European Court says Russia not facing up to domestic abuse problem

FILE PHOTO: The building of the European Court of Human Rights is seen in Strasbourg, France March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo

By Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia failed to protect a woman from repeated acts of violence by her former partner, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday, saying her case showed that Moscow was not facing up to its domestic abuse problem.

Valeriya Volodina, who now uses a different name for security reasons, was assaulted, kidnapped and stalked by her former partner after she left him in 2015 and moved out of their shared home in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk, the court said.

The police never opened a criminal investigation into violence and threats that she reported to them from January 2016 to March 2018, it said in its statement.

In one such episode, she was forced to have an abortion after he punched her in the face and stomach when she was pregnant. In other incidents, the partner, whom she met in 2014, cut her car’s brake hose and stole her identity papers, it said.

After she moved to Moscow, Volodina discovered a GPS tracker planted in her bag and the former partner, identified only as S., subsequently started stalking her outside her home and attempted to drag her from a taxi.

The court in Strasbourg said Russia’s police had interviewed the partner and carried out pre-investigation inquiries but not opened formal proceedings against him as it deemed that “no publicly prosecutable offense had been committed”.

Russian legislation does not define or mention domestic violence as a separate offense or aggravating element in other offenses and there is no mechanism for imposing restraining or protection orders, the court said.

“Those failings clearly demonstrated that the authorities were reluctant to acknowledge the gravity of the problem of domestic violence in Russia and its discriminatory effect on women,” the court said in a statement.

Each year, about 14,000 women die in Russia at the hands of husbands or other relatives, according to a 2010 United Nations report.

Police finally opened a criminal investigation only in March 2018 when the partner circulated photographs of her on social networks without her consent, the court said.

The court said Russia’s response had been “manifestly inadequate” and ruled unanimously there had been two violations of the European Convention on human rights, one on the prohibition of discrimination and the other on the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment.

Russia’s Justice Ministry said it had three months to decide whether to appeal against the ruling, but that it would study the findings of the court, Interfax news agency reported.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

Soldiers held hostage, villagers killed: the untold story of Venezuelan aid violence

FILE PHOTO: A crashed car is seen at the scene where Venezuelan soldiers opened fire on indigenous people near the border with Brazil on Friday, according to community members, in Kumarakapay, Venezuela, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/William Urdaneta/File Photo NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

By Maria Ramirez

KUMARAKAPAY, Venezuela (Reuters) – At dawn on February 22, as Venezuela’s opposition was preparing to bring humanitarian aid into the country, a convoy of military vehicles drove into the indigenous village of Kumarakapay on its way to the Brazilian border.

Members of the Pemon community, a tribe whose territory includes the road to Brazil, wanted to keep the border open to ensure the aid got through despite President Nicolas Maduro commanding the military to block it.

Before dawn, the villagers had ordered military vehicles headed toward the border to turn around, citing the tribe’s constitutionally guaranteed autonomy over their territory.

But the army convoy that arrived at dawn was moving quickly and the tribesman were only able to stop the last of the four vehicles – a Jeep carrying four National Guard officials, who told the villagers they were working on a mining project.

Believing the officers were on their way to block the aid, several villagers pulled them from the vehicle, seized their weapons and detained them, according to interviews with 15 villagers.

Some of the other soldiers, who had stopped several hundred meters ahead, got out of their vehicles with weapons in hand and approached. Shouting broke out and one of the soldiers fired a shot downward onto the road, according to the villagers and a cellphone video seen by Reuters that was filmed by a resident.

The remaining soldiers began firing repeatedly in the direction of the village as they ran back toward their vehicles, according to witnesses and the video.

The shooting would leave dozens of villagers wounded and three villagers dead, an unusually bloody confrontation between Venezuelan troops and indigenous people.

The incident itself was widely reported on the day it took place but has drawn little scrutiny until Reuters examined it.

The repercussions included the arrest of 23 Pemon tribesmen, some of whom say they were beaten in custody. Pemon villagers also held more than 40 members of the military hostage, some of whom suffered severe bites after being left half-naked atop ant nests in retribution for the killings, according to interviews with Pemon tribe members.

The incidents are a stark illustration of how Venezuela’s economic and political crises have undermined the once-close relationship between impoverished indigenous communities and a socialist movement launched two decades ago by Maduro’s predecessor, president Hugo Chavez, which had promised to help them.

