Connect with us

US & World

Mother of London Bridge attacker says the internet hardened, radicalized her son

Published

on

LONDON — The youngest of the London Bridge attackers pleaded with his mother to settle with him in Syria but instead moved to Britain where his extremist views hardened and he fell into the company of a bloodthirsty gang that launched the latest attack on British streets, his mother said Wednesday.

Valeria Khadija Collina last spoke with her 22-year-old son, Youssef Zaghba, by telephone just two days before he and two other men plowed a van into a crowd near London Bridge and went on a stabbing rampage. Eight people were killed and dozens wounded. All three of the assailants were shot dead.

Zaghba, an Italian national of Moroccan descent, initially told his mother that he wanted to go to Syria to start a family in a religious Islamic climate — not to fight. But he changed, she said, when he went to Britain about a year ago and was seduced by radical views propagated on the internet.

“Last year … when I went to England, he was … more rigid,” Collina, an Italian convert to Islam, told reporters in a series of interviews at her home in Bologna, Italy. “From his face, from his look, I could see there was a radicalization, as you say. And this happened in England, absolutely.”

The other two attackers were identified as Khurum Butt, a 27-year-old whose extremist views had been reported to police, and 30-year-old Rachid Redouane, also known as Rachid Elkhdar, a pastry chef who claimed to have dual Moroccan-Libyan citizenship.

It was not immediately clear how the three knew each other, but Collina said one of her son’s friends recognized one of the other attackers, though it wasn’t clear which one that was.

Butt, who was born in Pakistan and moved to Britain as a child, had worked in 2015 in the office at Auriga Holdings Ltd, which manages some Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in Britain. Company officials said they had no evidence that either of the other attackers worked at any of the franchises.

Both Butt and Zaghba were known to British law enforcement, raising questions about whether anything could have been done to prevent the assault.

Italian authorities said Zaghba was stopped at the Bologna airport in March 2016 and questioned, but never charged with a crime. Italian officials said suspicions about him were shared with British authorities and his name was listed in the Europe-wide intelligence-sharing system. He was also stopped at London’s Stansted airport in January, but let go.

Collina said police called her after her son was stopped at Bologna airport and asked if she knew he was going to Turkey. Collina said she urged them to detain her son and prevent him from going.

“When they asked him what he was going to do in Istanbul, rather than saying ‘tourist’ he said ‘terrorist,'” Collina told The Associated Press and other media, calling that a “mental lapse” and not a sign of intent. However, she said she and the police assumed he wanted to eventually go to Syria, given he only had a one-way ticket to Istanbul and a small backpack.

His passport and cellphone were seized, but he got them back after a court determined there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest him.

Collina said Zaghba was monitored by Italian intelligence agents each time he came to Italy to visit her after that initial run-in with authorities. She said she told her son to be careful about anything he did after that, including surfing the internet, adding that she didn’t approve of his London friends and never felt comfortable in his London neighborhood.

Although news of her son’s death came as a shock, she said she could only share the pain of the victims’ families. “It’s something that has no sense, for any religion, or any ideology,” she said, choking back tears and calling her son’s actions a “deviation of terror.”

Seated cross-legged on cushions on the floor of her modest Bologna home, her head veiled, Collina said her last phone conversation with her son was “sweet.”

“He had gone to live in an outside building in the garden and was happy because he said it was bigger and when he opened the door there were trees,” she said. “And after I thought that these images of a garden were similar to the images of paradise.”

British security and law enforcement officials are investigating Butt as the potential ringleader of the cell, according to a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the ongoing details.

Several people had alerted police to Butt’s extremist views and he also appeared last year in a documentary, “The Jihadis Next Door,” in which he is shown unfurling a black-and-white flag associated with the Islamic State group.

Butt’s family said Wednesday they were “shocked and appalled” by his actions. “Now, more than ever, we need to work together to stop the actions of the mindless few who claim to be acting in the name of Islam,” they said.

Both British authorities and Ireland’s Police Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan have said they had no evidence Redouane was involved in any terror cell during his time in both countries. Two people believed to have documents linked to Redouane were arrested in Ireland, though only one remained in custody Wednesday.

Redouane had previously been refused asylum in the UK in 2009. However, his 2012 marriage to Charisse O’Leary, a British citizen, allowed him a European Union identity card that granted him easy travel between Britain and Ireland. British officials declined to comment on why his asylum request was denied.

O’Leary said Wednesday she broke up with Redouane six months ago. They had a young daughter.

“I am deeply shocked, saddened and numbed by the actions of my ex-partner who has killed and injured so many innocent people,” O’Leary said in a statement. “My thoughts and efforts now are with trying to bring up my daughter with the knowledge that someday I will have to try and explain to her why her father did what he did.”

Although Redouane was born in Fez, Morocco, his father was Libyan. In 2011, the younger man allegedly went to fight Moammar Gadhafi and joined a militia that sent fighters on to Syria, according to British media reports that could not be immediately confirmed with Libyan or British authorities.

