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U.S., Europe Among Regions Least Hit By Terror Attacks Last Year, Report Says

FILE: Workers remove debris from a damaged area a day after a suicide bomb attack near the foreign embassies in Kabul, Afghanistan on June 1.

Terrorist attacks have riveted attention in the United States and Europe, but those regions accounted for only a tiny percentage of fatalities from such attacks last year, a new report has found.

The report issued on August 23 from the University of Maryland and based on its Global Terrorism Database found that Western Europe and North America accounted for less than 1 percent of the 34,676 people killed in terror attacks in 2016, while they accounted for less than 2 percent of all attacks.

Countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen suffered the most frequent and deadly attacks, which were concentrated by region in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, the study found.

Attacks by the Islamic State extremist group and its affiliates, while much feared in the West, were heavily concentrated in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and other Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African countries, the report found.

Iraq alone suffered nine of the 11 deadliest attacks in 2016, each carried out by IS, including the single deadliest attack, where a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden truck outside a Baghdad shopping center, killing at least 382 people.

South Asia accounted for 27 percent of all attacks and 22 percent of those killed in 2016.

With reporting by AFP

IMF: Global Economic Recovery On 'Firmer Footing'

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says the global economic recovery is on "firmer footing" with improving growth in Europe and China even as it reduced predicted growth for the United States and Britain.

The IMF's World Economic Outlook released on July 24 said it expected the global economy will grow by 3.5 percent in 2017 and 3.6 percent in 2018.

IMF chief economist Maurice Obstfeld, who presented the quarterly update, said "there is now no question mark over the world economy's gain in momentum."

The IMF, however, warned that sluggish wage growth and growing antiglobal sentiment could leave economies worse off.

The IMF forecast improvement in the eurozone, where growth is projected at 1.9 percent this year and 1.7 percent in 2018.

The Russian economy is projected to "recover gradually" in 2017 and 2018, and inflation there has declined.

Growth in the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is projected to slow considerably in 2017 due to a decrease in activity in oil exporters, before recovering in 2018.

Malala Meets Chibok Girls, Urges Nigeria To Prioritize Education

Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai (L) speaks with Nigerian Acting President Yemi Osinbajo during her courtesy visit to the presidency in Abuja on July 17.

Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai has called on Nigeria to focus on improving its education system, as she visited the country and met some of the Chibok schoolgirls whose cause she championed.

Yousafzai, 20, a Pakistani education activist who came to prominence when a Taliban militant shot her in the head in 2012, was named a UN Messenger of Peace in April to promote girls’ education around the world.

After a meeting with Nigeria’s acting president in Abuja, Yousafzai said the government should declare a “state of emergency on education in Nigeria,” where nearly half of primary-aged children are not enrolled in school.

According to UN figures, Nigeria has some 10.5 million children out of school -- the most in the world -- and 60 percent of them are girls.

Yousafzai has also taken part in global campaigns to maintain awareness of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram Islamist militants from their school in Nigeria’s remote town of Chibok in 2014.

Some 100 of the schoolgirls still remain in captivity, while others were freed or escaped. Yousafzai met some of the freed girls in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.

Malala won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize along with Kailash Satyarthi of India.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

UN Approves Treaty To Ban Nuclear Weapons Despite Boycott By Nuclear Powers

The first-ever treaty to ban nuclear weapons has been approved by 122 countries despite a boycott by all nuclear-armed states.

The vote was announced on July 7 by Elayne Whyte Gomez, president of the United Nations conference that negotiated the treaty, to loud applause.

"We have managed to sow the first seeds of a world free of nuclear weapons," she said. "The world has been waiting for this legal norm for 70 years," since atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she said.

None of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons -- the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel -- supported the treaty.

In a joint statement, UN ambassadors from the United States, Britain, and France said the treaty "clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment."

It offers no solution to "the grave threat posed by North Korea's nuclear program, nor does it address other security challenges that make nuclear deterrence necessary," they said.

