Arresting Julian Assange is a Priority: Sessions

Assange

The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now a “priority” for the US, attorney general Jeff Sessions has said.

The US authorities have prepared charges against Assange who is currently in London, US officials familiar with the matter revealed.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain since 2012 seeking to avoid an arrest warrant on rape allegations in Sweden.

“We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks,” Sessions said at a news conference when reporters asked him about a US priority to arrest Assange.

“This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious,” he added.

Barry Pollack, Assange’s lawyer, denied any knowledge of imminent prosecution. “We’ve had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr Assange,” he stated.

Earlier, during the presidential election campaign, US president Donald Trump praised the anti-secrecy website saying during a rally “I love WikiLeaks.” However, Trump and his administration have put heat on WikiLeaks after it embarrassed the Central Intelligence Agency last month by releasing a large number of files and computer code from the spy agency’s top-secret hacking operations.

US authorities have been investigating Assange and WikiLeaks since at least 2010 when it released, in cooperation with publications including the Guardian, more than a quarter of a million classified cables from US embassies leaked by US army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

Prosecutors in recent weeks have been drafting a memo that looks at charges against Assange and other WikiLeaks members, with these charges including conspiracy, theft of government property and violations of the Espionage Act, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed US officials familiar with the matter.

WikiLeaks supporters, however, say it’s practicing the constitutional right of freedom of speech and the press.

“WikiLeaks’s sole interest is expressing constitutionally protected truths,” Assange said in an opinion piece he published earlier, acknowledging “overwhelming admiration for both America and the idea of America.”

Socialist candidate Lenin Moreno, who won the recent election in Ecuador, has promised not to extradite Assange.

US to station 150 armored vehicles in Europe

Paratroopers of the US Army enter a helicopter at the training area in Grafenwöhr, Germany, on February 10, 2014. (EPA/Armin Weigel)
Paratroopers of the US Army enter a helicopter at the training area in Grafenwöhr, Germany, on February 10, 2014. (EPA/Armin Weigel)

Brussels, Reuters—The United States plans by the end of next year to station around 150 tanks and armored vehicles in Europe for use by US forces training in Europe as part of the US response to the Ukraine crisis, according to a US military commander.

Some of the tanks and vehicles—enough to equip an armored brigade—could be “pre-positioned” in Poland, Romania or the Baltic states, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of the US Army in Europe, said in a telephone interview with Reuters from Wiesbaden, Germany.

The United States and NATO partners have reinforced eastern Europe and have stepped up exercises to reassure newer members of the alliance made nervous by what they see as Russian assertiveness. Russia denies any aggressive activity.

Hodges said he expected the US contribution to this, known as “Operation Atlantic Resolve,” to go on throughout 2015 and into 2016.

Keeping enough equipment in Europe for a US armored brigade avoids the need for troops coming from the United States for exercises to bring their own kit.

It also means the equipment is there if the United States needed to reinforce eastern Europe quickly in an emergency.

“By the end of . . . 2015, we will have gotten all the equipment for a heavy brigade, that means three battalions plus a reconnaissance squadron, the artillery headquarters, engineers, and it will stay in Europe,” Hodges said.

“You are talking about 150-ish, maybe 160 M1 tanks, M2 Bradley fighting vehicles, 24 self-propelled howitzers.”

No decision has yet been taken on where the armored vehicles will be kept.

Hodges said he expected at least a third of it to remain at US training centers in Germany. The United States could consider distributing some of the equipment to a Baltic country, Poland or Romania if it made strategic sense and if that country wanted it kept there.

The United States has sharply cut its forces in Europe since the Cold War. It now has about 30,000 troops there plus a similar number of Air Force, Navy and Marine personnel, Hodges said.

Despite budgetary pressures in the United States, Hodges said he hoped US soldiers and bases in Europe would remain at their current levels for now.

Hodges said he believed there was a risk that pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, where a ceasefire has been agreed but regularly broken, could launch a new offensive in the spring.

Libyan government demands explanation for Liby kidnapping

In this picture downloaded from the US Navy website, taken on September 10, 2013, an MH-53E Super Stallion is seen through a window landing on the flight deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio in the Meditteranean sea.  (AFP PHOTO/NAVY MEDIA CONTENT SERVICES)
In this picture downloaded from the US Navy website, taken on September 10, 2013, an MH-53E Super Stallion is seen through a window landing on the flight deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio in the Meditteranean sea. (AFP PHOTO/NAVY MEDIA CONTENT SERVICES)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Facing domestic suspicions regarding the Libyan government’s role in the kidnapping of Libyan Al-Qaeda suspect Abu Anas Al-Liby, Libyan prime minister Ali Zeidan released a statement on Sunday calling for “clarifications” from the United States government regarding the abduction operation.

