Christchurch mosque attacks: Gunman pleads guilty to murder, attempted murder and terrorism | Stuff.co.nz

The man accused of the Christchurch mosque attacks has entered shock guilty pleas, bringing relief to survivors and victims’ families.

Amid extraordinary coronavirus lockdown restrictions, Brenton Tarrant, 29, appeared via video-link in the High Court at Christchurch on Thursday morning and admitted 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and a charge of engaging in a terrorist act.

He’d previously pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was scheduled to stand trial on June 2.

GEORGE HEARD/STUFF
Fifty-one people died as a result of the March 15, 2019 attack.

Tarrant, who wore a grey prisoner sweater, was largely silent and emotionless throughout the hearing. He sat alone in a white room with a grey door at Auckland Prison, Paremoremo, where he’s held in maximum security.

The terrorist’s lawyers, Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson, appeared via video-link from another court room.

Brenton Tarrant pleads guilty to murder, attempted murder and terrorism via AVL in the Christchurch High Court.

The names of all 51 people killed were read to Tarrant, before he was asked how he pleaded to the murder charges.

He replied: “Yes, guilty.”

The same process was followed for the attempted murder charges.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/STUFF
Terrorist Brenton Tarrant pictured at his first court appearance, the day after the mosque shootings.

Justice Cameron Mander remanded Tarrant in custody, but has not yet set a date for sentencing, when the summary of facts would be made public.

Few people knew of the special hearing, which was only scheduled late Wednesday, on the eve of an unprecedented nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Six New Zealand journalists attended. Also in court were the imams from both targeted mosques. An-nur (Al Noor) imam Gamal Fouda was visibly upset as the guilty pleas were entered.

JOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFF
Mustafa Boztas still has a fragment of a bullet inside him.

The hearing concluded at 10.30am, but the judge suppressed the outcome for an hour to allow victims, who were unaware of the hearing, to be notified.

The decision to hold the hearing amid the national state of emergency was not made lightly.

Earlier in the week Tarrant indicated to counsel that he might change his pleas. A formal request was made on Wednesday that the matter be brought before the court.

DAVID WALKER/STUFF
Omar Abdel-Ghany, whose father Ahmed Gamal Eldin Abdel-Ghany was killed at Masjid An-Nur.

Mander said both the Crown and defence asked to have the hearing expedited, despite the severe health restrictions.

The courts were considered an essential public service that was able to deal with “priority proceedings without compromising people’s health”.

The judge said he felt the court had the capacity to safely hear the matter by limiting the number of people in court. In total, 17 people were present.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reflects on the last year following the Christchurch mosque shootings.

It was regrettable the Covid-19 restrictions prevented victims from attending, he said, but the imams had been asked to be present to bear witness to the proceedings.

“It was my assessment that taking the defendant’s pleas at this time was the appropriate course in the circumstances,” Mander said.

“The entry of guilty pleas represents a very significant step towards bringing finality to this criminal proceeding, and I considered the need to take the opportunity to progress the matter was particularly acute coming as it has at a time when the risk of further delay as a result of Covid-19 was looming as realistic possibility.”

Mander said the defendant would not be sentenced before the court returned to normal operations.

The defendant had been remanded to a nominal date of May 1. It was hoped a sentencing date would be confirmed in the interim.

“It is fully anticipated that all who wish to attend court for the sentencing hearing will be able to do so in person.”  

On March 15 last year, Tarrant drove from his Dunedin home to Christchurch with an arsenal of guns and ammunition he’d amassed since moving from Australia to New Zealand in 2017.

The white supremacist entered Masjid An-nur (also known as the Al Noor Mosque) on Deans Ave as Friday prayers were beginning, about 1.40pm, and opened fire – killing and wounding dozens of people.

He then drove across town to the Linwood Mosque where he continued his shooting spree.

Tarrant was arrested a short time later after his car, a gold Subaru Outback, was rammed off the road by two police officers on Brougham St as he tried to make his way to a third target, though to be a mosque in Ashburton, where he planned to carry out another attack.

When police searched the vehicle they found several guns and petrol bombs.

NZ’S WORST MASS SHOOTING

In total, 51 people were killed in the terrorist attack, the worst mass shooting by an individual in New Zealand history.

Tarrant was the first person to be charged under NZ’s Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

Omar Abdel-Ghany, whose father Ahmed Gamal Eldin Abdel-Ghany was killed at Masjid An-Nur, said he could not understand what caused Tarrant to change his plea.

“I’m both shocked and relieved. Shocked at the sudden change in plea, relieved that my family and I, along with other victims won’t have to relive it all through the courts.”