“We couldn’t understand the attitude of Maduro’s regime of using arms against indigenous people,” said Guillermo Rodriguez, brother of Zoraida Rodriguez, one of the people killed in Kumarakapay.

Rodriguez now lives in the Brazilian border town of Pacaraima after fleeing the violence in late February. He is one of nearly 1,000 members of the Pemon tribe who crossed into Brazil, many on foot, according to the Brazil office of the International Organization for Migration.

They now live in wooden huts they built themselves or camped under canvas donated by the United Nations refugee commission.

The incident followed recent tensions in southern Venezuela between military officers and Pemon tribesmen involved in informal gold mining operations. The Pemon complain of extortion and shakedowns by troops.

The National Guard, the information ministry – which handles media enquiries for the Venezuelan government – and the defense ministry did not respond to requests for this story.

However, Maduro’s government has in the past denied mistreatment of the Pemon. It says the Pemon, who live in southern Venezuela and northern Brazil and number about 30,000 in total, have benefited from state resources and increased autonomy.

The government has not commented on the extortion accusations, but Maduro in recent years has said that opposition leaders are involved in gold “mafias.”

Bolivar state governor Justo Noguera of the ruling Socialist Party in a March interview with Reuters blamed the violence on armed members of the Pemon tribe, without presenting evidence. He added that the incident is under investigation.

“Unfortunately, there were terrorist acts. They attacked a unit of our Bolivarian Army that was only carrying communications equipment,” said Noguera. “There were elements within the peaceful community of Kumarakapay that were armed, and the community rejects that.”

U.S.-BACKED AID CONVOYS

Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who invoked the constitution in January to assume an interim presidency, led the attempt to bring U.S.-backed aid convoys across Venezuela’s borders in an effort to shame Maduro for refusing to accept foreign aid despite shortages of food and basic goods.

Maduro said the aid effort was a disguised invasion by Washington. He said the Trump administration should have lifted economic and oil industry sanctions if it really wanted to help Venezuelans.

The tribal leaders of Kumarakapay were the first of the main Pemon communities in the area to openly support the aid plan.

When residents learned of the killings in Kumarakapay on February 22, a group of them beat the four members of the National Guard held hostage that morning, according to two villagers who witnessed the events.

That same day, a group of around 10 Pemon tribesmen from the village of Maurak detained 42 members of the National Guard at a small airport in the town of Santa Elena, about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the border with Brazil and 75 kilometers (47 miles) south of Kumarakapay, according to one Pemon tribal leader.

They drove the troops to a small farm at the edge of the jungle and ordered them to sit on top of fire ant hills, said a second tribal leader, who also asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the tribe.

Bites by fire ants can be painful and are known to cause blisters severe enough to warrant hospital attention.

Some of the troops were tied up and beaten, one of the leaders said, noting that some Pemon members had objected to their detention and to the violence against them.

“Everything was out of control,” he said.

A second leader, who also asked not to be identified, said that during the detention villagers put hot peppers in the troops’ mouths and on their genitals.

The Pemon chieftain’s council did not respond to requests for comment.

The following day, on February 23, residents of Kumarakapay sought to block another group of military vehicles from reaching the border. Four village residents brought in General Jose Montoya, the National Guard commander for Bolivar state, to help convince the military convoys not to go to the border.

However, National Guard troops handcuffed the four Pemon, covered their faces with masks and pushed them into police vehicles, according to resident Aldemaro Perez. Montoya was detained at the same time and all five were taken to an army base called Escamoto.

“So you Pemon tribesmen think you’re tough? You’re going to die here,” Perez recalls one police officer shouting.

FILE PHOTO: The covered body of a dead person is seen after Venezuelan soldiers opened fire on indigenous people near the border with Brazil on Friday, according to community members, in Kumarakapay, Venezuela, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/William Urdaneta/File Photo NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

FILE PHOTO: The covered body of a dead person is seen after Venezuelan soldiers opened fire on indigenous people near the border with Brazil on Friday, according to community members, in Kumarakapay, Venezuela, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/William Urdaneta/File Photo NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Perez, 35, a community leader in Kumarakapay, did not identify any specific policemen or soldiers involved in his detention. Details of his account were confirmed to Reuters by three other detained Pemon tribesmen and a representative of civil rights group Penal Forum, who also said they were unable to identify the specific individuals or military units involved.

