Spanish police rescue 21 ‘exploited’ migrant workers from warehouse

BBC.com – Spanish police say they have rescued 21 migrants who were being forced to work long hours in poor conditions at a second-hand clothing warehouse.

Video showed several people being freed from a secret room hidden behind heavy trolleys piled high with clothes.

A father and two sons who ran the business in the south-eastern province of Murcia have been arrested.

Police said the business sourced and distributed clothing to African countries for sale.

In a statement (in Spanish), authorities said the migrants had been forced to work long days in poor conditions and were paid only two euros (£1.80; $2.40) per hour.

When officers raided the business in Fuente Álamo, the manager began to shout at his workers to run and hide, the statement said.

Four of them jumped an outer fence while others locked themselves in the warehouse. When officers gained entry they found eight workers had been placed inside a “den” that was hidden behind heavy trolleys full of clothing.

They said the secret room had been built to hide people in the event of police intervention.

“The detainees recruited foreign citizens in an irregular situation to force them to work without any legal guarantee during long hours,” police said.

“They took advantage of their vulnerability, and their situation of need, to subject them to harsh working conditions.”

The statement said there was a “total absence of occupational safety and hygiene measures” at the warehouse.

The three arrested are due to appear before a court in Cartagena.

Nigeria school attack: Hundreds missing in Katsina after raid by gunmen

BBC.com – Bint’a Ismail: “I have a child and younger brother who’ve been taken”

Hundreds of students are feared missing after gunmen raided a secondary school in north-western Nigeria.

The attackers arrived on motorbikes and started shooting into the air, causing people to flee, witnesses said.

They targeted the Government Science Secondary School – where more than 800 students are said to reside – in Katsina state on Friday evening.

On Saturday, the military said it had located the gunmen’s hideout in a forest and exchanged gunfire with them.

The outcome was unclear but officials said there were no reports of students being injured.

Meanwhile, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack and ordered the school to carry out a full audit of students to find out how many are missing. Parents who dashed to the school to take their children home were also asked to notify the school authorities.

Residents living near the all-boys boarding school in the Kankara area told the BBC they heard gunfire at about 23:00 (22:00 GMT) on Friday, and that the attack lasted for more than an hour.

Security personnel at the school managed to repel some of the attackers before police reinforcements arrived, officials said.

In a statement on Saturday, police said that during an exchange of fire, some of the gunmen were forced to retreat. Students were able to scale the fence of the school and run to safety, they said.

About 200 students who had fled – and were initially deemed missing – later returned. However, witnesses said they saw a number of students being taken away by the gunmen.

You might be interested in:

• The Nigerian town that lost its girls

• What we know about Chibok kidnappings

• Chibok girl’s life with Boko Haram in Nigeria

Inside abducted Chibok girls’ school in Nigeria

One police officer was taken to hospital after being shot and wounded, police said.

Several local residents on Saturday said they had joined the police in searching for the students who remained missing, while many parents said they had withdrawn their children from the school.

“The school is deserted, all the students have vacated,” one witness, Nura Abdullahi, told AFP news agency.

“Some of the students who escaped returned to the town this morning, but others took a bus home,” he added.

The governor of Katsina, Aminu Bello Massari, has ordered the immediate closure of all boarding schools in the state.

Katsina is the home state of President Buhari, who is currently there for a week-long private visit.

“I strongly condemn the cowardly bandits’ attack on innocent children at the Science School, Kankara,” he said in a statement. “Our prayers are with the families of the students, the school authorities and the injured.”

The attack on Friday came two days after the kidnapping of a village leader and 20 others in another part of the state.

In 2014, more than 270 girls were kidnapped by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram from a school in the north-eastern Nigerian town of Chibok.

No group has yet said it carried out the raid on the school in Katsina, which is far from Boko Haram’s usual area of operation in the north-east.

Post-Brexit trade talks have entered their final day but sources say there is little sign of agreement.

