Former White House Aide to Testify About 2021 US Capitol Riot

The congressional panel investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol last year is set to hear testimony Tuesday from Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former President Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, who was privy to key White House conversations as Trump sought to upend his 2020 election loss.

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Hutchinson’s testimony is shrouded in secrecy and was hastily scheduled Monday, with the House of Representatives panel declining to identify her publicly and saying only that a surprise hearing would be held “to present recently obtained evidence.”

Multiple U.S. news outlets identified her as the new public witness, although the panel has previously shown snippets of her videotaped testimony from three private depositions she gave to the committee’s investigators.

In one brief segment, she testified that a half dozen Republican congressmen sought pardons against possible criminal prosecution from Trump before he left office. All had played roles in promoting his debunked claims that vote-counting fraud had cheated him out of a second term in the White House. Trump pardoned a handful of political aides as left office but not the House Republicans.

The investigative panel, after five hearings earlier this month, had previously said its next public hearings would not be held until mid-July. One of those hearings is set to detail the involvement of right-wing extremists in the insurrection at the Capitol and the other to explore what Trump was doing at the White House as he watched the riot unfold on television for more than three hours, ignoring entreaties from family members and associates to tell the rioters to leave the Capitol.

Previously, an array of witnesses, in taped testimony and in person before the panel, have described how Trump and his allies sought to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence, the Justice Department and state officials to upend the congressional certification of the election results on January 6, 2021.

Trump staged a rally near the White House shortly before the mayhem at the Capitol, urging his supporters to “fight like hell” to block congressional approval of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.

About 2,000 of Trump’s supporters stormed past law enforcement officials into the Capitol, ransacking congressional offices, vandalizing the building and scuffling with police. More than 800 have subsequently been charged with offenses and more than 300 have pleaded guilty or been convicted in trials. Sentences have ranged from a few weeks in prison to more than four years.

Some of the rioters shouted, “Hang Mike Pence!” in protest of the former vice president’s refusal to block certification of the election results in several states Trump narrowly lost. Trump wanted the official results sent back to those states so state legislators could then name electors supporting Trump rather than Biden.

During one of the hearings last week, the committee played a video clip of Hutchinson testifying that Meadows and a Trump attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, held conversations about putting together fake slates of electors supporting Trump, part of the former president’s broad effort to change the election outcome.

News outlets have also reported that during one of her interviews with the committee, Hutchinson said Trump had approved of the “hang Mike Pence” chants from the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol and was dismayed that Pence’s security detail had rushed him to safety as the rioters came within 40 feet (12 meters) of reaching him. Trump supporters erected a gallows on the National Mall within view of the Capitol.

In the United States, presidents are effectively chosen in separate elections in each of the 50 states, not through the national popular vote. Each state’s number of electoral votes is dependent on its population, with the biggest states holding the most sway. The rioters who stormed the Capitol tried to keep lawmakers from certifying Biden’s eventual 306-232 victory in the Electoral College.

While the House committee cannot bring criminal charges, the Department of Justice is closely monitoring the hearings to determine whether anyone, Trump included, should be charged with illegally trying to reverse the outcome.

Last week, FBI agents raided the suburban Virginia home of a former assistant attorney general, Jeffrey Clark, who wanted Trump to name him attorney general in the last month of his presidency so he could advance Trump’s erroneous claims of vote fraud.

Trump appeared willing to make the appointment but backed off when top Justice Department officials said Clark, an environmental lawyer, was not qualified to be the country’s top law enforcement official and threatened to quit en masse if he were named.

In addition, FBI agents, in a separate encounter in the southwestern state of New Mexico, seized the cell phone of conservative lawyer John Eastman, a Trump supporter who pushed for the plan to name bogus electors supporting Trump in the states where Trump narrowly lost the vote counts.

A prosecutor in Atlanta, the capital of the state of Georgia, has convened a grand jury to probe Trump’s effort to overturn the vote in that state. Trump asked the state’s top election official, Brad Raffensperger, to find him 11,780 votes — one more than Biden defeated him by — out of 5 million ballots.

The investigative panel has heard testimony that key Trump aides told him he had lost the election and that there were minimal voting irregularities, not enough to overturn Biden’s Electoral College victory.

In addition, Trump was told it would be illegal for Pence to unilaterally block Biden’s victory as Pence presided over the congressional Electoral College vote count, as Trump privately and publicly implored the vice president to do.

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Children in Armed Conflict Subjected to Unspeakable Horrors: UNICEF

The U.N. children’s fund says more than 266,000 violations were committed against children in armed conflict between 2005 and 2020.