Noguera, the Bolivar state governor, denied the detained men were beaten in custody.

Reuters was unable to determine why the National Guard used police vehicles to transport detainees to the army base, nor why they detained Montoya – who was stripped of his post in a resolution published days later in the Official Gazette. The resolution did not say the reasons for his dismissal.

Reuters was unable to obtain comment from Montoya or determine his whereabouts.

A regional military command center operating in Bolivar state and the interior ministry, which oversees the National Police, did not respond to requests for comment.

(Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in Pacaraima, Brazil; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Edward Tobin)

‘Jayme is the hero’ sheriff says of Wisconsin girl who escaped captor

A U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) missing person poster shows Jayme Closs, a 13-year-old Wisconsin girl, missing since her parents were discovered fatally shot three months ago, has been located in Gordon, Wisconsin, U.S. as seen in this poster provided January 11, 2019. FBI/Handout via Reuters

By Gabriella Borter and Joseph Ax

(Reuters) – A 13-year-old girl’s escape from a rural home where she was held captive for three months by a Wisconsin man charged with murdering her parents helped break the case and she should be treated as a hero, the local sheriff said on Friday.

Jayme Closs is with her aunt after her rescue on Thursday and has been reunited with the rest of her family and her dog, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald told reporters.

Thousands of volunteers and hundreds of law enforcement officers had searched the small town of Barron after Closs’ parents were found shot dead in their home in October, their front door blown open with a shotgun, their daughter gone.

Closs was targeted by suspected kidnapper Jake Patterson, 21, who carefully planned her parents’ murder, even shaving his head to avoid leaving forensic evidence at the crime scene, Fitzgerald told reporters.

“Jayme was the target,” said Fitzgerald. “The suspect had specific intentions to kidnap Jayme and went to great lengths to prepare to take her.”

Relying on what Fitzgerald called “the will of a kid to survive,” a disheveled Closs escaped the house in the tiny town of Gordon where she had been held captive, about 60 miles (100 km) north of her home in Barron. Her captor was not at home when she managed to flee, Fitzgerald said. She was found by a woman walking her dog on Thursday afternoon.

“Jayme is the hero in this case. She’s the one who helped us break this case,” Fitzgerald told reporters.

Closs spoke to investigators on Friday after spending a night in the hospital for evaluation. Authorities did not offer any details about the conditions of her captivity or how she had managed to escape.

‘LOOKING FOR HER’

Less than 15 minutes after Closs’ rescue, Patterson was taken into custody after police pulled him over, based on Closs’ description of his vehicle.

“The suspect was out looking for her when law enforcement made contact with him,” Fitzgerald told a news conference, adding police were not seeking any other suspects in the case at this time.

Police are now trying to work out why Patterson targeted Closs.

“We don’t believe there was a social media connection and are determining how he became aware of Jayme,” Fitzgerald said. “Nothing, in this case, shows the suspect knew anyone at the Closs home, or at any time had contact with anyone in the Closs family.”

Patterson, an unemployed resident of Gordon, was charged on Friday with kidnapping and with murdering James and Denise Closs with a shotgun. Their bodies were discovered on Oct. 15.

He was being held in the Barron County jail, and it was not yet clear whether he had a lawyer. He faces an initial court hearing on Monday.

Authorities have released few details about Patterson, who has no previous criminal record in Wisconsin.

Fitzgerald, the Barron County Sheriff, said Patterson grew up in Gordon and attended high school in the area.

The president of the Jennie-O Turkey store in Barron, where James and Denise Closs had worked for decades, said Patterson had been an employee there for a single day three years ago. He quit the next day, saying he was moving, Steve Lykken said.

“We are still mourning the loss of longtime Jennie-O family members Jim and Denise, but our entire team is celebrating with the community, and the world, that Jayme has been found,” Lykken said.

The superintendent of the local school district, Jean Serum, described Patterson as a nice kid and member of his high school’s quiz bowl team. He graduated in 2015.

INNER STRENGTH

About 350 people under the age of 21 are kidnapped by strangers in the United States each year, according to FBI data.