Gunmen kill TV cameraman in northwestern Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Unidentified gunmen shot and killed a journalist in the northwestern Pakistani city of Dera Ismail Khan, police said Tuesday.

Police officer Aslam Khan said gunmen riding on a motorcycle opened fire on Qais Javed near his home after midnight and fled from the scene. Khan said Javed was shot multiple times and was rushed to the city’s main hospital but died on the way. Javed, 37, previously worked as a cameraman at a top local television station and had recently started his own web channel.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the killing and police said they were investigating to determine the motive. Javed was Christian and extremist groups have targeted members of religious minorities in recent years. Islamic militants have also targeted journalists in the region.

Pakistan is considered to be one of the most dangerous places for journalists as 70 have been killed in the country in last two decades, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

US attorney general troubled by Mexican limits on agents

MEXICO CITY (AP) — U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Friday the United States is troubled by legislation pending in Mexico that would limit foreign agents and remove their immunity.

In a statement, Barr said the proposed law that before the lower house of congress would hurt cross-border cooperation and would benefit drug cartels.

The measure “would have the effect of making cooperation between our countries more difficult,” Barr wrote. “This would make the citizens of Mexico and the United States less safe.”

“The passage of this legislation can only benefit the violent transnational criminal organizations and other criminals that we are jointly fighting,” he added.

There was no immediate reaction from Mexican officials.

On Wednesday, Mexico’s Senate approved the proposal from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to require all foreign agents, from any country, to share all information they gather with Mexican authorities. It also would require any Mexican officials they contact to submit a full report to Mexican federal authorities.

The bill includes a vague promise to keep secret any information shared with Mexico. Mexico has traditionally relied on U.S. agents to generate much of its intelligence information on drug gangs, but it has history of officials leaking such information and even at times sharing it with drug cartels.

In most countries, the chief Drug Enforcement Administration agent in the country often has full diplomatic immunity and other agents have some form of limited or technical immunity. The bill would eliminate all immunity.

Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former chief of international operations, predicted this week that the information is “going to be leaked, it’s going to compromise agents, it’s going to compromise informants.”

The history of leaks is well documented. In 2017, the commander of a Mexican police intelligence-sharing unit that received DEA information was charged with passing the DEA data to the Beltran Leyva drug cartel in exchange for millions of dollars.

The proposal also specifies that any Mexican public servant — state, federal or local — who has as much as a phone call or text message from a U.S. agent would be required “to deliver a written report to the Foreign Relations Department and the Public Safety Department within three days.”

Warning that would make for a cumbersome system, Vigil said: “It is going to hinder bilateral operations; it is going to hinder bilateral exchange of information. This is going to be much more detrimental to Mexico than to the United States.”

As Iran Mourns Nuclear Scientist, Officials Vow to Find His Killers

(NY Times) – We chase the criminals to the end,” the Iranian defense minister said at the funeral of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

The Iranian Defense Ministry on Monday held a funeral for Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, one of Iran’s top nuclear scientists who was assassinated last Friday. Officials promised to find and punish those responsible for his killing.Iranian Defense Ministry, via Associated Press

The Iranian defense minister vowed on Monday to find and punish those responsible for the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, while another senior official offered an account of the attack radically different from initial reports in the Iranian state news media.

“We chase the criminals to the end,” the defense minister, Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami, said at a ceremony mourning Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was shot and killed outside Tehran last Friday while traveling with his bodyguards.

Iranian state news outlets initially reported that gunmen had killed Mr. Fakhrizadeh in a roadside ambush after a truck explosion — and even interviewed a supposed witness. But speaking at the funeral on Monday, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, said that Israel had carried out the attack using sophisticated “electronic devices.”

He did not elaborate, but the Fars news agency, an affiliate of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, said the assassination was carried out with a machine gun operated by remote control.