Muslim Association of Canterbury spokesman Tony Green said his immediate reaction was one of enormous relief and great gratitude.

“I think the victims will feel a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders. Our position has always been to let justice take its course, but a trial would have put a lot of pressure on our families. If you look at the anguish caused by the trial of Grace Millane’s killer you can see how bad it would be for 51 families.”

Mustafa Boztas, who lay on the ground inside the Masjid An-nur with a bullet in his leg, pretending to be dead, said from Turkey he always knew Tarrant would be found guilty. 

“I feel he basically played with our minds and emotionally upset us more for no reason.”

Boztas said he would have stayed in the country instead of going overseas if he’d known Tarrant was going to plead guilty. 

“While it can’t undo the damage it has brought upon our community and country, it gives me hope that this help bring not only justice but some closure to those touched by this event.

“To the families, I hope this brings you peace, and a sense that love can conquer hate. While this closes the criminal proceedings for the shootings, please know there is still a long way to go in recovery for some of us, so thank you for your continued support.”

Yasir Amin, whose father 67-year-old Muhammad Amin Nasir was shot in the back by the gunman shooting from his car, said the guilty pleas were good news.

“It’s good to avoid a trial because we would be reminded of everything, every day of the six week trial. We’ve avoided that mental torture and we’re not in a situation where the outcome is not 100 per cent sure.”

Nasir was to undergo another operation on Monday but the operation was postponed due to Covid-19 measures. He had spent two months in hospital after the shootings and had another 20-day stay in December.

“He is now doing well. He goes for walks and eats well.”

Just about every organ in his father’s body except his heart had been damaged by the shotgun pellets, Amin said.

Nasir was shot about 200 metres from the mosque on Deans Ave. The gunman drove past Amin and his father, who were walking to the mosque along the footpath, when he aimed a shotgun at them from his car. Both ran for their lives but Nasir was shot. Their plight was captured by a motel CCTV camera. 

‘HE’S GOT TO PAY THE TIME’

Tarrant’s grandmother, Marie Fitzgerald, had no idea about the plea until called by Stuff.

“I feel sorry he did the crime, but he’s got to pay the time now.”

She declined to comment further.

Victim Support chief executive Kevin Tso said support was ongoing for hundreds of victims who still need help coping with the trauma of the event and rebuilding their lives.

“We’re pleased victims no longer have to face the trauma of the trial.”

The victims had shown remarkable courage and resilience in the face of a heart-breaking, shocking and senseless tragedy, Tso said.

“They have our utmost respect and promise that we will be here for them for as long as they need us.”

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the pleas were a “significant milestone in respect of one of our darkest days”.

“I want to acknowledge the victims, their families and the community of Christchurch – the many lives that were changed forever. They have inspired all of us to be a kind and more tolerant community.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it would provide some relief to the many people whose lives were “shattered” on March 15.

“These guilty pleas and conviction bring accountability for what happened and also save the families who lost loved ones, those who were injured, and other witnesses, the ordeal of a trial,” she said.

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Worshippers at the Al Noor mosque photographed in terror threat | Stuff.co.nz

Worshippers at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch were photographed in an apparent terror threat, two weeks before the first anniversary of the March 15 attack in which 51 worshippers were gunned down. 

The threat was issued on Sunday night on an encrypted messaging app, accompanied by a photo of a masked man sitting in a car outside the mosque. 

A police spokeswoman has confirmed an investigation into the threat is underway. 

Christchurch’s Al Noor was one of two mosques targeted in a racially motivated mass-shooting on March 15, 2019. The alleged terrorist, an Australian national, awaits a trial due to begin in June. 

Police and St John staff outside the Al-Noor mosque after the March 15, 2019 terror attack. (file photo)

Security Intelligence Service director Rebecca Kitteridge last month warned that some Kiwis have been inspired by the March 15 terror attack, and monitoring such people had been difficult.

The threat and accompanying photo was posted anonymously to more than 2000 followers on a messaging channel on the encrypted communication app Telegram.

Do you know more? Email thomas.manch@stuff.co.nz

The image shows a man wearing dark sunglasses and a balaclava printed with an image of a human skull. Through a car window the front of the Al Noor mosque can be seen. 

In the background, four people are visible at the entrance of the mosque. 

The message attached, written in both English and Russian, implies the people at the “same mosque” would be greeting each other for the “last time”. A gun emoji, or symbol, is also used in the message. 

The image was posted on a messaging channel dedicated to celebrating the March 15 terror attack. 

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF
Islamic Women’s Council national co-ordinator Anjum Rahman said police were already conducting enquiries into the threat.

Police were aware of the threat and enquiries were ongoing, a spokeswoman said.