Those that survive months in captivity need inner strength and a great deal of luck, according to survivors and experts who have worked with such victims.

Elizabeth Smart, who was held captive for nine months as a teenager after her 2002 abduction in Utah, posted a photo of Closs on Instagram, praising the “miracle” that she had been found.

“No matter what may unfold in her story let’s all try to remember that this young woman has SURVIVED and whatever other details may surface the most important will still remain that she is alive,” Smart wrote.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler)

Putin says Islamic State has seized 700 hostages in Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a signing ceremony following a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia October 17, 2018. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Islamic State (IS) militants had seized nearly 700 hostages in part of Syria controlled by U.S.-backed forces and had executed some of them and promised to kill more.

Speaking in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Putin said the hostages included several U.S. and European nationals, adding that Islamic State was expanding its control in territory on the left bank of the River Euphrates controlled by U.S. and U.S.-backed forces.

Putin did not specify what the militants’ demands were.

“They have issued ultimatums, specific demands and warned that if these ultimatums are not met they will execute 10 people every day. The day before yesterday they executed 10 people,” Putin told the Valdai discussion forum in Sochi.

The TASS news agency reported on Wednesday that IS militants had taken around 700 hostages in Syria’s Deir-al Zor province after attacking a refugee camp in an area controlled by U.S.-backed forces on Oct.13.

TASS said the militants had kidnapped around 130 families and taken them to the city of Hajin.

(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov in Sochi; Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

Taliban reject Afghan ceasefire, kidnap nearly 200 bus passengers

FILE PHOTO: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan July 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Rupam Jain and Jibran Ahmad

KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – The Taliban rejected on Monday an Afghan government offer of a ceasefire and said they would persist with their attacks, militant commanders said, while insurgents ambushed three buses and nearly 200 passengers traveling for a holiday.

Two Taliban commanders said their supreme leader rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s Sunday offer of a three-month ceasefire, beginning with this week’s Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday.

In June, the Taliban observed a government ceasefire over the three-day Eid al-Fitr festival, leading to unprecedented scenes of government soldiers and militants embracing on front lines, and raising hopes for talks.

But one of the Taliban commanders said the June ceasefire had helped U.S. forces, who the Taliban are trying to drive out of the country. Taliban leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada rejected the new offer on the grounds that it too would only help the American-led mission.

“Our leadership feels that they’ll prolong their stay in Afghanistan if we announced a ceasefire now,” a senior Taliban commander, who declined to be identified, said by telephone.

An official in Ghani’s office said the three-month-long ceasefire declared by the government was conditional, and if the Taliban did not respect it, the government would maintain military operations.

The Taliban have launched a wave of attacks in recent weeks, including on the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul. Hundreds of people have been killed in the fighting.

Government officials are trying to secure the release of at least 170 civilians and 20 members of the security forces who were taken hostage by Taliban from three buses in the northern province of Kunduz.

Esmatullah Muradi, a spokesman for the governor of Kunduz, said the kidnapping happened when the buses were traveling through Kunduz from Takhar province.

“The buses were stopped by the Taliban fighters, passengers were forced to step down and they have been taken to an undisclosed location,” Muradi said.

A Taliban commander in neighboring Pakistan said civilian hostages were being divided into small groups to be sent back home. However, members of Afghan security forces had been shifted to the Taliban’s secret jail. “Most probably we would exchange them for our prisoners later,” said the commander.

‘TRAVELING FOR HOLIDAY’

The Taliban confirmed they had captured “three buses packed with passengers”.

“We decided to seize the buses after our intelligence inputs revealed that many men working with Afghan security forces were traveling to Kabul,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said by telephone.

“We are now identifying members of the security forces,” he said, adding that civilians would be released.

Kunduz provincial council member Sayed Assadullah Sadat said people on the buses were traveling to be with family in Kabul for the holiday.

A senior interior ministry official in Kabul said officials in the area were talking to Taliban leaders in Kunduz to get the estimated 190 hostages released. “We’re are trying our level best to secure freedom for all passengers,” the official said.

Separately, Mujahid said the Taliban would release at least 500 prisoners, including members of the security forces, on Monday, a day before Eid celebrations begin.

Sporadic clashes between Taliban fighters and Afghan forces erupted on the outskirts of Ghazni on Monday as aid workers tried to get help into the city, aid agency officials said.