The new version of events, which could not immediately be confirmed, seemed to represent a coordinated effort at damage control by the nation’s security apparatus after a public and official backlash after the embarrassingly public assassination of Mr. Fakhrizadeh, which Western intelligence officials have said was carried out by Israel.

At the funeral at the headquarters of the Defense Ministry, photographs and footage showed a procession carrying Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s coffin, covered with flowers and draped with the Iranian flag.

It was the latest of expression of fury at the death of Mr. Fakhrizadeh, who for two decades was the brains behind what American and Israeli intelligence described as Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program, though Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful uses only.

But on Monday General Hatami said that the death of the scientist, whom he called a martyr, would make him a model for Iranian youth and only strengthen the nation’s resolve to forge ahead with his work.

Though he did not specify how, General Hatami said the country would take to heart the commands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, to punish the perpetrators and commanders behind the killing. Tehran is assembling an elite group to capture and prosecute the perpetrators, Iran’s judiciary chief, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, said on Monday. Members include the attorney general and select members of the armed forces and intelligence services.

A protest in Tehran on Saturday against Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times

“Once again, the evil hands of global arrogance and the Zionist mercenaries were stained with the blood of an Iranian son,” the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said on Saturday, echoing phrases that Iranian officials often use in reference to Israel. He added that the country would respond “in due course.”

After that threat, Israel on Saturday put its embassies around the world on high alert, Israeli N12 News reported. The country’s Foreign Ministry said it would not comment on embassy security matters.

The calls for retribution heightened concerns that the situation could escalate. Over the weekend, Germany urged all sides to refrain from retaliatory actions in the last weeks of the Trump administration to preserve hopes for renewed negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program once Joseph R. Biden Jr. assumes the presidency.

Under the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers — a signature foreign policy milestone of the Obama administration — Tehran accepted strict restraints on its ability to produce as much nuclear fuel as it wanted. President Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and reimposed stringent sanctions on Iran.

Mr. Biden is expected to try to restore the accord, perhaps adding limits on Iran’s production and export of sophisticated weapons, but the killing threatens to complicate that effort. Iran’s reaction over the next few weeks is likely to determine whether it will succeed, analysts say.

Hungarian lawmaker resigns after caught fleeing a ‘sex party’ by climbing down a drainpipe

(CNN) — A senior member of the European Parliament from Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party has resigned after he admitted to breaching Belgium’s coronavirus lockdown to attend a private gathering described by national media as a “sex party.”

József Szàjer said in a statement that he was “present” at the “private party,” where police found about 20 people, including diplomats.

According to Sarah Durant, the spokeswoman for the Brussels’ public prosecutor’s office, police were called to an apartment above a bar in the historic city center at 9:30 p.m. last Friday after neighbors “complained of nighttime noise and potential violations of measures linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Officers found about 20 people at the apartment, two of whom, aged 43 and 33, claimed diplomatic immunity, Durrant said.

“The outbreak is so bad in Belgium, some Covid-positive health workers are being asked to keep working ”

During police checks, “a passer-by reported to police that he had seen a man flee down the drainpipe,” Durrant explained.

“The man’s hands were bloody. It is possible that he may have been injured while fleeing. Narcotics were found in his backpack. The man was unable to produce any identity documents. He was escorted to his place of residence, where he identified himself on the basis of a diplomatic passport as S.J. (1961).”

The prosecutor’s office said the 59-year-old Hungarian MEP was being investigated over possession of narcotics. “The procedure is ongoing. Criminal proceedings could only be brought after the waiver of the diplomatic or parliamentary immunity of the above-mentioned persons by the competent authorities.”

Szàjer has denied taking drugs, and said he “deeply” regretted breaking Covid-19 restrictions. “I offered the police to make an instant test, but they did not do it. According to the police they found an ecstasy pill, but it was not mine, I have no knowledge who and how it (was) placed,” he said.

The gathering, a few meters (yards) from the Brussels Central Police station, broke Belgium’s lockdown restrictions, which include an evening curfew and a cap on indoor gatherings to four people.