Zeidan confirmed that Libyan authorities have contacted their US counterparts for an explanation.

In a press release published on the website of the Libyan interim government, Libyan officials said they were closely following updates regarding the arrest and were cooperating with US authorities.

Abu Anas Al-Liby, born Nazih Abdul-Hamed Al-Ruqai, was abducted at dawn by the US Army’s Delta Force, which is responsible for counter-terrorism in North Africa, as he was coming home from morning prayers.

On Monday, US secretary of state John Kerry made a statement at the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bali, Indonesia. He defended US actions by explaining that Liby was a “legal and appropriate target for the US military.”

The Al-Qaeda leader was wanted for allegedly being one of the orchestrators of the US Embassy attacks in Nairobi and Tanzania in 1998, which killed 224 people.

He has been on the FBI’s most-wanted list and, under the American Rewards for Justice program, USD 5 million was being offered for his capture.

The US State Department also released John Kerry’s reaction on October 6 regarding the simultaneous US military operations conducted in Libya and Somalia. The secretary of state said that these actions reflect the determination of the US to hold members of terrorist organizations accountable. He warned that “members of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations literally can run, but they can’t hide.”

Kerry also described the operations and confirmed that they were conducted by US personnel. “I want to thank and congratulate the quality and courage of those young Americans who took part in those operations,” he said.

The statement contradicts the account from Liby’s son, Abdullah Al-Ruqai, who witnessed the abduction. He told Libya’s Nabir TV station on Sunday that the kidnappers “were Libyan, not Americans—they spoke with Tripoli accents.”

“My mother was listening to the voices in the street and could see it all through the window. There were two cars and a bus with blacked-out windows and no number plates,” he continued.

The Pentagon confirmed Liby was taken out of Libya and the New York Times elaborated that Liby was being held in military custody and interrogated on the USS Antonio navy ship in the Mediterranean.

US defense secretary Chuck Hagel also released a statement commending the military efforts of US troops.

“As a result of the Libya operation, one of the world’s most wanted terrorists was captured and is now in US custody,” Hagel noted.

“These operations in Libya and Somalia send a strong message to the world that the United States will spare no effort to hold terrorists accountable, no matter where they hide or how long they evade justice,” warned Hagel.

Libya is facing rising fears that it is becoming another safe haven for fundamentalists due to the fractured domestic security situation.

American journalist Michael Hastings dies in LA car crash

Ann Adams, who lives across the street, pins a condolence note to a makeshift memorial at the crash site of award-winning journalist Michael Hastings on June 19, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/AFP
Ann Adams, who lives across the street, pins a condolence note to a makeshift memorial at the crash site of award-winning journalist Michael Hastings on June 19, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/AFP)
Los Angeles, Reuters—Journalist Michael Hastings, whose 2010 Rolling Stone magazine profile of the US military chief in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, led to the general being relieved of command, died on Tuesday in a car wreck in Los Angeles, his employer said.

A statement from the editor-in-chief of online news outlet BuzzFeed reporting that Hastings, 33, had been killed, gave no details of the accident, and neither Los Angeles police nor the county coroner’s office would confirm his death.

But police said a man who had not been identified was killed before dawn on Monday when his car slammed into a tree near Hollywood and burst into flames in what authorities say was the only fatal traffic accident reported in the city during the day.

The driver was the lone occupant of the automobile, police said.

Coroner’s Lieutenant Fred Corral said the body of the driver was burned beyond recognition and that further investigation was required to make a positive identification.

Authorities said they had no further information about the circumstances or cause of the accident, which left the trunk of a palm tree at the corner of Melrose and Highland Avenues gouged and charred black.

“We are shocked and devastated by the news that Michael Hastings is gone,” BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith said in a statement. “Michael was a great, fearless journalist with an incredible instinct for the story, and a gift for finding ways to make his readers care about anything he covered, from wars to politicians.”

Hastings was best known for the Rolling Stone feature, headlined “The Runaway General,” that brought about the resignation of McChrystal as commander of US forces in Afghanistan in June 2010.

Rolling Stone’s executive editor, Eric Bates, said at the time that the US military apparently had given the magazine access to the general in hope that a positive profile reaching its young readers might help boost Army recruitment.

Instead, the article Hastings wrote portrayed McChrystal and his aides making disparaging comments about President Barack Obama and other civilian leaders, prompting the president to relieve the army general of his command.

Hastings, who remained a contributing editor to Rolling Stone as well as writing for BuzzFeed, covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and previously worked for GQ magazine and Newsweek.