A ban that doesn't address these concerns "cannot result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon and will not enhance any country's security," they said.

Western nuclear powers instead want to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Protesters In Madrid Urge Spanish Government To Accept More Refugees

FILE: Refugees and migrants stand next to a border fence at the Greek-Macedonian border.

Several thousand protesters marched in the Spanish capital of Madrid to urge the country’s conservative government to fulfill its commitment to take in more than 17,000 refugees as part of a wider European relocation plan.

On June 17, the protesters, many chanting "No human being is illegal," marched behind a huge banner reading: "We Want To Welcome Them Now! Enough Excuses. No More Barriers."

In 2015, Spain pledged to take in more than 17,300 refugees but has so far only resettled just over 1,300, according to Amnesty International.

The country vowed to take in 15,888 from camps in Italy and Greece, which are on the front line of the refugee influx, and 1,449 from Turkey and Libya. Many originated in Syria, officials said.

A February march in Barcelona in support of refugees attracted some 160,000 protesters, officials and organizers said.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

U.K. Police Name Two London Attack Suspects

A combo photo shows Khuram Shazad Butt (L) and Rachid Redouane from Barking, east London, believed by police to be two of the three attackers in the June 3 terror attack on London Bridge.

British police have named two of the three men suspected of carrying out the terror attack in London on June 3.

Khuram Butt, 27, was married with children and lived in Barking, east London, for a number of years.

London's Metropolitan Police said Butt was previously known to police and the U.K. spy agency, MI5, and was a British citizen born in Pakistan.

"However, there was no intelligence to suggest that this attack was being planned and the investigation had been prioritized accordingly," police said in a statement.

Butt was a British citizen born in Pakistan.

The other attacker was named as Rachid Redouane, 30, who also went by the identity Rachid Elkhdar and was not known to police.

Redouane claimed both Libyan and Moroccan nationality.

Police say investigations were continuing into the identity of the third attacker.

Assistant Commander Mark Rowley said "work is ongoing to understand more about them, their connections and whether they were assisted or supported by anyone else."

Police said six women and four men arrested after the attack were still being questioned.

The three suspects were shot dead by police officers within minutes after they drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and then attacked several people with knives in the nearby Borough Market nightlife neighborhood.

The extremist group Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack.

Authorities said 36 people remained in hospital, with 18 in a critical condition.

A vigil was held at Potters Field Park near London Bridge to remember the victims.

On June 5, London police said they carried out fresh raids and detained an undisclosed number of people in the investigation into the attack.

London police chief Cressida Dick told BBC television on June 5 that police had seized "a huge amount of forensic material" after going through the van the assailants used to plow into people on the bridge.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Afghan Man Kills Russian Boy At German Home For Asylum-Seekers

FILE: Afghan refugees sits in front of Brandenburg Gate during a hunger strike in Berlin in 2012.

An Afghan man fatally stabbed a 5-year-old Russian boy at a home for asylum-seekers in Germany and was then himself shot dead by police, officers say.

The 41-year-old Afghan man on June 3 also seriously injured the child's mother in the town of Arnschwang near the Bavarian city of Regensburg before police arrived at the facility, officers said.

Further details of the incident were not immediately available, and there was no indication what led up to the fatal stabbing.

It was also not clear what part of Russia the victim was from.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Former French Prime Minister Investigated Over Alleged Kickbacks In 'Karachi Affair'

Former French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur

French authorities have opened a preliminary investigation into former French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur in connection with a funding scandal that arose from a 1990s arms deal with Pakistan.

The so-called "Karachi Affair" dates back to 1994, when Balladur, 88, was serving as prime minister.

France won a tender to supply three submarines to Pakistan and, as was customary at the time, paid hefty commissions to people involved in putting the deal together. At the time, such payments were legal in France.