Official reports were drawn up for those who broke Covid-19 measures. The standard fine for breaking coronavirus restrictions is 250 euros (about $300).

“Hungary bans people from legally changing gender”

“I deeply regret for violating the COVID restrictions, it was irresponsible on my part. I am ready to stand for the fine that occurs,” said Szàjer.

The politician apologized to his family, colleagues and voters and asked them “to evaluate my misstep on the background of thirty years of devotion and hard work.”

“The misstep is strictly personal,” he added. “I am the only one who owes responsibility for it. I ask everyone not to extend it to my homeland, or to my political community.”

Szájer is a founding member of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, led by nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and also one of the co-authors of the country’s controversial constitution in 2010 that defined marriage as being solely between a man and a woman.

Recently, Fidesz has expressed anti-gay views and has voiced strong opposition to worldwide rights for women, girls and LGBTQ people.

Szájer was the head of the Fidesz delegation in the European Parliament and a sat on the Parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

Qatar identifies mother of newborn girl abandoned at international airport

By Mostafa Salem and Ben Westcott, CNN

Abu Dhabi (CNN)Qatar says it has identified the parents of a newborn baby found abandoned at Doha international airport last month, in an incident that sparked widespread anger after more than a dozen women said they were invasively searched during the initial investigation.

In a statement Monday, a Qatari prosecutor said that an unspecified number of airport security staff responsible for carrying out examinations of female passengers have been charged and could face prison sentences of up to three years.

The prosecutor said it had also charged the child’s mother, who has left the country, with attempted murder and that it had launched legal proceedings to arrest her. The mother identified only as of “Asian nationality” could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted, the statement said.

The mother is believed to have boarded and departed on a flight out of Qatar sometime after abandoning the infant at the airport. The statement did not say where she had traveled to.

Authorities in Qatar said that the newborn baby was found either in or beside a trash can in a bathroom at Hamad International Airport in Doha on October 2. The infant is now being taken care of by Qatari authorities.

Following the discovery of the infant, more than 18 women from 10 different flights, including 13 Australians aboard a Sydney-bound plane, were subjected to compulsory intimate medical examinations by airport security.

The examinations caused outrage in Australia, where the actions have been likened to sexual assault. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison denounced the incident as “appalling” and “unacceptable.”

According to the Qatari statement, an investigation into the incident revealed that “some employees” at Hamad International Airport had “acted unilaterally” to summon female medical staff to perform examinations of female passengers.

“(They believed) that what they were doing was in conformity with the law,” the prosecution statement said on Monday.

The statement did not say what crimes had been committed, or how many staff members had been charged.

The government of Qatar issued a statement on October 28 apologizing for “any distress or infringement on the personal freedom of any traveler” as a result of the incident.

Parents identified:

According to the prosecutor’s statement, investigations revealed that the mother was in a relationship with an unnamed man “also of a nationality belonging to an Asian country.” The statement added that “as result of this relationship, the child was born.”

In Qatar, sex outside of marriage remains a criminal act. It is not uncommon for women to abandon children to avoid imprisonment.

The father of the child told the Qatari prosecutors that the mother had sent him a message and a picture of the child immediately after the birth, in which she said that “she (had) dumped the child and fled to her country.”

“While departing the country, the mother threw the newborn child in the trash of one of the bathrooms of the airport’s departure hall, and boarded the plane to her destination,” the statement said.

The statement does not make clear when or where the mother gave birth or how authorities were able to locate and identify the man.

“The crime of attempting to kill an infant immediately after birth, and in the circumstances in which she was found, is one of the most heinous crimes and most contrary to human values. It is punishable by the Qatari Penal Code, with a maximum of fifteen years.”

Venezuela judge convicts 6 American oil execs, orders prison

By SCOTT SMITH, Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A Venezuelan judge found six American oil executives guilty of corruption charges Thursday and immediately sentenced them to prison.