Such threats to the community were taken “extremely seriously”. The spokeswoman declined to answer questions about security arrangements for the anniversary of the March 15 terror attacks. 

An SIS spokesman declined to comment on the specific threat.  

Islamic Women’s Council national co-ordinator Anjum Rahman​ said she was told of the threat early on Monday morning, and notified both mosque leaders and senior police officers. 

“[The police] were already aware and were looking into that threat,” she said. 

“There have been threats, more oblique threats, to other mosques in the last six to eight months or so. We know there is ongoing activity, I would just say the public should be vigilant and report anything that they see as suspicious.”

She said it would be helpful to have a visible police presence at the mosques as the anniversary of the attack approached.

Al Noor imam Gamal Fouda has been contacted for comment. 

In February, Kitteridge said New Zealand’s spy agencies were investigating some 30 to 50 people for a potential terror risk at any one time. 

She said it was challenging to monitor such people as they “tend to live in encrypted chat rooms” — such as Telegram. 

Kitteridge would not say if any specific terror plans had been intercepted.

Messages on the Telegram app first alerted the public to the arrest of a 27-year-old soldier connected to far-Right groups, in November 2019. 

The soldier now awaits a military trial, facing charges of accessing a computer system for a dishonest purpose and for disclosing information that prejudiced the security or defence of New Zealand. 

Authorities across western nations continue to grapple with the terror threat posed by adherents to far-Right and white supremacist ideologies. 

The director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Mike Burgess, last week told reporters that small cells of such extremists posed a growing and enduring threat.

Days earlier, in the United States, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security increased the terror threat level regarding homegrown white supremacists to “high”. 

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Goldman Sachs is making it easier to plug its services into other tech platforms like Amazon or Apple’s iPhone, and an industry consultant says it shows how the bank is leading a `fundamental change’ in retail banking.

  • Goldman Sachs is in talks with Amazon about providing small-business loans to merchants who sell products on Amazon’s retail platform, according to a person with knowledge of them. The talks were first reported by the Financial Times on Monday. 
  • The partnership would be the second inked by Goldman with a large technology firm that can provide the scale and distribution for Goldman’s products that it can’t get itself. 
  • The partnership, and another one with Apple, is an example of banking-as-a-service, though some insiders have taken to calling it Goldman Sachs-as-a-service. 
  • “If Goldman can pull off an embedded banking deal somewhere else besides Apple Pay … that’s a leading indicator of a fundamental change in retail banking,” according to independent consultant Richard Crone.

Goldman Sachs is close to inking a second high-profile deal to offer banking services in partnership with a large tech company, and it’s a sign of what may be a fundamental change in retail banking. 

Goldman is in talks with Amazon to offer small business loans to merchants who sell products on Amazon, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion. The Financial Times first reported the talks on Monday. Goldman’s small business loans may feature the bank’s name and begin as soon as March, the newspaper said. 

A spokesman for the bank declined to comment. 

If the deal is signed, it would become the second Big Tech partnership for Goldman Sachs after it launched a credit card last year with Apple last year. Goldman CEO David Solomon has called the Apple Card the most successful credit card launch of all time, without providing details to back up the claim. 

But it would also be a sign of something much more ambitious: Goldman Sachs moving quickly and aggressively to leverage those characteristics that make it uniquely a bank, with a license that allows it to offer banking products and a balance sheet where it can fund loans cheaply being just two prominent examples. 

The company has been sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into building out its technology capabilities, including APIs (application programming interfaces), to make it as easy and seamless to plug such services into the technology platforms of others, whether that’s Apple’s mobile devices, as with the Apple Card, or Amazon’s retail platform. 

At an investor day last week, execs referred to it as banking-as-a-service, but some insiders have taken to calling it Goldman Sachs-as-a-service. 

Stephanie Cohen, Goldman’s chief strategy officer, appeared on stage last week at the bank’s investor day alongside Marco Argenti, the co-chief information officer who recently joined the bank after several years as a senior exec at Amazon Web Services.

Cohen said the bank is looking for ways to use technology to embed the types of things that Goldman can do well, such as risk management, or loan underwriting.

Cohen cited the Apple Card, which is a Goldman-designed product delivered on Apple’s devices, as one such example. 

“That last capability is the consumer version of our platform strategy,” Cohen said. “It allows us to take products and services that we build for our own clients and then give it to other clients so that they can embed financial products into their ecosystem. This strategy will drive top-line growth, and it will create scale efficiencies.”

Goldman isn’t the only large bank that’s working with Big Tech companies. In November, Google announced a partnership with Citigroup to provide checking accounts to the tech firm’s customers. 

