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U.S. welcomes conviction of Chad’s ex-dictator

Former Chad President Hissene Habre makes declarations to media as he leaves a court in Dakar, Senegal on Nov. 25, 2005.
         Photo by Aliou Mbaye/Reuters

Former Chad President Hissene Habre makes declarations to media as he leaves a court in Dakar, Senegal on Nov. 25, 2005. Photo by Aliou Mbaye/Reuters

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has welcomed the conviction of former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Kerry says Habre’s conviction is “a landmark in the global fight against impunity for atrocities.”

Habre was sentenced to life imprisonment for being responsible for thousands of deaths and tortures in prisons during his rule from 1982 to 1990. A 1992 Chadian truth commission accused Habre’s government of systematic torture, saying 40,000 people died during his rule.

Kerry says the case provides an opportunity for the United States to reflect on and learn from its connection with past events in Chad.

He says that without the persistence of Habre’s accusers and their demand for justice, the former dictator might never have faced a court of law.

The post U.S. welcomes conviction of Chad’s ex-dictator appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

How the Dutch are working to stop radicalization of Muslim youth

Photo by PBS NewsHour Weekend

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By Sam Weber and Laura Fong

Mohamed Nidalha hasn’t seen his son Reda in more than two years.

Born and raised in Leiden in the Netherlands, Nidalha said his son fell under the influence of extremists while staying with an uncle in Brussels and fled to Syria to join the Islamic State.

Nidalha says he contacted Dutch security officials once he learned about his son’s plans but was told there was nothing that could be done, because Reda was over 18.

“Even when I told them my son is planning on joining a terrorist organization they said, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you,’” Nidalha said.

Reda is one of an estimated 220 Dutch residents who have traveled to Iraq or Syria to join terrorist groups like the Islamic State according to The Soufan Group. Together, an estimated 5,000 people have traveled to Iraq and Syria from the European Union to become foreign fighters.

Terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels have brought renewed attention to the threat of radicalized foreign fighters returning home. The violence has also prompted many countries, including the Netherlands, to focus on efforts to prevent the radicalization of youths in the first place.

In Rotterdam, the second-largest city in the Netherlands, religious leaders, community groups and the police have all been working to combat the threat of homegrown radicalism.

But predicting who may become radicalized, and stopping a committed person from leaving for Syria or Iraq, is difficult.

“If they really want to go and if they’re in a circle with like-minded people, there’s not a lot you can do about it,” said Marion van San, a researcher at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

Read the full transcript below:

HARI SREENIVASAN: Mohamed Nidalha hasn’t seen his son Reda in more than two years. He scrolls through old pictures on his iPad, from when he was 19 years old to when he was five years old.

MOHAMED NIDALHA: (translated from Dutch) Reda grew up like any other child. He had lots of friends, just a regular kid like any other.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The family emigrated from Morocco, but Reda was born and raised in Leiden, near Rotterdam in southern Holland.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Nidalha says his son Reda went to Syria to join the Muslim militant group ISIS.

MOHAMED NIDALHA: (translated from Dutch) In the weeks leading up to his departure for Syria, he fooled and misled us all.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The family is Muslim, but Nidhala says, they are not very religious. He believes when Reda visited an uncle in Belgium for a few months in 2014, Reda fell under the sway of ISIS recruiters. After that, he traveled to Turkey, the gateway into Syria.

MOHAMED NIDALHA: (translated from Dutch) Reda called his sister and told her “I love you, I love dad, I love mom, but I’m going to Syria to help children and help the women being raped.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: As soon as he learned of his son’s plan to go to Syria, Nidalha says he contacted Dutch security officials.

MOHAMED NIDALHA: (translated from Dutch) Everyone told me, “We can’t help you, because your son is already 18 years old. He can travel to wherever he wants.” Even when I told them my son is planning to join a terrorist organization and is going to fight in Syria. Still they said, “Sorry, we can’t help you.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: Reda is one of an estimated 220 Dutch residents who have traveled to Syria or Iraq to join ISIS, according to The Soufan Group, which estimates that 5,000 foreign fighters from western Europe have made the trip.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Marion van San is a researcher at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. She has interviewed dozens of Dutch families whose children have traveled to Syria and Iraq, including Mohamed Nidalha and even his son, Reda via Facebook. She says radicalization is hard to predict or stop.

MARION VAN SAN: If they really want to go, and if they’re in a circle with like-minded people, there’s not a lot you can do about it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Van San says the youth most vulnerable to radical recruitment are from troubled families or broken homes looking for guidance on how to live.