The judge’s ruling came with sentences of more than eight years for each. The so-called Citgo 6 had been lured to Venezuela for three years ago for a business meeting and arrested.

They are employees of the Houston-based Citgo refining company, which is owned by Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA.

___

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A U.S. oil executive jailed for three years in Venezuela said all he hopes for is a fair trial so that he can walk free with his name cleared and go home to his family in the United States.

In a letter from prison provided exclusively to The Associated Press, Tomeu Vadell said it’s especially painful to be separated during the Thanksgiving season from his wife, three adult children and a newborn grandson he’s never held.

“Before living this tragedy, these celebrations were very special times for our family,” Vadell wrote, saying he embraced the traditional American holiday after moving in 1999 from Caracas to Lake Charles, Louisiana, for a job with Venezuelan-owned Citgo. “Now, they bring me a lot of sadness.”

It’s the first time Vadell, or any of the so-called Citgo 6, have spoken publicly since being arrested and charged with a massive corruption scheme. He’s held at a feared Caracas jail called El Helicoide.

Despite his circumstances, Vadell held out hope for a brighter future.

“During the trial, the truth has proven undeniable,” Vadell said in the four-page hand-written letter. “It proves that I am innocent.”

Vadell, 61, and five other Citgo executives were summoned to the headquarters of the Venezuelan state-run oil firm PDVSA, the parent company of the Houston-based Citgo, for what they had been told was a budget meeting on Nov. 21, 2017. A corporate jet shuttled them to Caracas and they were told they’d be home for Thanksgiving.

Instead, a cadre of military intelligence officers swarmed the boardroom, taking them to jail.

Their trial started four months ago and closing arguments took place Thursday. That starts a wait for the judge’s verdict.

With their arrests, President Nicolás Maduro’s government launched a purge inside Venezuela’s once-thriving oil industry, built on the world’s largest crude reserves. It later arrested the head of PDVSA, a former oil minister and dozens of others.

The men accused along with Vadell are Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, brothers Jose Luis Zambrano and Alirio Zambrano, all now U.S. citizens, and Jose Pereira, a permanent resident.

They’re charged with embezzlement stemming from a never-executed proposal to refinance some $4 billion in Citgo bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral. Maduro at the time accused them of “treason.” They all plead innocence.

The trial has played out one day a week in a downtown Caracas court. Due to the pandemic, sessions are held in front of a bank of dormant elevators in a hallway, apparently to take advantage of air flowing through open windows.

News media and rights groups have been denied access to the hearings. There was no response to a letter addressed to Judge Lorena Cornielles seeking permission for The Associated Press to observe.

The office of Venezuela’s chief prosecutor said in a statement to the AP that investigators found “serious evidence” that corroborates financial crimes potentially damaging to the state-run company.

“The Citgo case has developed normally during all the stages established by the Venezuelan criminal process,” the statement said. “In the next few days we’ll know the verdict.”

Vadell’s attorney, Jesus Loreto, said his client appears to have been caught up in a “geopolitical conflict” of which he’s not a part. He said Vadell’s name never appeared on any of the documents prosecutors read into evidence.

“There’s nothing that refers to Tomeu in any way — directly or indirectly,” he said. “This is the story of a good guy being held against his will for all the wrong reasons.”

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has negotiated the release of other Americans held by hostile governments, traveled to Caracas in July and met with Maduro.

He didn’t win their freedom, but days later two of them — Cárdenas and Toledo — were freed from jail and put in house detention. Two weeks later, the long-delayed trial began.

Richardson told The Associated Press that conversations with the Venezuelan government continue, despite his meeting with Maduro being “a little stormy.”

Richardson said he he believes there’s an opening tied to President-elect Joe Biden’s election and a desire by Maduro to improve relations with Washington.

“I think the Venezuelans have been straight with me, but more progress needs to be made,” he said. “My hope is to have something positive by Christmas.”

