US prosecutors on Thursday charged an alleged former Taliban commander with terrorism-related offenses over the killing of American troops in 2008.
Haji Najibullah, 45, is already in US custody, charged with kidnapping an American journalist and two Afghan civilians.
He was arrested and extradited from Ukraine to the United States in October of last year.
On Thursday, prosecutors in New York said they had filed a superseding indictment that added counts of murder to his chargesheet.
Taliban fighters under Najibullah’s command killed three US soldiers and an Afghan interpreter in an attack on their military convoy in June 2008, the Justice Department said.
The assault was made with improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York said.
“As alleged, during one of the most dangerous periods of the conflict in Afghanistan, Haji Najibullah led a vicious band of Taliban insurgents who terrorized part of Afghanistan and attacked US troops,” prosecutor Audrey Strauss said in a statement.
Najibullah is also accused of kidnapping an American journalist and two Afghan nationals and holding them hostage for seven months.
The Justice Department has not given the hostages’ names, but New York Times journalist David Rohde was kidnapped in Afghanistan in November 2008, along with a translator and driver.
According to the Times, which managed to keep the news of his kidnapping secret so as not to endanger him, Rohde managed to escape from his captors in June 2009.
Ten of the 13 counts Najibullah faces carry maximum sentences of life in prison.
American troops withdrew from Afghanistan in August after 20 years of war ended with the Taliban back in power.
Police in Lagos State have released one Kari O’Rourke, a United States citizen arrested and detained over the death of her host in Nigeria.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and O’Rourke’s lawyer, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, confirmed the release of the foreigner in a statement on Thursday.
He noted that his client was released on Wednesday after spending about 44 days in police custody since she was arrested at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos on February 8.
The senior lawyer, who noted that O’Rourke left her late host with his family in good health, decried that she was arrested and detained Kari Ann at the State Criminal Investigation Department in Panti, Yaba, despite the autopsy report which indicated that her host died of heart trauma and cardiac arrest, thus exonerating her of any involvement in his death.
He stated that the foreigner engaged him to challenge her continued detention when all efforts to get her released on bail failed, following which a suit was filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos on March 18.
In the suit, O’Rourke sought declarations against her arrest and detention, an order for her immediate release, and N100 million damages against the police.
Her lawyers later discovered, upon further investigation, that the case file had been forwarded to the Lagos State Ministry of Justice a long time ago and that a legal opinion had been issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions, to the extent that there was no prima facie case worthy of prosecution.
The legal advice dated March 5, 2021, and signed by the DPP, read,
“The medical report attached to the duplicate case file establishes that the cause of the deceased’s death was an acute cardiac failure and hypertensive heart disease…
“The presence of Page B1-B4 at the … hotel at the time of death and their actions on how to go about the incidence aroused suspicions by the deceased’s family which led to the suspects’ arrest. They were arrested by the police upon mere suspicion which no matter how strong can never ground a conviction …
“In the light of the above, this office shall not prosecute the suspects … for the offences of conspiracy to murder and murder … They should, therefore, be discharged and released if still in custody, as there is no case to be established against them from the facts presented in the duplicate case file.”
Upon obtaining the certified copy of the legal advice, O’Rourke’s lawyers insisted on her immediate release, following which she was released on Wednesday.
In his reaction, Adegboruwa appealed to the police to show greater respect for the rights of citizens, saying O’Rourke’s case has shown the level of impunity prevalent within the law enforcement agencies.
He condemned the situation whereby the police did not comply with the valid directive of the Ministry of Justice – the body recognised by law for the prosecution of suspects.
A legal practitioner, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) has asked the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Hakeem Odumosu, to order the immediate release of a detained American lady, Kari Ann R’ouke.
She was said to have been arrested on February 9 and detained indefinitely over the death of her partner.
R’ouke, an American nurse approached the Federal High Court, Lagos, over her ‘unlawful and indefinite detention by the Nigerian Police Force.
