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A 41-year-old citizen of India was sentenced Tuesday to 15 years in a US prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiring while living in northern Nevada to plot terror strikes in his home country on the border with Pakistan.

US District Judge Larry Hicks in Reno also ordered Balwinder Singh to remain under lifetime federal supervision upon his release from prison after prosecutors argued that Singh has had ties to known terrorist groups in India for more than two decades.

“This is such an incredibly serious offence,” Hicks said.

Assistant US Attorney Brian Sullivan said he expects Singh to be released in about 10 years, given that he's already served about three years and likely to earn credit for good time. Following his prison term, a federal immigration judge will determine whether Singh will be deported.

Defence attorney Michael Kennedy said Singh was beaten and tortured by Indian government officials in the past and never posed a threat to the United States. He argued any post-release supervision should be limited to five years.

“It will be up to an (immigration) judge to decide whether to send someone back to a country where he has been tortured or whether we as a country still stand in opposition to those sort of things,” Kennedy said after the sentencing.

FBI Special Agent Aaron Rouse of Las Vegas said the plot was foiled after a co-conspirator was arrested trying to board a flight in San Francisco bound for Bangkok, Thailand, with two sets of night vision goggles purchased by Singh at a Cabela's sporting goods store in Reno.

Sullivan said it's possible Singh still will be extradited to India where he faces criminal charges in connection with a terror attack on a passenger bus that killed three people in India in April 2006.

“This isn't somebody who was just recruited like some of the young people who think it's really cool to go get involved with the Jihad,” Sullivan said.

“Mr. Singh has been involved with terrorism or terrorist organisations for over 20 years.”

“We are hoping he has learned a lesson. But we think he needs to be watched not just for three or four years, but for his entire lifetime,” he said.

Singh, who has been jailed since his arrested in December 2013, agreed to the terms of the plea agreement in exchange for dropping a series of other charges, including conspiracy to murder, kidnap or maim persons in a foreign country.

“My only request is I should not be deported. I should be released here,” Singh told the judge through a Punjabi interpreter.

Prosecutors in the Justice Department's counterterrorism section say Singh worked with two terrorist organisations Babbar Khalsa International and Khalistan Zindabad Force to try to establish an independent Sikh state in the Punjab region.

Daniel Bogden, US attorney for Nevada, said Singh sought asylum in San Francisco using a false identity to elude Indian authorities and eventually obtained a permanent residence card in the US.

“These groups engage in violent crimes in India to intimidate and compel the Indian government to create the state of Khalistan,” Bogden told reporters.

“These groups also target for assassination persons who are considered traitors of the Sikh religion and government officials who it considers responsible for atrocities against the Sikhs.“

TEHRAN, March 7, (Agencies): Iran said Tuesday it would continue its retaliatory measure of barring US visitors in response to US President Donald Trump’s updated travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries. “Our earlier counter-measure against Trump’s previous order is still in place,” said deputy foreign minister Majid Takht Ravanchi at a conference entitled “What to do about Trump’s America”.

“There is no need for a new decision,” he said, according to the ISNA news agency. Iran’s foreign ministry announced in January it would ban Americans from entering the country in response to Trump’s “insulting” order restricting arrivals from Iran and six other Muslim states. It called the decision “illegal, illogical and contrary to international rules”.

The White House re-issued the ban on Monday — this time excluding Iraq but still targeting Iranians — following legal challenges. Trump’s ban was halted by a federal court in February, allowing an Iranian archery team into the US. Iran reciprocated by allowing entry to an American wrestling team for a competition. Iranians have been the most affected by the ban since more than one million live, work and study in the United States.

The new, more narrowly tailored temporary travel ban President Donald Trump signed on Monday will be more difficult to challenge successfully in court, legal experts said. They said that since his order no longer covers legal residents or existing visa holders, and makes waivers possible for some business, diplomatic and other travelers, challengers are likely to have a harder time finding people in the United States who can legally claim they have been harmed, and thus have so-called “standing” to sue. Trump’s first executive order signed on Jan 27 banned travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — for 90 days and halted refugee admission for four months, barring Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Its hasty implementation caused chaos and protests at airports. The order was hit with more than two dozen lawsuits, many that claimed it discriminated against Muslims. The new ban, which goes into effect on March 16, removes Iraq and adds categories of people who would be exempt from the order. The Trump administration said the executive order is necessary for national security reasons. It also lists groups of people that could be eligible for waivers, including travelers who have previously been admitted to the United States for work or school, those seeking to visit or live with a close relative and who would face hardship if denied entry; infants, young children and adoptees or people in need of medical care, employees of the US government and international organizations among others. All the exceptions make the new order “a lot harder to attack,” said Andrew Greenfield, an immigration attorney with Fragomen law firm in Washington D.C. Trump had promised to make the new directive harder to fight in court and many of the changes were expected. “They dotted their ‘i’s’ and crossed their ‘t’s’ in trying to anticipate what litigation might result,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a Cornell Law School professor who specializes in immigration. He said opponents might still be able to find plaintiffs — a US citizen could potentially sue if the government denies a waiver to their foreign spouse for an arbitrary reason, for example.

