump disagreed.)

New string of terrorism arrests in Germany include high-level IS recruiter

Planned knife attack

In recent days German police have moved against a host of terrorism suspects, highlighting the threat of attacks linked to the so-called Islamic State in the country.

In Berlin, a refugee was arrested on November 2. While the man claimed to be a Syrian national, American intelligence described him as Tunisian Islamist Ashraf al-T. The man initially denied all charges and asserted that he was the victim of a mix-up.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/karlsruhe-festgenommener-fluechtling-spricht-von-verwechslung-1.3235619 )) The investigative judge at the Federal Court of Justice, responsible for all terrorism cases, refused to take up the case due to a lack of evidence.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/festnahme-in-berlin-terrorverdaechtiger-ashraf-al-t-in-haft-wegen-urkundenfaelschung-1.3234513 ))

Subsequently, however, it emerged that the suspect had apparently planned a knife attack in Berlin, akin in nature to the axe assault in a train near Würzburg in July 2016.((http://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/terrorverdaechtiger-berlin-105.html ))  Moreover, like the train assailant, al-T. appears to have been in online contact with an IS middleman in Syria. And like in the case of the suicide bomber that targeted a festival in the Bavarian town of Ansbach in July, the investigation into Ahsraf al-T. paints a picture of a unstable individual with a history of mental health issues, including a suicide attempt. ((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/karlsruhe-festgenommener-fluechtling-spricht-von-verwechslung-1.3235619 ))

Target Berlin

The arrest of Ashraf al-T. comes as the latest foiled plot targeting the German capital. In March 2016, police had arrested Syrian Shaas al-M. After his arrival in Germany as a refugee in early 2015, al-M. had collected intelligence on potential targets for an IS attack in Berlin, including the lively Alexanderplatz, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Reichstag. At the time of his arrest, al-M. was poised to return to the IS’s ‘caliphate’, having joined the group for the first time in 2013. ((http://www.morgenpost.de/berlin/article208694887/Mutmasslicher-Terrorist-zielte-auf-das-Herz-Berlins.html ))

Jaber al-Bakr, whose protracted arrest and subsequent suicide in prison sent shockwaves through the German political scene as well as the Syrian community in early October, had equally prepared an attack in Berlin: his aim appears to have been a suicide bombing at the city’s main airport. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/manhunt-arrest-suicide-attacker-keep-germany-suspense/ )) All three cases highlight the extent to which the Islamic State has made use of the migratory flows to Europe in order to place its agents in Germany and elsewhere.

High-profile arrest of Abu Walaa

These developments coincide with a more high-profile arrest on November 8: after years of surveillance by the German domestic intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz, police arrested hard-line preacher Abu Walaa and four of his associates on terrorism charges. In his sermons and on social media, the Iraqi preacher had openly supported and celebrated the IS’s project and methods and encouraged believers to participate in the Syrian jihad.

The preacher had been active in the city of Hildesheim in Lower Saxony, whence he organised the travel of fighters to the Syrian battlefields. Founded in 2012, his Islamic centre had quickly emerged as one of the major hubs of jihadism in Germany. At least 20 members of the congregation have already made their way to the IS’s territory. This led German security insiders to assert that, of all extremist players on the German scene, “he [Abu Walaa] is the worst.”((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/eil-wichtiger-anwerber-des-is-in-deutschland-verhaftet-1.3239523 ))

According to the Federal Prosecutor, Abu Walaa handpicked sympathisers ‘ready’ to join the IS and organised the basic travel arrangements, while his accomplices implemented his commands.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/islamischer-staat-festnahme-von-abu-walaa-ist-schlag-gegen-die-salafistenszene-a-1120283.html )) The Federal Prosecutor asserted that Abu Walaa functioned as the intellectual and spiritual father of a wide-ranging network of IS supporters in Germany.((http://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/Schlag-gegen-deutsches-IS-Netzwerk,abuwalaa104.html ))

Returnee’s testimony

After a rushed search of Abu Walaa’s Hildesheim premises in July 2016, at which time evidence was insufficient to allow for the preacher’s arrest,(( http://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/Polizei-durchsucht-Hotspot-der-Salafisten-Szene,salafisten340.html )) the testimony of a returnee from Syria appears to have solidified the case against Abu Walaa. The statements of 22-year-old Anil O., a former foreign jihadist fighter, were among the most important pieces of evidence to emerge.