What has caused concern is not the payment of commissions, but rather alleged kickbacks taken out of those commissions and given to French politicians.

Part of that money is believed by some to have gone toward the presidential campaign of Balladur, who was making a run for president against fellow party member Jacques Chirac.

The investigative committee will determine whether Balladur will have to answer to a court.

Balladur's office said he would contest the case.

"There is no evidence in the files seen by lawyers that he personally participated in his capacity as prime minister in setting up a system of kickbacks to finance his election campaign in 1995," it said.

Based on reporting by dpa and Reuters

German Authorities Arrest Afghan Suspected In Taliban Killing

FILE: An Afghan who was deported from Germany arrives with his belongings at the international airport in Kabul in January.

German authorities say they have arrested a 20-year-old Afghan suspect in the killing of a police officer in Afghanistan by Taliban militants.

In a May 23 statement, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office said that the suspect, identified as Omaid N., has been in custody since May 19.

He is suspected of taking part in the killing of the police officer alongside other Taliban militants in early 2013, a statement said.

When asked to carry out terrorist attacks on behalf of the group, the man fled Afghanistan via Iran, Turkey, Greece, and Austria with the help of smugglers before arriving in Germany in November 2013 as a refugee.

Prosecutors did not give details about where the arrest took place.

With reporting by dpa

More Than 31 Million People Became Internally Displaced In 2016

An internally displaced girl who fled Raqqa city sits inside a camp in Ain Issa, Raqqa Governorate, Syria, in May.

Conflicts, violence, and natural disasters forced more than 31 million people into internal displacement in 2016, a new report says.

The report, released on May 22 by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), differentiates between internally displaced persons (IDP) and refugees.

It said IDP is not a legal status because those affected remain under the jurisdiction of their own government and often do not receive additional rights over other citizens.

People who have crossed an international border in search of refuge have a right to legal refugee status, which affords them certain rights and international protection, it added.

“Internally displaced people now outnumber refugees by two to one. It is urgent to put internal displacement back on the global agenda," said Jan Egeland, the NRC secretary general.

The report said more aid was allocated in 2016 to refugee resettlement within donor countries than in the countries dealing with high numbers of IDPs.

“Despite internal displacement being the starting point of many onward journeys, it has been overshadowed by the current global focus on refugees and migrants,” said Alexandra Bilak, the director of IDMC.

“We need to acknowledge that, without the right kind of support and protection, a person internally displaced today may become a refugee, an asylum seeker or an international migrant tomorrow,” she added.

The report said 6.9 million new internal displacements were caused by conflicts. Some 2.6 million of them were in sub-Saharan Africa, while 824,000 were in Syria, 659,000 in Iraq, 653,000 in Afghanistan, and 478,000 in Yemen.

“As of the end of 2016, a total of 40.3 million people were displaced within their own country as a result of conflict and violence, some of whom having been displaced for decades,” the report said.

Disasters displaced some 24 million people last year, with most attributed to “sudden-onset” weather hazards, including floods, storms, and wildfires, it said.

Top NATO Commanders Recommend Joining Anti-IS Coalition

An Iraqi man tries to put out a car fire as Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Services advance toward Mosul's western Rifai neighborhood during their ongoing offensive against Islamic State (IS) fighters on May 16.

Top NATO commanders have recommended that the military alliance join the international coalition fighting the Islamic State extremist group.

The chairman of the NATO military committee, General Petr Pavel, said on May 17 in Brussels that "there is merit for NATO becoming a member of that coalition."

Pavel said the alliance's military leaders agreed "that NATO can and should do more" to increase the capacity of Iraq and other countries fighting IS to better defend themselves.

He said the final decision will rest with NATO heads of state and government when they meet in Brussels on May 25.

NATO's role could include training local forces and helping to build militaries and institutions.

NATO countries do not want the alliance engaged in active combat against Islamic State militants, even though all are individual members of the anti-IS coalition.

U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded that NATO do more to combat terrorism.

