Judge orders mass trial as Italy takes on ‘Ndrangheta mobsters

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) – A judge on Thursday indicted 444 suspected members of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia on an array of charges, including murder, attempted murder, extortion, money laundering and drug trafficking, a judicial source said.

The trial of 355 of the defendants will start on Jan. 13 and will be one of the largest cases to target organized crime in Italy since the so-called maxiprocesso that severely weakened Sicily’s more storied Cosa Nostra mafia group in the 1980s.

A further 89 suspects agreed to a quickfire trial in the same case, which will start on Jan. 27, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, who had a copy of the court indictments. Those who accept such shorter hearings get reduced sentences if found guilty.

The ‘Ndrangheta is based in the southern region of Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, and has surpassed Cosa Nostra to become the most powerful mafia group in the country – and one of the largest crime gangs in the world.

Anticipating Thursday’s ruling, a fortified courthouse has been built in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme, large enough to house the defendants, lawyers, prosecutors and judges.

The case hit the headlines a year ago when police arrested 334 people, including lawyers, accountants, public officials and court clerks, in one of the largest anti-mob operations ever seen in Italy.

“Obviously mafias change and evolve along with the society around them and they get to look increasingly like the rest of us. Mafiosi are not Martians, they live among us,” Nicola Gratteri, the lead prosecutor on the case, said this week.

“Mafiosi prefer corrupting people rather than killing them, because shootings draw unwelcome attention,” he added.

The last time Italy tried hundreds of alleged mafiosi simultaneously was in 1986 in Palermo in a case which represented a turning point in the fight against Cosa Nostra, marking the beginning of the group’s sharp decline.

The Calabrian trial involves a high number of white-collared workers and does not target the top hierarchies of the ‘Ndrangheta clans in the way the Palermo case did.

Gratteri told reporters that the group had spread far from its remote southern bastion and was present in every region of the country as well as in parts of Europe and north America.

He said it had grown easier for mobsters to infiltrate local administrations and win lucrative contracts or siphon off funds.

“There has been a sharp fall in ethics and morals (in society) in recent years … which has made it easier to corrupt public officials. This doesn’t just involve Italy. It involves the Western world,” he said.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by Barbara Lewis)

Man admits killing three in UK stabbing spree: BBC

LONDON (Reuters) – A man has admitted killing three people during a stabbing spree in the southern English town of Reading in June, the BBC reported on Wednesday, an attack police declared a terrorism incident.

Khairi Saadallah, 26, was accused of murdering the men and stabbing three others with a five-inch knife during the attack in a park in the town on the evening of June 20.

The BBC said Saadallah, who a security source told Reuters at the time of the incident was a Libyan national, had admitted murder and attempted murder at a hearing at London’s Old Bailey Central Criminal Court.

However, while the prosecution said the attack was a pre-meditated terrorism attack, his defense team did not accept that and said his mental health needed to be taken into account, the BBC reported.

Saadallah had targeted a group of seven friends, stabbing three fatally – James Furlong, 36, and David Wails, 49, from Britain and U.S. national Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39.

Another of the group required 28 stitches to a head wound. Two other men who were sitting with friends nearby were also stabbed, one in the back while the other suffered a cut to his cheek.

An off-duty police officer who was at the scene followed the attacker from the park and he was arrested nearby.

Earlier this month, the terrorism threat level in Britain was raised to “severe,” meaning an attack is seen as highly likely, after recent incidents in France and Austria, although the government said there was no specific threat.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)

Texas police officer charged in killing of Black man

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – A white police officer in Texas has been charged with murder following the fatal shooting of a 31-year-old Black man, Jonathan Price, a state law enforcement agency said.

The police officer was responding to a disturbance call on Oct. 3 when he sought to detain Price, who “resisted in a non-threatening posture and began walking away,” according to a statement from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Shaun Lucas of the Wolfe City Police Department first deployed his Taser before shooting Price with his service weapon, the statement said. Price was transported to the hospital, where he later died.

“The preliminary investigation indicates that the actions of Officer Lucas were not objectively reasonable,” the statement said, adding that the Texas Rangers have charged Lucas with murder.

The incident raised the possibility that Wolfe, a city of 1,500 people in North Texas, would become the latest flashpoint in a national uprising over racism and police brutality that was set off by the death of George Floyd on May 25.

“Everyone in this community will echo that this shouldn’t have happened to Jonathan, because of the character that he had,” civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing the Price family, told a news conference on Monday. “However, this shouldn’t happen to anybody and it happens far too often to unarmed Black men, particularly in North Texas.”

Lucas, who was arrested and jailed on $1 million bond, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Wolfe City Police Department and Hunt County district attorney’s office, which are both helping with the investigation into the shooting, did not respond to requests for comment.

