French prosecutors file terrorism charges against suspected Basque leader

(Jurist) French prosecutors on Friday 5 March filed preliminary terrorism charges against the suspected leader of the Basque separatist group ETA, along with two other persons who are thought to be senior members of the group.

The charges include “criminal association with a view to prepare acts of terrorism,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

The three men, Ibon Gogeascoechea Arronategui, Beinat Aguinalde Ugartemendia, and Gergorio Jimenez Moralesare, were arrested on Sunday in the French village Cahan in a joint Spain-France operation. Gogeascoechea is believed to be ETA’s military leader. He has been sought since 1997 for his role in planting explosives around the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, which was thought to be an assassination attempt [BBC report] on King Juan Carlos. The two other men – Beinat Aguinalde Ugartemendia, and Gergorio Jimenez Morales – are wanted for separate assassinations that took place in 2008.

ICRC condems Taliban use of booby trap bombs

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) condemned the use of booby trap bombs by the Taliban in an area of southern Afghanistan that has been so heavily mined people are afraid to leave their homes.

The bombs, also known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), are also preventing refugees from returning to the area of Helmand province where US Marines have led 15,000 troops in an assault against the Taliban, ICRC said.

The ICRC said the use of mines, and the lack of any measures to protect civilians “runs counter to the most basic principles of international humanitarian law,” the statement said.

“Any use of these weapons, which are prohibited in the country under the Mine Ban Convention just as they are in 155 other countries, is completely unacceptable.”
People who fled the area before and during the assault, launched on February 13, feared returning to villages where commanders and residents have said the bombs are planted in fields, hanging from trees and even embedded in the walls of houses.
“Improvised mines and other explosive devices are posing a deadly threat to civilians in Marjah,” Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC in Kabul, was quoted in a statement as saying.

“They make it almost impossible for people to venture out or to evacuate the sick and wounded, who therefore receive little or no medical care,” he said.
The Taliban is the only party in the conflict to use IEDs, said Bijan Farnoudi, the ICRC’s spokesman in Kabul, adding: “The improvised mines in Marjah have been left behind in huge numbers by the Taliban.”

Operation Mushtarak (“Together” in Dari) is slowly winding down as resistance wanes from the Taliban, who for years controlled the area along with drug traffickers, NATO and Afghan commanders said this week.

But Afghanistan’s defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said IEDs are the main challenge facing troops yet to bring the area under complete control, and for civilians wanting to go home.

Uzbekistan’s hidden trials

(Eurasia Lift) Human rights defenders in Uzbekistan have discovered that trials of alleged Islamic radicals are taking place across the country in secrecy, with no one allowed access to the courtroom. They fear the tactic is designed to prevent information about abuse in detention leaking out.

The Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders reports that one secret trial that ended on February 26 involved a group of 15 people accused of anti-constitutional activity, membership of Islamic extremist groups and “inciting ethnic and religious animosity”. Sentence had yet to be passed, but the law prescribes prison terms of 15 to 20 years for such offences. Around 70 people are believed to be standing trial in this case.

“All the accused have been forced to take [defence] lawyers provided by the state, and these have been required by investigators to sign statements that they would not reveal information about proceedings in the courtroom,” said Surat Ikramov, head of the Initiative Group, referring to both the trials in Chirchik.

“The accusations were handed to the lawyers before the trial started, and taken away from them when it ended, so as to prevent information leaking out.” There are fears that defendants may have “made confessions under torture, and in court they will talk about this and say they didn’t do what they are accused of doing”.