Trump is scheduled to meet NATO leaders in Brussels next week

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels and AP

Fewer Countries Criminalize Same-Sex Relations, Report Finds, But Homophobic Abuse Still Common

A Pakistani police officer speaks to a suspect in connection with the murders of three homosexual men, at a police station in Lahore in 2014.

The number of countries criminalizing same-sex relations has decreased over the past decade, but attacks against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community are still common in many countries, a global rights group says.

In a report released on May 15, the Geneva-based International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) said same-sex sexual activity remains a crime in 72 countries -- a decrease from 92 in 2006.

Meanwhile, enactment of legislation that protects LGBT people from discrimination and violence has "significantly expanded," said co-author of the report Aengus Carroll, who cautioned that “the real test facing states is meaningful implementation of those laws."

The report also warned that "persecution and deep stigmatization" of LGBT people persist in many countries.

In 25 of them, there are "active barriers" to the formation, establishment, or registration of sexual orientation-related NGOs, ILGA said, and "22 states have 'morality' or 'promotion' laws that actively target public promotion or expression of same-sex and trans realities."

"With the ongoing rise in the use of digital devices, deployment of these laws becomes all the more sinister," ILGA Executive Director Renato Sabbadini said.

The case of the southern Russian region of Chechnya "offers us the most recent, horrific example of such abuses, as survivors have expressed fears that the social media accounts of men perceived to be gay or bisexual are being hacked and used to identify and contact others who have not yet been arrested," he added.

The comments come amid mounting international pressure over the alleged detention, torture, and killing of gay men in Chechnya, first reported on April 1 by the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

Gay marriage is now legal in 23 countries, while 28 others guarantee some civil partnership recognition, according to ILGA.

There are eight countries, including Iran, where the death penalty exists as a punishment for same-sex relations.

In a further five states, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, the death penalty is possible but never implemented.

And in 14 other countries, the maximum penalty can vary from 14 years to a life sentence in prison.

With reporting by the Thomson Reuters Foundation

U.S. Al-Qaeda Member Gets Light Jail Term After Cooperating With Police

Bryant Neal Vinas worked with Al-Qaeda leaders to identify potential targets inside the United States, including the Long Island Railroad. (illustrative photo)

An American who joined Al-Qaeda and plotted to attack a New York commuter train was spared a long prison term because he provided the United States with extensive intelligence about the terrorist group, prosecutors said.

Bryant Neal Vinas, 34, pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in 2009 after his capture by Pakistani authorities and has already been in custody for eight and a half years. A Brooklyn court ruled on May 11 that he will serve three more months before being released.

Vinas, a U.S. Army veteran, traveled to North Waziristan in Pakistan in 2007 and joined Al-Qaeda, which provided him with weapons and explosives training, authorities said.

He worked with Al-Qaeda leaders to identify potential targets inside the United States, including the Long Island Railroad connecting New York City to the Long Island suburbs.

Within days of his arrest, however, Vinas began cooperating with U.S. authorities, and prosecutors said he contributed to resolving or opening more than 30 cases.

"He may have been the single most valuable cooperating witness" on Al-Qaeda activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2007 and 2008, prosecutors told the court.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Pope Slams 'Mother Of All Bombs' Nickname

Speaking to students at the Vatican on May 6, the Pope said he was "ashamed" when he heard the name "the Mother of All Bombs". 

Pope Francis has criticized the naming of the U.S. military's biggest nonnuclear explosive as "the Mother of All Bombs," saying motherhood should not be associated with a deadly weapon.

Speaking to students at the Vatican on May 6, the Pope said he was "ashamed" when he heard the name.

"A mother gives life and this one gives death, and we call this device a mother. What is happening?" Francis asked.

The U.S. Air Force dropped such a bomb, officially called the GBU-43 bomb, on militants from the extremist group Islamic State (IS) in eastern Afghanistan last month.