And yet, Goldman is probably doing it better than anyone because it has developed a suite of APIs that it can take off the shelf and plug into other platforms, according to Richard Crone, an independent consultant. 

“Goldman Sachs, when they write the history books, will be noted as the one who invented or perfected embedded banking, where you embed your financial services through the user interface, or at the edge, of someone else’s network,” Crone said. “If Goldman can get this right with Amazon, I would expect them to go to Facebook next or any other online platform of substance that provides them a large distribution channel.”

Goldman is leaning on many of the lessons it learned in its partnership with Apple, known as an incredibly demanding partner, Crone said. Most notably, the ability to offer instant issuance to a set of customers that have already been pre-validated, multi-factor authenticated, Know-Your-Customer credentialed by the large tech firms. 

“They already know the customer, but they have met the regulatory requirement in advance before they hand it over,” he said. 

The product will likely look similar to what small merchants are getting from Square Cash or PayPal Working Capital. 

Goldman has bigger ambitions. At last week’s investor day, the bank presented a slide that showed a product called Marcus Pay, which talked about point-of-sale solutions for merchants based on its digital consumer bank. 

This is just another example of how embedded banking is here to stay, which can be hard for a lot of bankers to understand because they want to service customers through their own app, Crone said.

But “no financial institution can reach the scale that’s required to compete electronically” with the large platforms if they only do it through their own app, he said.  

“If Goldman can pull off an embedded banking deal somewhere else besides Apple Pay, or if Citigroup can pull off Google Cache, that’s a leading indicator of a fundamental change in retail banking.”

See also: Goldman Sachs just unveiled hundreds of slides laying out the future of the company. Here are the 10 crucial slides that show how it plans to transform into a bank for everyone.

See also: Inside Goldman Sachs’ first investor day, where avocado toast and crab apples were served with tech talk, 3-year plans, and a surprising trading mea culpa

NOW WATCH: WeWork went from a $47 billion valuation to a failed IPO. Here’s how the company makes money.

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Brit man, 24, plummets to his death off a cliff during night out in French ski resort

A BRITISH man has died in the French Alps after a night out with friends.

The 24-year-old’s body was discovered yesterday afternoon at the foot of a cliff after he was reported missing at 5am.

The British man died after a fall near the resort of Brides les Bains, Savoie, French Alps,
The British man died after a fall near the resort of Brides les Bains, Savoie, French Alps,
Alamy

Police believe he fell off a cliff after getting lost on his way back to his accommodation after a night in the pub.

The man, who has not been named, was staying in Brides-les-Bains, near the ski resorts of Courchevel and Méribel.

His body was discovered near Les Allues where he had been socialising for the night.

A search involving police, firefighters and mountain rescue equipped with dogs was launched and continued throughout yesterday.

His body was spotted by a helicopter crew at 4.50pm, almost 12 hours after he was reported missing.

‘FELL WHILE WALKING HOME AFTER NIGHT OUT’

A spokesman for Albertville police said: “Unfortunately the body of a man was discovered yesterday after a big search. 

“He was most probably the victim of a fall.

“We believe he was walking back from Les Allues to his accommodation in Brides-les-Bains. He departed with some other people but they became separated. 

“He was reported missing in the early hours. He was discovered not far from Les Allues. It appears he had not walked that far.

“We have no further information. An investigation into the death of the man has been opened and this will determine how he died and how far he fell. We can give no further details.

“Currently we have little information about him and are trying to establish if he was a season worker or a tourist.”

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The three-mile walk between Les Allues and Brides-Les-Bains takes about an hour-and-a-half. In the early hours of Thursday the temperature was minus three degrees celsius. 

Brides-les-Bains is directly linked by a cable-car to the famous resort of Méribel, popular with British skiers. The town was an Olympic Village for the 1992 Winter Olympics based in Albertville. 

The tragedy comes just weeks after British doctor William Reid, 25, fell to his death in the French ski resort of Avoriaz.

William, from Edinburgh, was on the fifth day of a New Year holiday with his girlfriend and his family. 

They had just enjoyed lunch and were making their way back to their accommodation. His family said he took a wrong turn and fell. Medics battled in vain to try and save him.

For the latest news on this story keep checking back at Sun Online.

Thesun.co.uk is your go to destination for the best celebrity news, football news, real-life stories, jaw-dropping pictures and must-see video.

Download our fantastic, new and improved free App for the best ever Sun Online experience. For iPhone click here, for Android click here. 

Like us on Facebook at  and follow us from our main Twitter account at @TheSun.