Spain sentences Salvadoran ex-officer to 133 years in jail over priests’ massacre

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s High Court sentenced a former army colonel from El Salvador on Friday to 133 years in prison for the murder of five Spanish Jesuit priests in 1989 during the Central American country’s civil war.

Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, 77, was also found responsible by the judges for the murders of the priests’ housekeeper and her 15-year-old daughter, as well as a local Jesuit priest. The court could not convict him of these crimes because his extradition to Spain did not cover these cases.

The massacre was one of the most notorious acts of a decade-long civil war during which 75,000 people were killed and 8,000 went missing.

The judges said they found Montano Morales guilty of five counts of “murder of terrorist nature,” adding that the killings were committed by the state apparatus, making them what “is commonly known as terrorism implemented by the state”.

They added that the total maximum prison term is 30 years.

Montano Morales has been in custody since 2011 when he was arrested in the United States on immigration fraud charges. He was deported to Spain in 2017.

The Spanish government has indicted 20 former Salvadoran army officers for the killings of the priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. One of the priests, Father Ignacio Ellacuria, was a prominent critic of the U.S.-backed right-wing government.

The massacre occurred on Nov. 16, 1989, when a group of soldiers from the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion entered the campus of the Central American University where Ellacuria was rector.

Ellacuria had advocated a negotiated settlement to the military-led junta government’s war against the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). International revulsion at the murders of the priests helped to push through such a solution, with the war ending in 1992.

(Reporting by Nathan Allen and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Frances Kerry)

FBI says it has evidence linking anti-feminist lawyer to another murder

(Reuters) – The FBI said on Wednesday it had evidence linking a deceased, self-described anti-feminist lawyer suspected of killing the son of New Jersey federal judge Esther Salas to a murder earlier this month in California.

The FBI, in an emailed statement, said it was working with the sheriff’s office in San Bernardino, California, and had evidence tying the lawyer, Roy Den Hollander, to the July 11 killing of Marc Angelucci, a former associate of Hollander in the men’s rights movement.

Hollander, who was found dead on Monday in an apparent suicide, was the sole suspect in the Sunday attack at Salas’ home. The attack killed the 20-year-old son of Salas, a judge on the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, and wounded her husband.

The FBI says it now believes Hollander was involved in the death of Angelucci, who was vice president of the National Coalition for Men (NCFM). Angelucci was found July 11 with apparent gunshot wounds in Cedarpines Park, California, which is about 75 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

NCFM President Harry Crouch told Reuters that Hollander and Angelucci had had a falling out several years ago around the time Hollander was dismissed from the organization.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler)

New charges against Minneapolis policemen as protests continue

By Brendan O’Brien

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Prosecutors on Wednesday leveled new criminal charges against four Minneapolis policemen implicated in the death of a black man pinned by his neck to the street during an arrest that sparked more than a week of nationwide protest and civil strife.

The added murder charge filed against one officer already in custody and the arrest of three more accused of playing a role in the killing of George Floyd, 46, came as several nights of escalating unrest gave way to mostly peaceful protests.

Thousands of demonstrators massed near the White House lit up their cellphone flashlights and sang along to the 1970s soul tune “Lean on Me,” before resuming a chorus of anti-police chants.

In a further display of self-policing seen in Washington and elsewhere this week, a number of protesters urge some of their more provocative cohorts to stop taunting police and leave.

Several major cities scaled back or lifted curfews imposed for the past few days. But not all was calm.

In New York City’s Brooklyn borough, police in riot gear charged into a crowd of about 1,000 protesters defying a local curfew, albeit peacefully, near an outdoor plaza, and clubbed demonstrators and journalists as they scurried for cover in a downpour of heavy rain.

The confrontation in Brooklyn seemed to be the biggest exception to a calmer night, hours after the new charges in Minneapolis.

Thousands of people sit on the street next to Seattle City Hall during a protest calling for a 50% defunding of the Seattle Police Department and investment in community-based solutions in Seattle, Washington, U.S. June 3, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

MORE CHARGES

Derek Chauvin, jailed Friday on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter, was newly charged with second-degree murder.

The added charge, defined under Minnesota law as unintentionally causing another person’s death in the commission of a felony offense, can carry a sentence of up to 40 years, 15 years longer than the maximum sentence for third-degree murder.

Chauvin, 44, was the white officer seen in widely circulated video footage kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd gasped for air and repeatedly groaned, “Please, I can’t breathe.”

Floyd, whom police suspected of trying to pass a counterfeit bill to pay for cigarettes, was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after the May 25 encounter.

Three fellow officers fired from the Minneapolis police department along with Chauvin the next day were charged on Wednesday – each with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter.

The three men – Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – have also been taken into custody. Aiding and abetting second-degree murder carries the same maximum punishment as the underlying offense – 40 years in prison.