The nickname was widely used in briefings and reporting on the attack.

The Pope's criticism comes ahead of his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on May 24.

Based on reporting by Reuters

U.S. Religious Freedom Commission Says Russia, Pakistan Among Worst Offenders

Crimean Tatars pray inside a mosque during the Eid al-Adha festival in Crimea. The annexed Ukrainian peninsula has been referenced in a new report on religious freedom that criticizes Russia's "repressive policies" toward people of certain faiths.

A U.S. government commission on religious freedom is recommending that Russia be designated as a "country of particular concern" (CPC), putting it in a group of the world's worst offenders.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in its annual report on April 26 that it is for the first time recommending that Russia be recognized as a CPC along with 15 other countries.

The USCIRF said Russia is unique among the countries in its report because it is the only one to have "not only continually intensified its repression of religious freedom" but had also "expanded its repressive policies to the territory of a neighboring state," a reference to Moscow's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

The report also cited a 2016 law that it said "effectively criminalized all private religious speech not sanctioned by the state," and noted a Russian Supreme Court ruling earlier this month that put a nationwide ban on the Jehovah's Witnesses.

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The USCIRF also recommended that Pakistan be named a CPC, as it did last year. But then-Secretary of State John Kerry rejected the recommendation.

There are currently 10 countries designated by the United States as the world's worst offenders against religious freedom: Burma (aka Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The USCIRF has recommended that, along with Russia and Pakistan, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam be added to the CPC list.

USCIRF Chairman Thomas Reese said in the 2017 annual report that international religious freedom "is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations."

Man Pleads Guilty To Smuggling Afghans, Pakistanis Into United States

Young Afghan migrants

A Pakistani man has pleaded guilty to helping smuggle at least 81 people from Pakistan and Afghanistan into the United States by way of dangerous journeys through Brazil and Latin America.

Sharafat Ali Khan, 32, pleaded guilty on April 12 to charges of conspiracy to smuggle undocumented migrants into the United States for profit.

Prosecutors say he schemed with others to bring people from Pakistan and elsewhere through Brazil and Central America into the United States by planes, buses, and on foot.

Dozens of people identified Khan as the person who helped facilitate their travel from Brazil to the United States between May 2014 and June 2016, according to court records.

Prosecutors say Khan, a resident of Brazil, managed safe houses for the travelers and arranged for people in other countries to serve as their escorts on different legs of the route.

Khan told prosecutors the voyage included long hikes with little food and water through the remote tropical forest of Darien Gap, on the border of Colombia and Panama.

Court records show the travelers paid between $5,000 and $12,000 each before their journeys, which sometimes included long days of walking through the jungle.

Khan faces sentencing in July.

Based on reporting by AP and Daily Caller

Trump, Merkel Confer On Conflicts In Afghanistan, Eastern Ukraine

U.S. President Donald Trump (right) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 17.

U.S. President Donald Trump has spoken by telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about issues of "mutual concern and interest," including the conflicts in eastern Ukraine and Afghanistan, the White House says.

The two leaders "pledged close cooperation and coordination on these and other issues" and agreed to remain in close contact, the White House said on April 5.

Trump and Merkel met for the first time on March 17 at the White House, at which time Merkel said she would continue Germany's military participation in the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

On many issues, including the refugee crisis and trade, however, Merkel has been at odds with Trump.

The U.S. leader in campaigning for office severely criticized Merkel's policy of admitting thousands of refugees and from Syria, Afghanistan, and other war-torn countries into Germany.

But since meeting with Merkel, Trump has not repeated his criticisms and instead has appeared to cultivate closer ties with the leader of Europe's biggest economy.

Based on reporting by dpa and Reuters

NATO-Russia Council Holds First Session This Year As Tensions Persist

Russian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aleksei Meshkov

Ambassadors from NATO nations and Russia gathered at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels for the first NATO-Russia Council session of 2017.

