African refugee women report surge of sex attacks in Egypt

African refugee women report surge of sex attacks in Egypt
By Nadeen Ebrahim and Ulf Laessing

CAIRO (Reuters) – The 17-year-old South Sudanese refugee finally managed to escape after three months as a prisoner in a Cairo apartment where she was repeatedly gang raped, only to realize that she had become pregnant by one of her attackers.

She is one of a growing number of African migrant and refugee women in the Egyptian capital who report abuse, in what rights groups say has become an epidemic of sexual violence that has worsened in recent months.

Reuters met five women from Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia at a community center in Cairo, each of whom said she was a victim of violent sexual assault.

The 17-year old South Sudanese woman said she was snatched by strangers in a poor neighborhood and brought by a taxi to another area, where a man locked her up in an apartment for three months and repeatedly raped her with friends.

“I tried several times to escape,” she said, adding that she finally managed to flee when her captor left a key in the house. She asked not to be identified but agreed to be filmed provided that her face was not visible.

A Sudanese woman who gave her name as Bakhtia said she was assaulted by a stranger on the street in what then became a gang attack.

“He touched me, after which I slapped him on the face,” she said. “Immediately, around four other people (came over), each one grabbing me from a different body part. I tried to defend myself, but how can I defend myself?”

Three other women who spoke to Reuters said they were attacked while cleaning houses as domestic workers. Two were raped and one sexually assaulted. They asked not to be filmed or quoted directly.

The United Nations estimates around 500,000 migrants, half of them refugees, live in Egypt. Many arrived aiming to reach Europe via Israel or by boat to Turkey, routes that have been largely closed by tougher security measures.

Jobs are scarce. With austerity measures having driven up inflation since last year, many have found it more difficult to pay rent. Increasingly they have become homeless or are forced to share rooms with strangers, making them more vulnerable to sexual assault.

Cairo was named most dangerous megacity for women in an international perception poll carried out by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2017.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered a crackdown on sexual harassment after seven men were arrested for attacking women near Cairo’s Tahrir Square during his inauguration celebrations in 2014. Tougher sentences have been imposed for sex crimes.

But rights groups say such measures have done little to deter attacks against African migrants, who often have no recourse to the police or family to protect them.

“From two to three (complaints of abuse) a week they were going to seven a week,” said Laurent De Boeck, head of the International Organization for Migration in Egypt, who blamed the surging cost of renting a room.

“The situation of them not having protection of a house, made them more vulnerable to the situation because they were basically in families in the street.”

Fatma Abdelkader, who works with local aid group Tadamon which runs the community center, said cases of sex abuse had increased in the past six months, with attackers seeming to seek out African women as prey.

“The darker the skin tone, the more susceptible the women are to violence,” she said.

(Reporting by Nadeen Ebrahim and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Peter Graff)

Medic stuns courtroom saying he killed prisoner, not Navy SEAL on trial

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher leaves court after the first day of jury selection at the court-martial trial at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, California , U.S., June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – A Navy SEAL medic testified on Thursday that he was responsible for the death of an Islamic State fighter – not the Navy SEAL defendant undergoing a court-martial for war crimes – describing it as a mercy killing.

Special Operator 1st Class Corey Scott, a SEAL team medic, said under cross-examination by the defense in a courtroom at the San Diego Naval Base that he killed the fighter by asphyxiation after he saw Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher stab the victim with a knife.

Scott said he held his thumb over a breathing tube that had been inserted into the mouth of a fighter, who had a leg wound and collapsed lung following house-to-house fighting in the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2017.

The fighter had been captured by Iraqi forces and dumped on the ground at a base outside Mosul, the prosecution said in its opening statement on Monday.

Prosecutors say Gallagher, 39, who began his 18-year career as a medic, briefly treated the young Islamic State fighter, then pulled out his knife and stabbed him in the neck several times.

Scott, who was called to the stand by the defense, said the fighter was breathing normally after he and Gallagher treated him for wounds suffered in an air strike, but then saw Gallagher stab the young militant once with his knife.

Scott said the fighter survived the stabbing. But Scott said he blocked the young man’s air tube thinking he would eventually be tortured to death by Iraqi forces.

Scott’s testimony under immunity from prosecution appeared to take the prosecutors by surprise and stunned the courtroom, witnesses said.