MARION VAN SAN: They’re all youngsters with very, very strong ideals. They’re worried about the world. And they want to have like a guideline — how shall I live? And they find that in Islam.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Imam Azzedine Karrat leads Rotterdam’s Essalam mosque, the biggest in the Netherlands. He says parents worried about their children becoming radicalized often come to him first. The imam says the key is to engage with these youths, not push them away.

AZZEDINE KARRAT: (translated from Dutch) I believe that young people that radicalize at one point did start their search with good intentions. Things can of course go awry, but it’s up to us to listen to them, not give them the idea that we’re judging them and present them with alternatives and other information.

HARI SREENIVASAN: If he fails to talk someone out of going to Syria, Karrat may call the police. He says he’s competing against the Internet for hearts and minds.

AZZEDINE KARRAT: (translated from Dutch) Radicalization doesn’t happen in mosques. On the contrary, one of the steps in the radicalization process is distancing themselves from mosques.

HARI SREENIVASAN: To reach as many people as possible, Karrat posts his sermons on YouTube and is active on Twitter and Facebook. But he’s also aware of his limitations.

AZZEDINE KARRAT: (translated from Dutch) Imams and mosques are part of the solution, but it’s also dependent on the collaboration between different actors in society, organizations and people in the community, the municipality, the parents, the youngsters themselves, the police, together they are part of the solution.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Marianne Vorthoven runs SPIOR, an Islamic organization that works with imams, teachers, social workers, and community leaders to talk to parents and youth about radicalism.

MARIANNE VORTHOVEN:  There is no easy answer to this.

HARI SREENIVASAN: SPIOR has organized more than 40 meetings in Rotterdam during past year and Vorthoven says the very act of acknowledging radicalization within Muslim communities is novel.

MARIANNE VORTHOVEN: There’s a lot of silence, a lot of taboo around these issues. And especially in some groups it’s also, “No, but it’s not about us. It has nothing to do with Islam, so we don’t need to talk about it.” Whether you like it or not, these atrocities are being done in the name of Islam, so also in society how people perceive Islam and Muslims is affected by it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In SPIOR’s meetings, organizers try to boost resistance to radicalism – what they call “resilience” — by exposing the myths in recruiting messages and addressing factors that may push some to become jihadists.

MARIANNE VORTHOVEN: Some people, and especially Muslim youth, do not feel a sense of belonging. They do not feel accepted in society, many of them. Very often implicitly or explicitly, the message is that you cannot be a good Dutch citizen and a Muslim at the same time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This struggle with identity is familiar to 30-year-old Mahmoud Tighadouini. His family is originally from Morocco and he was brought up a Muslim, born and raised in Amsterdam.

MAHMOUD TIGHADOUNI: I was like searching for my own identity. I was thinking, in the Netherlands, they call me ‘the Moroccan,’ and in Morocco they call me ‘the Dutchman.’ So I didn’t know what I was.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: After 9/11 and the start of the war in Iraq in 2003, Tighadouni met a group of young men online who introduced him to a radical Muslim ideology.

MAHMOUD TIGHADOUNI: I was thinking, “The West are the enemies.” And they say, “They are wrong, we are good.” They are black or we are white. I needed the clearness, I needed the structure, I needed the people who say to me how to go, how to live.

HARI SREENIVASAN: After several years of chatting online, the idea of fighting American troops abroad came up.

MAHMOUD TIGHADOUNI: We were talking about jihad, about do you want to fight in Afghanistan? Do you want to fight in Iraq? And I said, “Yes, of course, I want to help my Muslim brothers and sisters. They kill them for no reason.” I was almost going, because I had my suitcase already done. My mom, she prevented it, gladly.

HARI SREENIVASAN: His mother, Fatima, had noticed a change in Mahmoud.

FATIMA BEN AYAD: (Translated from Arabic) I have to know what he does. So I found his passport in the drawer in his room and I took it and I hid it. I was scared, my son shouldn’t be going to somewhere that’s not good.

HARI SREENIVASAN: She also called her local community police officer to intervene. And the officer confronted Tighadouni in his house.

MAHMOUD TIGHADOUNI: He said, “Listen, Mahmoud, this is the time you need to stop with this.” And I was very upset on the same time, but I was also listening to him, because he was very clear. That’s the moment when I started not to be normal, but when I started to think, to de-radicalize.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There are more than 3,400 community police officers, known in Dutch as a “wijkagents,” across the Netherlands. Each is assigned to one neighborhood to get to know it very well.

JAN POTS: Hallo!

HARI SREENIVASAN: Mickael Scharloo and Jan Pots are two of these community police officers in south Rotterdam, one of the poorest areas of the city and one of the most diverse, with 120 nationalities and a large Muslim population.

