Nigerian Police Rescue 67 From ‘Inhuman’ Conditions at Islamic ‘School’

Police in northern Nigeria rescued nearly 70 men and boys from a second purported Islamic school where they were shackled and subjected to “inhuman and degrading treatments.”

The raid in Katsina, the northwestern home state of President Muhammadu Buhari, came less a month after about 300 men and boys were freed from another supposed Islamic school in neighboring Kaduna state where they were allegedly tortured and sexually abused.

“In the course of investigation, sixty-seven persons from the ages of 7 to 40 years were found shackled with chains,” Katsina police spokesman Sanusi Buba said in a statement.

Men and boys are pictured after being rescued by police in Sabon Garin, in Daura local government area of Katsina state, Nigeria, Oct. 14, 2019.

“Victims were also found to have been subjected to various inhuman and degrading treatments.”

The raid occurred on Oct. 12 in Sabon Garin in the Daura local government area of Katsina state. Police issued a statement Monday and said they were working to reunite the victims with their families.

Police arrested one man, 78-year-old Mallam Bello Abdullahi Umar, for running what they called an “illegal detention/remand home.”

Lawai Musa, a trader who lived near the center, told Reuters by phone that families sent unruly men and boys there believing it was an Islamic teaching facility that would straighten them out and teach them Islamic beliefs.

“The way he is treating the children is un-Islamic” he said. “We are not happy, they were treated illegally.”

Islamic schools

Islamic schools, known as Almajiris, are common across the mostly Muslim north of Nigeria. Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), a local organization, estimates about 10 million children attend them.

In June, President Buhari, himself a Muslim, said the government planned to ban the schools, but would not do so immediately. After the incident in Kaduna, the president issued a statement calling on traditional authorities to work with government to expose “unwanted cultural practices that amount to the abuse of children.”

Buhari’s office declined to immediately comment on the Katsina raid, saying it would issue a statement after a full briefing from police.

“The command enjoins parents to desist from taking their children/wards to illegal, unauthorized or unapproved remand/rehabilitation centers,” the police statement said.
 

California Regulator Sanctions Utility Over Power Outages

California’s top utility regulator blasted Pacific Gas and Electric on Monday for what she called “failures in execution” during the largest planned power outage in state history to avoid wildfires that she said “created an unacceptable situation that should never be repeated.”
 
The agency ordered a series of corrective actions, including a goal of restoring power within 12 hours, not the utility’s current 48-hour goal.

“The scope, scale, complexity, and overall impact to people’s lives, businesses, and the economy of this action cannot be understated,” California Public Utilities Commission President Marybel Batjer wrote in a letter to PG&E CEO Bill Johnson.
 

FILE – Pacific Gas and Electric employees work in the PG&E Emergency Operations Center in San Francisco, Oct. 10, 2019.

PG&E last week took the unprecedented step of cutting power to more than 700,000 customers, affecting nearly 2 million Californians. The company said it did it because of dangerous wind forecasts but acknowledged that its execution was poor.
 
Its website frequently crashed, and many people said they did not receive enough warning that the power was going out.
 
“We were not adequately prepared,” Johnson said at a press conference last week.

PG&E spokespeople did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment on the sanctions.

In addition to restoring power faster, the PUC said the utility must work harder to avoid such large-scale outages, develop better ways to communicate with the public and local officials, get a better system for distributing outage maps, and work with emergency personnel to ensure PG&E staff are sufficiently trained.
 
She ordered the utility to perform an audit of its performance during the outages that began Wednesday, saying the utility clearly did not adopt many of the recommendations state officials have made since utilities was granted the authority to begin pre-emptive power shutoffs last year. The review is due by Thursday, and she ordered several PG&E executives to appear at an emergency PUC hearing Friday.

Governor’s criticism
 
Gov. Gavin Newsom has also criticized PG&E for its performance during the outage, blaming what he called decades of mismanagement, underinvestment and lousy communication with the public. On Monday the Democratic governor urged the utility to compensate affected customers with a bill credit or rebate worth $100 for residential customers or $250 for small businesses.

Newsom said the shutoffs affected too many customers for too long, and it is clear PG&E implemented them “with astounding neglect and lack of preparation.”

Batjer’s letter also said that PG&E’s service territory, design of its transmission lines and distribution network and “lack of granularity of its forecasting ability” mean it can’t do pre-emptive power shut-offs as strategically as some other utilities, but she said it must work harder to reduce the number of customers affected by future outages.
 