But in a statement issued on Saturday, the legal practitioner raised the alarm concerning the worsening health of an American national in police custody.
Adegboruwa said expectations were high that the US citizen would be released from custody on Friday, having fulfilled all her bail conditions and the acceptance of her surety.
“Kari Ann has been in police custody since March 9, 2021, at SCID, Panti, Yaba, where she has lost about 23 pounds and suffered bouts of malaria and dysentery. She has a delicate health condition of severe anaemia, for which she is due for comprehensive medical treatment in America,” the statement partly read.
“On March 19, 2021, responsible sureties visited the SCID in Yaba, to sign all documents for the expected release of Kari Ann, with her lawyers, who all spent hours at the police department till late in the night, when they were later informed to go. Upon the execution and perfection of the bail papers, Kari Ann was told to pack her belongings which she did, only to be told later on to go back into custody.
“It is on this basis that the eminent lawyer has appealed to the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, to use his good offices to direct the immediate release of Kari Ann, so that she can attend to her health urgently.
“Autopsy report into the death has consistently shown that he died of cardiac trauma and heart related conditions and that Kari Ann is not in any way connected with the death or suspected of any foul play in any manner whatsoever.”
The senior lawyer expressed concern that the police authorities were keeping Kari Ann in perpetual custody for well over one month without any charge before any court of law.
He noted this period of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is not safe for any one of Kari Ann’s age with her underlying condition to be kept in police custody for an indefinite period of time.
Adegboruw also urged the police to respect the rule of law and the liberty and freedom of Kari Ann, as she is presumed innocent under the law.
A Lagos State Special Offences Court in Ikeja has heard how an American citizen defrauded a Nigerian businessman of $145,000 (about N52 million) in a Green Card scam.
The businessman, Olukayode Sodimu, testified on Friday as a prosecution witness in the ongoing trial of the American, Marco Ramirez.
He claimed that he got to know the alleged serial conman through a newspaper advertisement.
The American, who was first re-arraigned before Justice Josephine Oyefeso on June 22, 2017, was re-arraigned before Justice Mojisola Dada on amended 12 counts bordering on conspiracy and obtaining under false pretence.
He was docked alongside his companies – USA Now LLC, Eagle Ford Instalodge Group LP, and USA Now Capital Group by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The EFCC accused Ramirez, who faces two separate criminal suits at the Special Offences Court, of defrauding five Lagos-based Nigerians of $1.5 million.
In the first suit, the American was accused of allegedly defrauding two Nigerians—Gabriel Edeoghon and Oludare Talabi of $ 388,838.
In the second suit, he allegedly defrauded three Nigerians — Ambassador Godson Echejue, Abubakar Umar, and Sodimu of $1.2 million.
According to the EFCC, the offences are contrary to and punishable under Sections 1 (3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, No. 14 of 2006.
The defendant, however, pleaded not guilty to the charge.
A Convincing Lecture
At Friday’s sitting, Sodimu while being led in evidence by the EFCC counsel, M. Owede, told the court that he first got to know Ramirez and his company in 2013 through an advertisement in a national newspaper for an Employment-based Fifth Preference (EB-5) American Investment programme.
He said, “The advert in the paper said that USA Now LLC was the regional centre for the EB-5 Investment Programme and that one could invest $500,000 in it.
“It stated that by investing $500,000, the investor and his children under 21-years of age will be issued a U.S. Green Card, which implies permanent residency in the U.S.”
Sodimu also testified that after seeing the advert, he verified the authenticity of the programme and that he found out online that such programme existed and that he attended a seminar which was advertised in the newspapers to be holding in Eko Hotels.
He said that at the seminar, Ramirez gave a lecture and thereafter had a meeting with him.
“The defendant mentioned that a number of Nigerians had benefited from the programme that they had either received Green Card or were about to get one through his offers,” the businessman narrated.
He said further, “He presented Umar who is the second Prosecution Witness (PW 2) in this case as someone who had paid his $ 500,000 and Umar’s process had reached the final stage and he was about to do his medicals.