Salman Abedi, the man behind the Manchester bombing last month, also had Libyan connections. His family had sought asylum in Britain but later returned to Libya, where authorities say his father belonged to a militant group backed by al-Qaida. Abedi’s younger brother was being held for questioning in Libya.

Saturday’s attack — the third in three months in which suspects had been on the radar of security officials — has prompted Prime Minister Theresa May to call for tougher counterterrorism laws even if it means changing human rights protections.

Reaction to the attack has dominated the final days of campaigning before Thursday’s general election in Britain. Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and others have criticized May for cutting police numbers by roughly 20,000 during her tenure as home secretary.

Since the attack, the number of racist incidents has spiked, according to London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan. Police have made 25 arrests for hate crime offences since the attack.

“I’m calling on all Londoners to pull together, and send a clear message around the world that our city will never be divided by these hideous individuals who seek to harm us and destroy our way of life,” Khan said.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

News

More than just pie, the Pecan industry sets sights on snacks

Published

on

The humble pecan is being rebranded as more than just pie.

Pecan growers and suppliers are hoping to sell U.S. consumers on the virtues of North America’s only native nut as a hedge against a potential trade war with China, the pecan’s largest export market.

The pecan industry is also trying to crack the fast-growing snack-food industry.

The retail value for packaged nuts, seeds and trail mix in the U.S. alone was $5.7 billion in 2012, and is forecast to rise to $7.5 billion by 2022, according to market researcher Euromonitor.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based American Pecan Council, formed in the wake of a new federal marketing order that allows the industry to band together and assess fees for research and promotion, is a half-century in the making, said Jim Anthony, 80, the owner of a 14,000-acre pecan farm near Granbury, Texas.

Anthony said that regional rivalries and turf wars across the 15-state pecan belt — stretching from the Carolinas to California — made such a union impossible until recently, when demand for pecans exploded in Asian markets.

Until 2007, most U.S. pecans were consumed domestically, according to Daniel Zedan, president of Nature’s Finest Foods, a marketing group. By 2009, China was buying about a third of the U.S. crop.

The pecan is the only tree nut indigenous to North America, growers say. Sixteenth-century Spanish explore Cabeza de Vaca wrote about tasting the nut during his encounters with Native American tribes in South Texas. The name is French explorers’ phonetic spelling of the native word “pakan,” meaning hard-shelled nut.

Facing growing competition from pecan producers in South Africa, Mexico and Australia, U.S. producers are also riding the wave of the Trump Administration’s policies to promote American-made goods.

Most American kids grow up with peanut butter but peanuts probably originated in South America. Almonds are native to Asia and pistachios to the Middle East. The pecan council is funding academic research to show that their nuts are just as nutritious.

The council on Wednesday will debut a new logo: “American Pecans: The Original Supernut.”

Rodney Myers, who manages operations at Anthony’s pecan farm, credits the pecan’s growing cachet in China and elsewhere in Asia with its association to rustic Americana — “the oilfield, cowboys, the Wild West — they associate all these things with the North American nut,” he said.

China earlier this month released a list of American products that could face tariffs in retaliation for proposed U.S. tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. Fresh and dried nuts — including the pecan — could be slapped with a 15-percent tariff, according to the list. To counter that risk, the pecan council is using some of the $8 million in production-based assessments it’s collected since the marketing order was passed to promote the versatility of the tree nut beyond pecan pie at Thanksgiving.

While Chinese demand pushed up prices it also drove away American consumers. By January 2013, prices had dropped 50 percent from their peak in 2011, according to Zedan.

U.S. growers and processers were finally able in 2016 to pass a marketing order to better control pecan production and prices.

Authorized by the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, federal marketing orders help producers and handlers standardize packaging, impose quality control and fund research, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees 28 other fruit, vegetable and specialty marketing orders, in addition to the pecan order.

Critics charge that the orders interfere with the price signals of a free, unfettered private market.

“What you’ve created instead is a government-sanctioned cartel,” said Daren Bakst, an agricultural policy researcher at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Before the almond industry passed its own federal marketing order in 1950, fewer almonds than pecans were sold, according to pecan council chair Mike Adams, who cultivates 600 acres of pecan trees near Caldwell, Texas. Now, while almonds appear in everything from cereal to milk substitutes, Adams calls the pecan “the forgotten nut.”

“We’re so excited to have an identity, to break out of the pie shell,” said Molly Willis, a member of the council who owns an 80-acre pecan farm in Albany, Georgia, a supplement to her husband’s family’s peanut-processing business.

Continue Reading

News

Navajo Nation marks 150th anniversary of return to homeland

Published

on

A long-lost original copy of a historic treaty signed in 1868 by leaders of one of the nation’s largest American Indian tribes and the U.S. government will go on display later this year as the Navajo Nation commemorates a dark, but significant chapter of history.

Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez and other tribal officials gathered Tuesday in Albuquerque to detail some of the events that will mark the signing of the treaty 150 years ago.