An analysis of more than 30 conflicts across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America finds children continue to bear the brunt of war and are forced to endure what it calls unspeakable horrors.

Authors of a report on the subject say the figure in the report represents just a fraction of the violations believed to have occurred and does not reflect the magnitude of the crimes committed against children caught in conflict.

Tasha Gill is UNICEF’s senior adviser, Child Protection in Emergencies. She says children are victims of a staggering average of 71 verified grave violations every day. She says the report documents the killing and maiming of more than 104,000 children in conflict.

“Between 2016 and 2020, 82 percent of all verified child casualties occurred in only five situations: Afghanistan, Israel and the State of Palestine, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia. It is also important to note that many children experience more than one violation, increasing their vulnerability,” Gill said.

She notes abduction often leads to other violations, such as recruitment and sexual violence. The report has verified at least 25,700 child abductions by parties to conflict and more than 93,000 children recruited as soldiers by all parties to conflict.

Additionally, the report says children have been raped, forcibly married and sexually exploited, with at least 14,200 children also having been subjected to other forms of sexual violence. Gill calls sexual violence against children the most underreported of all violations.

“Sexual violence does occur against children. It is used as a tactic of war. It is one of the lowest numbers because of the access issue but also the stigma and fear attached to reporting in conflicts across the board … Children are often used for many different reasons, which can be considered deliberate targeting. Our request is that all parties immediately cease and desist from using children in armed conflic,” Gill said.

She notes children are recruited as soldiers, and many also are used by the warring parties as porters, sexual slaves, and messengers. She says the violations must stop.

UNICEF is calling on parties to conflict and states to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law and implement concrete measures to protect children.

Agency officials say they have met with success in preventing some violations against children and putting a stop to others by engaging with those responsible for the violations. For example, over the past two decades they say at least 170,000 children have been released from armed forces and armed groups.

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Cameroon Separatists-for-Hire Suspected in Intercommunal Killings

Villagers in a western Cameroon town bordering Nigeria say armed men carried out a series of attacks from June 25 to 27, killing at least 30 people, including five Nigerians, and forcing hundreds to flee.

Community leaders in the town of Akwaya say one of two communities fighting over land hired separatist fighters to carry out the shootings, which the rebels deny.  

Enow Daniel Kewong, the highest-ranking government health official in Akwaya, spoke to VOA via a messaging application. 

“Since the incident was very horrific, we never had the courage to go to the field, so the injured were actually transported by relatives and villagers to the Presbyterian Health Center where we attended to them,” he said. ”Most of the people that were brought had severe head injuries, chest injuries, while few had minor injuries. The severe injuries, we tried to stabilize them and referred them to neighboring Nigeria for continuation of care.” 

Cameroon Presbyterian Church official Samuel Fonki said an unknown number of the injured died while being evacuated to Nigeria. 

VOA could not independently verify if any injured from the attack arrived at Nigerian hospitals.  

Fonki said the ethnic Oliti accused the Messaga Ekol people of hiring rebel fighters to carry out the attacks to try to force them from their land. 

Separatists deny they were responsible for the Akwaya killings and blamed unnamed armed groups operating across the border.   

Fonki said he was trying to organize peace talks between the communities to end the violence when the weekend attacks occurred.   

“We were planning on how we can have peace talks to end the matter and then this unfortunate incident took place where 30 people including children, women, young girls, men and the old were massacred with support from some armed men. Some were even burned in their houses,” he said. “We want to plead that the government should put a very strong military base in Akwaya since that area is also near Nigeria.” 

Cameroon’s government said troops have been deployed to protect civilians in Akwaya but gave no further details. 

The intercommunal violence along the Nigerian border first broke out in April, when villagers say at least seven people were killed and plantations were destroyed.   

Local clerics, community leaders and village chiefs called a meeting to seek a solution to the conflict, but the disputing sides refused to attend.   

The allegation of rebels being hired guns will likely complicate peace efforts.   

English-speaking separatists in western Cameroon launched an armed rebellion in 2017 to break away from the country and its French-speaking majority.   

The government has blamed them for most atrocities committed in Cameroon’s English-speaking western regions, while the rebels usually blame federal troops.  

The U.N. says the conflict has killed more than 3,300 people and displaced more than 750,000. 

 

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NATO Leaders Arrive in Madrid For Crucial Summit On Countering Russia, China

NATO leaders began arriving in Madrid Tuesday for a crucial summit on the alliance’s future – dominated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the threat Moscow poses to the West. Henry Ridgwell reports from the Spanish capital.

