Turkey starts repatriating Islamic State detainees

Turkey starts repatriating Islamic State detainees
By Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey said on Monday it had deported two captives from Islamic State, a German and an American, starting a program to repatriate detainees that has caused friction with its NATO allies since it launched an offensive in northern Syria.

Ankara says it has captured 287 militants in northeast Syria and already holds hundreds more Islamic State suspects. It has accused European countries of being too slow to take back citizens who traveled to fight in the Middle East.

Allies have been worried that Islamic State militants could escape as a result of Turkey’s assault against Syrian Kurdish militia who have been holding thousands of the group’s fighters and tens of thousands of their family members.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had said last week Turkey would begin to send foreign Islamic State militants back to their home countries starting on Monday, even if the nations the fighters came from had revoked their citizenship.

Ministry spokesman Ismail Catakli said one American and one German were deported on Monday. He did not specify where they were sent, although Turkey has repeatedly said detainees would be sent to their native countries.

The 23 others to be deported in coming days were all European, including a Dane expected to be sent abroad later on Monday, as well as two Irish nationals, nine other Germans and 11 French citizens.

“Efforts to identify the nationalities of foreign fighters captured in Syria have been completed, with their interrogations 90% finished and the relevant countries notified,” Catakli said, according to state-owned Anadolu news agency.

Germany’s foreign ministry said Ankara had informed Berlin of 10 people – three men, five women and two children. A spokesman said he did not know whether any were Islamic State fighters, but did not contest their citizenship. The ministry said seven were expected on Thursday and two on Friday.

“Citizens can rest assured that each individual case will be carefully examined by the German authorities,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said. “We will do everything possible to prevent returnees with links to IS becoming a threat in Germany.”

The Danish Public Prosecutor said on Monday that Denmark and Turkey were in contact over a Danish citizen convicted of terrorism charges in Turkey.

While German and Danish authorities have confirmed they were aware of the Turkish plans, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said she was not aware of them.

A Dutch court in The Hague ruled on Monday that the Netherlands must help repatriate children of women who joined IS, but the mothers do not need to be accepted back.

SYRIA OFFENSIVE

Turkey launched its offensive into northeastern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia last month, following President Donald Trump’s decision to move U.S. troops out of the way.

The YPG, the main element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and a U.S. ally against Islamic State, has kept thousands of jihadists in jails across northeast Syria and has also overseen camps where relatives of fighters have sought shelter. Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist group.

The Turkish offensive prompted concern over the fate of the prisoners, with Turkey’s Western allies and the SDF warning it could hinder the fight against Islamic State and aid its resurgence.

Turkey has rejected those concerns and vowed to combat Islamic State with its allies. It has also accused the YPG of vacating some Islamic State jails.

European states are trying to speed up a plan to move thousands of jihadists out of Syrian prisons and into Iraq. Denmark, Germany and Britain have revoked the citizenship of some fighters and family members.

Last week Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying there were 1,201 Islamic State prisoners in Turkish jails, while Turkey had captured 287 militants in Syria.

On Monday, state broadcaster TRT Haber said Turkey aimed to repatriate around 2,500 militants, mostly to EU countries. It said there were 813 militants at 12 deportation centers.

Erdogan said Turkey had captured 13 people from the inner circle of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who died during a U.S. raid last month.

(Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber and Thomas Escritt in Berlin, Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen, Sophie Louet in Paris, Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Peter Graff)

Iraq jails French and German citizens for life for joining Islamic State

FILE PHOTO: An Iraqi student walks past a school wall covered with drawings showing how Islamic State militants executed their prisoners in Mosul, Iraq April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ari Jalal/File Photo

By Raya Jalabi

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – An Iraqi court sentenced a French man and a German woman to life in prison on Monday for belonging to Islamic State, forging ahead with the trial of hundreds of people – many foreigners – captured after the militant group’s defeat last year.

French citizen Lahcen Ammar Gueboudj, in his 50s, and the German, Nadia Rainer Hermann, 22, had both pleaded not guilty to joining the hardline Islamist group that captured a third of Iraq and swathes of Syria in 2014.

Though Gueboudj and Hermann were tried individually, they were brought out for sentencing with 13 others tried on Monday, crowding the small courtroom.

During Gueboudj’s roughly 30-minute trial, he said he had only come to the region to retrieve his son who had joined Islamic State and had been living in its de facto Syrian capital, Raqqa.

“I would never have left France if my son hadn’t been in Syria,” he told the judge, through a translator, in Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court.

“I know I’m crazy to have gone to Syria.”