“I believed him and I chose to participate. I met him several times after that day to verify his claims and make enquiries. He gave me a brochure that had some explanations and stated that he had American government backing for the programme.
“He gave me a pre-qualification questionnaire. I filled it and he took it back to the United States.
“I got an email from a lady he told me was his personal assistant. Based on the responses on the questionnaire, I was given sets of forms and requirements I had to meet.”
Sodimu claimed that he was required to pay $500,000 to a separate account called an investment account and that he was required to pay an additional $45,000 as administrative fees into the defendant’s bank account.
“He said that being an investment, the $500,000 is repayable with interest after five years – I read through the agreement given to me before paying a kobo.
“The agreement made it clear that all the money, including the $45,000, was refundable if the investor was not accepted by the American government,” the witness testified.
Sodimu told the court that in June 2013, he paid the $45,000 administrative fee in five tranches within a week and two months later, he paid $100,000, which was the first instalment of the $500,000 investment fee.
He said, “As at the time the $100,000 was transferred, I had the whole money but in naira. The banking regulation is that one can only register such amount of money from the inflow from the proceeds of export.
“At the time, I could only get $100,000 in tranches and the defendant was putting so much pressure on me.”
Sodimu said that while he was figuring out how he was going to get the balance of the $500,000 investment fee, he found out via the internet that Ramirez and his spouse were under investigation by the FBI in America for fraud.
“When I saw the news report, I was very worried and very concerned. I called Marco and I told him what I saw on the internet. He confirmed it but said it was just a minor problem and it will soon be resolved.
“I took a flight to the U .S. a few days later to find out what was going on and I had a meeting with him and from the discussion, I realised things were far worse than he claimed on the phone.
“I spoke to his lawyer and officials of the Securities and Exchange Commission in Texas and I found out that he was under investigation by the FBI, following a petition by his victims.
“When it became obvious that I could have been duped, I remembered some people I saw during the seminar and I made some phone calls and I was able to identify four people who were in similar or worse situations than mine.”
Sodimu told the court that he and other alleged victims of the American made several fruitless efforts to contact him to refund their money.
When they realised they had been duped, Sodimu said they petitioned the EFCC through the law firm of Festus Keyamo & Co.
He said that in 2015, he and the other victims learnt that Ramirez was still coming to Nigeria to transact businesses.
Sodimu said the American was apprehended by the anti-graft agency during one of his business visits to Nigeria.
“Till now, he has not paid me back the $145,000, neither has he issued me a Green Card,” he said.
Justice Dada adjourned the matter until November 13 for the continuation of trial.
President Donald Trump on Friday said Chinese and American officials were working toward meaningful progress in trade talks, boosting hopes for a detente in the two sides’ damaging trade war.
Trump’s tweet fed a stock rally, with Wall Street erasing the week’s losses as investors bet a partial pact would see the United States postpone next week’s scheduled tariff increases on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese imports.
“Good things are happening at China Trade Talk Meeting. Warmer feelings than in recent past, more like the Old Days,” Trump said on Twitter shortly after officials resumed negotiations for a second day.
“All would like to see something significant happen!”
Trump is due later Friday to meet with Beijing’s top trade envoy Liu He in a sign the two sides expect to make a positive announcement.
With the White House engulfed in turmoil, Trump could do with even a partial win.
He faces an intensifying impeachment probe by Democrats, which polls show is gaining in public acceptance and stinging bipartisan criticism for allowing a Turkish assault on Washington’s Kurdish partners to go forward by pulling American special forces away from the border in northeast Syria.
Since the trade war began last year, however, moments of comity and cheer have more than once been shattered, giving way to jolting deteriorations in relations between the two sides.
In the spring, officials said a deal was more or less at hand, only to have Washington resume tariff increases in May after accusing Beijing of reneging on core commitments already put down in writing.
