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Anatomy of a kidnapping: Haitian woman recounts abduction

Anatomy of a kidnapping: Haitian woman recounts abduction

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — When Doris Michel steps outside her home in Haiti, she packs her bulletproof vest and tries to use a bulletproof car.Ever since her father was kidnapped last month in the capital of Port-au-Prince, the 34-year-old Haitian-American woman won’t take any chances. She already travels with one bodyguard, and when she feels extra unsafe, she takes two.“The insecurity in Haiti has been something that has been going on for years, but now it’s taken a turn that’s just unbearable,” she said.Her 85-year-old father, a Vietnam veteran, was abducted in late September, along with his driver and a friend who is the mother of a Haitian singer. They were traveling through Martissant, a gang-controlled territory that many try to avoid, but it was the only route that would take her father where he needed to go.The same kind of gang activity is being blamed for the kidnapping Saturday of 16 Americans and one Canadian — missionaries for a U.S. religious organization and their relatives. Their disappearance highlighted the worsening problem and prompted the U.S. government to mobilize to solve one of the biggest abductions in recent years.By contrast, many other kidnappings go unnoticed — something that bothers people like Michel, who said the FBI provided her family with scant assistance.Her father and the two other people were abducted by a gang run by Ti Lipli, a member of G9 Family and Allies — a federation considered one of the largest and most powerful in Haiti. They asked for a ransom of $6 million.Michel and her mother said they didn’t have that kind of money. Two days later, the ransom increased to $10 million.“We kept saying, ‘We don’t have that kind of money,’” Michel recalled. “Then it switched to, ‘What kind of money do you have?’”As the negotiations dragged on, her father’s health began declining. He didn’t have his blood pressure medications, nor the pills for his prostate or the blood thinners he’d been taking ever since undergoing brain surgery in January. But the gang didn’t relent.“When they called, they would say very harsh, cruel (things): ‘You don’t want your husband anymore? We don’t mind, we can kill him and you can pick him up from a pile of trash,’” Michel recalled.The gang member never identified himself, but it was the same voice each time, with calls lasting no longer than two minutes.During the ordeal, she subsisted on two boiled eggs and a few crackers a day. She and her mother each lost 8 pounds. At night, she took pills to help her sleep. During the day, she prayed.Michel found out that her father and the two other hostages were given a single bowl of white rice each day and three small bags of water. They would ration what they had in case they didn’t get anything the next day. The three were kept in a locked room with boarded-up windows, where they heard voices of other people they believed also had been abducted.“My dad, because he fought in Vietnam and had a tough life and dealt with a lot of stuff, he had the mechanism to cope,” she said. “But some days, he did crack.”Michel blamed the Haitian government for the spike in kidnappings and the overall rise in violence that has plunged the country into one of its most unstable periods in recent years.“They created the gangs,” she said. “Now they can’t control the monster.”Experts say Haiti’s gang phenomenon was created when former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide began arming people in slums in the early 2000s since he had an understaffed police department and no army. The private sector and political groups also are accused of arming gangs, according to a top international official who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the topic.Today, up to 40% of Port-au-Prince is under gang control, experts say, including the 400 Mawozo gang that police blame for the kidnapping of the missionaries on Saturday. That gang was born in a community east of the capital known as Canaan, which was established when people fled Port-au-Prince after a 2010 earthquake devastated the city.Kidnapping is one way gangs make money, although abductions spike and wane depending on Haiti’s political and economic situation and, at one time, the presence of U.N. peacekeepers.Many worry the situation will worsen as Haiti prepares for presidential and legislative elections next year following the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.Michel called on the U.S. government to get involved, saying, “One of these days, there’s going to be at tragedy that they will be partly responsible for, because they themselves dictate how this country operates. … It’s time for them to step in.”Haiti’s National Police force is lean in resources, and officers find themselves overwhelmed by multiple, well-armed gangs who feed on poverty. More than 11 million people live in Haiti, and 60% of the population makes less than $2 a day.Michel said the gang member who called told her mother that he was educated and worked hard to get a degree but couldn’t get a job so he got a gun. “That’s how I make my money,” he said.Ransom demands can range from a couple of hundred dollars to several million dollars, according to authorities.Michel said she dropped off the money at a specific location, only for the gang members to claim they didn’t receive it. They demanded another payment.She said the FBI did little to help and advised her to gather more money and restart negotiations. So Michel paid them again.Haitian police did not get involved, she said, or bother to take a statement once the gang released her father by placing him on a motorcycle that took him to his family. He had been held captive for 11 days.“Healthwise, he’s fine, but psychologically, not so great,” she said.

