WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Britain’s Prince William has arrived in New Zealand for a two-day visit to commemorate wartime soldiers and visit survivors of last month’s mosque attacks.
The Duke of Cambridge attended an Anzac Day service in Auckland on Thursday morning. Anzac Day is a national holiday similar to Memorial Day in the U.S. It marks the anniversary of New Zealand and Australian soldiers, known as Anzacs, landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. More than 10,000 soldiers from the two countries were killed during that WWI campaign in what’s now Turkey.
William is scheduled to fly to Christchurch on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, he will visit the two mosques where a gunman killed 50 people on March 15. He plans to meet with first responders, Muslim leaders and survivors of the attacks.
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NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka – On Sunday, 43-year-old Anusha Kumari was left childless and a widow when suicide bombers launched a coordinated attack on churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka.
More than 350 people were killed in the near-simultaneous bombings. About a third of the victims were celebrating Easter Mass at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo.
Kumari lost her daughter, son, husband, sister-in-law and two nieces.
They were buried three days later on some vacant land near the stricken church that has quickly become a cemetery for some of the bombing victims.
Sri Lanka’s president has asked for the resignations of the defense secretary and national police chief after acknowledging that some intelligence units were aware of threats to churches before the Easter bombings.
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CAIRO – An Egyptian court has sentenced two monks to death for killing an abbot in a desert monastery north of Cairo last year.
The Damanhur Criminal Court, north of Cairo, announced the verdict Wednesday for two defrocked monks identified as Isaiah and Faltaous. They can appeal.
The two were convicted of killing of Bishop Epiphanius, an abbot at St. Macarius Monastery built in the 4th century, in July.
The abbot’s shocking death shook Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the oldest in the world and the one that gave monasticism to the faith.
Following Epiphanius’ death, the church took measures aimed at instilling discipline into monastic life. Among them was a halt in admitting novices to monasteries nationwide for a year.
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MOSUL, Iraq – When Ahmed Khalil ran out of work as a van driver in the Iraqi city of Mosul three years ago, he signed up with the Islamic State group’s police force, believing the salary would help keep his struggling family afloat.
But what he wound up providing was a legacy that would outlast his job, and his life.
In Mosul and elsewhere across Iraq, thousands of families — including Khalil’s widow and children — face crushing discrimination because their male relatives were seen as affiliated with or supporting IS when the extremists held large swaths of the country.
The wives, widows and children have been disowned by their relatives and abandoned by the state. Registrars refuse to register births to women with suspected IS husbands, and schools will not enroll their children. Mothers are turned away from welfare, and mukhtars — community mayors — won’t let the families move into their neighborhoods.
The Islamic State group’s “caliphate” that once spanned a third of both Iraq and Syria is now gone but as Iraq struggles to rebuilt after the militants’ final defeat and loss of their last sliver of territory in Syria earlier this year, the atrocities and the devastation they wreaked has left deep scars.
“They say my father was Daesh,” said Safa Ahmed, Khalil’s 11-year old daughter, referring to IS by its Arabic name. “It hurts me.”
Iraq has done little to probe the actions of the tens of thousands of men such as Khalil who, willingly or by force joined, worked and possibly fought for IS during its 2013-2017 rule. Instead, bureaucrats and communities punish families for the deeds of their relatives in a time of war.
Khalil was killed in an airstrike in Mosul, in February 2017, during the U.S.-backed campaign to retake the city that IS seized in 2014. It was liberated in July 2017, at a tremendous cost — around 10,000 residents were believed to have been killed in the assault, and its historic districts now lie in ruins.
His widow, Um Yusuf, and their seven children were left to bear the stigma of his IS affiliation. She cannot get social assistance, and her teenage son Omar is being turned away from jobs.
They live in an abandoned schoolhouse, living on what they can make selling bread on the streets of the devastated city. Just three of the children are in school — the oldest two dropped out because of bullying about their father, and the youngest two cannot enroll because the civil registrar’s office won’t issue their IDs.