JAN POTS: All is goot? Yea..

HARI SREENIVASAN: Pots and Scharloo tackle small issues like traffic and parking violations, but they are also on the front lines of preventing violent radicalization. Pots describes fielding similar calls to the one Tighadouni’s mother made.

JAN POTS: (Translated from Dutch) We had a conversation with the parents and with the boy, who wanted to travel to Syria. And we set up all the help we could to prevent that — we took his passport, and made contact with other partners that we work with.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Scharloo says officers like them are effective only by having strong personal relationships with the communities they serve.

MICKAEL SCHARLOO: If people want to tell me something, they have to know me. Because they have to trust me with certain material and certain information.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Although efforts to prevent radicalization have been underway in Rotterdam for years, some don’t believe they go far enough.

Rotterdam City Council member Tanya Hoogwerf is skeptical that intervention by police, religious leaders, and community groups is sufficient to combat the growing threat of homegrown radicalism.

She advocates a harder law enforcement approach.

TANYA HOOGWERF: It’s a real threat, and it is a security problem, and it’s not something you’re going to solve with a teacher at school. It’s not something you’re going to solve with a community police service. It’s something that you’re only going to solve and tackle with a hard security impregnated approach.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Hoogwerf would like to see Dutch citizens who join ISIS or other militant groups in Syria or Iraq banned from re-entering the country, or at a minimum detained.

TANYA HOOGWERF: If we are going to spend money, don’t spend money on some small organizations that pretend they can de-radicalize. No, spend it on serious intelligence solutions. Put more emphasis on taking people that are potentially a threat away from the streets of Rotterdam and put them in detention.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Marianne Vorthoven of SPIOR admits it’s difficult to quantify success in the work it is doing to prevent radicalization.

MARIANNE VORTHOVEN: We cannot say for a fact that otherwise this young man or young woman would have gone to Syria, but because we’ve had this meeting with him or her, now she is not going. But what we see is that people open up about a very sensitive and complicated subject.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Mohamed Nidalha has been vocal about sharing his story in the Netherlands in the hope that it will raise awareness among other parents. He believes that anyone could be susceptible to radicalization.

MOHAMED NIDHALA: (Translated from Dutch) I gave my son the freedom to choose, I didn’t raise him religiously, and still I couldn’t prevent this.

The post How the Dutch are working to stop radicalization of Muslim youth appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Hundreds dead as migrant crisis escalates in the Mediterranean Sea

A dead body is disembarked from the Italian Navy vessel Vega at the Reggio Calabria harbour, southern Italy, May 29,
         2016. As many as 900 people died crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Africa during the last five days. Photo By Antonio Parrinello/Reuters

A dead body is disembarked from the Italian Navy vessel Vega at the Reggio Calabria harbour, southern Italy, May 29, 2016. As many as 900 people died crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Africa during the last five days. Photo By Antonio Parrinello/Reuters

At least 700 migrants attempting to cross from Libya to Europe may have drowned last week after three boats capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Doctors Without Borders said Sunday.

The drownings came as a multinational coalition of ships combed open waters in search of survivors, while humanitarian groups and the UNHCR say the exact death toll may never be confirmed.

Nearly 100 people are missing from one boat that capsized on Wednesday, while a witness who spoke to the Associated Press described a second fishing boat overfilling with water before it sank on Thursday, killing up to an estimated 670 people. A third boat on Friday killed at least 45 people after it went down.

A child holds a doll as he sits in a coach after disembarking from the Italian Navy vessel Vega at the Reggio Calabria
         harbour, southern Italy, May 29, 2016. Photo By Antonio Parrinello/Reuters

A child holds a doll as he sits in a coach after disembarking from the Italian Navy vessel Vega at the Reggio Calabria harbour, southern Italy, May 29, 2016. Photo By Antonio Parrinello/Reuters

Many of the migrants who reportedly died last week at sea were from Eritrea, while a Sudanese man who commanded one of the boats could face charges. At least three infants were among the dead.

“Some were more shaken than others because they had lost their loved ones,” Raffaele Martino, commander of an Italian navy ship that rescued 135 people, told Reuters on Sunday.

Giovanna Di Benedetto, a spokesperson for the humanitarian group Save the Children, told the Associated Press that this week marks an escalation in the years-long migratory crisis.

“It really looks like that in the last period the situation is really worsening in the last week, if the news is confirmed,” Di Benedetto said.