US Defense Secretary Blasts Erdogan for ‘Unnecessary’ Syria Incursion

Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “bears full responsibility” for the resurgence of Islamic State, a growing humanitarian crisis, and possible war crimes.

This was the Pentagon’s strongest condemnation so far of Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

Esper calls Turkey’s attacks on the Kurds “unnecessary and impulsive.” He says it has undermined what he calls the “successful” multinational mission to defeat Islamic State in Syria by allowing “many dangerous ISIS detainees” to flee detention camps that had been guarded by the Kurds.

FILE – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper addresses reporters during a media briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Oct. 11, 2019.

Esper says U.S. relations with Turkey have been damaged. He says he plans to go to Brussels next week to press other NATO allies to slap sanctions on Turkey.

Turkish forces entered into northern Syria last week after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the pull out of the approximately 1,000 U.S. forces in the area. They will be redeployed elsewhere in the Middle East to “monitor the situation,” according to Trump.

The U.S. had been fighting side-by-side with the Kurds in Syria to defeat Islamic State. The extremists were just one rebel faction trying to overthrow the Syrian government.

Turkey regards the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish separatists inside Turkey.

Vice President Mike Pence says Trump is sending him to the Middle East in an apparent attempt to push Turkey and the Kurds to the negotiating table.

Pence says Trump spoke to Erdogan on Monday, calling for an immediate end to the military operation.

The U.S. is “simply not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion of Syria any longer,” Pence said.

‘Irresponsible’ actions 

Syrian Kurds say they feel forsaken by the United States. They also believe much of the Arab world and the U.N. Security Council are ignoring them.

FILE – Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) prepare to join the front against Turkish forces, near the northern Syrian town of Hasakeh, Oct. 10, 2019.

But Esper says Turkey’s “irresponsible” actions have created an unacceptable risk to U.S. forces in northern Syria, including the possibility of the U.S. getting “engulfed in a broader conflict.”

Trump continued Monday to defend his decision to order the U.S. out of the area against strong criticism from both parties and European allies.

“Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey?” Trump tweeted. “Never ending wars will end! The same people who got us into the Middle East mess are the people who most want to stay there!”

Trump said he is raising tariffs on Turkish steel imports and is stopping trade talks with Turkey while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced sanctions on the Turkish defense, interior, and energy ministers and their departments.

“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” he said.

‘Gravely concerned’

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called on the entire House to pass a resolution condemning Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria. But she also agrees that Turkey must be condemned for its actions.

FILE – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 17, 2019.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he is “gravely concerned” about the Turkish offensive, contending it will jeopardize “years of hard-won progress” in destroying Islamic State.

But the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, says the sanctions Trump and Mnuchin announced “do not go far enough to punish Turkey for its egregious offenses in Syria.”

In Syria, government forces entered a town near the Turkish border Monday, a day after reaching an agreement with Syrian Kurds to move into the region in an attempt to counter the Turkish onslaught.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported Monday’s troop movement in Tal Tamr, about 20 kilometers from the border, saying it was done to “confront the Turkish aggression” and was welcomed by the people there.

The fighting since the Turkish operation began nearly a week ago has killed dozens of civilians, observers say.

The U.S. State Department has condemned reports of pro-Turkish fighters executing civilians.
 

Biles Dazzles on Floor to Win Record 25th World Championship Medal

American Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in world championship history on Sunday when she won the beam and floor finals to take her career tally to 25 medals.

Soon after securing a convincing victory on the beam in Stuttgart to overtake Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo’s record tally of 23 world medals, the 22-year-old Biles successfully defended her floor title to win medal number 25.

The four-time Olympic champion is now the owner of 19 gold medals across four championships against 12 for Scherbo, who competed in five world events between 1991 and 1996.

Making her final appearance of the week in front of a raucous crowd, Biles wasted no time as she landed a superb triple-twisting double back flip — known as the Biles II – on her first pass.

Biles’s double layout with a half turn — another skill named after her — put her out of bounds for a 0.1 penalty but she did enough to post a winning score of 15.133.

“Honestly, I just couldn’t move. I was so tired,” Biles said of her final pose on the stage.

“This is really the best worlds performance I have ever put out.”

The Americans took a one-two finish as Sunisa Lee finished with 14.133 for the silver medal, while Russian Angelina Melnikova came third.

BEAM BRILLIANCE

Earlier, Biles delivered a polished routine on the beam before a full twisting double tuck dismount for an impressive 15.066.