That treaty is what cleared the way for tribal members to return to their homeland in the heart of the American Southwest after being rounded up years earlier by the U.S. cavalry and forced to make an arduous and deadly trek hundreds of miles to a camp in eastern New Mexico.

Nez recounted the hardships of what came to be known as the Long Walk, saying many Navajos died along the route to Bosque Redondo. He also talked about those who stayed behind and hid in canyons and on mesa tops, often foregoing the warmth of a fire to avoid capture.

“We want our younger generation to know about our history,” Nez told a room packed with tribal officials and reporters.

He also talked about problems facing tribal communities, from suicide to alcoholism, drug addiction and violence. He said he wants to tap into the resilience of those Navajo ancestors who endured the hardships of the 1800s.

“What this will do is inspire, encourage our people out there that they can’t give up, to jump back up, dust themselves off and to fight even harder than ever before for what they believe in,” Nez said.

Navajo President Russell Begaye has said this year’s commemoration is also about telling the story of the Long Walk, the signing of the treaty and the return home from the perspective of Native Americans. He and other tribal officials say one goal is to address what they called a “legacy of misrepresentation” that has stemmed from that era.

Before research and planning began for this year’s events, there were only two known copies of the historic treaty. The whereabouts of one is now a mystery and the other has been kept by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The third copy turned up only recently when the relatives of a peace commissioner who was involved in the negotiation and signing of the treaty in 1868 found the document in a trunk in the family attic.

It was rolled up and bound with the original but faded ribbon. It was in pristine condition along with notes and other documents that historians hope might fill in some of the blanks from that time.

Pages of that copy will be on display starting in June at the Bosque Redondo Memorial near Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The National Archives is partnering with the Navajo Nation to display the other original copy at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, for the month of June.

It took more than two years of planning to make the exhibition possible as this marks only the second time an original treaty has gone back to a homeland.

Museum director Manny Wheeler said the treaty is more than just a document to the Navajo people.

“When I saw the document and I saw the marks of all of our leaders on that paper, it is a powerful thing and it is very much so opening up dialogue among all Navajos about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler suggested that as much as the document was key to the Navajos’ past, it also has the power to change the future by awaking tribal members to the importance of preserving their culture and language.

The leaders of the Navajo Nation’s three branches of government signed a proclamation earlier this year declaring 2018 as the year of the treaty, and the tribe launched a website .

The commemoration also includes a day of prayer across the Navajo Nation, cultural nights, tours of the tribal council chambers and a run that will span more than 400 miles (644 kilometers) from Fort Sumner to the Navajo capital.

Continue Reading

News

Push to legalize marijuana upends governor’s race in New Mexico

Published

on

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on Thursday called for the expansion of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and for legalization of recreational use, saying the poverty-stricken state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues and jobs that could be spurred by the industry.

Apodaca released his plan solidifying his position as a supporter of legalization as the race for governor heats up.

Apodaca pointed to New Mexico’s history as the first state to allow for research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug. It was his father, then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who signed that legislation in 1978.

The research program stalled and it wasn’t until 2008 that New Mexico rolled out its medical cannabis program.

“Why are we shooting for being the last to legalize cannabis for adult use?” Apodaca said.

The push for legalization comes as New Mexico’s medical marijuana program has grown exponentially in just the last two years. Producers licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86 million in 2017 and the number of patients enrolled now tops 50,000.

“We know the medical benefits of it. And we also know the opportunities of legalization for adult use,” Apodaca said, suggesting expansion of the long-standing medical marijuana program along with legalization could result in an estimated $200 million of additional tax revenues for the state.

The state’s largest producer, Ultra Health, announced that it has acquired farmland in southern New Mexico and has plans for what the industry says could be the largest cultivation facility in North America.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile (81 hectares) in Otero County. It will include 20 acres (8 hectares) of indoor cultivation, 80 acres (32 hectares) of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres (40 hectares) of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from expanded medical use and possibly recreational use.

Apodaca’s plan calls for lifting the current limits on the number of plants producers can grow and reducing costly licensing fees.

Other Democratic candidates have been more cautious.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would work with state lawmakers to ensure there are adequate health, safety and enforcement measures in place. She called for a “thorough analysis” of recreational pot programs in other states as part of that effort.

Lujan Grisham was in charge of the state Health Department when the medical marijuana program began. Aside from the legalization debate, she said supporting producers to create the latest medicines and methods to help patients would help create jobs and expand the industry.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, another Democratic candidate, has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state is lacking infrastructure and isn’t ready yet to legalize.

Cervantes recently lauded efforts at the local level by the state’s largest city — Albuquerque — to decriminalize possession of small amounts. He said he would do the same as governor and that it would mark a first step.

Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization at a forum earlier this month. He said it might create a stumbling block for people trying to climb out of poverty and addiction to other drugs.

“I just don’t see how it fits that we’re going to deal with addiction and yet we’re going to tell people, ‘This one is OK.’ I’ve watched it for a lifetime. I just am very nervous with recreational marijuana,” he said.

Continue Reading

Trending