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Police debunk media report on death of 30, abduction of 100 in Kaduna – Daily Nigerian

person

The Kaduna State Police Command has debunked online media reports on the purported abduction of 100 and killing of 30 people during an attack by bandits along Kaduna-Zaria highway on January 14.

News Agency of Nigeria reports that the Emir of Potiskum was caught up in the attack but managed to escape into the bush.

The command spokesman, DSP Yakubu Sabo, in a statement on Sunday in Kaduna, dismissed the report as false and a misrepresentation of facts.

“The Command wishes to categorically state that it has high respect for the sanctity of human life and cannot underestimate such value.

“It therefore strongly debunks the story as false and a misrepresentation of facts aimed at causing more fear in the minds of the Public and enjoins the Public to jettison the report as misleading.”

According to him, six people died in the attack while five others who sustained varying degree of injuries were taken to hospital for treatment.

He added that one of the five injured persons receiving treatment later died in the hospital.

“Out of the number of the deceased victims, the following have been identified as; Shehu Wakama, 62, Sulaiman Ba’amalum, 60, Maina Kaina, 60, Adamu Lawal, 32, Danjuma Adamu, 35, Adamu Musa and one other whose name and address is not yet identified.

“While the injured persons in the incident are; Sgt Mohammed Tanko, Philiha David, Ismail Yau and Umar Maiwada.”

Mr Sabo said investigation was on to determine the number of persons abducted.

“However, only six families have so far contacted the command to report the involvement of their relations.”

Mr Sabo said while regretting the incident, the command still maintains this casualty figure as accurate until more facts prove otherwise.

The spokesperson warned that the command would not hesitate to deal decisively with any person or group who engage in such malicious publication or circulating it.

He urged the media to continue to uphold high ethical standard and verify all accounts of crimes before publication.

Mr Sabo said this was necessary to avoid sharing mischievous information.

“Internet subscribers should also be cautious in sharing stories of questionable sources especially via the social media,” he added.

Mr Sabo said the command reaffirmed its unrelenting commitment towards fighting crime and criminality to the barest minimum and called for the cooperation of  the general public.

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Fake Military Personnel hack Female lover to Death in Yola

person
Amos Yau

Residents of Bachure in Jimeta-Yola, Adamawa state capital were again thrown into mourning and despair a 23-year-old, Patience Amos Ya’u was reported to have been hacked to death by her boyfriend during a scuffle that ensued while they were alone in a room.

She was said to have been hacked by her boyfriend, Ali Mohammed Wakil whom they were always seeing together and parading himself as military personnel.

The gruesome murder of the girl threw the family, relations, friends, and staff of the Adamawa Press Limited, Publishers of The Scope newspaper, Yola where the father of the deceased works as Chief driver into agony.

Sources say that Patience who was newly recruited Army Officer could not be part of the training because of the tragedy which struck.

Some sources alleged that the boyfriend who claimed to be military personnel serving with 68 Reference Hospital Yaba in Lagos state may be a dismissed officer and only impersonating the military.

Another source at Damilu, where the incident occurred said that they heard the deceased and her boyfriend in the room, but could not categorically explain the circumstances that led to the killing of Patience.

‘’ Residents became more suspicious when we could not see the lady for good three days, and what worried us more was the terrible odor emitting from their room,’’ said a resident who doesn’t want to be mentioned.

According to this resident, ‘’what  compounded the situation was how the door of the room was locked from the outside, a development which compelled people  to forcefully open the window of the room only to discover the body of the female lover at the stage of decomposition.’’

The discovery of the dead body attracted a crowd who later proceeded to the palace of the ward head before the matter was finally reported to the police.

A family source who confided to newsmen said that they saw the suspect near the residence of the father of the deceased, strolling and enjoying his normal life at the time when the girl was declared missing.

‘’ In fact, at the time that the police officers who went to inform the father of the victim about the incident, the suspect was also sighted near the house of the father of the victim,’’ female resident added.

Narrating how the incident happened, the father of the deceased, Amos Ya’u, explained that his daughter left his house on the fateful  Saturday to plait her hair but could not come back again despite her assurance to them that she was on her way back home.

He said that they had called her on phone on that fateful evening, but she told them that she will be coming back home and waited but could not see her.

According to him, they called her line later on Sunday but it was not going through, and that since that day, they had not seen her until four days later when a police officer came and informed him of her death, a situation he could not believe it.

But when contacted, the Spokesman of the State Police Command, DSP, Suleiman Nguroje, confirmed the killing of Patience.

Nguroje said that when the matter was reported to the command, the Commissioner of Police directed that the suspect is apprehended and that their men were able to arrest the suspect.