Floyd’s death has become the latest flashpoint for long-simmering rage over police brutality against African Americans, propelling the issue of racial justice to the top of the political agenda five months before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3.

The spectacle of city streets flooded with angry though mostly peaceful protesters – punctuated by scenes of arson, looting and clashes with police – have fueled a sense of crisis.

The upheavals have flared following weeks of social lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced millions of Americans out of work and disproportionately affected minorities.

TRIAL MONTHS AWAY

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a black former U.S. congressman, has requested bail of $1 million for each of the four former officers charged in the Floyd case.

“This is a significant step forward on the road to justice, and we are gratified that this important action was brought before George Floyd’s body was laid to rest,” Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Floyd family, said in a statement.

Ellison told a news conference winning a conviction “will be hard,” noting that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, whose office filed the original charges against Chauvin, is the only prosecutor in the state to have successfully convicted a police officer for murder.

Fully investigating the case “is going to take months,” he said.

Protests erupted in Minneapolis the night after Floyd’s death and quickly spread to dozens of cities large and small across the United States.

In many cities, demonstrators defying nighttime curfews have been met by police in riot gear firing tear gas, mace and rubber bullets to disperse unruly crowds. National Guard troops have been activated in several states to assist local law enforcement.

Authorities and some protest organizers have blamed much of the lawlessness on outside agitators and criminal elements.

DEPLOYING TROOPS

Republican President Donald Trump has said justice must be done in Floyd’s case but also touted a hard line against violent protests, threatening to use the military to restore order.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he did not back deploying troops to patrol the country.

“The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now,” he told a news briefing.

At the south Minneapolis street corner where Floyd was arrested, a crowd of hundreds stood in a vigil on Wednesday, some with their fists in the air, some weeping.

“These are baby steps,” Kenneth Williams, 54, a black U.S. Navy veteran who lives nearby, said of the newly announced criminal charges in the case. “Somebody should have stepped up and done something at the scene that day.”

“Cops have been getting away with this for years, but now we have cameras,” he added.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien, Brendan McDermid, Nathan Layne, Maria Caspani, Rich McKay, Jonathan Allen, Sharon Bernstein, Dan Whitcomb, Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey, Phil Stewart, Daphne Psaledakis, Andy Sullivan and Idrees Ali; Writing by Paul Simao and Steve Gorman; Editing by Howard Goller, Bill Tarrant, Cynthia Osterman and Lincoln Feast.)

Three white men to face Georgia judge in death of black jogger

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Three white men charged with the murder of an unarmed black man in Georgia will face a judge Thursday morning in a case that caused a national outcry after cellphone video of the shooting was leaked on social media.

Protests are expected outside the courthouse after more than a week of demonstrations across the United States over the death of George Floyd, a black American who was pinned down to the ground by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

In the case in Georgia, the three men were not charged until more than two months after Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was shot dead while running on Feb. 23.

State police stepped in to investigate after the video was widely seen and Glynn County police took no action, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) pressed charges.

A former police officer is accused of involvement in Arbery’s death in the coastal community of Brunswick, and state officials have called in the National Guard to assist with the crowds expected outside the courthouse.

Glynn County Magistrate Judge Wallace Harrell who will review whether or not the GBI had probable cause to bring the charges.

Former police officer Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, are charged with murder and aggravated assault.

William “Roddie” Bryan, a neighbor of the McMichaels who took the cellphone video, was charged with felony murder and attempt to illegally detain and confine.

Police say Gregory McMichael saw Arbery running in his neighborhood just outside Brunswick and believed he looked like a burglary suspect. The elder McMichael called his son and the two armed themselves and gave chase in a pickup truck, police said.

Bryan’s video footage appears to show the McMichaels confronting Arbery before Arbery was shot with a shotgun.

The U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating the case as a possible federal hate crime. The GBI is investigating the police department and two local district attorneys offices over the handling of the case.

If convicted, the three men face life in prison or the death penalty.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in George Floyd case

By Carlos Barria

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – The white Minneapolis policeman who pinned an unarmed black man with a knee to the throat before the man died was arrested and charged with murder, a prosecutor said on Friday, after three nights of violent protests rocked the Midwestern city.

Derek Chauvin, the officer seen on a bystander’s cellphone video kneeling on George Floyd’s neck on Monday before the 46-year-old man died, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told a news briefing.

“He is in custody and has been charged with murder,” Freeman said of Chauvin. “We have evidence, we have the citizen’s camera’s video, the horrible, horrific, terrible thing we have all seen over and over again, we have the officer’s body-worn camera, we have statements from some witnesses.”

The cellphone footage showed Floyd repeatedly moaning and gasping while he pleaded to Chauvin, kneeling on his neck, “Please, I can’t breathe.” After several minutes, Floyd gradually grows quiet and ceases to move.

Chauvin and three fellow officers at the scene were fired on Tuesday from the Minneapolis Police Department. The city identified the other officers as Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng.