It’s not clear what approach Biden will take toward Maduro. Trump aggressively pressed to remove Maduro through sweeping financial sanctions and the U.S. Justice Department has indicted Maduro as a “narcoterrorist,” offering a $15 million reward for his arrest.

Vadell’s letter steered clear of politics. He didn’t mention Maduro or speak about his jailers, though he did express concern about the “consequences of repercussions” of speaking out.

With encouragement from his family, Vadell broke his silence, taking a risk relatives said was necessary.

“I believe it’s more important that the light of hope illuminates us,” Vadell wrote. “May the light of hope put an end to the sadness of my family.”

The five other men did not respond to invitations The Associated Press made through their lawyers to comment.

Vadell’s daughter, Cristina Vadell, 29, said in a phone interview from Lake Charles that her father isn’t the kind of person who seeks attention. Rather, he prefers to focus on work and his family.

During his 35-year career with PDVSA and Citgo, Vadell ended up running a massive refinery in Lake Charles and then became vice president of refining. The letter attempts to expose this side of his life, she said.

“I think he was willing to take some risks and open some hearts to allow him to come home,” she said. “I think he’s still wondering ‘What happened?’ He went to a work meeting and never came home.”

She shared photos of the family with her father, standing around a Thanksgiving turkey. Each year, they would give it a name, something like Charlie or Phillip. The past three Thanksgivings just haven’t been the same without him, she said.

Vadell wrote that he’s proud to be the son of Spanish immigrants to Venezuela, where he was educated as an engineer. He brought his family to the U.S., bringing the best of the two countries together, he said.

“I’m now reaching an intersection where if justice is done, I will be able to rebuild my life and try to compensate my family for all the lost moments,” Vadell wrote. “The light is intense — the hope is great — give me freedom.”

___

Follow Scott Smith on Twitter: @ScottSmithAP

Joe Biden could return to Irish roots as US president

By Gareth Gordon, BBC News NI Political Correspondent

When Joe Biden visited his ancestral roots in Carlingford he turned to an inquisitive Secret Service man and said “Man, you’re in heaven.”

That was four years ago. Mr Biden was vice president.

He wants to return, but next time as president. For now, heaven can wait.

For Ronald Reagan it was Ballyporeen. For Barack Obama it was Moneygall. For Joe Biden it is Carlingford. Or Ballina. 

His Irishness means a lot to him. He told Donald Trump during the recent televised debate that people like him “look down their nose on… Irish Catholics like me.”

Joe Biden has never been to Northern Ireland, but he’s done the next best thing. 

Four years ago, he arrived in Carlingford, just a few miles from the border. Now the people of Carlingford have begun a campaign to help, first of all, get him elected. And then invite him back.

Local man Eamonn Thornton spent a lot of time with Mr Biden on his first visit to the Cooley Peninsula and remembers walking him towards Finnegan’s Pub, once owned by distant relatives of the presidential candidate.

“Having dropped off the vice president, the Secret Service cars went on down to turn at the end of the road,” he says. 

“As he was coming towards the pub this Secret Service guy said to me ‘Where the hell are we’ and the vice president happened to overhear and said: ‘Man, you’re in heaven’.”

Many shop windows in Carlingford now display “Irish For Biden” posters.

The local organiser of the campaign is Paul Allen, a public relations man from Dublin.

He says Carlingford can expect a big visitor spin-off if Joe Biden becomes president.

“We saw for one moment when he came to Carlingford the impact thereafter from 2016,” said Mr Allen. 

“The amount of people that were coming from America and around fascinated to learn of this magnificent jewel. 

“It’s a remarkable place, and it’s a great opportunity for the people of Carlingford to exploit the moment.”

Genealogist Megan Smolenyak says “he’s about as Irish-American as you can get. He’s about five eighths Irish.”

She got to know Joe Biden when she wrote a piece about his Irish roots.

“He just called me out of the blue one day when he was vice president,” she says.