He stated that the suspect is now cooling his heels at the Criminal Investigation Department and that he has been assisting them with relevant information that led to the murder of the girl, adding that the police are doing everything possible to gather both human and material evidence.

He further that the suspect who identified himself as Ali Mohammed Wakil, a military officer serving at Reference Hospital Yaba in Lagos state Nigeria.

recalls that only last week  Maxwell Nashan, a young reporter with Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) F.M station,  Fombina FM in Yola, was hacked to death in the bush on the outskirt of Vunokilan, in  Girei local government area of the state.

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Facebook keeps policy protecting political ads | ABS-CBN News

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Facebook logos are seen on a screen in this picture illustration taken Dec. 2, 2019. Johanna Geron, Reuters/file

SAN FRANCISCO — Defying pressure from Congress, Facebook said on Thursday that it would continue to allow political campaigns to use the site to target advertisements to particular slices of the electorate and that it would not police the truthfulness of the messages sent out.

The stance put Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, at odds with some of the other large tech companies, which have begun to put new limits on political ads.

Facebook’s decision, telegraphed in recent months by executives, is likely to harden criticism of the company heading into this year’s presidential election.

Political advertising cuts to the heart of Facebook’s outsize role in society, and the company has found itself squeezed between liberal critics, who want it to do a better job of policing its various social media platforms, and conservatives, who say their views are being unfairly muzzled.

The issue has raised important questions regarding how heavy a hand technology companies like Facebook — which also owns Instagram and the messaging app WhatsApp — and Google should exert when deciding what types of political content they will and will not permit.

By maintaining a status quo, Facebook executives are essentially saying they are doing the best they can without government guidance and see little benefit to the company or the public in changing.

In a blog post, a company official echoed Facebook’s earlier calls for lawmakers to set firm rules.

“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management overseeing the advertising integrity division, said in the post. “We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”

Other social media companies have decided otherwise, and some had hoped Facebook would quietly follow their lead. In late October, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, banned all political advertising from his network, citing the challenges that novel digital systems present to civic discourse. Google quickly followed suit with limits on political ads across some of its properties, though narrower in scope.

Reaction to Facebook’s policy broke down largely along party lines.

The Trump campaign, which has been highly critical of any attempts by technology companies to regulate political advertising and has already spent more than $27 million on the platform, largely supported Facebook’s decision not to interfere in targeting ads or to set fact-checking standards.

“Our ads are always accurate so it’s good that Facebook won’t limit political messages because it encourages more Americans to be involved in the process,” said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign. “This is much better than the approaches from Twitter and Google, which will lead to voter suppression.”

Democratic presidential candidates and outside groups decried the decision.

“Facebook is paying for its own glowing fake news coverage, so it’s not surprising they’re standing their ground on letting political figures lie to you,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.

Warren, who has been among the most critical of Facebook and regularly calls for major tech companies to be broken up, reiterated her stance that the social media company should face tougher policies.

The Biden campaign was similarly critical. The campaign has confronted Facebook over an ad run by President Donald Trump’s campaign that attacked Joe Biden’s record on Ukraine.

“Donald Trump’s campaign can (and will) still lie in political ads,” Bill Russo, the deputy communications director for Biden, said in a statement. “Facebook can (and will) still profit off it. Today’s announcement is more window dressing around their decision to allow paid misinformation.”

But many Democratic groups willing to criticize Facebook had to walk a fine line; they have pushed for more regulation when it comes to fact-checking political ads, but they have been adamantly opposed to any changes to the ad-targeting features.

On Thursday, some Democratic outside groups welcomed Facebook’s decision not to limit micro-targeting, but still thought the policy fell short.

“These changes read to us mostly as a cover for not making the change that is most vital: ensuring politicians are not allowed to use Facebook as a tool to lie to and manipulate voters,” said Madeline Kriger, who oversees digital ad buying at Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC.

Other groups, however, said Facebook had been more thoughtful about political ads than its industry peers.

“Facebook opted against limiting ad targeting, because doing so would have unnecessarily restricted a valuable tool that campaigns of all sizes rely on for fundraising, registering voters, building crowds and organizing volunteers,” said Tara McGowan, chief executive of Acronym, a non-profit group that works on voter organization and progressive causes.

Facebook has played down the business opportunity in political ads, saying the vast majority of its revenue came from commercial, not political, ads. But lawmakers have noted that Facebook ads could be a focal point of Trump’s campaign as well as those of top Democrats.

Facebook’s hands-off ad policy has already allowed for misleading advertisements. In October, a Facebook ad from the Trump campaign made false accusations about Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. The ad quickly went viral and was viewed by millions. After the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down the ad, the company refused.

“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter to the Biden campaign.

