Inter Press Network

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Frenchman held for vandalising Jewish graves and racist axe attack

LYON, France, Aug 16 (AFP) - A 24 year-old Frenchman alleged to have attacked a north African with an axe and desecrated a Jewish cemetery was placed under investigation here Monday for attempted murder and damaging religious property.

The Lyon state attorney said 24 year-old Michel Tronchon had been driven by hatred of Arabs.

The alleged attack on the north African took place on August 5 and a rampage through a Jewish cemetery damaging 60 gravestones occurred four days later.

Tronchon was remanded in custody on suspicion of attempted murder motivated by racist and xenophobic motives, and of destruction of private property in a religious place.

If found guilty he could face life imprisonment.

Earlier a prosecutor said the suspect had turned himself in to police in Paris on Saturday carrying an axe and was taken back to the eastern French city to face investigation.

French President Jacques Chirac condemned the August 9 desecration of the Jewish cemetery, in which swastikas, Celtic crosses and references to Adolf Hitler were daubed across gravestones and a Holocaust monument in black paint, and called for tough punishment for the culprit.

Police looking for a man who wielded an axe in the August 5 assault on a victim of north African origin said a witness account linked the suspect to that crime, too.

The accused, who quit his job at the start of August, appeared to be a solitary figure who had "a visceral hatred of Arabs" and who thought the cemetery desecration would prompt further actions by neo-Nazi groups, the prosecutor's office said.

A search of the man's home in Lyon had turned up another axe he had bought the day before the graffiti attack.

He also told investigators that he had sent a piece of a gravestone to a Paris newspaper in a quest for publicity for his act.

Officials said the suspect walked into a police station in Paris and confessed he was "Phineas" - a name that had been painted on some of the defaced graves. In the Bible, Phineas was a priest who killed a fellow Israelite and a Midianite (Arab) woman because the two were having relations.

A regional police chief, Jean-Christophe Ladarde, said the man had surrendered because he wanted media attention and because he was in Paris with no money.

France has taken steps to crack down severely on racist acts because of a wave of attacks on people of north African or Jewish background fuelled by Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

The number of racist and anti-Semitic acts committed in the country soared in the first half of 2004, according to interior ministry statistics, with 135 acts of physical violence against Jews and 95 against north African and other ethnic groups.

Some 650,000 Jews live in France along with around 5 million Muslims, out of an overall population of some 58 million.


Bereuter: War in Iraq not justified

BY DON WALTON /Lincoln Journal Star

In a dramatic departure from the Bush administration, Republican Rep. Doug Bereuter says he now believes the U.S. military assault on Iraq was unjustified.

"I've reached the conclusion, retrospectively, now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions are being revealed, that all things being considered, it was a mistake to launch that military action," Bereuter wrote in a letter to constituents in the final days of his congressional career.

That's especially true in view of the fact that the attack was initiated "without a broad and engaged international coalition," the 1st District congressman said.

"Knowing now what I know about the reliance on the tenuous or insufficiently corroborated intelligence used to conclude that Saddam maintained a substantial WMD (weapons of mass destruction) arsenal, I believe that launching the pre-emptive military action was not justified."

As a result of the war, he said, "our country's reputation around the world has never been lower and our alliances are weakened."

Bereuter is a senior member of the House International Relations Committee and vice chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

His four-page letter represented a departure from his support for a 2002 House resolution authorizing the president to go to war.

His vote to authorize the use of military force - even pre-emptive force - was based on faulty, or misrepresented, intelligence that led to the fear Saddam Hussein would share weapons of mass destruction with terrorists, Bereuter said.

"Left unresolved for now is whether intelligence was intentionally misconstrued to justify military action," he said.

In a floor statement accompanying his 2002 vote, Bereuter urged that the international coalition be broadened and the administration adequately plan for the consequences of war and not divert resources from the battle against al-Qaida and the stabilization of Afghanistan.

Despite acknowledged intelligence failures and failure to locate weapons of mass destruction, President Bush continues to forcefully argue the war was justified because Saddam represented a threat to the United States, his neighbors and the people of Iraq.