Already in July 2016 when he met with German journalists in Turkey, Anil O. claimed that Abu Walaa was “the highest representative of the IS in Germany”. Anil O., a German national of Turkish extraction and top-grade medicine student at Aachen University, asserted that he himself had come under Abu Walaa’s influence at his Hildesheim centre.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islamisten-in-deutschland-das-ist-der-schlimmste-1.3239861-2 ))

Anil O.’s case is among the growing number of judicial proceedings against foreign fighters returning from the Syrian theatre of war.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/30/german-courts-seek-move-beyond-counter-terrorism-measures-path-breaking-trials-fighters-syrian-battlefields/ )) Of the more than 750 German nationals and residents that have travelled to the Levant, 250 have already made their way back. Anil O. asserted that he had been disgusted by the IS’s atrocities he witnessed in Syria and wanted to prevent others from making the mistake of joining the group.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islamisten-in-deutschland-das-ist-der-schlimmste-1.3239861-2 )) His cooperation with German authorities also constitutes a way for the former fighter to reduce his prison time.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/islamischer-staat-festnahme-von-abu-walaa-ist-schlag-gegen-die-salafistenszene-a-1120283.html ))

Strong media presence

Abu Walaa’s nimbus significantly derives from his strong online presence. On social media and on his website, he presents himself as ‘the preacher without a face’, due to the fact that in the majority of his videos he only appears as a shadow or in shots showing his head from the back. In order to spread his message, he even markets his own smartphone app.

In this respect, the arrest of Abu Walaa is an important step forward in German counter-terrorism efforts: the more than 1,000 judicial proceedings on terrorism charges that have been brought to court so far were nearly always directed against little fry. Suspects were mostly individuals who had actively joined or passively been sucked into radical networks; yet the networks themselves and their high-level organisers were hardly ever targeted.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islamisten-in-deutschland-das-ist-der-schlimmste-1.3239861 ))

Reactions

The Federal Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas (SPD), consequently hailed the arrest of Abu Walaa and his associates as “an important step against the extremist scene in Germany”. Yilmaz Kilic, head of the Lower-Saxon branch of Turkish-dominated DITIB, Germany’s largest Muslim association, equally lauded the police action: “when someone abuses our religion for extremism, then the police should step in.”((http://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/Schlag-gegen-deutsches-IS-Netzwerk,abuwalaa104.html ))

On a slightly different note, influential radical Salafi preacher Pierre Vogel, with whom Abu Walaa had often clashed – mainly over Vogel’s rejection of the Islamic State – exhibited a good deal of schadenfreude at his rival’s arrest.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/islamischer-staat-festnahme-von-abu-walaa-ist-schlag-gegen-die-salafistenszene-a-1120283.html ))

German courts seek to move beyond counter-terrorism measures in path-breaking trials of fighters from the Syrian battlefields

From organisational to substantive criteria

Over the past few months, German prosecutors have cautiously embarked on new paths to bring to justice crimes committed in the Syrian Civil War. Like most of their European counterparts, German investigators had so far remained focused on offences against counter-terrorism provisions (codified in Germany under §§129a and b of the country’s criminal code).(( https://dejure.org/gesetze/StGB/129a.html ))

Consequently, until now verdicts were based on charges of terrorist conspiracy (Bildung einer terroristischen Vereinigung) and thus on purely formalistic criteria: what was penalised was only the formation or support of a terrorist association, not the substantive rights violations that perpetrators had committed in the Syrian war zone.