In an attempt to provoke Facebook, Warren’s presidential campaign ran an ad falsely claiming that the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was backing the reelection of Trump. Facebook did not take the ad down.

Criticism seemed to stiffen Zuckerberg’s resolve. Company officials said he and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s president, had ultimately made the decision to stand firm.

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University in October, Zuckerberg said he believed in the power of unfettered speech, including in paid advertising, and did not want to be in the position to police what politicians could and could not say to constituents. Facebook’s users, he said, should be allowed to make those decisions for themselves.

“People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he said.

Facebook officials have repeatedly said significant changes to its rules for political or issue ads could harm the ability of smaller, less well-funded organizations to raise money and organize across the network.

Instead of overhauling its policies, Facebook has made small tweaks. Leathern said Facebook would add greater transparency features to its library of political advertising in the coming months, a resource for journalists and outside researchers to scrutinize the types of ads run by the campaigns.

Facebook also will add a feature that allows users to see fewer campaign and political issue ads in their news feeds, something the company has said many users have requested.

There was considerable debate inside Facebook about whether it should change. Late last year, hundreds of employees supported an internal memo that called on Zuckerberg to limit the abilities of Facebook’s political advertising products.

On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote on his internal Facebook page that, as a liberal, he found himself wanting to use the social network’s powerful platform against Trump.

But Bosworth said that even though keeping the current policies in place “very well may lead to” Trump’s reelection, it was the right decision. Dozens of Facebook employees pushed back on Bosworth’s conclusions, arguing in the comments section below his post that politicians should be held to the same standard that applies to other Facebook users.

For now, Facebook appears willing to risk disinformation in support of unfettered speech.

“Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies,” Leathern said. “Frankly, we believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this, the better.”

2020 The New York Times Company

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Ukraine passenger jet crashes in Iran, killing at least 170

airplane

TEHRAN: A Ukrainian airliner carrying at least 170 people crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all on board, Iran state media reported.

The Boeing 737 had left Tehran’s international airport bound for Kiev, semi-official news agency ISNA said.

“Obviously it is impossible that passengers” on flight PS-752 are alive, Red Crescent head Morteza Salimi told semi-official news agency ISNA, adding that 170 passengers and crew had boarded the plane.

State news agency IRNA said 167 passengers and nine crew members had boarded the aircraft, which was operated by Ukraine International Airlines.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed all those on board the plane were killed.

AFP
People and rescue teams are pictured amid bodies and debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran. -AFP

“According to preliminary data, all passengers and crew members are dead,” he wrote on Facebook of the Ukraine International Airlines plane, which was bound for Kiev.

The Red Crescent said teams were assisted by soldiers and firefighters in the effort to recover bodies.

“After six o’clock (0230 GMT) this morning we were informed that a passenger plane crashed in the vicinity of Shahriar,” said Shahin Fathi, the head of its search and rescue unit.

“All operational teams were dispatched to the area,” he told state television. “Unfortunately… we haven’t found anyone alive.”

“Everyone is helping so that we can gather all the bodies that have been scattered in a wide area,” said Fathi.

aircraft
People walk near the wreckage after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran. -AFP

Press TV, state television’s English-language news broadcaster, said the plane went down in the vicinity of Parand, a city in Tehran province.

The crash was likely to have been caused by “technical difficulties”, it reported, citing Ali Khashani, spokesman for Imam Khomeini International Airport.

“The plane caught fire after crashing,” said Press TV.

A video aired by the state media broadcaster appeared to show the plane already on fire, falling from the sky.

American airline manufacturer Boeing tweeted: “We are aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information.”

The crash came shortly after Iran said it fired missiles at Iraqi bases in revenge for the killing of one of the Islamic republic’s top military commanders in a US drone strike on Friday.

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One of the engines of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, a Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on January 8, 2020, is seen in this still image taken from Iran Press footage. – Iran Press/Handout via Reuters

Following the missile strikes, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it was banning US-registered carriers from flying over Iraq, Iran and the Gulf after rocket attacks on US forces in Iraq.

“The (FAA) issues Notices to Airmen tonight outlining flight restrictions that prohibit US civil aviation operators from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran and the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman,” it said in a statement.

“The FAA will continue closely monitoring events in the Middle East.”

Iran launched the missiles after a US drone strike killed Qasem Soleimani, a hugely popular figure who headed the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Airliner
Emergency workers work near the wreckage of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, a Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on January 8, 2020, in this still image taken from Iran Press footage. – Iran Press/Handout via Reuters

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “severe revenge” for the assassination and declared three days of mourning following the assassination which shocked the Islamic republic.