In a legal challenge to the original order, the state of Washington was successful in preventing it from being carried out. A federal judge in Seattle and then an appeals court in San Francisco ruled that Washington could claim standing, in part because the order adversely affected legal permanent residents, known as green card holders, in the state.

More than 100 businesses, including many of the best-known tech companies, filed briefs in court that argued their employees were harmed. Bob Ferguson, the Attorney General for Washington State said on Monday that he will likely decide on the next litigation steps this week after consulting with state universities and businesses about potential harms. “We need to do our homework and be thoughtful about this,” Ferguson said. The US Department of Justice, in a filing in Seattle federal court on Monday, said the new order applies “only to those who are overseas and without a visa.”

NEW YORK, March 7, (RTRS): New York City’s police department has agreed to a new settlement in a lawsuit accusing it of illegally targeting Muslims for surveillance, according to court papers filed on Monday, after a federal judge rejected an earlier deal.

The new settlement gives additional powers to a civilian representative charged with reviewing the department’s counterterrorism efforts. Arthur Eisenberg, legal director for New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that the settlement was “even more protective of religious and political freedoms” than the version announced in January 2016. The civil liberties organization represents Muslim individuals and organizations who sued New York City in 2013 in Brooklyn federal court claiming they were targeted by police surveillance. In an order made public last October, US District Judge Charles Haight in Manhattan rejected the original settlement, which also called for a civilian representative. Haight said that deal did not go far enough in ensuring that the police department adhere to court-approved regulations, called the Handschu guidelines, that limit how it can monitor political and religious activity.

The settlement is subject to approval by Haight, who oversees a decades-old class action that gave rise to the Handschu guidelines, and the judge in the Brooklyn case. The new deal gives the civilian representative the power to report on violations of the guidelines to the court at any time, and requires the mayor to get court approval before removing the representative, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The earlier version allowed the mayor to eliminate the position after five years. The civilian representative can now also review how investigations are conducted, not just how they are started or extended. The Handschu Guidelines took the name of the lead plaintiff, Barbara Handschu, in a 1971 lawsuit that challenged surveillance of war protesters in the 1960s and ‘70s. Those guidelines were relaxed after Sept. 11 to help police fight terrorism. The agreement covers two cases, the Handschu case and another case filed in 2013 on behalf of mosques, community leaders and other groups who said they were wrongly the target of NYPD surveillance. Hina Shamsi, National Security Project director with the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the 2013 suit with the New York Civil Liberties Union, praised the decision. “As religious bigotry rises to a fever pitch nationwide, this settlement sends the message that Muslims and all New Yorkers will have even stronger protections from unconstitutional religious profiling and surveillance. Federal officials and local police elsewhere should take heed that courageous people like our clients and their supporters will always stand up for constitutional rights and freedoms.” A spokesman for the city said New York is committed to making the relationship between communities and the police stronger.

WASHINGTON: A US State Department report released on Friday labelled the Altaf Khanani group as a money laundering organisation and accused it of laundering billions of dollars for organised crime and terrorist outfits.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William R. Brownfield told a briefing in Washington that the State Department had delivered its 32nd International Narcotics Control Strategy Report to Congress on Wednesday. “It is, however, the first time that we are discussing and rolling this report out before the media in nine years,” he added.

In its section on Pakistan, the report notes: “The Altaf Khanani money laundering organisation (Khanani MLO) is based in Pakistan. The group, which was designated a transnational organised crime group by the United States in November 2015, facilitates illicit money movement between, among others, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), United States, UK, Canada, and Australia.”

The group “is responsible for laundering billions of dollars in organised crime proceeds annually. The Khanani MLO offers money laundering services to a diverse clientele, including Chinese, Colombian, and Mexican organised crime groups and individuals associated with designated terrorist organisations”, the report adds.

It describes Pakistan as strategically located country at the nexus of south, central and western Asia, with a coastline along the Arabian Sea. The report notes that Pakistan’s porous borders with Afghanistan, Iran and China facilitate the smuggling of narcotics and contraband to overseas markets.

“The country suffers from financial crimes associated with tax evasion, fraud, corruption, trade in counterfeit goods, contraband smuggling, narcotics trafficking, human smuggling/trafficking, terrorism and terrorist financing,” the report points out.

