Philippines, Apr 7 (AP/UNB) — Three hostages held by Muslim militants in the southern Philippines have made a daring escape that left one drowned, another shot in the back in critical condition and another safe after swimming to his freedom, officials said.
The two Indonesians and one Malaysian separately escaped while Philippine marines were attempting to rescue them on Simusa island in southern Sulu province over the last two days, regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Gerry Besana said Saturday.
The dramatic escapes leave at least three more hostages in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization due to its brutal history of bombings, ransom kidnappings, extortion and beheadings. The remaining captives include a Dutch bird watcher, Elwold Horn, who was kidnapped by the militants in 2012, and two Filipinos.
One of the Indonesians, Heri Ardiansyah, was plucked from the waters by marines on board a gunboat while they recovered the body of his companion, Hariadin, who drowned. The marines gunned down three Abu Sayyaf captors who were trying to chase the two Indonesians at sea, military officials said. Like many Indonesians, Hariadin used just one name.
The marines seized four assault rifles, a grenade launcher and various ammunition from the captors of the Indonesians, military officials said.
The Malaysian, who was identified by the military as Jari Bin Abudullah, was shot by the militants when he ran away Thursday as marines tried to rescue him and engaged his captors in a gunbattle. Government forces surrounded Simusa island, where a small community thrives near mangroves, to hunt down the remaining Abu Sayyaf gunmen.
"The act of shooting the kidnap victim is indicative of the Abu Sayyaf's hopelessness and desperateness as the militants are now surrounded by our pursuing troops," said Sulu's military commander, Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo Jr.
The Malaysian was airlifted to Zamboanga city, where he was in critical condition in a hospital, military officials said.
The three hostages were kidnapped off Malaysia's Sabah state on Borneo island in December last year and taken by speedboat to Sulu, the predominantly Muslim and poverty-wracked province where a few hundred Abu Sayyaf have survived in the jungles despite frequent military offensives.
Army troops on Friday clashed with about 80 Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Sulu's mountainous Patikul town in a fierce but brief gunbattle that left three soldiers and four militants dead and several wounded on both sides, the military said.
The Islamic State group issued a statement confirming it killed three and wounded 13 Philippine soldiers, but it said "the mujahideen returned safely to base."
The rebels belong to an Abu Sayyaf faction led by commander Hajan Sawadjaan and aligned with the Islamic State group. Sawadjaan is the main suspect in the bombing of a Roman Catholic cathedral during a Mass that killed 23 mostly churchgoers and two suspected suicide attackers on Jan. 27 in Sulu's capital town of Jolo.
Las Vegas, Apr 7 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump warned on Saturday that a Democratic victory in 2020 could "leave Israel out there," as he highlighted his pro-Israel actions in an effort to make the case for Jewish voters to back his re-election.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Trump touted his precedent-shredding actions to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and recognition last month of Israeli sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that Israel seized from Syria in 1967.
"We got you something that you wanted," Trump said of the embassy move, adding, "Unlike other presidents, I keep my promises."
The group, backed by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, supported Trump's 2016 campaign and is preparing to spend millions on his 2020 effort.
"I know that the Republican Jewish Coalition will help lead our party to another historic victory," Trump said. "We need more Republicans. Let's go, so we can win everything."
Jewish voters in the U.S. have traditionally sided heavily with Democrats — and are often ideologically liberal — but Republicans are hoping to narrow the gap next year, in part as Trump cites actions that he says demonstrate support for Israel.
The Jewish Democratic Council of America on Saturday said American Jews leaving the Democratic Party are a Republican fantasy.
"Trump's presidency has only solidified the fact that the Democratic Party has been - and will remain - the political home of the American Jewish electorate," JDCA Executive Director Halie Soifer said in a statement. "This is because Trump's policies and rhetoric are antithetical to Jewish values, and because anti-Semitism has increased to unprecedented levels due to Trump's divisive words, policies, and willful blindness."
But at the RJC, Trump earned standing ovations for recounting both the embassy move and the Golan Heights recognition.
Trump noted it had long been a priority for Adelson and his wife, Miriam. "That is the most important thing that's ever happened in their life," Trump said. "They love Israel."
Trump's speech comes weeks after he suggested Democrats "hate" Jews. His remark followed an internal fight among Democrats over how to respond to comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., that some criticized as anti-Semitic.
Trump mockingly thanked Omar as he began his speech, before adding, "Oh, I forgot. She doesn't like Israel, I forgot, I'm sorry. No, she doesn't like Israel, does she? Please, I apologize."
He also accused Democrats of allowing anti-Semitism to "take root" in their party.
Before Trump's appearance, people assembled for the event carried signs with "We are Jews for Trump" and "Trump" written in Hebrew. Dozens of men and several women wore red yarmulkes with "Trump" in white that were distributed at the event.
Trump also took credit for eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians and for pulling the U.S. out of several U.N. organizations, the U.N. Human Rights Council and UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias in their agendas.