However, amidst the increasing rates of the return of German foreign fighters – of the more than 750 that have made their way to Syria, more than 250 returned ((https://www.icct.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/ICCT-Report_Foreign-Fighters-Phenomenon-in-the-EU_1-April-2016_including-AnnexesLinks.pdf , pp. 25 f.))– and against the backdrop of the growing number of Syrian refugees in the country, prosecutors are apparently seeking to enable more ambitious judicial proceedings taking the commission of international crimes – violations of fundamental human rights and of international humanitarian law – into account.

The case of Aria L.

In July 2016, the German national Aria L. was sentenced to two years imprisonment for war crimes by the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt. Having travelled to Syria in spring 2014, L. had not directly participated as a fighter in the Civil War – at least not to the court’s knowledge. However, pictures of L. posing next to the severed heads of two Syrian government soldiers made their way on to Facebook. ((https://olg-frankfurt-justiz.hessen.de/irj/OLG_Frankfurt_am_Main_Internet?rid=HMdJ_15/OLG_Frankfurt_am_Main_Internet/nav/d44/d4471596-ad85-e21d-0648-71e2389e4818,3ed60b46-2d1d-d551-d064-8712ae8bad54,,,11111111-2222-3333-4444-100000005004%26_ic_uCon_zentral=3ed60b46-2d1d-d551-d064-8712ae8bad54%26overview=true.htm&uid=d4471596-ad85-e21d-0648-71e2389e4818 ))

The Court viewed L.’s actions as fulfilling the criteria for war crimes set out in §8.1.9 of the Code of Crimes against International Law (Völkerstrafgesetzbuch), the code translating the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court into domestic German law: L. was condemned for having treated a person protected under international humanitarian law – a category which includes enemy forces that are hors de combat – in a gravely degrading manner. ((https://olg-frankfurt-justiz.hessen.de/irj/OLG_Frankfurt_am_Main_Internet?rid=HMdJ_15/OLG_Frankfurt_am_Main_Internet/nav/d44/d4471596-ad85-e21d-0648-71e2389e4818,3ed60b46-2d1d-d551-d064-8712ae8bad54,,,11111111-2222-3333-4444-100000005004%26_ic_uCon_zentral=3ed60b46-2d1d-d551-d064-8712ae8bad54%26overview=true.htm&uid=d4471596-ad85-e21d-0648-71e2389e4818 ))

From foreign fighters to Syrian nationals

Significantly, the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch also contains provisions of universal jurisdiction; i.e. provisions allowing German courts to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes even if they are committed by foreign citizens abroad. Normally, national courts do not have the authority to adjudicate on acts that have no connection either with the national territory (territorial principle) or with national citizens (principle of nationality). ((http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/vstgb/__1.html ))

Consequently, the code offers the possibility to bring to justice not just ‘foreign fighters’ (German nationals or residents that have travelled to the Middle Eastern theatres of battle) but also Syrian nationals that have sought refuge as asylum-seekers in Germany after having committed international crimes. In fact, at least one trial against a Syrian national is ongoing in front of a German court, and another in preparation. The offences involved include attacks on protected persons, torture, and pillaging. ((http://www.ejiltalk.org/justice-for-syria-opportunities-and-limitations-of-universal-jurisdiction-trials-in-germany/ ))

Information from within a divided Syrian community

Syrian refugees are by now systematically asked whether they have witnessed crimes against humanity or other offences justiciable under the German code, or whether they can even name perpetrators of such offences. Asylum authorities have sent 25 to 30 tips to prosecutors per day, amounting to over 2000 indications of international crimes over the course of 2015. ((http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-01/refugee-influx-spurs-germany-to-tackle-syrian-war-crimes/7374152 , http://www.ejiltalk.org/justice-for-syria-opportunities-and-limitations-of-universal-jurisdiction-trials-in-germany/ ))

At the same time, some of these tip-offs is either not verifiable, based only on rumour, or reflective of the distrust and recriminations prevailing between different groups fleeing the ravages of the Syrian war. Investigators noted that informants sometimes accused members of other ethnic or religious groups of having perpetrated war crimes without being able to furnish concrete evidence for these claims. ((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/kriegsverbrechen-101.html ))