The talks on March 30 are expected to focus on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the security situation in Afghanistan, and ways to reduce military risks in Europe.

The NATO-Russia Council session follows three similar gatherings last year. It comes a day before a meeting of the alliance’s foreign ministers that will include U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

NATO suspended all practical cooperation with Russia after Moscow's seizure and annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, but the political channels remain open via the council.

State-run Russian news agency TASS quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksei Meshkov as saying Moscow plans to discuss "NATO's military buildup along our borders."

The alliance has deployed thousands of soldiers and heavy weaponry to Poland, the Baltic states, and southeastern Europe, moving to provide extra security and reassurances to members close to Russia following its aggression in Ukraine.

Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and backs separatists in a war against government forces that has killed more than 9,900 people in eastern Ukraine since that April.

Russia has also caused concern among NATO nations with snap military exercises in its Western regions and by buzzing the alliance's ships and aircraft with fighter jets, as well as the aggressive use of propaganda.

With reporting by TASS

U.S. Turns Down Invitation To Afghanistan Peace Conference in Russia

FILE: Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (R) speaks with Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah on the sidelines of the SCO prime ministers meeting in Bishkek, November 2016.

The United States has turned down an invitation to a multinational conference on Afghanistan that Russia plans to host on April 14, according to the AP news agency.

Citing an anonymous State Department official, AP reported on March 24 that the decision not to attend was made because Moscow did not consult Washington before extending the invitation and that the Kremlin did not disclose its objectives for the conference.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India, and several Central Asian nations are among the invitees to the Moscow conference, while officials from the Taliban have not been invited, AP said.

Russia held a six-party meeting on peace in Afghanistan in February that was attended by officials from India, China, Iran and Pakistan.

Based on reporting by AP

U.S. Said To Seek More Scrutiny Of Certain Visa Applicants

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks to the press before meeting the Saudi Foreign Minister at the State Department in Washington on March 23.

U.S. embassies and consulates around the world have been instructed to identify groups of people warranting increased scrutiny in the visa-application process and to screen their social-media accounts.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson revealed the new requirements in recent diplomatic cables, according to March 24 reports from AP and Reuters, which first reported the news.

The measures do not define which "population sets" are to be targeted, but reviews of social-media accounts of visa applicants are intended for anyone suspected of terrorist ties or of having been in areas controlled by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

The AP said the State Department would not comment on the report, though it added that attempts were being made to meet requirements from the administration of President Donald Trump to ensure that "visitor screening and vetting procedures are designed to effectively identify individuals who could pose a threat to the United States."

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

U.S. Moves To Strip Citizenship From Al-Qaeda Operative In Brooklyn Plot

The Brooklyn Bridge

U.S. authorities have taken rare action to strip U.S. citizenship from a man convicted in 2003 of involvement in an Al-Qaeda plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.

The Justice Department on March 20 filed a civil suit to revoke the citizenship of Iyman Faris, a Pakistan native who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for supporting the terrorist organization. He is due to be released in 2020.

The department said Faris lied to gain citizenship and fraudulently used another man's passport to gain entry into the United States in 1994.

"The Department's Office of Immigration Litigation will continue to pursue denaturalization proceedings against known or suspected terrorists who procured their citizenship by fraud," acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler said.

"The U.S. government is dedicated to...preventing the exploitation of our nation's immigration system by those who would do harm to our country," he said.

Faris previously admitted to investigating how blowtorches could be used to sever the Brooklyn Bridge's suspension cables as part of an Al-Qaeda plot, but said he concluded in 2002 that security was too tight around the bridge to carry out an attack.

Based on reporting by AP and The Washington Times

Al-Qaeda Member Convicted In U.S. Court For 2003 Attack In Afghanistan

FILE: Afghan fighters outside one of the entrances to caves where Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden was reportedly hiding along hundreds of Arab Al-Qaeda fighters in the mountains of Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan in 2001.