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As Key French Terror Trial Ends, Europe Faces New Security Landscape 

One of France’s most high-profile trials in history wraps up this week amid a sharply changing security landscape across Europe, where the war in Ukraine and far-right violence have reshaped threat perceptions once dominated by Islamist extremism.

Verdicts are expected Wednesday in Paris, where 20 men stand accused of being involved in the November 2015 Islamic State attacks around the French capital in which 130 people were killed and hundreds more wounded.

Top defendant Salah Abdeslam, considered the lone surviving attacker, has captured news headlines throughout the months-long trial. He risks life without parole, France’s toughest sentence.

Since opening last September, the trial has revived memories of Islamist violence that spiraled across Europe and the Middle East a few years ago, when IS controlled a swath of Iraq and Syria, and French and other fighters were recruited to join its ranks and sow chaos at home.

But today, the IS caliphate has collapsed. Jihadi violence has dispersed, transformed and migrated to sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, other security threats are on the rise in Europe, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marking the newest and possibly most significant change, analysts say.

“After the war on terror that has dominated the last 20 years, there is a return to the politics of great power rivalries, to the more traditional nature of international relations,” said Thomas Renard, director of the International Center for Counter-Terrorism, referring not only to a rising Russia but also China.

“That doesn’t mean terrorism is going to magically disappear,” Renard added, “but it’s going to be a lesser priority, certainly at the international level.”

Across Europe and other Western countries, terrorist attacks declined by more than two-thirds in 2021 from their peak in 2018, according to the Global Terrorism Index that was published in March by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Meanwhile, Africa’s Sahel has become the world’s latest terror hotspot, the index said.

In Europe, politically motivated attacks — driven by far-left and far-right ideologies —have eclipsed Islamist and other religiously driven attacks that once controlled the region’s terrorism landscape, the index found.

“Terrorism is becoming more centered in conflict zones, underpinned by weak governments and political instability,” IEP Executive Chairman Steve Killelea said, adding, “as [the] conflict in Ukraine dominates global attention, it is crucial that the global fight against terrorism is not sidelined.”

Bodies, haunted survivors

A few years ago, there was little chance that terrorism would be sidelined. In January 2015, Paris saw a pair of radicalized brothers and a fellow assailant gun down more than a dozen people in separate attacks targeting the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket.

In November of that year, Paris experienced far worse: a bloody bombing and shooting rampage by a French-Belgian IS cell on a balmy Friday night. The extremists targeted young people packing the city’s bars, restaurants, soccer stadium and the Bataclan concert hall, leaving a trail of hundreds of bodies and haunted survivors in its wake.

With police barricading streets around Paris’ main courthouse during the lengthy trial, Abdeslam has been variously contemptuous, defiant and seemingly contrite.

He has apologized to victims, yet maintained allegiance to IS. Abdeslam claimed he chose not to detonate his explosive belt to avoid more carnage. Prosecutors argued instead that the belt malfunctioned.

Many of the 19 remaining defendants also face life sentences for playing key roles in assisting the killers in November 2015. Several have been tried in absentia.

After 2015, Europe experienced dozens of other deadly attacks. The following year saw bombings in Brussels and an attack on a Christmas market in Germany. Terrorists also mowed down pedestrians in the French Riviera city of Nice in July 2016 and on the London Bridge a year later. Among the most horrific incidents was the beheading of a French schoolteacher in a Paris suburb, in October 2020.

Today, experts and state security services worry not only about the potential threat posed by Islamists who have recently been released from European prisons or soon will be, but also other challenges.

“The threat has become more diffuse and more diverse,” Renard said. “We’re no longer confronted with a clear terrorist organization with a clear network of trained individuals. Rather, we’re dealing with a lot of loose individuals, loners, either linked to jihadi or to far-right ideology.”

Russia’s influence in Africa

Russia’s war in Ukraine is also reshaping European security priorities both at home —where the European Union has designated billions of dollars in military aid for Ukraine, and where Baltic states fear they may be next in Moscow’s crosshairs — and in Africa.

In Mali, Russia’s Wagner Group, with its reportedly close ties to the Kremlin, has edged out France and the European Union as the ruling junta’s key partner in its war on terror. Along with fighting the country’s myriad armed groups, Wagner mercenaries are allegedly waging a disinformation war against France and are blamed by rights groups for civilian atrocities.

Russia’s influence and interests extend well beyond Mali, analysts say, with Wagner a potent force in the Central African Republic, and Moscow’s influence expanding in other Sahel countries.