Taliban agree to new polio vaccination across Afghanistan

Taliban agree to new polio vaccination across Afghanistan

ISTANBUL, Turkey — U.N. agencies are gearing up to vaccinate all of Afghanistan’s children under 5 against polio for the first time since 2018, after the Taliban agreed to the campaign, the World Health Organization says.For the past three years, the Taliban barred U.N.-organized vaccination teams from doing door-to-door campaigns in parts of Afghanistan under their control, apparently out of suspicion they could be spies for the government or the West. Because of the ban and ongoing fighting, some 3.3 million children over the past three years have not been vaccinated.The Taliban’s reported agreement now, after becoming the rulers of Afghanistan, appeared aimed at showing they are willing to cooperate with international agencies. The longtime militant insurgent force has been trying to win the world’s recognition of its new government and re-open the door for international aid to rescue the crumbling economy.The Taliban leadership did not confirm its agreement, and Taliban officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.But WHO and the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said in a statement Monday that they welcomed the decision by the Taliban leadership supporting the resumption of house-to-house polio vaccinations across the country.Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic. The disease can cause partial paralysis in children. Since 2010, the country has been carrying out regular inoculation campaigns in which workers go door to door, giving the vaccine to children. Most of the workers are women, since they can get better access to mothers and children.But large sections of the country have been out of their reach in recent years. In parts of the south, particularly, the ban by the Taliban was in effect. In other areas, door-to-door campaigns were impossible because of fighting between the government and the insurgents, or because of fears of kidnappings or roadside bombs. In some places, hard-line clerics spoke out against vaccinations, calling them un-Islamic or a Western plot.WHO said a new nationwide vaccination campaign will begin on Nov. 8, followed by another synchronized with Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign in December.The estimated target population is Afghanistan’s 10 million children under 5, including the more than 3.3 million who could not be reached since 2018, Dr. Hamid Jafari, WHO’s director of polio eradication for the Eastern Mediterranean region, told The Associated Press.“Restarting polio vaccination in all areas of Afghanistan now will prevent a major resurgence of polio outbreaks within the country and ensure there is no international spread,” Jafari said.“This is an extremely important step in the right direction,” said Dapeng Luo, WHO Representative in Afghanistan. He said it was a good sign that multiple campaigns are planned. “Sustained access to all children is essential to end polio for good.”On March 30, three women were gunned down in two separate attacks as they carried out door-to-door vaccinations in the eastern city of Jalalabad. It was the first time vaccination workers have been killed in a decade of door-to-door inoculations against the disease in Afghanistan.Such attacks have been more common in Pakistan, where at least 70 vaccinators and security personnel connected to vaccination campaigns have been killed since 2011.Jafari said the Taliban’s previous ban in its areas was “mainly for security reasons,” not out of opposition to vaccinations themselves. The Taliban, he said, have committed to “the absolute protection and security of all health workers and all frontline workers” in the campaign.In Pakistan, officials have struggled to overcome deep public suspicion over vaccines particularly since the U.S. used a fake vaccination campaign to unearth the hideout of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Hard-line clerics and militants have stoked the fears by depicting polio vaccinations as a Western plot to sterilize Muslim children.Afghanistan and Pakistan have seen an increase in cases. In Afghanistan, 56 new polio cases were reported in 2020, the highest number since 2011, when 80 cases were registered. Only one case of the wild virus has been reported in 2021 in Afghanistan.“This decision will allow us to make a giant stride in the efforts to eradicate polio,” said Hervé Ludovic De Lys, UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan. “To eliminate polio completely, every child in every household across Afghanistan must be vaccinated, and with our partners, this is what we are setting out to do,” he said.A supplementary dose of vitamin A will also be provided to children aged 6 to 59 months during the upcoming campaign.Jafari said the Taliban government had agreed on three key aspects — security for health workers and vaccinators, mobilization of health authorities and the new leadership for the campaign, and communications through religious, tribal and community leaders and media to build trust in the campaign.He urged families not to be suspicious of the vaccinators going house to house, saying the only intention is to protect children. “They should trust the program. They should trust the vaccine.”