“And then he started to invite me each St Patrick’s Day when he has an event. 

“And so I’ve gone to perhaps six or seven of those events and there’s a lot of big name politicians, but there’s also average Joes like myself. 

“And that right there gives you a little taste for Joe, he treats everybody the same. It doesn’t matter what your station is in life. He really is the caring person that you see when you watch television.” 

Caroline Feeney, a former intern for Hillary Clinton, says a Biden presidency would maintain US interest in Northern Ireland.

She told the BBC NI’s The View: “I’m hearing from his close advisers on the campaign trail that he has said that he wants to visit Ireland within the early stages of his presidency and that would be both north and south. 

“So, while he may have strong links to Mayo and Carlingford, particularly with his family ties there, he is aware of how strong a message it would be to come to Northern Ireland also.”

Mr Biden recently fired a warning shot across Downing Street’s bows over Brexit by warning that any undermining of the Good Friday Agreement would jeopardise a future trade deal with the US.

Shane Greer, a Washington-based political consultant originally from Northern Ireland, says Mr Biden would feel passionately about the issue.

“A lot of folks who aren’t that familiar with American politics immediately jumped to the assumption that this is about the Irish-American vote in the United States, and maybe in a fractional way it is,” he says.

“But not significantly so. 

“This is much more fundamentally about an American perspective on the Good Friday Agreement and American political leaders – both Republican and Democrat – feel a weight of responsibility there because its a key foreign affairs achievement for America over the last few decades, so Biden absolutely would have been involved in that.”

Three DUP MPs – Ian Paisley, Sammy Wilson and Paul Girvan – were recently photographed with a Trump flag at Westminster. 

‘There are issues’

But not all DUP politicians are Trump supporters. 

Assembly member Christopher Stalford says “there are issues” around his temperament though he says “Joe Biden is not without his faults either”.

Six years ago, on St Patrick’s Day, Mr Biden angered unionists with a throwaway remark “If you’re Orange you’re not welcome here.”

But Christopher Stalford is forgiving: “I’m not going to throw someone under a bus for what I suspect was probably just an off the cuff joke. 

“I think one of the things that’s gone wrong in politics over the course of the last five or six years is that I think a lot of people have lost their sense of humour. 

“I don’t really think that he was saying that people like me – I’m an Orangeman and come from that tradition – I don’t really think he was saying that we’re not welcome.”

Al Qaeda loses one of its most experienced leaders in mysterious murder in Tehran

By Tim Lister, Paul Cruickshank and Ghazi Balkiz, CNN

On the night of August 7, residents of a middle-class neighborhood in northern Tehran heard shooting. Some of them rushed out to see what had happened.

Slumped in a white Renault was a middle-aged man and a younger woman. Both were dead. At least four shots had been fired at them; another had hit a passing car. The two assailants had been on a motorbike, according to Iranian news agencies.

One witness told a local journalist: “We were told there was a shooting. We went to the scene and saw they are shot dead. There were two of them.”

Within hours semi-official Iranian news agencies were reporting the murders of a Lebanese academic called Habib Dawood with ties to the Lebanese group Hezbollah — and his daughter, Maryam. There was no explanation of the killings, and no arrests reported.

<img alt=”9/11 anniversary: How has terrorism changed since?” class=”media__image” src=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/140908091056-9-11-twin-towers-story-top.jpg”>

But at least one Iranian news agency, FARS, later dropped the identities of the victims from its reporting.

And there the story rested, until a flurry of activity on obscure social media accounts in mid-October, claiming that the victims were not Lebanese, but rather one of the most important figures in al Qaeda — Abu Mohammed al-Masri — and his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza.

The original reports about the mysterious Dawood seemed suspect because there was no record of a Lebanese academic by the name of Habib Dawood, nor anyone with a similar spelling. Nor was there any eulogy in Lebanon — for either him or his daughter. And there was nothing in pro-Hezbollah media in Lebanon to verify the identity of the victims.