The government has said its forces had secured the city after the Taliban laid siege to it for five days this month.

At least 150 soldiers and 95 civilians were killed and hundreds were injured. Aid agencies officials said their teams had entered the city but clashes in the outskirts prevented them from launching large-scale operations.

(Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel and editing by David Stamp)

New Mexico family believed dead boy’s spirit would lead attacks: prosecutors

Personal articles are shown at the compound in rural New Mexico where 11 children were taken in protective custody after a raid by authorities near Amalia, New Mexico, August 10, 2018. Photo taken August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Hay

By Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – A 3-year-old boy found buried at a New Mexico desert compound died in a ritual to “cast out demonic spirits,” but his extended family believed he would “return as Jesus” to identify “corrupt” targets for them to attack, prosecutors said in court on Monday.

Prosecutors’ account of an exorcism-like ritual, allegations of weapons training for children and references to martyrdom and conspiracy were aimed at persuading a judge to deny bond for the five adults charged with child abuse in the case.

Defense attorney Thomas Clark (R) sits next to his client, defendant Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, defense attorney Marie Legrand Miller (2nd L) and her client Hujrah Wahhaj (L) during a hearing on charges of child abuse in which they were granted bail in Taos County, New Mexico, U.S. August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Hay

Defense attorney Thomas Clark (R) sits next to his client, defendant Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, defense attorney Marie Legrand Miller (2nd L) and her client Hujrah Wahhaj (L) during a hearing on charges of child abuse in which they were granted bail in Taos County, New Mexico, U.S. August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Hay

However, state District Judge Sarah Backus said at the end of the four-hour detention hearing she remained unconvinced that the defendants posed a danger to the community and set bail at $20,000 for each of them.

“The state alleges that there was a big plan afoot,” Backus said in rendering her decision. “But the state hasn’t shown to my satisfaction, in clear and convincing evidence, what that plan was.”

Defense attorneys said prosecutors sought to criminalize their clients for being African-Americans of Muslim faith.

“If these people were white and Christian, nobody would bat an eye over the idea of faith healing, or praying over a body or touching a body and quoting scripture,” defense lawyer Thomas Clark told reporters after the hearing. “But when black Muslims do it, there seems to be something nefarious, something evil.”

Under terms of the judge’s order, four defendants were expected to be placed under house arrest with electronic ankle bracelets to ensure they remain within Taos County for the duration of the case.

The five suspects, who had established a communal living arrangement with their children in the high-desert compound, have been in custody since authorities raided their ramshackle homestead north of Taos 10 days ago.

The two men and three women are all related as siblings or by marriage. Three are the adult children of a prominent New York City Muslim cleric who is himself the biological grandfather of nine of the children involved.

The principal suspect, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 39, has also been charged with abducting his severely ill 3-year-old son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, from the Atlanta home of the boy’s mother in December.

Clark said Ibn Wahhaj would remain in custody due to a fugitive warrant against him in Georgia stemming from the cross-country manhunt that led investigators to the New Mexico compound.

The body of a young boy believed to be his son was found in a tunnel at the site three days after the raid. No charges have been filed in connection with the death.

For now, the thrust of the government’s case remains 11 counts of felony child abuse filed against each of the defendants – Ibn Wahhaj and his wife, Jany Leveille, along with his brother-in-law and sister – Lucas Morton and Subhannah Wahhaj – and a second sister, Hujrah Wahhaj.

The 11 children, ranging from one to 15 years old and described by authorities as starving and ragged when they were found, were placed in protective custody after the Aug. 3 raid.

WEAPONS AND RITUALS

According to prosecutors’ presentation on Monday, some of the children were given weapons training to defend the compound against a possible raid by law enforcement. However, the government said there was more to it than that.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Travis Taylor testified that the 15-year-old son of Ibn Wahhaj recounted one of the adults telling him the spirit of the dead 3-year-old would return “as Jesus” to direct the group in carrying out violent attacks. Taylor said prospective targets would include “the financial system, law enforcement, the education system.”

Prosecutor John Lovelace said the 3-year-old boy died during “a religious ritual” intended to “cast out demonic spirits.”