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem

Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at a popular gathering place just outside Jerusalem’s Old City as thousands celebrated a Muslim holidayByThe Associated PressOctober 19, 2021, 6:54 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleJERUSALEM — Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at a popular gathering place just outside Jerusalem’s Old City as thousands celebrated a Muslim holiday, a repeat of violence earlier this year that eventually led to the 11-day Gaza war in May.Israeli police said Palestinians hurled rocks at police and public buses near the Damascus Gate leading into the Old City. They said 22 suspects were arrested.Earlier, thousands of Palestinians had marched along the Old City walls and paused at the gate, where a scout band played the Palestinian national anthem. They continued to the Al-Aqsa mosque, where tens of thousands prayed in honor of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.Palestinians say Israeli police moved to restrict the annual gathering in and around Damascus Gate in what they saw as a provocation.An Associated Press photographer said a few dozen youths began shouting at police and throwing water bottles, after which police fired stun grenades. The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said it treated 17 people who were wounded, including 10 who were taken to a hospital.Palestinians clashed with Israeli police on a nightly basis during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in April and May over a decision to place police barricades at Damascus Gate, a popular holiday gathering spot for Palestinians families.The clashes continued even after the barricades were removed and eventually spread to the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Muslims and Jews. The violence, along with efforts by settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their homes, eventually ignited the fourth war between Israel and the militant Hamas group ruling Gaza.The Old City is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally. Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the Jewish temples in antiquity.Over the last two weeks, sporadic fights have broken out at Damascus Gate between Palestinians and Israelis, and between Palestinians and the police.

Beirut port investigator renews summonses of ex-ministers

Beirut port investigator renews summonses of ex-ministers

A judicial official says the judge leading Lebanon’s probe into last year’s massive port explosion has renewed his summonses of two former ministers for questioningBy SARAH EL DEEB Associated PressOctober 19, 2021, 6:17 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBEIRUT — The judge leading Lebanon’s probe into last year’s massive port explosion renewed on Tuesday his summonses of two former ministers for questioning, a judicial official said.The decision by Judge Tarek Bitar came despite intense criticism from the country’s powerful Hezbollah group of the direction of the long-running investigation.Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has accused Bitar of politicizing the probe and singling out some officials and not others. He has called on the government to remove Bitar.Bitar has been in the post since February, after his predecessor was removed by a court decision following legal challenges from senior government officials who were also summoned.Nasrallah’s accusations marked a major escalation in rhetoric targeting Bitar and were followed by protests in the capital Beirut last week by supporters of Hezbollah and its ally Amal against the judge. The protests descended into violence unseen in Lebanon in years: Seven people were killed during five hours of clashes between supporters of the two Shiite groups and gunmen accused of being allied with Lebanon’s right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces.His critics held Bitar responsible for the bloodshed.But on Tuesday, the judge went ahead with summoning two former government ministers, one of them an ally of Hezbollah, for questioning regarding the port blast.Bitar had issued arrest warrants for the two ex-ministers but with the resumption of parliament sessions Tuesday following a recess, the ministers reclaimed parliamentary immunity, which had shielded them from previous interrogation.The two former ministers, Ghazi Zeitar and Nohad Machnouk, are also lawmakers. They were summoned to appear Oct. 29, the judicial official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.The former ministers’ legal teams argue that with parliamentary immunity in place, the officials are exempt from appearing before the judge. But according to the parliament’s bylaws, Bitar can renew his summonses because he first called for their questioning in a period when parliament was in recess — at a time when the two men had briefly lost their immunity.Legal experts have called it the “battle of immunities” as the defendants and the lead judge have looked for loopholes in the law to each get their way.The result has been interruptions of the investigation, which is centered on what caused the explosion of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive fertilizer often used to make bombs, stored in the port for years.Independent media and rights groups have revealed that senior government officials knew of the material stored in the port but did nothing to store it properly or warn the public of its presence and danger.More than 215 people died and over 6,000 were injured in the blast that devastated parts of the city Beirut.

Heavy rains trigger floods in northern India, killing 22

Heavy rains trigger floods in northern India, killing 22

At least 22 people have died and others are missing in floods triggered by heavy rains in the northern Indian state of UttarakhandBy BISWAJEET BANERJEE Associated PressOctober 19, 2021, 2:23 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLUCKNOW, India — At least 22 people have died and others are missing in floods triggered by heavy rains in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, officials said Tuesday.The Indian Meteorological Department predicted that heavy to very heavy rain would continue to fall in the state for the next two days.Jyoti Negi, who heads the state’s Disaster Management Cell, said 18 deaths were reported in the Himalayan resort town of Nainital, two in Almorah and one each in Champawat and Udham Singh Nagar districts.At least eight people were missing and several others were trapped under debris, officials said. The army deployed helicopters to help with rescue efforts.Several days of heavy rain have flooded roads and destroyed bridges in the state. Nainital remained cut off from the rest of the state as roads leading to it were either blocked by landslides or washed away.Videos shared on social media showed the Ganges River bursting its banks at Rishikesh, and scenic Nainital lake overflowing with floodwaters.Flooding and landslides caused by heavy rains have already killed at least 28 people in southern Kerala state.Landslides and floods are common in India’s Himalayan north. Scientists say they are becoming more frequent as global warming contributes to the melting of glaciers there.In February, flash floods killed nearly 200 people and washed away houses in Uttarakhand. In 2013, thousands of people were killed in floods there.