In mid-October, a Twitter account called “AnbaJassim” — purportedly belonging to a freelance journalist in the United Arab Emirates posted a screed suggesting it was al-Masri and his daughter who had been killed.

<img alt=”Abu Mohammed al-Masri and his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden&amp;#39;s son Hamza, were killed in Tehran this year.” class=”media__image” src=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/201114081731-01-tehran-skyline-file-large-169.jpg”>

Abu Mohammed al-Masri and his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, were killed in Tehran this year.

AnbaJassim said he had asked jihadi veterans of the Afghan wars, and “their response confirmed to me that those killed are Abu Muhammad al-Masri” and his 27-year old daughter.

Two weeks later an agency called Shamshad News, which describes itself as an Afghanistan-based radio and television news outlet, also claimed that al-Masri had been killed in Tehran. But the Iranian authorities remained silent.

CNN has since learned that it was al-Masri who was killed in the August shooting.

The death of al-Masri and his daughter was first reported by the New York Times, citing unnamed officials as saying Israel carried out the attack.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s office has refused to comment on the report. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement that “Washington and Tel Aviv from time to time try to paint Iran as being tied to these groups through weaving lies and leaking fabricated information to the media.”

The “media must not be a tribune for spreading and broadcasting the intentional made-up lies uttered by the White House against Iran,” Khatibzadeh added.

An al Qaeda original

The death of Al-Masri, whose real name was Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, deprives al Qaeda of one of its best planners and most experienced operatives. A 57-year old Egyptian, he was widely thought to have been the brains behind the attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on August 7, 1998 — 22 years to the day before the shooting in Tehran.

Al-Masri was a “charter” member of al Qaeda, according to documents recovered from Afghanistan by US investigators in 2001.

<img alt=”Al-Masri was widely thought to be the brains behind the 1998 attack on the US embassy in Nairobi.” class=”media__image” src=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/201114081525-01-nairobi-us-embassy-bombing-1998-large-169.jpg”>

Al-Masri was widely thought to be the brains behind the 1998 attack on the US embassy in Nairobi.

Along with others in al Qaeda’s hierarchy al-Masri had moved to Tehran after the 9/11 attacks and al Qaeda’s eviction from Afghanistan and spent many years in prison or under under house arrest. In or around 2005, his daughter Miriam married Hamza bin Laden (they were both teenagers at the time) in the Tehran compound where the al Qaeda contingent were detained. Footage of the event was later recovered in the Abbottabad compound where Osama bin Laden was killed six years later by US forces and released by the CIA in 2017.

According to Ali Soufan, a former FBI investigator into al Qaeda and an expert on the group, al-Masri rejected an Iranian proposal that he return to Egypt. And in 2015 he was released from custody as part of a deal Iran made to win the freedom of an Iranian diplomat who’d been abducted by al Qaeda in Yemen.

<img alt=”What the war on terror teaches us about Covid-19″ class=”media__image” src=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190306104052-guantanamo-bay-large-169.jpg”>

The United States clearly considered al-Masri a serious and continuing threat, doubling the bounty for information on him and another al Qaeda leader — Saif al-`Adl — from $5 million to $10 million in 2018.

Some analysts saw al-Masri as a possible successor to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. CNN reported last year that al-Zawahiri was in poor health.

Soufan wrote in the Combating Terrorism Center’s journal Sentinel last year: “Throughout its existence, whenever al-Qa`ida has evolved, Abu Muhammad al-Masri has been at the forefront of the change. With al-Zawahiri reported to have a potentially serious heart complaint, the group may be on the verge of only the second transfer of leadership in its history.”

He told CNN Saturday, “Al Qaeda have lost one of their founding fathers and their most experienced and capable operational planner.”

That he was killed on August 7, on the anniversary of the 1998 attacks, was “poetic justice,” Soufan said.

This story has been updated with additional reporting and Saeed Khatibzadeh’s full quote.