Abdul-Ghani stopped breathing, lost consciousness and died during a ceremony in which his father put his hand on the boy’s head and recited verses from the Koran, Taylor testified, citing interviews with Ibn Wahhaj’s 15-year-old and 13-year-old sons.

Prosecutors said in court documents last week that all five defendants were giving firearms instruction to the children “in furtherance of a conspiracy to commit school shootings.”

Authorities acknowledged in court on Monday that police had previously encountered Ibn Wahhaj, Leveille and seven of the children in December when they were involved in a traffic accident in Alabama.

Lovelace said police at the time found weapons and ammunition in the vehicle. Authorities let the group go after Ibn Wahhaj explained he was licensed to carry the guns as a private security agent and that he and the others were en route to New Mexico for a camping trip.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos; Writing by Steve Gorman, Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Tom Brown, Michael Perry and Paul Tait)

Off-the-grid dream becomes nightmare in New Mexico compound

Personal articles are shown at the compound in rural New Mexico where 11 children were taken in protective custody after a raid by authorities near Amalia, New Mexico, August 10, 2018. Photo taken August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Hay

By Andrew Hay

AMALIA, N.M. (Reuters) – One of the leading members of a group prosecutors accused of abusing children at a New Mexico compound struggled with his plan to live off the grid after he underestimated a harsh mountain desert climate and settled on the wrong plot of land.

Relatives and neighbors say things began to go downhill for Lucas Morton, 39, shortly after he arrived in this vast alpine valley about 40 miles (64 km) north of Taos in a white moving van last December.

His brother-in-law Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, wanted in Georgia for child abduction, soon joined them together with his wife, sister, and children.

The families set up home on a 10-acre plot of land that was near to one owned by Morton, a carpenter, but which actually belonged to U.S. Army veteran Jason Badger. The vet filed a court complaint but the Morton and Wahhaj families stayed on the land.

With snow and bitter north winds, the families began to suffer. At the suggestion of neighbors, Morton dug a hole and put a camping trailer in it to seek shelter.

A view of the compound in rural New Mexico where 11 children were taken in protective custody after a raid by authorities near Amalia, New Mexico, August 10, 2018. Photo taken August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Hay

A view of the compound in rural New Mexico where 11 children were taken in protective custody after a raid by authorities near Amalia, New Mexico, August 10, 2018. Photo taken August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Hay

Land is cheap in the valley, around $850 an acre, but winter temperatures can drop to -30 Fahrenheit (-34 C). Attempts at communal living in northern New Mexico have struggled or failed, going back to 1970s’ communes.

The adults and 11 children used wood to cook, hauled water from neighbors’ wells and got heat from propane heaters. Their shelters kept blowing away, a neighbor said.

Morton was one of five adults arrested at the compound on Aug. 3 on child abuse charges and accused by prosecutors of giving weapons training to a child to carry out school shootings.

No-one was specifically charged over the school shooting accusation and Defense Attorney Aleksandar Kostich told reporters that prosecutors had provided no evidence of the allegation, which came from a foster parent who is caring for one of the children.

Morton was also charged with harboring a felon, Ibn Wahhaj, who was armed with an AR-15 rifle, five magazines of ammunition, and four handguns when arrested, according to police.

Ibn Wahhaj is accused of abducting his seriously-ill, three-year-old son Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj in December from his mother in Georgia. On Monday a body, believed to be that of the boy was found buried at the compound, police said.

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe first referred to the suspects as “extremist of the Muslim belief,” but declined to elaborate when later asked about it by reporters.

Public defenders representing the five adults, who are in Taos County jail, did not respond to requests for comment.

Personal articles are shown at the compound in rural New Mexico where 11 children were taken in protective custody after a raid by authorities near Amalia, New Mexico, August 10, 2018. Photo taken August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Hay

Personal articles are shown at the compound in rural New Mexico where 11 children were taken in protective custody after a raid by authorities near Amalia, New Mexico, August 10, 2018. Photo taken August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Hay

‘GET OUT OF SOCIETY’

Morton and his 15-year-old nephew Mohammed last November attended a four-week, $2,500 course in Taos on how to build an “earthship” – an eco-house made largely of earth-filled tires.

“All they wanted to do was get out of society, get away, homestead and live a peaceful life by themselves,” said Morton’s father Gerard Jabril Abdulwali, 64.