The assassination of Soleimani set off an escalating war of words between Iran and the US.

In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani on Monday warned Trump to “never threaten” Iran, after the US leader issued a US strike list of 52 targets in the Islamic republic. -AFP

Airlines
A Ukraine International Airlines plane crashed soon after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport.

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DSS arrests man ‘who created’ video of Buhari’s fake wedding to minister

person

The Department of State Services (DSS) has arrested Kabiru Mohammed, a Kano state indigene, for allegedly creating and sharing fake videos depicting a wedding ceremony between President Muhammadu Buhari and Sadiya Farouq, minister of humanitarian affairs and social development.
Mohammed, 32, had reportedly released the video which sparked frenzy across the nation in October.
Peter Afunanya, DSS spokesman, on Friday, confirmed the arrest of the suspect, saying he is at the DSS headquarters.
He said an investigation was launched, following a formal complaint to the service by Zainab Ahmed, minister of finance, whom the video also showed as getting married to the president .

“Last year, 2019 between August and October there was a defamatory video that circulated widely across Nigeria and showing false engagement of Mr President in marriage with some members of his cabinet. One was the minister for finance, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed and another was that of the minister for minister of humanitarian affairs and social development, Hajiya Sadiya Farouq.” Afunanya said.
“On the 11th of October, 2019 the honourable minister for finance, brought a formal complaint to the service in which she stated that the video had cost her big embarrassment and asked that an investigation be opened into that audio/video and the materials associated with it, the infographics and all the materials that were in circulation at the moment. She asked that a detailed investigation be opened in that regard with a view to identifying the persons or groups of persons that may have been behind the circulation of such defamatory materials.
“The service went into investigation and we can announce that it had apprehended the person that is involved and the person who started this and who circulated the materials. His name is Kabiru Mohammed. He hails from Kano. He is 32 years. He holds a diploma in Hausa and Fulfulde from the federal college of education, Kano and also holds a diploma in mass communication from Aminu Kano Islamic school, according to him.
Afunanya warned members of the public to avoid circulating misleading information, highlighting the negative effects of fake news.
“We want to use this opportunity to once again please ask Nigerians as always that the spread of false news through social media does not do well for any person. You may enjoy the spread of such falsehood when you are not the victim. But if you become the victim, you will know the pain. And we want to urge every citizen and residents and of course Nigerians, that anywhere they are, they should desist from spreading falsehoods, misrepresentations, rumours against one another, against then government, and against institutions of government,” he said.
“By the time you click that button and you spread or participate in sharing news that is not true, you are helping in causing disharmony, you are helping in bringing problem in the country. And you are also feeding on differences in the country to bring about chaos, anarchy and instability. On our part we would continue to perform our duties and responsibilities without let or fear and will always collaborate with all stakeholders particularly the media and strategic partners to make sure there is lasting peace in the country.”

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Controversial death of female lover sparks row in Bayelsa

Mike Odiegwu, Yenagoa

The sudden death of one Joy Osain, who lives in Agbura community, Yenagoa, Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, has sparked controversy.

A number of residents claimed Osain died after she drank sniper(an insecticide), following a disagreement between her and her 28-year-old boyfriend, Eze Augustus.

It was said that Osain engaged in a quarrel with her boyfriend at the man’s house in Azikoro in the capital city of Yenagoa.

A source, who spoke in confidence, said: “The girl was an indigene of Agbura while the guy is from Azikoro community both in Yenagoa Local Government Area. She was a fruit seller at Azikoro.

“Her boyfriend avoided her on Christmas day. She went to wait in front of his door on 26th of December but saw another girl in his house.

Read Also: Gunmen abduct 6-year-old Bayelsa commissioner’s son

“She became angry and fought with him. He allegedly beat her but the girl kept saying she would not be alive and watch another girl take her man. We didn’t know she meant it. She was said to have gulped sniper and died”.

Another version of the story claimed that Osain’s boyfriend beat her to death and poured the powerful insecticide in her mouth to make it look like a suicide.

It was said that the furious family members of the deceased stormed Augustus house in the area and destroyed it.

Police spokesman, Butswat Asinim, however, explained  that Augustus reported the matter to the police and was arrested for further investigations.

He said: “On 26/12/2019 at about 22:30, one Eze Augustus ‘M” 28years of Azikoro Village, Yenagoa, reported at the police division that his girlfriend, one Joy Osain ‘F” of Agbura community age 28years has drunk sniper and died.

“The corpse of the deceased was recovered and deposited at the Federal Medical Centre Yenagoa for autopsy.

“The said Eze Augustus has been detained for further interrogation. Investigation is ongoing”.

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