“It’s true their father made a mistake,” Um Yusuf said. “But why are these children being punished for his sin?”
Under Iraq’s patrimonial family laws, a child needs a named father to receive a birth certificate and an identity card, to enroll in school and to claim citizenship, welfare benefits and an inheritance.
But in post-IS Iraq, virtually every bureaucratic procedure now includes a security check on a woman’s male relatives, further frustrating mothers and children.
A U.N. report this year estimates there are 45,000 undocumented children in Iraq. Judges and human rights groups say an urgent resolution is needed or the country risks rearing a generation of children without papers or schooling.
“By punishing entire families, you marginalize them and you seriously undermine reconciliation efforts in Iraq,” said Tom Peyre-Costa, a spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council, which provides legal aid to Mosul mothers struggling to get their children ID papers.
At al-Iraqiya school in western Mosul, one of the city’s first to reopen in 2017, principal Khalid Mohammad said he faces pressure from the community to deny enrollment to children whose fathers are in jail or missing — an absence many interpret as proof of IS affiliation.
“If anyone complains and someone is sent to investigate, I could lose my job,” he said.
At a legal office and clinic supported by the Norwegian Refugee Council, Nour Ahmed was looking for a way to claim legal custody of her undocumented younger son, in order to collect food and fuel aid for the family.
Her husband, she said, was abducted two years ago in Mosul by a group of pro-government militiamen who likely thought he was an IS member. Ahmed insists he wasn’t. He has been missing to this day.
Born in 2016 at a hospital run by IS, their son was given a birth certificate notarized by the Islamic State group. As Iraq doesn’t recognize IS documents, the 3-year-old has no legal mother or father.
Ahmed was told she would need to find her husband to re-register her son’s birth. If she submitted a missing person’s report, it would raise questions about the child’s parentage, jeopardizing his right to citizenship.
“I just want to find him,” said Nour.
Adnan Chalabi, an appeals court judge, said he sees more than a dozen cases each day related to civilian documentation, brought largely by the wives, widows or divorcees of IS suspects. There is little he can do to help, he said, without a change to the law first.
“Daesh held the city for three years. Did people stop getting married, divorced, and having children during those three years?” he said. “We need a legislative solution.”
There is little appetite to change the country’s family and patrimony laws, said Iraq’s parliament speaker, Mohamad Halbousi, though there is a proposal to open civil registries for a limited period, to register undocumented children.
“These families need to be cared for. They cannot be left to melt away into society,” he said.
Outside a mosque in Mosul, where Um Yusuf was selling bread with her children, the widowed mother of seven said she was losing the strength to look after her family.
“We are deprived of everything,” she says. “The whole family is destroyed.”
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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The death toll from the Easter suicide bombings in Sri Lanka rose to 359 and more suspects have been arrested, police said Wednesday.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility and released images that purported to show the seven bombers who blew themselves up at three churches and three hotels Sunday in the worst violence this South Asian island nation has seen since its civil war ended a decade ago.
The government has said the attacks were carried out by Islamic fundamentalists in apparent retaliation for the New Zealand mosque massacre last month but has said the seven bombers were all Sri Lankan. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said investigators were still working to determine the extent of the bombers’ foreign links.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said Wednesday morning that 18 suspects were arrested overnight, raising the total detained to 58. The prime minister had warned on Tuesday that several suspects armed with explosives were still at large.
The Islamic State group has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria and has made a series of unsupported claims of responsibility around the world.
Sri Lankan authorities have blamed a local extremist group, National Towheed Jamaar, whose leader, alternately known as Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi, became known to Muslim leaders three years ago for his incendiary speeches online.
The IS group’s Aamaq news agency released an image purported to show the leader of the attackers, standing amid seven others whose faces are covered. The group did not provide any other evidence for its claim, and the identities of those depicted in the image were not independently verified.
Meanwhile, in an address to Parliament, Ruwan Wijewardene, the state minister of defense, said “weakness” within Sri Lanka’s security apparatus led to the failure to prevent the nine bombings.