“The EU increasingly understands that its contest with Russia — sparked by [Russian] President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine — is spreading to different theaters, including those in Africa,” European Council on Foreign Relations analysts Andrew Lebovich and Theodore Murphy wrote in a recent commentary.

Their warning — also signaled by France in recent months — is being echoed in other European capitals, including Madrid, ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Spain.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine could spin off other security threats, Renard said, pointing to the influx of foreign volunteers joining Ukraine’s side against Russia.

“If this conflict continues over time and loses international attention, you could see some of these battalions splinter and reorganize along more ideological narratives. And that could become another form of terrorist organization,” Renard said.

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Zelenskyy Calls for Missile Defense System Ahead of NATO Talks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday he stressed the need for a “powerful missile defense system for Ukraine to prevent Russian terrorist attacks” in talks with NATO’s leader. 

The phone call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg came ahead of the start of a summit of NATO leaders in Madrid where Ukraine is expected to be among the major topics of discussion. 

“At our NATO summit we will step up support for our close partner Ukraine, now and for the longer term,” Stoltenberg tweeted after speaking with Zelenskyy. “NATO allies stand with you.” 

Stoltenberg said Monday that the Western military alliance is declaring a sevenfold increase in the number of its troops on standby alert — from 40,000 to more than 300,000. 

Rescue crews in central Ukraine worked Tuesday to search for survivors at a shopping center where Russian forces carried out a missile strike on Monday, killing at least 18 people. 

Zelenskyy said there were more than 1,000 civilians inside the mall in the city of Kremenchuk at the time of the attack, which he called “calculated.” 

“This is not an accidental hit, this is a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping center,” Zelenskyy said Monday in his nightly video address. He added that the strike “is one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history.” 

Zelenskyy had said earlier on Telegram that the number of casualties is “impossible to even imagine” and said the shopping center, in a city 300 kilometers southeast of the capital, Kyiv, was “no danger to the Russian army, no strategic value.” 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted, “The world is horrified by Russia’s missile strike today, which hit a crowded Ukrainian shopping mall — the latest in a string of atrocities. We will continue to support our Ukrainian partners and hold Russia, including those responsible for atrocities, to account.” 

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric called the attack “deplorable” and said the U.N. Security Council would meet Tuesday at Ukraine’s request following the strike. 

Group of Seven 

The missile strike took place as the Group of Seven leading industrialized economies met in Germany’s Bavarian Alps and pledged continued support for Ukraine. 

Leaders from the group called Monday’s missile strike “abominable” and said in a joint statement, “We stand united with Ukraine in mourning the innocent victims of this brutal attack.” 

The United States and the other members of the G-7 on Monday imposed new sanctions against Russia for its four-month invasion of Ukraine. 

These include measures to cut off Moscow from materials and services needed by its industrial and technology sectors. 

The White House said the United States will commit $7.5 billion as part of a G-7 effort to help Ukraine cover its short-term budget needs, and that the governments are making “an unprecedented, long-term security commitment to providing Ukraine with financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support as long as it takes.” 

In a joint communique, the G-7 said, “We remain appalled by and continue to condemn the brutal, unprovoked, unjustifiable and illegal war of aggression against Ukraine by Russia and aided by Belarus. We condemn and will not recognize Russia’s continued attempts to redraw borders by force.” 

Zelenskyy addressed the conference by video link earlier Monday and requested more weapons as well as help exporting grain past Russian blockades. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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At Least 46 People Found Dead in Truck in Texas

Authorities in the southern U.S. state of Texas found 46 migrants dead inside a tractor-trailer truck Monday.

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood told reporters another 16 people were taken to the hospital for treatment of heat-related injuries, including four children.

The truck was found next to railroad tracks in a remote area on the southern outskirts of San Antonio. High temperatures in the city topped 39 degrees Celsius (103 degrees Fahrenheit) Monday with high humidity.

San Antonio police said they could not yet say where the people inside the truck were from. Federal authorities were in charge of the investigation.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard tweeted that, according to the Mexican consul who went to the area, there were two Guatemalans among those taken to the hospital.

Ebrard said the trailer had U.S. license plates, and that the incident was highly likely the work of human traffickers.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg called the situation “nothing short of a horrific human tragedy.”

“It’s tragic,” Nirenberg told reporters. “There are, that we know of, 46 individuals who are no longer with us who had families, who were likely trying to find a better life.”

In 2017, 10 migrants died after being trapped in a tractor-trailer that San Antonio police discovered in a Walmart parking lot. The driver of that truck was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the smuggling operation.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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