Trump criticized some 2020 Democrats who have suggesting they would re-enter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew the United States. The agreement was fiercely opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has cheered as Trump re-imposed stringent new sanctions on the country that Israel regards as an existential threat. Trump is closely aligned with Netanayu, who's seeking to return power in Tuesday's national election.
Trump predicted that election is "gonna be close," adding it features "Two good people," seemingly referring to Netanyahu and his chief threat to Netanyahu's coalition, former Israeli army chief of staff, Benny Gantz.
Despite his criticism of Democrats, Trump has faced his own criticism from the Jewish community. Trump was slow to condemn white supremacists who marched violently in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. The previous year, he circulated an image of a six-pointed star alongside a photo of Hillary Clinton, a pile of money and the words "most corrupt candidate ever."
When he addressed the RJC in 2015 he said he didn't expect to earn their support because he wouldn't take their money. "You want to control your politicians, that's fine," Trump said at the time. Ultimately, the group and many of its donors backed Trump.
Trump met privately with Adelson before speaking, according to an official. Adelson has cancer and has been in poor health, but he and his wife attended Trump's remarks — receiving a standing ovation when they entered the ballroom.
The Adelsons gave Trump's campaign $30 million in 2016. They followed that by contributing $100 million to the Republican Party for the 2018 midterm elections.
Introducing Trump, former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., the chairman of the RJC, led the audience in an adapted version of the Passover reading "Dayenu," as he recounted what Trump had done for Israel.
Stuart Weil, a Jewish man from Fresno, California, said Americans have traditionally been very supportive of Israel but "the progressive, liberal wing of the Democratic Party" is changing that.
Weil, who wore a blue Trump-style hat that read, "Making Israel & America Great Again," says he's a Republican because of the party's strong stance on Israel.
According to AP Votecast, a survey of more than 115,000 midterm voters and 3,500 Jewish voters nationwide, voters who identified as Jewish broke for Democrats over Republicans by a wide margin, 72 percent to 26 percent, in 2018.
Over the past decade, Jewish voters have shown stability in their partisanship, according to data from Pew Research Center. Jewish voters identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party over the Republican Party by a roughly 2-1 ratio.
United Nations, Apr 6 (AP/UNB) — Seven human rights and press freedom groups are urging the United States, Britain and France to speak out publicly about the trial in Saudi Arabia of 11 people charged in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi which their diplomats are attending.
The groups said in letters to foreign ministers of the three countries obtained Friday that providing information and much-needed transparency "would enable some scrutiny of the fairness of the trial."
"In addition to reinforcing the fair trial rights of the accused persons," the groups said making information public would "guard against potential scapegoating of some individuals." They also said that "transparency around the trial can work to guarantee that the court proceedings do not cover up the alleged involvement of the Saudi leadership."
A global outcry was sparked by Khashoggi's grisly killing inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October by Saudi agents, in an operation directed by former top aides to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Last week, the independent U.N. human rights expert on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, who is leading a human rights investigation into Khashoggi's killing, denounced the shrouded trial and called on the kingdom to identify the defendants.
She also warned that the five permanent U.N. Security Council nations invited to attend some court hearings — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China — "risk being participants in a potential miscarriage of justice" and could be "complicit" if the trials turn out to involve violations of human rights law.
The seven groups urged the U.S., Britain and France to press the Saudis to allow observers from the U.N. human rights office and international human rights and media organizations to attend the trial. They did not write to or make similar requests of the Russians and Chinese.
But they did say: "Concerned governments should take the necessary steps to ensure that they do not provide cover for what could be a sham trial."
"Doing so would also run the risk of enabling authorities in Riyadh to find a set of individuals guilty, without due process, while whitewashing the possible involvement of the highest levels of the Saudi government," the rights and media groups said.
The seven groups are Amnesty International, Article 19, Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, PEN America and Reporters Without Borders.
Ethiopia, Apr 5 (AP/UNB) — A doomed Ethiopian Airlines jet suffered from faulty readings by a key sensor, and pilots followed Boeing's recommended procedures when the plane started to nose dive but could not avoid crashing, according to a preliminary report released Thursday by the Ethiopian government.
The findings draw the strongest link yet between the March 10 crash in Ethiopia and an October crash off the coast of Indonesia, which both involved Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliners. All 346 people on the two planes were killed.
Both planes had an automated system that pushed the nose down when sensor readings detected the danger of an aerodynamic stall, and it now appears that sensors malfunctioned on both planes.
Boeing acknowledged that the sensor malfunctioned and CEO Dennis Muilenburg said Thursday a new software update would prevent future incidents. "It's our responsibility to eliminate this risk," Muilenburg said in a video statement. "We own it, and we know how to do it."