Speaking to Reuters in French through the bars of a holding cell outside the courtroom before he was sentenced, a disheveled Gueboudj said he had signed papers he had not understood were a confession during the investigation.

Hermann and Gueboudj both told Reuters they had spoken to consular staff only once since being detained in 2017. They had court-appointed lawyers present on Monday but had neither met with nor spoken to them, they said. The sentences can be appealed.

Embassy staff and translators from both countries attended Monday’s hearing.

Hermann was sentenced in January to a year in jail for entering Iraq illegally.

Asked by the judge whether she believed in Islamic State’s ideology, she said no. However, she earlier admitted to the judge that she had received a salary of 50,000 Iraqi dinars ($42) per month, which confirmed her membership to the group.

“This whole process is confusing,” Hermann, who wore a blue prison uniform over a black abaya and a grey headscarf, told Reuters before the verdict, speaking in German from the holding cell, in the presence of Iraqi prison guards.

Hermann was the only woman being tried on charges relating to Islamic State on Monday. Iraq has been prosecuting women of various nationalities for months and was sentencing roughly 10 women a day at the peak of trials in the spring.

Around 20 foreign women, including nationals of Turkey, Germany, and Azerbaijan, have been sentenced to death for membership of Islamic State.

(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Court rules Nazi death camp ‘Bookkeeper of Auschwitz’, 96, must go to jail

Oskar Groening, defendant and former Nazi SS officer dubbed the "bookkeeper of Auschwitz" leaves the court after the announcement of his verdict in Lueneburg, Germany, July 15, 2015.

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s constitutional court has ruled that a 96-year-old German must go to jail over his role in mass murders committed at the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz during World War Two, refusing to overturn a lower court ruling.

Oskar Groening, known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz” for his job counting cash taken from the camp’s victims, was sentenced to four years’ jail in 2015, but wrangling over his health and age have delayed the start of his sentence.

The constitutional court rejected the argument by Groening’s lawyers that imprisonment at his advanced age would violate his right to life, adding that the gravity of his crimes meant there was a particular need for him to be seen to be punished.

“The plaintiff has been found guilty of being accessory to murder in 300,000 related cases, meaning there is a particular importance to carrying out the sentence the state has demanded,” the judges wrote, upholding the Celle regional court’s ruling.

There is no further appeal to the constitutional court’s ruling. The ruling does leave open the possibility that Groening could be released if his health deteriorates.

In a 2015 court battle seen as one of the last major Holocaust trials, prosecutors said although Groening did not kill anyone himself while working at Auschwitz, in Nazi-occupied Poland, he helped support the regime responsible for mass murder by sorting bank notes seized from trainloads of arriving Jews.

Groening, who admitted he was morally guilty, said he was an enthusiastic Nazi when he was sent to work at Auschwitz in 1942, at the age of 21.

He came to attention in 2005 after giving interviews about his work in the camp in an attempt to persuade Holocaust deniers that the genocide had taken place.

Some 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust carried out under Adolf Hitler.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Alison Williams)

German police raid flats in hunt for G20 rioters

German police raid flats in hunt for G20 rioters

BERLIN (Reuters) – Police raided apartments across Germany on Tuesday, hunting for evidence on anti-capitalist protesters who clashed with officers during July’s Group of 20 leaders summit in Hamburg.

Officers searched 23 properties believed to be used by “Black Bloc” anti-capitalist group in eight German states, the Hamburg force said. They seized 26 computers and 36 mobile phones, but made no arrests.

Around 200 police officers were hurt in July in scuffles with the left-wing group, named after its members’ black hoods and masks.

Police described how 150-200 people separated themselves off from peaceful marches, donned scarves, masks and dark glasses, then grabbed stones from the pavement and projectiles from building sites to hurl at police.

“We are talking about a violent mob, acting together … Whoever participates in this is, in our view, making themselves culpable,” Jan Hieber, head of the police Special Commission, told reporters.

“The militant action was not accidental. There must have been a degree of planning and agreement,” he said.

Police said nearly 600 officers raided properties in states from Hamburg and Berlin to western North Rhine-Westphalia and southern Baden-Wuerttemberg.

They also carried out searches in the southern city of Stuttgart and Goettingen in northern Germany – home to well-known centers of left-wing activism.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Catherine Evans and Andrew Heavens)

Tour bus bursts into flames after collision in Germany; 18 killed

Helicopters at the site where a coach burst into flames after colliding with a lorry on a motorway near Muenchberg, Germany

BERLIN (Reuters) – Eighteen people were killed when a tour bus burst into flames after colliding with a truck on a motorway in the German state of Bavaria on Monday, police said.