The judge denied an immediate defense motion to dismiss the case.


The seven-sailor jury at the court-martial must decide whether the fighter’s death was murder as alleged by the prosecution or a mutiny by sailors under Gallagher’s command in Iraq, as the defense contends.

Gallagher could face life in prison if convicted in the trial arising from his 2017 deployment to Mosul, Iraq.

Defense attorney Tim Parlatore said the surprising admission from Scott that he had asphyxiated the wounded fighter showed that the prosecution never asked about the cause of death and the Navy Criminal Investigation service had gone into the case with minds made up.

“From the moment NCIS got involved, they ignored everything that didn’t fit their case,” Parlatore said. “What we learned today is Chief Gallagher is not guilty of murder.”

Gallagher’ wife, Andrea, told reporters after Thursday’s court session ended: “We’ve been patiently waiting for the truth to come out. It’s been lies, half-truths and cover ups till now.”

Prosecutors were not available for comment.

Gallagher is also charged with attempted murder in the wounding of two civilians – a schoolgirl and an elderly man – shot from a sniper’s perch in Iraq.

He maintains fellow SEAL team members in his platoon, who turned him in and are testifying against him under grants of immunity, are disgruntled subordinates who fabricated allegations to force him from command.

The court-martial has drawn national attention – including that of President Donald Trump who said last month that he is considering pardons for a number of military service members accused of war crimes, and Gallagher’s case was believed to be one of those under review.

Gallagher, a career Navy officer, was on his eighth deployment, this time to Iraq where SEALs were training Iraqi military as they pushed Islamic State fighters out of Mosul in a fight that went block by block through the war-ravaged city.

Iraqi forces came across the Islamic State fighter after he had been shot in the leg and was struggling to breathe during the fighting in Mosul. They tied him to the hood of a Humvee before driving two hours to their operating base, where he was placed on the ground and died 20 minutes later.

(Reporting by Marty Graham; writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. student held in North Korea died of oxygen starved brain: coroner

FILE PHOTO: U.S. student Otto Warmbier speaks at a news conference in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 29, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA/File Photo

By Suzannah Gonzales

(Reuters) – An American student who had been imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months died from lack of oxygen and blood to the brain, an Ohio coroner said on Wednesday.

Otto Warmbier’s death on June 19 was due to an unknown injury that occurred more than a year before his death, Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco said at a news conference.

“We don’t know what happened to him and that’s the bottom line,” Sammarco said.

Warmbier’s parents could not be reached for comment on the coroner’s report.

The University of Virginia student was held by North Korea from January 2016 until his release on June 15. Warmbier, 22, was returned to the United States in a coma.

The coroner and a Sept. 11 report by her office cited complications of chronic deficiency of oxygen and blood supply to the brain in Warmbier’s death. Only an external examination of the body rather than a full autopsy was conducted at the request of Warmbier’s family.

North Korea had blamed botulism and the ingestion of a sleeping pill for Otto Warmbier’s problems and dismissed torture claims.

Warmbier died days after arriving back in the United States.

The native of Wyoming, Ohio, had been arrested at the airport in Pyongyang as he prepared to leave the reclusive communist country. He had been traveling with a tour group.

Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to take from his hotel an item bearing a propaganda slogan, North Korea’s state media reported.

Saying his son had been tortured, Fred Warmbier told Fox News in an interview on Tuesday, “As we looked at him and tried to comfort him, it looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth.”

“Great interview on @foxandfriends with the parents of Otto Warmbier: 1994 – 2017. Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea,” President Donald Trump said on Twitter following the interview’s broadcast.

In response to a question at the news conference, the coroner said there was no evidence of trauma to Warmbier’s teeth nor was there evidence of broken bones.

The coroner’s report said that Warmbier’s body had multiple scars varying in size, including a large irregular one measuring 4.3 by 1.6 inches on the right foot.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Canadian pastor escaped execution due to foreign citizenship

Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim speaks at the Light Presbyterian Church in Mississauga.

TORONTO (Reuters) – A Canadian pastor whom North Korea released this month after two years of imprisonment escaped execution and torture during his captivity because of his nationality, he told CBC News in his first interview since his return.

Hyeon Soo Lim, the pastor from Toronto, said in an interview broadcast on Saturday that he was never harmed and that he would not hesitate to go back to North Korea if the country allowed him. A transcript of the interview was posted on the Canadian public broadcaster’s website.