Thursday's preliminary report, based on flight data and cockpit voice recorders on the Ethiopian Airlines jetliner, showed that the faulty sensor touched off a series of events that caused the pilots to lose control of the plane. The report from Ethiopia's Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau said the sensor problems began about a minute after the plane was cleared for takeoff.
It said air speed and altitude values on the left side of the Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max conflicted with data from the right sensor, causing flight control problems. Eventually the pilots couldn't keep the plane from plummeting to the ground, killing all 157 people on board.
The problems are similar to those reported on the Indonesian Lion Air flight that crashed last October. Investigators found that software on that plane took readings from the sensor and pointed the nose down. Thursday's revelations raise questions about repeated assertions by Boeing and U.S. regulators that pilots could regain control in some emergencies by following steps that include turning off an anti-stall system designed specifically for the Max, known by its acronym, MCAS.
The Max has been grounded worldwide pending a software fix that Boeing is rolling out, which still needs to be approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators.
In a statement, Boeing said that to make sure unintended activation of the MCAS system doesn't happen again, it is developing software and "associated comprehensive pilot training" for the Max. The software update, Boeing said, adds layers of protection and will stop erroneous data from activating the system.
Ethiopian investigators did not specifically mention the MCAS, but recommended that Boeing review "the aircraft flight-control system related to the flight controllability." They also recommended that aviation officials verify that issues have been adequately addressed before allowing the planes to fly again.
At a news conference, Ethiopia's Minister of Transport Dagmawit Moges said the Ethiopian Airlines crew "performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer but was not able to control the aircraft."
However, it wasn't clear whether the Ethiopian pilots followed Boeing's recommendations to the letter.
The pilots initially followed Boeing's emergency steps by disconnecting the MCAS system by switching off power to a stabilizer on the tail, the report said. But they turned the system back on 32 seconds before hitting the ground and tried unsuccessfully to use it to point the nose up. Boeing's procedures instruct pilots to leave the MCAS disconnected and continue flying manually for the rest of the flight.
The report said multiple alarms went off as the pilots struggled to control the plane, indicating an even more complex situation than in the Lion Air crash, said William Waldock, a professor of safety science at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. "It's similar in a lot of ways but perhaps more extreme," he said. "It seems likely they've got more things going on at once in a shorter time period."
The two pilots had just 159 hours of combined flying time on the Boeing 737 Max, a new aircraft that went into service in 2017. The 29-year-old captain had more than 8,000 flight hours overall, including more than 1,400 on older 737s, the report said.
The 25-year-old co-pilot had only 361 total flight hours — not enough to be hired as a pilot at a U.S. airline. He flew 207 of those hours on 737s, including 56 hours on Max jets.
Family members of crash victims said they were unsettled by the report's findings.
"Today's preliminary report suggests Boeing could have done better in notifying the problem with the aircraft system early on," said Konjit Shafi, whose younger brother, Sintayehu Shafi, died in the crash. "This is causing us a great deal of pain. It is so sad to learn that our loved ones would have been spared if this problem was detected on time."
Meanwhile, the family of a 24-year-old American woman killed in the crash sued Boeing on Thursday. The complaint, which also names Ethiopian Airlines and parts maker Rosemount Aerospace as defendants, alleged negligence and civil conspiracy among other charges.
"Blinded by its greed, Boeing haphazardly rushed the 737 MAX8 to market" and "actively concealed the nature of the automated system defects," the lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of Samya Stumo alleged. Stumo is a great grand-niece of consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
Nader called on consumers to boycott the MAX 8 and blasted the FAA for delegating so much responsibility in certifying the plane was safe to Boeing.
"Those planes should never fly again," Nader said. "If we don't end the cozy relationship between the patsy FAA ... and the Boeing Company, 5,000 of these fatally flawed planes will be in the air all over the world with millions of passengers."
Boeing is the focus of investigations by the U.S. Justice Department, the Transportation Department's inspector general and congressional committees. Investigations are also looking at the role of the FAA, which certified the Max in 2017, and declined to ground it after the first deadly crash in October. The agency was also reluctant to ground the planes after the Ethiopian Airlines crash and was among the last agencies to do so.
The FAA, which must certify the 737 Max is safe before it can go back into the air, said in a statement that the investigation is still in its early stages.
"As we learn more about the accident and findings become available, we will take appropriate action," the agency said.
Afghanistan, Apr 5 (AP/UNB) — An Afghan official says at least seven people have been killed as heavy rains and flooding swept through the country's western Herat province.
Heavy snowfall across Afghanistan this winter had cut off many areas, raising fears of severe floods in the spring. So far this year, 63 people have died as heavy rains and flooding swept away their homes.
Said Hamid Mubarez, the federal disaster and humanitarian director in Herat, says the flash floods on Thursday evening swept away eight people riding in two cars in the district of Karukh. Seven died while one survivor was injured.
In March, seven people, including five children, died elsewhere in Herat as a result of flooding. Hundreds of homes have been damaged and hundreds of cattle killed.