Thirty people were injured, some seriously, in the crash, which occurred shortly after 7 a.m. local time (0500 GMT) near the town of Stammbach, around 90 km (56 miles) northeast of Nuremberg, police said. The cause was unclear.

“It’s clear now that all 18 of the missing people on the bus died in the accident,” police said on Twitter.

Forty-eight people were on the bus. They were between 41 and 81 years old and most were from the eastern state of Saxony, police said.

The identities of some passengers had yet to be established, but police do not think foreigners were among the passengers, spokeswoman Irene Brandenstein said. The truck driver was not injured, she added.

Speaking at the scene of the crash, Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said two people were in a critical condition.

“The heat’s development must have been intense, because there is nothing flammable left on the bus. Only steel parts are recognizable, so you can understand what that meant for the people in this bus,” he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel described the crash as “terrible” and said: “Our thoughts are with the victims’ relatives and we wish all of the injured a quick recovery, from the bottom of our hearts.”

 

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; additional reporting by Reuters Television; Editing by Larry King)

 

Berlin tells Migrants to ‘learn German’

German Chancellor Merkel speaks next her ministers during a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin

By Thorsten Severin and Holger Hansen

BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government agreed on Thursday to require migrants granted residence rights to show willingness to integrate by learning German and seeking work or see their benefits cut.

Ending months of disagreement, Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), their conservative Bavarian CSU allies and the Social Democrats (SPD) hammered out a deal in the early morning hours for post-war Germany’s first law on integrating immigrants.

They also worked out new counter-terrorism measures and agreed to relax rules giving European Union citizens priority in employment so migrants can enter the job market more easily.

The deal capped months of disagreement about how to handle over a million migrants and refugees who poured into Germany last year. Those fleeing war in Syria and Iraq have the best chances of staying while economic migrants may be sent home.

Merkel said the agreement, to be approved by her cabinet on May 24, contained “an offer for everyone, but also duties for everyone”. Along with language learning, it says that migrants who break off job training courses will also lose benefits.

The chancellor said Germany faced two challenges with Europe’s migrant crisis. The first was to coordinate the influx of refugees with European partners and progress had been made on that, she said.

“The other challenge is to register and achieve the integration of the large number of people who have arrived here,” she told reporters.

“We will have a German national law on integration – this is the first time in post-war Germany that this has happened, it is an important, qualitative step.”

Tensions within Merkel’s coalition mounted towards the end of last year with all three parties espousing different priorities for coping with the migrant crisis.

Since then, the flow of migrants, many from Syria and other war-torn parts of the Middle East and Africa, has slowed and the pressure has eased. The EU has also done a deal with Turkey to enlist its help in stemming the influx.

The security measures, a response to recent attacks in France and Brussels, include increasing police powers to deploy undercover agents and empowering Germany’s intelligence agencies to exchange information with foreign partners, under clear conditions.

Last month, German authorities stepped up security measures at airports, train stations and the country’s borders with Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

While the three parties welcomed the immigration agreement, a closely-watched decision on incentives for electric cars was delayed.

Merkel said support for electric cars was in the pipeline. Auto sector leaders have pressed the government to bring in incentives to boost demand for electric cars, arguing support is needed if the sector is to retain its leading edge as an automotive market.

(Writing by Paul Carrel and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

German Radio Station Reports that German Intelligence Spied on Various Foreign Groups

Rbb-Inforadio, a public radio station in Germany, reported Wednesday that Germany’s foreign intelligence agency (BND) spied on U.S. arms companies, the FBI, the U.N. Children’s Fund, and the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Fox News reports that the station claimed that the BND also spied on the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the World Health Organization, and even a German diplomat. Last weekend, the same radio station reported that the BND was targeting email addresses and phone numbers of officials in Britain, France, the United States, Switzerland, Greece, the Vatican, other European countries, and even international aid groups like the Red Cross.

These allegations are very serious, especially in Germany. Two years ago, German officials reacted very angrily after finding out that the United States had been eavesdropping on German targets, including Chancellor Angela Merkel. At the time, Merkel stated that “spying among friends, that’s just wrong.”

The radio station did provide a source for these allegations, and the German spy agency did not comment on the situation. Although, an investigation is underway.

“The facts behind these various press reports will be comprehensively investigated and of course the chancellery is involved in this investigation,” government spokeswoman, Christiane Wirtz, told Fox News. She also stated that Parliament’s intelligence oversight committees would be informed of the situation.