While criticizing the manner in which the administration went to war, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has said he still would have voted for the authorizing resolution knowing what he knows today.

Bereuter pointed to a list of negative consequences arising from the war.

"The cost in casualties is already large and growing," he said, "and the immediate and long-term financial costs are incredible.

"From the beginning of the conflict, it was doubtful that we for long would be seen as liberators, but instead increasingly as an occupying force.

"Now we are immersed in a dangerous, costly mess, and there is no easy and quick way to end our responsibilities in Iraq without creating bigger future problems in the region and, in general, in the Muslim world."

Bereuter sent the letter to constituents who have contacted him about the war.

"I felt I should send you a forthright update of my views and conclusions on that subject before I leave office," he said.

Bereuter will depart the House after 26 years to become president of the Asia Foundation on Sept. 1.

Congress and the administration "must learn from the errors and failures" related to the attack and its aftermath, he said.

"The toll in American military casualties and those of civilians, physical damages caused, financial resources spent, and the damage to the support and image of America abroad all demand such an assessment and accounting."

In addition to "a massive failure or misinterpretation of intelligence" concerning weapons of mass destruction, Bereuter said, the Bush administration made a number of errors in prosecuting the war despite warnings about the consequences.

"American and coalition forces were inadequate in number to take effective control of Iraq when the initial military action was completed," he said.

Other mistakes included disbanding the Iraqi army and placing responsibility for reconstruction with the Department of Defense instead of the Department of State, he said.

Reach Don Walton at 473-7248 or


US pushes into Baghdad Shia area

US forces say they have made a major advance into a mainly Shia area in Baghdad that is a stronghold of the radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr.

American troops moved into Sadr City, calling on militiamen to surrender.

In Najaf, where Mr Sadr is locked in a stand-off with US and Iraqi troops, gunfire reverberated on Thursday.

The cleric has offered to end the uprising, but says there must be a truce before his Mehdi militia will leave the Imam Ali shrine and disarm.


The operation, which saw US soldiers with tanks and Bradley armoured vehicles move some 2.5km (1.5 miles) into Sadr City, began on Wednesday, a US officer said.

"This is the first time (Sadr's) Mehdi militia has had to fight across the entire width of Sadr City. So it's got to throw them off balance," Lieutenant-Colonel Lopez Carter told a pool reporter embedded with the troops.

A US tank was reportedly badly damaged and one US soldier wounded during the assault on the suburb, which is home to about two million people.

Latest reports from Sadr City said US soldiers were using loudspeakers to urge militia fighters to hand over their weapons.

In Najaf, gunfire and explosions were heard coming from the historic centre on Thursday morning.

The first indications that Mr Sadr was offering to withdraw from the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf came during a national conference in Baghdad to select an interim Iraqi council.

As delegates met for an unscheduled fourth day on Wednesday, one of the organisers of the meeting read out a letter which she said she had received from Mr Sadr, in which he accepted the national conference's terms.

These also included joining the political process in exchange for an amnesty, she said.

The previous day, Mr Sadr had refused to meet a peace delegation sent by the conference, citing concerns over security and the status of the delegates.


One of Mr Sadr's spokesmen, Sheikh Hassan al-Zerkani, told the BBC that the cleric's offer was genuine, but guarantees needed to come from the occupiers, not the occupied.

He said signs were needed from the Americans that they would not go after the Mehdi Army.

The Iraqi defence ministry later said Mr Sadr and his followers would be granted amnesty only after they abandoned their uprising in Najaf and other cities.

The BBC's Kylie Morris in Najaf says Mr Sadr has shown himself a master of brinkmanship and bluff in the past - and whether he is sincere in his offer will only be clear when peace returns to Najaf.


'The Forgotten'.. Israeli Crimes Against Detainees

By Suleiman Besharat
IOL correspondent

CAIRO, August 17 ( – As Palestinian security detainees in Israeli jails continued their 'empty stomach' battle for the third day running Tuesday, August 18, a new book documenting the torture methods used by the Israeli investigators against the Palestinian detainees, hit the shelves.