A woman is helped by medical staff abroad the Italian Navy vessel Vega at the Reggio Calabria harbour, southern Italy,
         May 29, 2016. Photo By Antonio Parrinello/Reuters

A woman is helped by medical staff abroad the Italian Navy vessel Vega at the Reggio Calabria harbour, southern Italy, May 29, 2016. Photo By Antonio Parrinello/Reuters

At least 14,000 people have been rescued in the last week as the number of people attempting to migrate to Europe from north Africa has swelled. According to the U.N., nearly 40,000 people have made the crossing this year, mainly to Italy and Greece.

Another 160,000 people, mostly Syrian refugees, have taken to the Mediterranean this year in an attempt to reach Europe as the country’s civil war continues. Some European nations have shut down their borders to staunch the flow of migrants fleeing war, oppression and poverty. In 2015, more than 1 million people migrated to Europe, mostly via the sea.

Tommaso Fabri, of Doctors Without Borders, said European nations need to do more to stem the rash of deaths among migrants and refugees.

“It’s time that Europe had the courage to offer safe alternatives that allow these people to come without putting their own lives or those of their children in danger,” Fabri said.

The post Hundreds dead as migrant crisis escalates in the Mediterranean Sea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Why this formerly radicalized Muslim is speaking out against extremism

Photo by PBS NewsHour Weekend

Amsterdam native Mahmoud Tighadouini shared his path toward radicalization. Photo by PBS NewsHour Weekend

AMSTERDAM — After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the start of the war in Iraq in 2003, 30-year-old Amsterdam native Mahmoud Tighadouini fell into an online community that exposed him to radical Islamic ideology for the first time.

In online messages sent to Tighadouini, the U.S. — and, more generally, the West — were cast as enemies of all Muslims.

As his beliefs became more extreme, he harbored ambitions to travel abroad to fight for the cause.

Growing up in a Muslim family that originally emigrated from Morocco, Tighadouini says his path toward radicalization began years earlier as he grappled with his own identity. “I live in the Netherlands, but [people here] were always looking to me like a Moroccan,” he said.

But in embracing his identity as a radical, he started to feel that void being filled, he said. “It felt like really safe, it’s like I found what I was looking for,” he said. “I needed the structure — I needed the people who say to me how to go, how to live.”

Tighadouini stopped going to school, spending more and more time alone in his room and on the computer. He began to dress in traditional Islamic clothing and get into fights with his family. He became increasingly isolated — speaking only to like-minded people on the internet.

As the years passed, he became convinced that he should travel abroad to “help his Muslim brothers and sisters.”

“You become very angry,” Tighadouini said, recalling his ambition to fight. “I cannot only watch and sit in my room.”

Tighadouini packed a bag, planning to travel to either Afghanistan or Iraq. It was then that his mother, Fatima Ben Ayad, intervened. She took his passport and called the police.

“I was scared,” she said. “My son shouldn’t be going to somewhere that’s not good.”

But the police didn’t arrest Tighadouini. Instead, a community officer came to his house to speak with him about his behavior. He told Tighadouini that it was time to end his isolation and that his actions were causing pain for his family. “I was very upset, but I was also listening to him, because he was very clear,” Tighadouini said. “So I was thinking, okay, maybe it’s right.”

It was in that moment he says he began the process of de-radicalization.

READ NEXT: What can the U.S. do to stop radicalization at home?

But the years of hatred had taken a toll on his psyche. As he tried to turn his life around — going back to school and trying to securing a job — it was difficult to completely change his outlook.

“It stays in your head,” Tighadouini said. “When something happened in wars or like with Syria, the hate comes back — or wanted to come back.”

He was still struggling with those feelings when he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2011. As he lay in a hospital bed being treated by a team of Dutch doctors, Tighadouini had a sudden realization. “They don’t see a Muslim on the bed, they see me, a human,” he said. “So why can I not do the same thing?”

Then, when two gunmen attacked the Paris office of satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” in January of last year, Tighadouini felt compelled to speak out against the assault. While there was almost universal outcry about the terrorist attack that killed 12 people, he felt he was in a unique position to make a difference.

“I know what happened in the minds of the youth so I want to tell my story,” Tighadouini said. “Maybe I can prevent something, maybe a guy will hear my story, will think, ‘Yeah, maybe he’s right.’”

After the attacks in Paris last November, he wrote an op-ed  piece in the Dutch newspaper “De Volkskrant” about his experience. He hopes he may reach people who are in the same position he was in. It’s this potential to help, he says, that makes any stigma or negative responses that he may receive for going public with his story worth the risk.

“I have a responsibility to speak out — as a Muslim, as a human,” he said.

The post Why this formerly radicalized Muslim is speaking out against extremism appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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