Although Biles had twice before won the world beam title, in 2014 and 2015, it has not always been plain sailing for her on the apparatus.

Her slip on the landing of a front tucked somersault at the 2016 Rio Olympics meant she had to settle for a bronze in the event. Last year again, she dropped off the beam during the women’s all-around final at the world championships.

But she has regained her swagger this week, under the watchful eyes of balance beam coach Cecile Landi, and posted top scores in all four attempts — qualifying, the team and all-around finals and Sunday’s apparatus final.

“It meant a lot because Cecile has really been working on bringing my confidence back up to where it used to be on the beam,” Biles said.

“To go out there and nail the routine, just like I do in practice, it felt really good and I knew she was really proud.”

As another title-winning score was announced in the arena, Biles punched the air in jubilation before joining celebrations with the U.S. team.

“I was really excited,” she added. “I thought it was going to be at least 14.8, 14.9, but to see 15, I was like well that’s pretty crazy, so I was very proud.”

Last year’s winner Liu Tingting of China took silver with 14.433, while team mate Li Shijia won the bronze.

Biles finished her campaign in Stuttgart with five gold medals from six events to mark ideal preparations for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Her barnstorming run included a record fifth all-around gold, an individual vault title, as well as helping the U.S. to a fifth straight world team title.

 

Teen’s Parents Fly to US Hoping to Meet Driver Who killed Him

Parents of the British teen killed when his motorcycle collided with car allegedly driven by an American diplomat’s wife are on their way to the U.S. hoping to seek justice.

Harry Dunn, 19, died in August in near the Croughton Royal Air Force base in Northhamptonshire, which is used by the U.S. Air Force as a communications center.

Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, told the BBC the family hopes to meet with the suspected driver, identified by British police and Prime Minister Boris Johnson as Anne Sacoolas, wife of an American intelligence officer based at Croughton.

Sacoolas claimed diplomatic immunity and returned to the United States while the case was still being investigated. She has since written a letter of apology to Dunn’s family.

But Charles said Sunday, “It’s nearly seven weeks now since we lost our boy, sorry just doesn’t cut it.

“That’s not really quite enough,” she told Sky News. “But I’m still really open to meeting her, as are the rest of us. I can’t promise what I would or wouldn’t say, but I certainly wouldn’t be aggressive.”

Charles also said the family was thankful to receive a letter Saturday from the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that said since Sacoolas had left Britain, “immunity is no longer pertinent”.

The family is hoping Sacoolas will return to Britain.  They have even called on U.S. President Donald Trump to intervene on their behalf.

But Trump told a news conference Wednesday that Sacoolas would not return. Harry Dunn’s death was a “terrible accident,” the president said but he noted that driving on the worn side of the road “happens”.

 

 

California Becomes First US State to Ban Fur Products

California has become the first U.S. state to ban all production and sale of animal fur products.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill that will make it illegal to make, sell and even donate any new item made using animal fur starting in 2023.

The bill excludes used items, taxidemy products, fur taken with a hunting license and fur used by Native American tribes for religious purposes.

Violators of the ban will face fines of up to $500, or even $1,000 for repeat offenses.

“The signing of AB44 underscores the point that today’s consumers simply don’t want wild animals to suffer extreme pain and fear for the sake of fashion,” Kitty Block, the head of the Humane Society of the United States said in a statement.

But the Fur Information Council of America condemned the ban as being part of a “radical vegan agenda” and has threatened a court challenge.

Along with the fur ban, Newsom also approved a ban on the use of most animals in circuses. Exceptions will be made for dogs and horses.

“California is a leader when it comes to animal welfare, and today that leadership includes banning the sale of fur,” Newsom said in a statement. “But we are doing more than that. We are making a statement to the world that beautiful wild animals like bears and tigers have no place on trapeze wires or jumping through flames.”

74 Migrants Rescued off Libyan Coast, 110 Others Turned Back

Humanitarian groups on Sunday said they have rescued 74 migrants on a rubber boat in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya while Tunisian authorities reported blocking a smuggling boat carrying 110 migrants from setting off for Italy.

Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee said their Ocean Viking ship rescued the migrants Sunday morning about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the Libyan coast near an oilfield. The groups said six children were among those rescued.

Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said three coast guard boats pursued the smuggling boat after it left Friday night from the city of Sfax. Officers shouted through loudspeakers at the boat and passengers threw projectiles that injured two officers and broke windows.