“There is a substantial demand for money laundering and illicit financial services due to the country’s black market economy and challenging security environment.”

The report notes that money laundering in Pakistan affects both the formal and informal financial systems. Pakistan does not have firm control of its borders, which facilitates the flow of illicit goods and monies into and out of Pakistan.

The report, however, acknowledges that most Pakistanis living abroad use legal channels for sending money home. From January to December 2016, the Pakistani diaspora remitted $19.7 billion back to Pakistan via the formal banking sector, up by 2.3 per cent from 2015.

The report notes that while it is illegal to operate a hawala without a licence in Pakistan, the practice remains prevalent because of poor ongoing supervision efforts and a lack of penalties levied against illegally operating businesses. “Unlicensed hawala/hundi operators are also common throughout the broader region and are widely used to transfer and launder illicit money through neighbouring countries,” the report adds.

Common methods for transferring illicit funds include fraudulent trade invoicing, unlicensed hundis and hawalas and bulk cash smuggling.

The report says that criminals exploit import/export firms, front businesses and the charitable sector to carry out their activities. Pakistan’s real estate sector is another common money laundering vehicle, since real estate transactions tend to be poorly documented and cash-based, it adds.

The report notes that in January 2015, Pakistan launched the National Action Plan (NAP), addressing primarily counter-terrorist financing. The government’s implementation of the NAP “has yielded mixed results, which is in part due to the lack of institutional capacity as well as political will,” the report adds.

“Unlicensed hawaladars continue to operate illegally throughout

Pakistan, particularly in Peshawar and Karachi, though under the NAP Pakistan has reportedly been pursuing illegal hawala/hundi dealers and exchange houses.”

The report says that Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, which is responsible for investigating money laundering cases, lacks the capacity to pursue complicated financial investigations.

Last year, Altaf Khanani pleaded guilty to a money laundering charge before a US court and signed a plea agreement on Oct 27. Khanani was arrested in September last year following a sting operation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and has been in jail ever since. He was indicted in the US District Court of the Southern District of Florida on 14 counts of money laundering in June 2015.

Khanani was among the four men the United States blacklisted in October for purported ties to an organisation accused of laundering money for drug traffickers and Chinese, Colombian and Mexican crime groups. Among them was his son Obaid Khanani.

In a statement issued then, the US Department of Treasury said that Obaid Khanani, 29, continued to help lead his father’s money laundering organisation after the arrest. Another man on the list, Hozaifa Khanani, also 29, was Altaf Khanani’s nephew and was involved in real estate investments on behalf of his uncle’s organisation, the Treasury Department added.

It said Mohammad Javed Khanani, Altaf Khanani’s brother, was “heavily involved in laundering criminal proceeds via money service businesses”.

Javed Khanani, a director of Khanani and Kalia International (KKI) money changers, died in December 2016 after reportedly falling from an under-construction building in Karachi.

A fourth man, Atif Polani, helped move funds on behalf of Khanani’s organisation.

The White House budget director confirmed Saturday that the Trump administration will propose "fairly dramatic reductions" in the US foreign aid budget later this month.

Reuters and other news outlets reported earlier this week that the administration plans to propose to Congress cuts in the budgets for the US State Department and Agency for International Development by about one third.

"We are going to propose to reduce foreign aid and we are going to propose to spend that money here," White House Office of Management Budget director Mick Mulvaney told Fox News on Saturday, adding the proposed cuts would include "fairly dramatic reductions in foreign aid."

Mulvaney said the cuts in foreign aid would help the administration fund a proposed $54 billion expansion of the US military budget.

"The overriding message is fairly straightforward: less money spent overseas means more money spent here," said Mulvaney, a former South Carolina Representative.

The United States spends just over $50 billion annually on the State Department and USAID, compared with $600bn or more each year on the Pentagon.

Several Republicans this week on Capitol Hill raised concerns about the planned cuts to the State Department.

"I am very concerned by reports of deep cuts that could damage efforts to combat terrorism, save lives and create opportunities for American workers," said US Representative Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

A US government website said 20 government agencies plan to award $36.5bn in foreign assistance programs in more than 100 countries around the world during the current budget year.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, tweeted earlier this week: "Foreign Aid is not charity. We must make sure it is well spent, but it is less than 1 per cent of budget & critical to our national security."

Mulvaney said the Trump administration will release its budget proposal on March 16. Reuters has reported the administration plans significant proposed cuts in many other domestic programs.

MUNICH, Feb 19, (RTRS): A new version of a Trump administration travel ban will not stop green card residency holders or travellers already on planes from entering the United States, US Secretary for Homeland Security John Kelly said on Saturday. US President Donald Trump’s initial attempt to clamp down for security reasons on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and on refugees snarled to a halt amid a judicial backlash and chaos at airports.