“By now it has been established that the intelligence units were aware of this attack and a group of responsible people were informed about the impending attack,” Wijewardene said. “However, this information has been circulated among only a few officials.”
In a live address to the nation late Tuesday, Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena said he also was kept in the dark on the intelligence about the planned attacks and vowed to “take stern action” against the officials who failed to share the information. He also pledged “a complete restructuring” of the security forces.
Wijewardene said the government had evidence that the bombings were carried out “by an Islamic fundamentalist group” in retaliation for the March 15 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 50 people, although he did not disclose what the evidence was.
The office of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issued a statement responding to the Christchurch claim that described Sri Lanka’s investigation as “in its early stages.”
“New Zealand has not yet seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based,” it said. An Australian white supremacist, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, was arrested in the Christchurch shootings.
Word from international intelligence agencies that National Towheed Jamaar was planning attacks apparently didn’t reach the prime minister’s office until after the massacre, exposing continuing turmoil in Sri Lanka’s government.
A block on most social media since the attacks has left a vacuum of information, fueling confusion and giving little reassurance the danger had passed.
Wickremesinghe said he feared the massacre could unleash instability and he vowed to “vest all necessary powers with the defense forces” to act against those responsible.
The history of Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, a country of 21 million including large Hindu, Muslim and Christian minorities, is rife with ethnic and sectarian conflict.
In the nation’s 26-year civil war, the Tamil Tigers, a powerful rebel army known for using suicide bombers, had little history of targeting Christians and was crushed by the government in 2009. Anti-Muslim bigotry fed by Buddhist nationalists has swept the country recently.
In March 2018, Buddhist mobs ransacked businesses and set houses on fire in Muslim neighborhoods around Kandy, a city in central Sri Lanka that is popular with tourists.
After the mob attacks, Sri Lanka’s government also blocked some social media sites, hoping to slow the spread of false information or threats that could incite more violence.
Sri Lanka has no history of Islamic militancy. Its small Christian community has seen only scattered incidents of harassment.
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UNITED NATIONS – Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney says she is requesting the transfer of a female member of the Islamic State extremist group to face justice for crimes against women from Iraq’s Yazidi minority and American hostage Kayla Mueller, who was killed in 2015.
Clooney represents Yazidi women and girls who were held in the house of Umm Sayyaf, the wife of Islamic State financier Abu Sayyaf. She said the Yazidis were raped by IS men and Mueller by IS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.
Clooney told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that Umm Sayyaf “locked them in a room, instigated their beatings and put makeup on them to ‘prepare’ them for rape.”
She did not say where Umm Sayyaf is being held.
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MANAGUA, Nicaragua – A Roman Catholic bishop who has been outspoken in his criticism of President Daniel Ortega over Nicaragua’s political standoff left the country Tuesday after being called to the Vatican indefinitely by Pope Francis.
Speaking at Managua’s international airport, where no members of the country’s Bishops’ Conference were on hand to bid a farewell, Managua auxiliary Bishop Silvio Báez told journalists and supporters that he was leaving with “my heart broken into pieces.”
“It hurts me to leave, but my heart remains here and I will always be following (the situation in Nicaragua) closely,” Báez said. “As many times as may be necessary and as often as Pope Francis asks me to speak with him, I will give him my vision of reality in the most objective manner possible.”
Báez, 60, who celebrated his last Mass in Nicaragua on Sunday, said he would visit relatives in Miami before traveling to Rome.
Báez has received multiple death threats and suffered a cut on his arm when he and other church officials were attacked by a pro-government mob last year in Diriamba. Drones hover over his home, and men on motorcycles have entered its parking area. He changed his phone number four times because of the threats.
When Francis told Báez he was needed in Rome, the pontiff did not say whether the decision was related to an alleged assassination plot that Báez said the U.S. government warned him of several months ago.
His transfer for an undetermined period of time was announced two weeks ago and prompted surprise and concern among the Nicaraguan opposition, as well as celebration by Ortega allies.