A man born in Saudi Arabia has been convicted in a U.S. federal court on charges he participated in a 2003 attack in Afghanistan that killed two U.S. servicemen.

A jury in Brooklyn, New York, deliberated for just two hours on March 16 before reaching the guilty verdict against admitted Al-Qaeda fighter Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Harun.

Harun, who was not in court and watched the trial from his jail cell, was extradited from Italy in October 2012.

He has insisted he is a "warrior" who should face a military tribunal rather than a criminal court.

Harun, who holds Niger citizenship, traveled to Afghanistan to join Al-Qaeda weeks before the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, prosecutors said.

They said he took part in an assault on U.S. troops in 2003 that killed Army Private 1st Class Jerod Dennis, 19, and Air Force Airman 1st Class Raymond Losano, 24.

A Koran recovered at the site had Harun's fingerprints, prosecutors said.

He also was convicted of later plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

U.S. Senator Vows To Revive Lapsed Visa Program For Afghan Asylum-Seekers

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (file photo)

A U.S. senator is vowing to revive a lapsed special-visa program for Afghan interpreters and others who served U.S. forces in the country, often risking their lives.

The U.S. State Department said on March 9 that it is running out of special-visa slots and stopped scheduling interviews on March 1.

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen said allowing the program to lapse sends a message to allies in Afghanistan that they have been "abandoned." She pledged to immediately introduce legislation to provide more visas.

"It's both a moral and practical imperative that Congress right this wrong immediately," Shaheen said.

She estimated that more than 10,000 applicants are still waiting for visas.

Shaheen and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain led an unsuccessful effort last year to pass legislation extending the special visas to another 4,000 Afghans who assisted U.S. forces.

The National Defense Authorization Act passed late last year instead added 1,500 visas while making it more difficult to qualify.

The Afghan visa announcement came within days of President Donald Trump issuing a new executive order to temporarily ban refugees and some travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries. But Afghanistan was not one of the six.

With reporting by Reuters

Pakistani Suspected Of Spying For Iran Goes On Trial in Berlin

Syed Mustufa H. from Pakistan covers his face as he attends the start of his trial in Berlin on March 8.

A Pakistani man is due in a Berlin court to face charges that he was spying on Israeli and Jewish institutions for Iran.

The 31-year-old, identified as Syed Mustufa H., was arrested in July 2016.

He was charged in December with spying on organizations and individuals across Europe, including the German-Israel Society and its former director, Reinhold Robbe.

He is also alleged to have collected information on a professor at a university in Paris and others in Western European countries and passed information on to a contact with the Iranian intelligence agency.

Syed Mustufa H., who could not be identified further due to privacy reasons, faces a possible sentence of up to five years in prison if convicted of the charges.

Based on reporting by AP and JTA

U.S. Judge Rejects Bid To Dismiss Bergdahl Case Due To Trump Criticism

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in 2015

A U.S. military judge declined to dismiss a desertion case against Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl despite President Donald Trump's labeling of the former Taliban prisoner as a "traitor."

While Trump's criticism was "problematic," the judge ruled on February 24, it hasn't prevented the soldier from getting a fair trial on charges that he endangered comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009, an act that led to his capture by the Taliban.

Bergdahl's lawyers had argued Trump tainted the case with bias by repeatedly calling Bergdahl a "traitor" while campaigning for office last year.

Bergdahl's case is scheduled for trial in April. He could face life in prison if convicted on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

The judge, Army Colonel Jeffery Nance, wrote in his ruling that Trump's comments were "disturbing and disappointing" but amounted to campaign-trail rhetoric and shouldn't impair the impartiality of potential jurors.

Bergdahl's lead defense attorney, Eugene Fidell, said he will appeal Nance's ruling.

The defense has cited more than 40 instances of Trump criticism at public appearances last year, including saying Berdahl "should be shot" or pushed out of a plane without a parachute.

Based on reporting by AP and the Idaho Statesman

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