Spanish court throws out lawsuit against US treasure hunters

Spanish court throws out lawsuit against US treasure hunters

A Spanish court has thrown out a lawsuit against American treasure hunters that accused them of having destroyed an underwater archaeological site when they looted a sunken galleon for tons of precious coinsByThe Associated PressOctober 19, 2021, 2:31 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMADRID — A Spanish court has shelved a lawsuit against American treasure hunters that accused them of having destroyed an underwater archaeological site when they looted a sunken galleon for tons of precious coins over a decade ago.In 2007, the Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration scooped up over half a million silver and gold coins from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean when it discovered a sunken Spanish galleon. Spain disputed the company’s claim to the treasure, which was worth an estimated $500 million. Following a five-year legal battle in U.S. courts, Odyssey had to return the treasure to Spai n in 2012.A separate case investigating whether the Odyssey had committed a crime by allegedly destroying the underwater site where it found the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes ship was tossed out in 2016. Now, another court has said that an appeal by Spanish archaeologists against that decision has been thrown out as well. This decision is not open to appeal.In court documents seen by The Associated Press on Tuesday, the panel of three judges presiding over the court in the southern city of Cádiz said the five-year statue of limitations for the alleged crime had already passed. But they also complained that a 2013 request made to the United States for the owners of Odyssey to be questioned in the case was never heeded.“Even though we share our surprise, puzzlement, and even anger, for what we can only call the unprecedented course of this case, it would be senseless to let it go on if we consider the statue of limitation,” the judges wrote.The Mercedes galleon was sunk by British ships near the Strait of Gibraltar in 1804. It was transporting 574,553 silver coins and 212 gold coins from metals that were mined and minted in the Andes.Upon its return from the U.S., the treasure was given a home at Spain’s National Museum of Underwater Archaeology in the Mediterranean city of Cartagena.

Taliban promise cash, land, to families of suicide bombers

Taliban promise cash, land, to families of suicide bombers

The Taliban have promised plots of land to relatives of suicide bombers who attacked U.S. and Afghan soldiersBy SAMYA KULLAB Associated PressOctober 19, 2021, 5:38 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleKABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have promised plots of land to relatives of suicide bombers who attacked U.S. and Afghan soldiers, in a provocative gesture that seems to run counter to their efforts to court international support.The Taliban’s acting interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, offered the reward to dozens of family members of bombers gathered at a Kabul hotel, Interior Ministry spokesman Saeed Khosty tweeted on Tuesday.Addressing the gathering Monday evening, Haqqani praised the sacrifices of “martyrs and fedayeen,” referring to fighters killed in suicide attacks, Khosty tweeted. Haqqani called them “heroes of Islam and the country,” according to the spokesman. At the end of the meeting, he distributed 10,000 afghanis ($112) per family and promised each a plot of land.Khosty posted photos of Haqqani, his face blurred, embracing the relatives in a packed auditorium.The event comes as the Taliban attempt to open diplomatic channels with an international community largely reluctant to formally recognize their rule in Afghanistan. High-profile Taliban meetings with foreign officials have focused on obtaining aid to impoverished Afghans as the U.N. predicts virtually the entire population will slide into poverty because of a severe economic crisis.The promise of rewards for suicide bombings signals conflicting approaches within the Taliban leadership. They are trying to position themselves as responsible rulers, who promise security for all and have condemned suicide attacks by their rivals, the militant Islamic State group. On the other hand, they praise such tactics when it comes to their followers.The Taliban cannot afford to alienate the U.S., which froze billions of dollars in Afghan assets in U.S. accounts in line with international sanctions protocols. International monetary organizations paused disbursements, equivalent to 75% of the previous government’s expenditure.At the same time, the Taliban cannot afford to lose their hard-line base, especially in the wake of a growing IS threat.Suicide bombings and roadside explosives were tactics used by the Taliban to wear down Afghan and U.S. forces throughout their 20-year insurgency.The international community has greeted the Taliban’s request for recognition with conditions, especially with respect to the treatment of women and girls.———Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Istanbul contributed.