“The president is contemplating releasing a tighter, more streamlined version of the fi rst (order). And I will have opportunity to work (on) a rollout plan, in particular to make sure that there’s no one in a sense caught in the system of moving from overseas to our airports,” Kelly said at the Munich Security Conference. Asked whether green card residency permit holders would be allowed in, Kelly said: “It’s a good assumption and, as far as the visas go, … if they’re in motion from some distant land to the United States, when they arrive they will be allowed in.” He promised “a short phasein period to make sure that people on the other end don’t get on airplanes. But if they’re on an airplane and inbound, they’ll be allowed to enter the country.”

A draft of the replacement executive order shows that the administration aims to put restrictions on citizens of the same seven Muslim-majority countries covered by the initial order, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cites an internal State Department memo. The replacement order could be issued as early as Tuesday, the Journal reported, citing a US government offi cial.

The administration would seek to implement the new order a week to two weeks after it is signed, and covers citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, the Journal said. Trump’s original order, which he said was meant to head off attacks by Islamist militants, barred people from those same countries from entering for 90 days and excluded all refugees for 120 days, except those from Syria, who were banned indefinitely. The abrupt implementation of the order last month plunged the immigration system into chaos, sparking a wave of criticism from the countries affected, and from Western allies and some of America’s leading corporations, especially technology firms.

Six people were killed and eight wounded when gunmen opened fire at a Quebec mosque during Sunday night prayers, in what Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a “terrorist attack on Muslims”.

 

“We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a center of worship and refuge,” Trudeau said in a statement.

 

Six people were killed after gunmen opened fire in a Quebec City mosque, the mosque’s president told reporters on Sunday. A witness told Reuters that up to three gunmen fired on about 40 people inside the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center.

“Why is this happening here? This is barbaric,” said the mosque’s president, Mohamed Yangui.

Quebec police said there were many victims and deaths, but did not confirm the death toll. They said two people had been arrested, but there were no immediate details on the suspects.

A witness said a heavily armed police tactical squad was seen entering the three-storey mosque. Police declined to say whether there was a gunman inside the mosque at the time.

 

Police tweeted later that the situation was under control and that the mosque had been secured and occupants evacuated.

Yangui, who was not inside the mosque when the shooting occurred, said he got frantic calls from people at evening prayers. He did not know how many were injured, saying they had been taken to different hospitals across Quebec City.

“Tonight, Canadians grieve for those killed in a cowardly attack on a mosque in Quebec City. My thoughts are with victims & their families,” Trudeau tweeted earlier in the night.

The shooting came on the weekend that Trudeau said Canada would welcome refugees, after US President Donald Trump suspended the US refugee programme and temporarily barred citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States on national security grounds.

 

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said police were providing additional protection for mosques in that city following the Quebec shooting. “All New Yorkers should be vigilant. If you see something, say something,” he tweeted.

Canada’s federal Liberal legislator Greg Fergus tweeted: “This is an act of terrorism — the result of years of demonising Muslims. Words matter and hateful speeches have consequences!”

‘Not safe here’

Like France, Quebec has struggled at times to reconcile its secular identity with a rising Muslim population, many of them North African emigrants. In June 2016, a pig’s head was left on the doorstep of the cultural center.

“We are not safe here,” said Mohammed Oudghiri, who normally attends prayers at the mosque in the middle-class, residential area, but not on Sunday.

 

Oudghiri said he had lived in Quebec for 42 years but was now “very worried” and thinking of moving back to Morocco.

Mass shootings are rare in Canada, which has stricter gun laws than the United States, and news of the shooting sent a shockwave through mosques and community centers throughout the mostly French-language province.

“It’s a sad day for all Quebecers and Canadians to see a terrorist attack happen in peaceful Quebec City,” said Mohamed Yacoub, co-chairman of an Islamic community center in a Montreal suburb. “I hope it’s an isolated incident.”

Incidents of Islamophobia have increased in Quebec in recent years. The face-covering, or niqab, became a big issue in the 2015 Canadian federal election, especially in Quebec, where the vast majority of the population supported a ban on it at citizenship ceremonies.

In 2013, police investigated after a mosque in the Saguenay region of the province was splattered with what was believed to be pig blood. In the neighboring province of Ontario, a mosque was set on fire in 2015, a day after an attack by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris.

Zebida Bendjeddou, who left the mosque earlier on Sunday evening, said the center had received threats.

 

“In June, they’d put a pig’s head in front of the mosque. But we thought: ‘Oh, they’re isolated events.’ We didn’t take it seriously. But tonight, those isolated events, they take on a different scope,” she said.

Bendjeddou said she had not yet confirmed the names of those killed, but added: “They’re people we know, for sure. People we knew since they were little kids.”

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