Overnight, meanwhile, China’s securities regulators set a timetable for removing foreign ownership limits in finance companies in 2020 — helping attract foreign investment as China’s economy slows but also removing constraints on foreign capital.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang told also reporters that China hoped “to promote positive progress” in the talks.
Media reports this week have drawn the contours of a partial deal that, while not addressing Trump’s core grievances about China’s trade practices, would offer something for both sides.
China will continue to increase purchases of US farm exports and pledge to refrain from currency manipulation while Washington will suspend a tariff increase, Bloomberg reported.
Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce, told reporters on Thursday he had spoken with both sides and that an agreement on currency could emerge this week.
Not Just Tariffs
“I think that could lead to a decision by the US administration not to put forward a tariff rate hike on October 15,” he said.
The US Treasury in August branded China a currency manipulator, accusing Beijing of deliberately weakening the RMB to gain unfair trade advantages, making good on a Trump campaign pledge.
Where matters go from there remains to be seen, however.
China has so far balked at Trump’s demands for profound changes in the way Beijing manages its economy, something analysts say could politically undermine the Communist Party.
In an editorial on Friday, the party-owned China Daily said a partial deal “is a more feasible objective and one that would be in the common interests of both sides.”
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has continued to examine ways in which it could exert more pressure on Beijing beyond simply taxing Chinese imports.
Washington accuses China of attempting to dominate global industry through massive state intervention in markets, theft of intellectual property, hacking and subsidies, accusations shared by Europe and Japan.
Larry Kudlow, a top White House economic aide, said this week this could include heightened regulatory scrutiny of Chinese companies operating in the United States.
Elsewhere, Trump has is already raising the temperature for Beijing through non-tariff means.
Just since Monday, Washington has imposed visa restrictions on senior Chinese officials and blacklisted more than two dozen Chinese firms, accusing them of persecuting ethnic Uighur Muslims in China’s western Xinjiang region.
American television star Kim Kardashian, known for her reality shows and marriage to hip-hop artist Kanye West, is studying law and hopes to pass her California bar exams by 2022, the magazine Vogue reported on Wednesday.
The 38-year-old lifestyle mogul, who has 134 million Instagram followers, has been interning at a California law firm since last year. She said she was inspired to study law after successfully petitioning US President Donald Trump last year to pardon Alice Marie Johnson.
Johnson, a 63-year-old great-grandmother, had served nearly 22 years of a life sentence for cocaine trafficking.
A week after meeting with Kardashian, Trump — also a former reality television star — pardoned Johnson in June 2018.
The star of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” said she had been invited on a different occasion to the White House to participate in a working group on pardons and clemency.
“I just felt like I wanted to be able to fight for people who have paid their dues to society,” she told Vogue.
“I just felt like the system could be so different, and I wanted to fight to fix it, and if I knew more, I could do more,” said the mother-of-three whose own father Robert was an attorney who helped defend OJ Simpson in his murder trial.
Admission to law school in the United States usually requires a bachelor’s degree in any discipline. Kardashian never graduated from the college she attended, Pierce, having dropped out before she completed her course.
But some states including California do allow would-be attorneys to intern in a law firm for four years before taking the bar exam.
Kardashian has been apprenticing at a San Francisco law firm since last year and hopes to pass her exams by 2022.
In the meantime, she said she is taking an interest in other cases of inmates calling for the early release from prison.
In southern Florida’s Sunny Isles Beach, Russian tourists Anna and Helen sip coffee with their husbands and newborn babies: a common scene in what has become a prized destination for well-off foreigners looking to secure US citizenship for their children.
Under the shadow of luxury skyscrapers — among them Trump Towers — exists an army of well-dressed women, either pregnant or pushing top-of-the-line strollers. Most are Russian or from former Soviet Union countries.
The weather, white-sand beaches and dazzling turquoise waters are common reasons given for traveling to give birth in this city of 20,000 people, north of Miami.
But one 34-year-old, who gave her name only as Anna, was more direct.
“For the American passport!” she told AFP, smiling. She arrived in the US while expecting now two-month-old Melania.