Inside Morton’s abandoned van at the compound, “I love my family” is written over hearts drawn on the first page of a notebook belonging to “Aisha,” one of his four children.

There are signs the group made friends locally.

A local man gave Morton hundreds of tires to build an earthship home. A neighbor gave him wood to build bunk beds, and another helped them hook up solar panels.

These people said police drones began to circle the area in late May or June. Badger told local media he had earlier informed Georgia police that the abducted boy was at Morton’s home.

In the next months, the home began to look more like a compound. The families stacked tires around it and built what look like defensive walls. A 150-foot tunnel leads to what appear to be escape holes among sagebrush and Chamisa bushes.

“I got the feeling Lucas didn’t want what he was in anymore,” said neighbor Tyler Anderson, 41, a car-body technician, who showed Morton how to wire up solar panels.

Anderson said near daily target shooting at the house stopped once the drones appeared.

The arrests at the compound made one neighbor, who described himself only as “Quincy,” stand at his gate and cry.

He and other locals disputed police reports the Morton and Wahhaj children were found ragged and starving.

“I made sure everyone in that place had shoes and clothes. They weren’t hungry,” said the man.

Morton’s wife Subhannah Wahhaj, 35, regularly went grocery shopping with Quincy’s wife. Their last trip, was on Aug. 2, Quincy said. Police launched the raid the next day.

(Adds name of army veteran in paragraph 4, corrects name to Morton from Morgan in paragraph 5)

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Five charged with child abuse at New Mexico compound due in court; body of child found

Conditions at a compound in rural New Mexico where 11 children were taken into protective custody for their own health and safety after a raid by authorities, are shown in this photo near Amalia, New Mexico, U.S., provided August 6, 2018. Taos County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – Five people charged with felony child abuse were due to make their first court appearance on Wednesday after 11 children were found malnourished inside a ramshackle compound in northern New Mexico.

The defendants include the father of a missing boy whose disappearance led authorities to raid the compound last week. They also include another man and three women presumed to be the mothers of the 11 children, who were taken into protective custody.

On Monday, authorities found a body at the site believed to be the remains of the missing boy, whose abduction from his Georgia home has been reported by his mother in December. His body was discovered on what would have been the missing child’s fourth birthday, the Taos County sheriff said on Tuesday.

Identification of the remains was awaiting an autopsy. Further charges in the case were possible, local prosecutor Donald Gallegos said.

The compound, surrounded by tires and a trench, is located on the outskirts of Amalia, New Mexico, near the Colorado state line, about 50 miles (80 km) north of Taos.

Each of the five adults were charged with 11 counts of felony child abuse, according to the local prosecutor, Donald Gallegos.

The missing boy’s father, who the sheriff said was heavily armed when taken into custody, was identified as Siraj Wahhaj, 39. According to CNN, Wahhaj is himself the son of a prominent Muslim cleric of the same name in New York.

The second man has been alternatively identified by the sheriff as Lucas Morten and Lucan Morton.

The sheriff declined to answer questions about what was going on at the compound, but he said a shooting range had been built at the property.

(Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, editing by Larry King)

‘Horrors that can’t be told’: Afghan women report Islamic State rapes

FILE PHOTO: An Islamic State flag is seen in this picture illustration. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

By Abdul Matin Sahak

SHEBERGHAN, Afghanistan (Reuters) – A mother of three from a remote area of northwestern Afghanistan remembers the day the head of a local Islamic State group came to her village, demanding money he said her husband had promised.

“I told him we didn’t have any money but that if we found any we would send it to him. But he didn’t accept that and said I had to be married to one of his people and leave my husband and go with them,” Zarifa said.

“When I refused, the people he had with him took my children to another room and he took a gun and said if I didn’t go with him he would kill me and take my house. And he did everything he could to me.”

Even by the bloody standards of the Afghan war, Islamic State has gained an unmatched reputation for brutality, routinely beheading opponents or forcing them to sit on explosives.

But while forced marriages and rape have been among the most notable features of Islamic State rule in Iraq and Syria they have been much less widely reported in Afghanistan.

While there have been reports in Nangarhar, the eastern province where Islamic State first appeared in 2014 and in Zabul in the south, deep taboos that can make it impossible for women to report sexual abuse make it hard to know its scale.