Freeman said the investigation into Chauvin – who, if convicted, faces up to 25 years in prison on the murder charge – was ongoing and that he anticipated charges against the other officers. He said it was appropriate to charge “the most dangerous perpetrator” first.

Earlier on Friday, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz called for an end to the violent protests, which have included arson, looting and the burning down of a police precinct, while promising a reckoning with the racial inequities behind the unrest.

“None of us can live in a society where roving bands go unchecked and do what they want to, ruin property,” Walz said. “We have to get back to that point of what caused this all to happen and start working on that.”

The protests, which threatened to stretch into a fourth night, have been driven in part by a lack of arrests in the case.

Responding to a reporter’s question about why the officers were not arrested sooner, Freeman stressed that charges in similar cases would typically take nine months to a year.

“This is by far the fastest we’ve ever charged a police officer,” said Freeman. “We entrust our police officers to use a certain amount of force to do their job, to protect us. They commit a criminal act if they use that force unreasonably.”

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Paul Simao and Jonathan Oatis)

A day without women: strikes in Mexico and Argentina follow huge rallies

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Millions of women in Mexico and Argentina will stay away from offices, school and government offices on Monday, stepping up historic protests against gender violence that saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets over the weekend.

The one-day action dubbed “a day without us” is intended to show what life would be like if women vanished from society. In Mexico, the strike stems from a surge in disappearances of women and femicides, or gender-motivated killings of women.

FILE PHOTO: Women protest against gender violence and femicides at Angel de la Independencia monument in Mexico City, Mexico, February 22, 2020. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

Femicides in Mexico jumped 137% in the past five years, government statistics show, as gang violence pushed the national murder tally to record heights. Most violent crimes go unsolved.

On Sunday, women took to the streets in unprecedented numbers across Latin America as part of International Women’s Day, demanding abortion rights and action from leaders to stem the violence.

The mostly peaceful protests saw anger boiling over into some outbreaks of violence, such as Molotov cocktails thrown at Mexico’s national palace, after the killing of a 7-year-old and the murder and skinning of a young woman shocked the nation.

The impact of Monday’s strike, in contrast, will stem from the absence of women in businesses, universities and government ministries. Not all women, however, will take part.

“We are tired of being victims, of being abused and mistreated. Enough is enough,” said Alma Delia Díaz, 45, a beautician in the Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec.

Diaz said she supported women making their voice heard, but personally could not miss a day’s work.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said government employees are free to join the walkout. But he has also accused political opponents of seeking to exploit Mexico’s security problems to undermine his administration.

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Russia, Turkey may have committed war crimes in Syria, U.N. says

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Russia killed civilians in air strikes in Syria last year while rebels allied to Turkey carried out murder and pillage in Kurdish areas, U.N. investigators said on Monday – actions it said could amount to war crimes by both Moscow and Ankara.

A report by a U.N. commission found that Russia – the Syrian government’s main ally against rebels and militants – conducted air strikes on a popular market and a camp for displaced people that killed dozens of civilians in July and August.

“In both incidents, the Russian Air Force did not direct the attacks at a specific military objective, amounting to the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas,” the report said.

It also described abuses by rebels allied to Turkey during an assault on Kurdish-held areas, and said that if the rebels were acting under the control of Turkish military forces, those commanders may be liable for war crimes.

Paulo Pinheiro, the commission’s chairman, said it had added names linked to the latest crimes to its confidential list of suspected perpetrators. It has received 200 requests from judicial authorities worldwide for information on crimes committed during Syria’s nine-year war, he told a news briefing.

In the report, which covered the period from July 2019 to February 2020, investigators denounced “deliberate” attacks by the Syrian government and allied forces on protected civilian sites, including hospitals and schools.

“There is a war crime of intentionally terrorizing a population to force it to move. We are seeing that picture emerging very clearly for example in Idlib where, because these places are being bombed, people are having to move out,” said panel member Hanny Megally.

Russian-backed Syrian government forces have thrust deep into Idlib province in the far northwest in a campaign to retake the last country’s significant rebel pocket. The onslaught has forced around one million civilians to flee.

Up to 10 children have died from the cold in the last weeks due to living in the open at the Turkish border, Megally said.

The U.N. report blamed Russia for an air strike in the city of Maarat al-Numan on July 22 when at least 43 civilians were killed. Two residential buildings and 25 shops were destroyed after at least two Russian planes left Hmeimim air base and circled the area, it said.

Weeks later, an attack on the Haas compound for displaced killed at least 20 people, including eight women and six children, and injured 40 others, the report said.

It also called on Turkey to investigate whether it was responsible for an air strike on a civilian convoy near Ras al Ain that killed 11 people last October. Turkey has denied a role in the strike, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said was conducted by Turkish aircraft.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)