Both she and compatriot Helen, mother to a three-month-old, said tens of thousands of dollars and months of planning went into their trips.
The attraction is clear. President Donald Trump does not like it, but according to the US constitution, children born on American soil automatically gain citizenship, opening up highly sought-after opportunities to study and work.
And why Sunny Isles specifically?
“Feel home, lot of Russian,” Anna said.
Upon turning 21, baby Melania will also be able to sponsor visas for her parents to come to the US — another policy that has disgruntled Trump.
The trend is big business: Miami Mama, a company in neighboring Hallandale Beach, has been organizing travel packages for Russian mothers since 2009.
Charging between $6,900 and $49,000, they will coordinate everything from interpreters and apartments to medical care and citizenship documents, according to the firm’s website.
And none of this is illegal, according to US immigration laws.
But according to NBC, the FBI raided Miami Mama in 2017, arresting one employee for making false statements in federal documents to obtain passports for children.
Miami Mama — whose logo shows a pregnant woman against the backdrop of an American flag — did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment.
So-called “birth tourism” to the United States isn’t just popular with Russians. Expectant Chinese parents have for years travelled to California, while South Americans — particularly Brazilians — prefer Florida.
A tentative estimate by the Center for Immigration Studies — a conservative group that advocates curbs on immigration — suggested in 2015 that maternity tourism to the United States could account for some 36,000 births each year.
But there is no reliable data on how many US citizens the practice creates.
In 2014, Vera Muzyka, head of a firm helping Russian mothers in Miami, told The Moscow Times that in that city, 40 to 60 babies were being born each month to citizens of Russia or former Soviet Union countries.
Sunny Isles Beach earned itself the nickname “Little Moscow” from around 2010, when Russian beauty salons, supermarkets, restaurants and realtors started to crop up.
Nowadays, you’re more likely to find syrnikis — a type of sweet cheese pancake — than Cuban croquetas, while dried fish has become a staple bar snack.
And while southern Floridians are used to seeing shop signs in English and Spanish, in Sunny Isles it’s English and Russian — with real estate offices, notaries and businesses offering “passport services” the most common around town.
According to a 2017 report by The Daily Beast, many Russian families stay in the luxury Trump Tower condominiums.
But while connections between Trump and the Kremlin have been under investigation for over two years, there is no evidence the president benefits from Russian tourism in Florida.
Suspicious of the press, most of Sunny Isles Beach’s Russians won’t speak to the media and those who do prefer to remain anonymous or give only their first name.
That included Kate, eight months pregnant with her fourth child, who would only tell AFP: “We plan to give birth.”
Entering a specialty Russian supermarket with her husband and children, the 35-year-old added — true to form — that it was the balmy climate that brought them to Florida.
A US citizen was killed Tuesday in an attack by Islamist militants on an upmarket hotel and office complex in Nairobi, a US official said.
“We can confirm that a US citizen was killed in the attack. We offer our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of this individual,” a State Department official said.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined further details, citing respect for the privacy of the person’s family.
An AFP photographer in Nairobi saw the bodies of five victims and a police source said he had seen as many as 14 dead.
Al-Shabaab, the Al-Qaeda-linked Somali group that assaulted a Nairobi shopping mall in 2013, claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack on the DusitD2 compound, which includes a 101-room hotel, spa, restaurant, and offices for local and international companies.
The United States commended Kenyan authorities and said it was providing unspecified assistance in the response.
“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the terrible attack at the Dusit2 Hotel complex in Nairobi,” tweeted Bob Godec, the US ambassador in Nairobi.
“We offer our deepest condolences to all who have been affected by this horrifying violence,” he wrote.
Russia has detained a US citizen in Moscow accused of spying, the FSB security service said on Monday.
It said in a statement that the American was detained on Friday “while carrying out an act of espionage” and that a criminal case had been opened.
The statement identified the American in Russian, using a name that appeared to translate as Paul Whelan.
No other details were immediately available.