“If I’m just Korean, maybe they kill me,” Lim said. “I’m Canadian so they cannot, because they cannot kill the foreigners.”

Lim, formerly the senior pastor at one of Canada’s largest churches, had disappeared on a mission to North Korea in early 2015. He was sentenced to hard labor for life in December 2015 on charges of attempting to overthrow the Pyongyang regime.

He said North Korea treated him well despite forcing him to dig holes and break coal by hand all day in a labor camp.

Lim told CBC News that he was “coached and coerced” into confessing that he traveled under the guise of humanitarian work as part of a “subversive plot” to overthrow the government and set up a religious state.

North Korea let him go on humanitarian grounds. The announcement came during heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, although authorities have not said there was any connection between his release and efforts to defuse the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program.

Lim said he felt no anger at the Kim Jong Un regime for sentencing him to prison.

“No, I thanked North Korea,” he said. “I forgive them.”


(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)


Iran denies appeal of jailed Princeton student: university

Xiyue Wang, a naturalized American citizen from China, arrested in Iran last August while researching Persian history for his doctoral thesis at Princeton University, is shown with his wife and son in this family photo released in Princeton, New Jersey, U.S. on July 18, 2017. Courtesy Wang Family photo via Princeton University/Handout via REUTERS

By Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iranian authorities have denied the appeal of a Princeton University student who had been convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison, the university and his wife said on Thursday.

Xiyue Wang, a history doctoral student and U.S. citizen who was conducting dissertation research in Iran in 2016 when he was detained by Iranian authorities, was accused by Iran of “spying under the cover of research,” a claim his family and university deny.

“Iranian authorities have denied Xiyue Wang’s appeal of his conviction and 10-year prison sentence for espionage that he did not attempt or commit,” Princeton University said in a statement. “We are distressed that his appeal was denied, and that he remains unjustly imprisoned.”

It was not immediately clear when exactly Wang’s appeal was denied. News of his detention in Iran and his 10-year sentence first came in mid-July.

“I am devastated that my husband’s appeal has been denied, and that he continues to be unjustly imprisoned in Iran on groundless accusations of espionage and collaboration with a hostile government against the Iranian state,” Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, said in a statement on Princeton’s website. “Our young son and I have not seen Xiyue in more than a year, and we miss him very much.”

Iran had said Wang was an American spy.

Qu said she worries about Wang’s health and well-being while he is in prison.

“We hope the Iranian officials can release him immediately so he can resume his studies at home and so that our family will be together again,” she said.

A spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A State Department official declined to offer specific information on Wang’s case, citing privacy concerns.

“We call for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran so they can return to their families,” the official said.

President Donald Trump has taken a hard line against Iran and his administration has vowed to counter what it sees as Iran’s destabilizing policies in the Middle East.

Last month, the White House said Trump “is prepared to impose new and serious consequences on Iran unless all unjustly imprisoned American citizens are released and returned,” though it did not specify what those consequences might be.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

Exclusive: Jailed Islamic State suspects recall path to jihad in Iraq

Former bakery worker Walid Ismail speaks during an interview with Reuters in a Kurdish security compound in the city of Erbil, Iraq

By Michael Georgy

ERBIL (Reuters) – When Kurdish forces began firing rockets at a suspected Islamic State hideout in northern Iraq, one of those inside, former bakery worker Walid Ismail, said he tried to persuade the others to surrender.

Some wanted to hold hand grenades to their throats and pull the pins. In the end, a Tunisian militant among them detonated a suicide bomb, hoping to wipe out their attackers.

Instead he killed five of the group and injured the rest. Ismail said the others were then killed by the Kurds and he only made it out by shouting that he had no bombs.

An online video shows him looking terrified as he emerges from the house in the town of Bashiqa near Mosul with an injured hand, to be arrested by Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

Today, the 20-year-old sits with his ankles shackled in a security compound in the city of Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region, which is fighting alongside Baghdad to drive Islamic State from its stronghold in Mosul and nearby towns.

Islamic State suspects are rarely allowed to speak to media, but the Kurdistan Regional Security Council allowed Reuters to interview Ismail and another prisoner in the presence of an official.

They described how Islamic State transformed them from ordinary Mosul citizens into jihadists through promises and threats and said unjust treatment of their Sunni community by the Shi’ite-led government and armed forces played a major role.