The group has a growing presence in Zarifa’s province of Jawzjan, on the border with Turkmenistan, exploiting smuggling routes and attracting both foreign fighters as well as unemployed locals and fighting both U.S.-backed Afghan forces and the Taliban.

For Zarifa, the attack forced her to leave her home in the Darzab district of south Jawzjan and seek shelter in the provincial capital of Sheberghan.

“My husband was a farmer and now I can’t face my husband and my neighbors and so, despite the danger, I left,” she said.

TEN MONTHS OF TERROR

Another woman, Samira, who escaped Darzab and now lives in Sheberghan, said fighters came to her house and took her 14 year-old sister to their commander. Like Zarifa, she did not want to use her full name because of the stigma against victims of sexual violence.

“He didn’t marry her and no one else married her but he raped her and his soldiers forced themselves on her and even the head of the village who is in Daesh forced himself on my sister and raped her,” she said. Daesh is an Arabic term for Islamic State.

“This girl was there with Daesh for 10 months but after 10 months she escaped and now she’s with us. But I can’t tell anyone about this out of shame.”

Stories like those told by Samira and Zarifa have emerged in recent months as thousands have fled Darzab.

“Daesh has committed many horrors in Darzab that can’t be told,” said the Taliban’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid.

“Daesh does not abide by any rules and there is no doubt about the horrors people have been speaking about.”

Islamic State has no known spokesman in Afghanistan. But the accounts were broadly endorsed by government officials who say Islamic State is trying to import an entirely foreign ideology.

Documents captured in Syria in 2015 revealed ways in which Islamic State theologians regulated the use of female captives for sexual purposes.

“It is completely against our culture and traditions,” said Mohammad Radmanish, a defense ministry spokesman, who said that Darzab was not the only area where rapes and sexual slavery by Islamic State had been reported.

“When they came to our area, everyone knew what these Daesh had come for,” said Kamila, a woman from Darzab, who said that three girls were taken from the area where she lived.

“They would bind a girl or woman from a house and take her with them. At first they said that we would have to marry them. But then, when they took them, many men forced themselves on them and raped them.”

(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Nigerian police say eight Boko Haram suspects confess to Chibok abduction

FILE PHOTO: A still image taken from video shows a group of girls, released by Boko Haram jihadists after kidnapping them in 2014 in the north Nigerian town of Chibok, sitting in a hall as they are welcomed by officials in Abuja, Nigeria, May 7, 2017. REUTERS/via Reuters TVREUTERS/ /File Photo

By Ola Lanre and Ahmed Kingimi

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Eight suspected members of Islamist militant group Boko Haram have confessed to involvement in the 2014 abduction of some 270 girls from the town of Chibok, the Nigeria Police Force said on Wednesday.

The mass abduction of girls from their school caused global outrage and drew attention to the militant group which has killed more than 30,000 people since 2009 in an insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.

Abba Kyari, deputy commissioner of police, said 22 suspected members of the militant group were arrested in different locations in the neighboring northeastern states of Yobe and Borno.

“Eight of them, including a commander, have confessed to being involved in the planning and kidnap of Chibok girls,” Kyari said.

“It was an intelligence-led operation. We have been monitoring them for about six months to one year,” said Kyari, who led the team.

Nigerian authorities have convicted this year two alleged Boko Haram members to 15 and 20 years in prison for their purported role in the kidnapping of the Chibok girls.

The convictions are part of mass trials of more than 1,600 suspected members of the insurgency. Rights groups had criticized the court hearings for their secretive nature, with initial trials held behind closed doors.

With presidential elections due in February, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is under pressure to show success in the fight against Boko Haram, a group he had vowed to defeat when campaigning for 2015 elections.

The government and military have repeatedly said since late 2015 that the insurgency has been defeated. Despite that, authorities do not control all of the territory in Nigeria’s northeast, particularly around Lake Chad, and the militants frequently stage deadly, sophisticated attacks on the army and civilians.

Nigerian police are frequently accused of prisoner abuse and malpractice, claims they deny.

Many of the Chibok girls managed to escape in the hours following their abduction or were released in the last few years, including 82 who were released in an exchange deal that included several imprisoned senior members of Boko Haram. But around 100 are still missing and their condition is unknown.

(Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Richard Balmforth)