The arrest came with Russia embroiled in a number of spy scandals with the West, from the alleged poisoning by Russian agents of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England to the US conviction of Russian Maria Butina for acting as an illegal foreign agent.
The parents of American journalist Austin Tice, who was abducted in Syria more than six years ago, said Tuesday they were encouraged by US efforts and new details about their son’s fate.
Tice was 31 when he disappeared in August 2012 near Damascus and his whereabouts remain a mystery.
But the US special envoy for hostage affairs, Robert O’Brien, said last month there was every reason to believe the journalist was alive and still detained in Syria.
His father, Marc Tice, who together with his wife Debra has relentlessly campaigned for his release, said Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s recent success in securing the release of Americans detained abroad was a source of hope.
“We’re very encouraged under this new administration,” he told reporters in the Lebanese capital Beirut, adding that it had “shown and developed a track record of bringing back Americans held overseas home.”
He cited the three Americans who were released by North Korea in May and the US pastor Turkey freed in October.
“We’re incredibly encouraged,” Marc Tice said.
Neither the Syrian government nor any other entity has confirmed holding Austin Tice, but his father said: “We do believe however that the Syria government is best placed to help us get Austin safely home.”
The journalist’s parents said they had not received any proof of life since a 2012 video but Marc Tice stressed that there was a “consensus among all those working on his case” that his son was alive.
The couple said people whom they could not name had come forward with information on their son.
“We have recently been contacted directly by credible individuals who have shared information about Austin,” Debra Tice said, without elaborating.
Austin Tice’s parents said that they had made some useful contacts among the millions of Syrians who fled their country since the conflict erupted in 2011.
“Time is an ally,” Marc Tice said, adding they were hoping for leads from “people that feel that their situation is secure and that they are free and less at risk in sharing that kind of information.”
They also said that the million-dollar reward offered by the FBI for information leading to Austin Tice’s safe return — which a coalition of media and other organisations recently announced they would match — was also a positive factor.
A man in the US state of Ohio is accused of robbing a bank one day after being released from prison for robbing the very same bank two years earlier, US prosecutors said Wednesday.
Markiko Sonnie Lewis allegedly robbed the small bank branch in the Midwestern city of Cleveland on April 12, on his first full day of freedom and while on parole for his earlier crime.
The 40-year-old is now facing a federal criminal indictment accusing him of robbing a bank teller “by force, violence, and intimidation” — a designation that could make his alleged offence punishable by as much as 20 years in prison.
Lewis is accused of taking approximately $1,044 from the bank, according to the US Attorney’s office, which announced the latest indictment.
Lewis was sentenced to more than two years in prison in 2016, and was subject to three years of probation after his release on April 11, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.
A private investigator in the US state of Louisiana will spend 18 months in prison for failed efforts to obtain President Donald Trump’s tax information during the contentious 2016 election.
A federal judge in the city of Baton Rouge handed down the sentence Wednesday against Jordan Hamlett, who had pleaded guilty to the scheme and faced as much as five years in jail.
Two months before the November 2016 election, the 32-year-old used Trump’s social security number — a common identifier used for everything from credit card applications to tax filing — to open an online student loan application.
Hamlett unsuccessfully tried to trick the Education Department’s online system into pulling Trump’s tax information from Internal Revenue Service records.
“Attempts to obtain federal tax information of any American through fraudulent or deceptive practices by illegally using personal identifying information will not be tolerated,” federal prosecutor Brandon Fremin said in a statement.
Hamlett was also ordered to pay nearly $15,000 to the Education Department for the costs it incurred in dealing with the fraudulent application.
Hamlett’s lawyers have claimed that he was simply interested in discovering potential vulnerabilities in online systems.
He apologized to the judge Wednesday and said his actions had cost him his home and career, according to The Times-Picayune newspaper.
“I was trying to help, and I made a bad decision,” Hamlett reportedly said.
Trump has refused to release his complete tax records, reversing the standard held by all presidential candidates and officeholders since Jimmy Carter in the 1970s.