Their accounts, which could not be verified, show how vital it will be to manage sectarian tensions after any victory over Islamic State to avoid a repeat of what has been the second wave of Sunni militants since Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003.

Ismail said Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had wide appeal when he walked into a Mosul mosque in broad daylight two years ago, and declared large parts of Iraq and Syria a caliphate, six years after al Qaeda was driven underground.

“I believed him,” he said, soft-spoken and wearing a gray track suit. “We loved them because they relieved us of the oppression of the Shi’ites.”


Like other members of Iraq’s Sunni minority, Ismail alleged many innocent Sunnis had been branded terrorists by the army, which put up little resistance when about 800 Islamic State fighters swept into northern Iraq in pickup trucks in 2014.

“They said ‘whoever goes to the mosque is safe’,” They said ‘we are your Muslim Brothers. We aim to rid you of the Shi’ites and no one will oppress you’,” said Ismail.

“We will give you food and money. Whatever you want.”

In a separate interview, another prisoner suspected of fighting for Islamic State, Hazem Saleh, seethed when he recalled how the Iraqi army had treated his three brothers in the months before Islamic State appeared on the scene.

“They were laborers. They detained them for about a month and a half. They beat them. They hung them upside down. They dislocated their shoulders,” said the former Mosul blacksmith.

The Iraqi military and government, now under new leadership, deny such allegations and say they only went after terrorists.

Ismail’s account of the Tunisian’s role tallies with what Kurdish and Iraqi officials say is the tendency of foreign fighters to fully embrace Islamic State’s ruthless tactics and hardline ideology viewing opponents as infidels deserving death.


Some of the Iraqis, on the other hand, are described as criminal gangs which make money through kidnappings for ransom. Others sign up for practical reasons.

Ismail said he was struggling to support six younger siblings when Islamic State disabled the bakery that employed him by cutting off gas supplies, leaving him with few options.

“Daesh gave me 500,000 dinars ($400) per month to hold a machine gun and stand guard on a street,” he said, using a derogatory Arabic acronym to describe Islamic State.

Like Ismail, Saleh said Islamic State applied financial pressure, forcing his shop to pay heavy taxes and then offering a handsome salary to entice him to take up the cause.

“I have seven children, the youngest is two. They need to live,” he said. “There was a lack of work and poverty so most people joined because of that.”

For him, there was something else, he said. “They threatened to make my 14-year-old son wage holy war in order to pressure me … So I said goodbye to my family and left.”

Initiation was simple. Ismail was handed a uniform — an outfit similar to ones worn by the Taliban in Afghanistan — and told to watch for any suspicious activities.

He said Islamic State was highly secretive and obsessed with protecting its emirs, or leaders, especially from capture or air strikes. “We did not know who the leader of our army was. They would never allow us near strategic areas,” he said.

There did not seem to be any merit system. “They would just come along and say ‘you are an emir and you won’t be.”

He said eventually he became disillusioned but did not dare criticize. That would mean jail, or maybe far worse.

“You can’t speak out,” he said, citing a time when fighters caught his father violating an Islamic State ban on smoking and warned him that next time he would be whipped.

Saleh, who also surrendered in Bashiqa, appeared for the interview in military fatigues and with a hood over his head initially.

He said he inspected vehicles at Islamic State checkpoints, where any Iraqi soldiers or Kurdish fighters were arrested and anyone not living in the area was viewed with suspicion.

Later he said he worked preparing rice, meat and lentil meals for the fighters, who had one cook for each group of 12.

He said he had received 25 days of four-hourly training on how to handle an AK-47 assault rifle, but did not fight for Islamic State or condone violence.

Ismail, reflecting on his decision to join the group, was at a loss for words, and close to tears. He also went out of his way to praise his Kurdish captors, as the official looked on.

He said he lost touch with his family as he moved from Mosul to the town of Bashiqa, where he ended up in encircled by Kurds in that house, waiting for Islamic State emirs to deliver on promises to send reinforcements that never came.

The two men now face an uncertain future. With the battle for Mosul still going on, the security compound is home for people the Kurds in charge of the area consider a major threat.

If sufficient evidence is gathered, the men are likely to face trial.

Asked what he would like to tell his relatives, Ismail said: “Please be patient. If God is willing I will return.”

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)