The coast guard eventually forced the boat back toward Tunisia and rescued 25 migrants who had jumped into the sea.

Meanwhile, three small boats carrying migrants reached Italian shores on Sunday. ANSA, the Italian news agency, said two boats – one carrying 15 people, the other 11 – landed on the island of Lampedusa. The agency says a third boat with 15 Tunisians aboard landed in southern Sicily.

 

Indian Officials Arrest VOA & RFA Freelancers

Indian police and intelligence agencies detained a freelancer for the Voice of America’s Tibetan service as he arrived in Chennai Friday (October 11) to cover the informal summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A freelancer for Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan service was also detained.  Both VOA and RFA are part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

Cyaltsen Choedak for VOA and Pema Ngudup for RFA, were held for more than 40 hours, first at the Chennai railway station, then at a police station and finally at two guesthouses before they were released.

 

Australian Minister Slams Chinese Communist Party

One of Australia’s most senior government ministers has accused the Chinese Communist Party of behaving in ways that are “inconsistent” with his country’s values. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton warned Canberra would work to counter foreign interference in Australian universities, as well as cyber espionage.

Peter Dutton’s comments are some of the most uncompromising language yet from an Australian government minister on the perceived threat posed by China.

Tensions between Canberra and Beijing have risen in recent times because of allegations of cyber attacks by China, and that it has meddled in Australia’s domestic politics. There’s also been friction over the detention of a Chinese-Australian writer in Beijing, and differences over Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Australia also has concerns about Chinese interference in its universities, including allegations that students who have supported democracy protests in Hong Kong have been harassed or monitored by Chinese agents on campus.

Peter Dutton said Australia must be wary of China’s ambitions.

“My issue is with the Communist Party of China and their policies to the extent that they are inconsistent with our own values, and in a democracy like ours we encourage freedom of speech, freedom of the expression of thought, and if that is being impinged, if people are operating outside of the law then whether they are from China or from any other country we are right to call that out,” he said.

The comments prompted a stinging response from the Chinese government.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, told a press conference that he hoped “Australia will reject the Cold War mentality and bias, and work to advance bilateral relations and mutual trust.”

The Chinese Embassy in Canberra said it rejected “Mr Dutton’s irrational accusations … which are shocking and baseless.”

Australia is a liberal, middle-ranking world power. China is its biggest trading partner by some distance, and three of the main pillars of the Australian economy, mining, tourism and education, rely heavily on demand from China.

The challenge for Australia, which has a close military alliance with the United States, is to be able to criticize and challenge China while maintaining a key trade relationship that has underpinned its recent prosperity.

 

Firefighters Make Slow Progress in Containing California Wildfires

Firefighters have made progress containing wind-driven wildfires in the western U.S. state of California that has claimed one life, destroyed or damaged dozens of structures, and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.

Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Branden Silverman said Saturday morning the blaze in Los Angeles County, named the Saddleridge fire, had been 19-percent contained overnight, thanks to slightly cooler temperatures and lighter winds. The blaze damaged or destroyed at least 31 structures, including homes.

The fire, located in the San Fernando Valley in Northwestern Los Angeles County, was only 13-percent contained on Friday, after burning more than 3,000 hectares, officials said.

Authorities ordered mandatory evacuations Saturday of some 23,000 homes in an area covering about 100,000 residents.

The cause of the Saddleridge fire has not been determined, but investigators said they were following up on a report of flames from a power line when the fire started Thursday night.

To the east of the Saddleridge fire, another blaze swept through a Riverside County mobile home park, destroying dozens of homes. Authorities said that fire, which has burned about 330 hectares, had been 25 percent contained Saturday.

Flames from a backfire, lit by firefighters to stop the Saddleridge Fire from spreading, burn a hillside in Newhall, Calif., Oct. 11, 2019

Red flag warnings remain in effect until 6 p.m. local time Saturday, even though the dry Santa Ana winds from nearby mountains that fueled the fires have died down and were expected to continue to weaken throughout Saturday.

Officials said one man died of a heart attack while speaking with firefighters who were battling the Riverside fire early Friday.

In Northern California, electricity has been restored to 98-percent of the nearly 2 million customers who had their power cut off earlier this week by Pacific Gas & Electric in an effort to prevent wildfires.

California Governor Gavin Newsom declared emergencies Friday for Los Angeles and Riverside counties because of the fires. The governor’s office said it has received a federal grant to help with firefighting costs.

More than 1,000 firefighters from numerous departments were battling the fires from the air and ground.