Challenges of evidence collection

This highlights the challenges involved in the collection and evaluation of testimonies and evidence. These challenges only grow in importance due to the fact that investigators have of course no access to the sites of crimes in Syria. Often, evidence is insufficient for the opening of legal proceedings but substantial enough that suspicions remain, leaving a bitter aftertaste among prosecutors as well as among Syrian human rights groups striving to bring perpetrators of international crimes to justice. ((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/kriegsverbrechen-101.html ))

A related concern is that prosecutions under the provisions of the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch only target a small sub-section of war criminals from the Syrian battlefields. First of all, those responsible for the large-scale orchestration of fundamental rights violations have not left Syria and asked for asylum in Germany – meaning that German prosecutors must confine themselves to go after the small fry only. ((http://www.ejiltalk.org/justice-for-syria-opportunities-and-limitations-of-universal-jurisdiction-trials-in-germany/ ))

Moreover, there is a concern that the henchmen of Bashar al-Asad will by and large escape judgement under these provisions, since comparatively few of them have asked for asylum in Europe. ((http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-01/refugee-influx-spurs-germany-to-tackle-syrian-war-crimes/7374152 )) This does not obviate the need to bring to justice fighters and commanders of other factions, above all of the more brutal Islamist and jihadist groups. Yet given the fact that it is still above all the Asad forces that have “shredded the laws of warfare”,(( https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/06/24/syrian-refugees-help-nab-suspected-war-criminals-europe )) a failure to prosecute government personnel means a heavily lopsided judicial treatment of the Syrian quagmire.

Thus, while the activation of the substantive provisions of the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch constitutes a step forward compared with the prosecution under the blanket terms of counter-terrorism legislation that punishes a formal status rather than actual offences committed, bringing justice to bear on the perpetrators of international crimes in Syria remains fraught with difficulties.

Evidence of early Muslim burials unearthed in Nimes

February 28, 2016

Three sets of medieval-era remains found France may turn out to be some of the earliest evidence of Muslim presence outside of the Iberian Peninsula, scientists say.

The Early Middle Ages was a period of expansion and conquest for the Arab-Islamic world, culminating in the expansion of Islamic caliphates into what was once known as Al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain. The impact of several hundred years of Islamic rule in the Iberian region has had an indelible and unmistakable influence on Spanish, Portuguese, and Mediterranean history and culture, but the period has shown little in the way of evidence of an Islamic expansion outside of the region – that is until the discovery of these new graves.

As detailed in a newly published research study, the medieval graves dating to the 8th century CE were found in Nimes, near the Mediterranean coast of France northeast of the city of Montpelier, not far from the Côte d’Azur. Researchers from the University of Bordeaux and the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research examined the graves closely, claiming that evidence of the way the remains were interred seem to be in line with Islamic funerary practices. Additionally, preliminary DNA analysis and forensic examinations of the remains made in order to determine the age and sex of the individuals in life indicate the possibility of Arab-Islamic ancestry.

The evidence is slowly but surely mounting that these graves may be Islamic in origin. The remains were found to be buried with their bodies pointing towards Mecca, a widely-established Muslim funerary practice. Genetic markers also indicate North African ancestry for the exhumed individuals along their paternal genetic line. Finally, the remains themselves have been radiocarbon dated to somewhere between the 7th and 9th centuries. Researchers have drawn some initial conclusions from this data, theorizing that the individuals interred within the graves at one time could have been Berber soldiers that had been part of the Umayyad army after the caliphate expanded into North Africa.

The authors of the new research study into the identity of these graves say that the graves may be some of the only evidence discovered to date that indicates Muslim settlement north of the Pyrenees. While there does seem to be a high likelihood that these three individuals may have been North African Muslims that had traveled to the south of France via the caliphate’s occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, how or why they came to be, by themselves, so far into what would have been Frankish territory at the time remains a mystery.