Published by the Arab Information Center in Cairo under the title "The Forgotten In Zionist Jails", Palestinian writer Ibrahim Abul Haigaa sheds light on the systematic methods used in Israeli jails to extract confessions from the Palestinian detainees.

The horrible torture methods used by the Israeli investigators against the Palestinian prisoners include putting out cigarettes at the sensitive parts of the detainees' bodies and sitting the detainee on a very small chair with his hands tied up behind his back for long hours.

Exposing the detainee to electric shakes as he sits on an electric chair was among the torture methods used, often leading to losing the consciousness of the detainees.

Beating and depriving from sleep, food and answering the call of nature are also used by the Israeli investigators to punish the Palestinian detainees who refuse to comply with the regulations of the jail administration.

Palestinian male prisoners are also stripped for long hours and some of them, including children, are sexually abused, as per the book.

In addition, the Israeli investigators threaten the detainee with bringing some of his relatives to watch him while being sexually abused in case he does not cooperate with the Israeli authorities.

Rape Threats

The Israeli investigators also threaten to rape female Palestinian detainees in case they refuse to deal with the investigators.

"Raping is the threat they use against me, they say either you confess or this soldier will rape you before us," the writer quotes female detainee Raeda Mohamed Shehada, as saying.

The same method was cited by another female detainee.

"The Israeli investigators threaten me to bring some women to rape me by force," said Fatma Kurd.

Athird, Safaa Deabes, agrees.

"An investigator approached me saying, were you a virgin when you got married?"

"He threatened I would come on my kneels after he brings who rapes me."

Rahab Al-Essawi, another Palestinian detainee, said she was threatened to be raped if "I did not give a full confession".

"At this moment as I kept steadfast, the investigator got angered, throwing a bottle of peer at my face as he screams and insults me."

The writer cites a case of a Palestinian detainee, Abla Taha, who was raped by some Israeli female soldiers while dozens of Israeli soldiers stood watching.

The writer also cites some cases of Palestinian detainees who died due to medical negligence. The number of the Palestinian detainees who are under long-term detention periods are 1046 among more than 7000 detainees in the Israeli prisons, according to the writer.

More than 8,000 Palestinians detained in Israel , some are held with no charges leveled or terms set for their release, have started an open-hunger strike on Sunday to protest the Israeli practices against them.

The Washington Post reported June 16 that the accounts of physical abuse of Iraqis by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad are similar to the Israeli army techniques in torturing Palestinian detainees.

It cited cases of Palestinian detainees painfully tortured by their Israeli interrogators and placed in stress postures similar to those imposed on Iraqi detainees.


Journalist killed in Fallujah

From correspondents in Berlin

AN Iraqi freelance journalist working for Germany's ZDF television has been killed in the flashpoint city of Fallujah, the network said today.

Mahmud Hamid Abbas, 32, had gone to the city on Sunday to film when he was killed "in unexplained circumstances", it said.

The media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) said the journalist was killed as he was leaving his native Fallujah for Baghdad.

"When he phoned the ZDF office in Baghdad to say he was coming he mentioned he had just filmed a house destroyed by US warplanes," RSF said, quoting ZDF's Iraq correspondent.

"About 25 minutes later, he rang again to say he had seen a second attack. During the call, he suddenly said he and others with him were being fired at. There was a dull thud, apparently an explosion, and the line was cut off, according to the ZDF correspondent in Iraq," the Paris-based rights group said in a statement.

"He was not far from the front line between the US and Iraqi rebel forces fighting in Fallujah but there was no evidence he had been targeted by a missile, rocket or bomb fired by them. He may have been killed by criminals active in the area."

Married with three children, Mahmud Hamid Abbas is the 20th journalist to be killed in Iraq this year and the 34th since the start of the fighting in March 2003, RSF said.

"This new death is another blow to media workers in Iraq, who have already had a very hard time," it said.

-The story was first published on August 18,2004 in the Herald Sun newspaper of Australia