US Appeals Court Revives SC Solitary Confinement Challenge Based on Religious Rights

In a unanimous ruling Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said evidence shows that Lumumba Incumma has never received any meaningful review of his solitary confinement, despite having no administrative infractions over the last two decades.
Incumma was placed in solitary confinement after he and other members of the Nation of Gods and Earths, an offshoot of the Nation of Islam, staged a prison riot in 1995.
He also claimed that his around-the-clock segregation violated his religious rights, but the appeals court said a judge was correct in rejecting that claim.

Man Pleads Guilty to Reduced Charge in Terrorism Case

February 20, 2014

 

Five days before his trial was to start, a Manhattan man accused of planning to wage a personal jihad against the United States with pipe bombs pleaded guilty on Wednesday to reduced charges in a deal with prosecutors.
The man, Jose Pimentel, was facing state terrorism charges for building an inexpensive pipe bomb in an informer’s apartment, and starting to work on two others, according to an indictment. Prosecutors said they had evidence that he meant to detonate bombs in New York City in retaliation for the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric in Yemen.
But on Wednesday, Mr. Pimentel appeared in State Supreme Court in Manhattan to plead guilty to a single count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the first degree as a crime of terrorism. As part of the plea deal, he agreed to serve 16 years in prison and five years of probation when he is sentenced on March 25; he had faced 15 years to life in prison under the original charges of weapons possession and conspiracy as crimes of terrorism.
Mr. Pimentel’s lawyers had contended that their client was entrapped by the police. They describe him as a down-on-his-luck young man who was easily enticed by the informer to build bombs after being plied for months with free food and marijuana.

Mr. Pimentel, a Dominican native who converted to Islam, was arrested in November 2011 after a lengthy investigation. The arrest stemmed from a sting operation by the Police Department’s Intelligence Division. The police used an undercover officer, two confidential informers and hundreds of hours of recorded conversations.
The case in state court was unusual because the federal authorities typically handle terrorism prosecutions. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which had monitored Mr. Pimentel, decided not to pursue charges against him, and the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., took on the task.
No evidence has been produced in court that Mr. Pimentel had co-conspirators or was taking instructions from terrorist organizations abroad. He has been described as a lone wolf.
At a news conference, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said Mr. Pimentel was typical of the homegrown, self-made terrorist that organizations like Al Qaeda had tried to inspire through jihadist websites and anti-Western propaganda. “This young man really was self-radicalized,” Mr. Bratton said.

Mr. Pimentel is the third person to be charged under New York’s antiterrorism law, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Though the statute was never employed under the previous Manhattan district attorney, Mr. Vance has now used it twice.

NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/20/nyregion/manhattan-man-pleads-guilty-to-reduced-charges-in-terror-case.html?action=click&module=Search®ion=searchResults%235&version=&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2F%3Faction%3Dclick%26region%3DMasthead%26pgtype%3DHomepage%26module%3DSearchSubmit%26contentCollection%3DHomepage%26t%3Dqry714%23%2FIslam%2F30days%2Fallresults%2F6%2Fallauthors%2Fnewest%2F

Muslim woman will not testify after being told she must remove face veil

January 27, 2014

 

A Muslim woman standing trial in a full-face veil, who was told she must remove it if she gives evidence in her defence, will not take to the witness box, a court has heard. Rebekah Dawson, 22, has been allowed to appear at her trial for alleged witness intimidation in a niqab showing just her eyes. The trial judge, Peter Murphy, ruled last September that she could wear the Islamic garment in court but he said she would have to let the jury of five women and seven men see her face if she gave evidence.

Her barrister, Susan Meek, told the jury at Blackfriars crown court in London on Monday that she would not be giving evidence in her own defence.

Earlier in the trial, Murphy told the jury that Dawson was “fully entitled” to dress how she chose to in court. He told jurors to put aside any feelings they might have about her appearance because they would have nothing to do with the case.

 

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jan/27/muslim-woman-face-veil-court-trial-witness