Báez acted as a mediator last year during brief, failed talks on resolving the crisis that erupted in April 2018 with large protests demanding Ortega leave office and allow early elections.
Ortega accused his opponents of attempting a coup, and security forces and armed civilian militias launched a crackdown in which at least 325 people were killed, more than 2,000 wounded and over 52,000 fled to exile, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Ortega had invited bishops to take part in the talks but later criticized them harshly.
A new round of negotiations with the Church not acting as a mediator but rather as an observer is currently on pause.
The government called on opponents to join talks Tuesday, but the Civic Alliance opposition group said Ortega has not abided by previous agreements on freeing all those considered political prisoners and restoring basic freedoms and rights.
At the airport Báez said he wishes for Nicaragua “a society founded in social justice that springs from a true peace, where ideological plurality is not a crime but a treasure.”
He said he had received a letter of thanks on behalf of those who took part in the protests, and added that “the political prisoners have no reason to say thank you, it is us who should thank them for resisting.”
Báez urged the Civic Alliance to remain “firm” but not break off dialogue and called on Nicaraguans to support its efforts.
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PRAGUE – Czech lawmakers on Tuesday approved a proposal drafted by Communist lawmakers to tax the compensation that the country’s churches receive from the state for property seized by the former Communist regime.
The 114-57 vote in favor of the proposal in the lower house is a further sign of the rising influence of the Communists.
The Communist Party isn’t part of the center-left ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Andrej Babis, but it has provided support in a confidence vote.
The lower house first approved the proposal in January, but the Senate vetoed it a month later.
Churches in the country, including the Catholic Church and the Jewish community, have had some property held by the state returned, and they are also to receive around $3 billion over 30 years.
They oppose the tax and plan to challenge it at the Constitutional Court once it’s signed into law by President Milos Zeman.
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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – More than 300 people were killed in bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Sri Lankan authorities say at least 31 foreigners died in the attacks.
Some details on the victims:
SRI LANKA: The vast majority of the victims were Sri Lankan, many from the island nation’s Christian minority. Their names and other details of their lives were slow to trickle in and difficult to report, in part because authorities blocked most social media after the blasts.
But among them was Dileep Roshan, 37, a carpenter who left behind a wife and daughter, his family told The Associated Press.
“His wife and daughter won’t be able to do much now because he is gone,” said his older brother, Sanjeevani Roshan. “The real question is what will happen to their future.”
The archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, said at least 110 people were killed at St. Sebastian’s Church, located in a seaside fishing town at the center of Sri Lanka’s small Catholic community.
The town, Negombo, is called “Little Rome” for its abundance of churches. On Monday, house after house near St. Sebastian’s flew small white flags — a sign that someone who lived there had died.
UNITED KINGDOM: Sri Lanka’s top diplomat in Britain says authorities know of eight British nationals killed in the bombings.
Among them were lawyer Anita Nicholson, son Alex Nicholson and daughter Annabel Nicholson, her husband, Ben Nicholson, confirmed in a statement. Nicholson said the family was on vacation, sitting in a restaurant at the Shangri-la Hotel when they were killed. He said, “The holiday we had just enjoyed was a testament to Anita’s enjoyment of travel and providing a rich and colorful life for our family, and especially our children.”
Former firefighter Bill Harrop and doctor Sally Bradley, a British couple who lived in Australia, were killed in one of the hotels, a family statement to The Australian newspaper said.
INDIA: Indian officials say eight Indians died in the attacks.
UNITED STATES: The State Department says at least four Americans were killed and several others seriously injured. It gave no details about the victims’ identities.
Fifth-grader Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, spending a year in Sri Lanka on leave from the private Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., was among those killed, the school said in an email to parents, according to the Washington Post. The email said, “Kieran was passionate about learning, he adored his friends, and he was incredibly excited about returning to Sidwell Friends this coming school year.”
Dieter Kowalski, who lived in Denver and worked for international education company Pearson, died in the blasts shortly after he arrived at his hotel for a business trip, the company and his family told the AP. A Friday Facebook post reads: “And the fun begins. Love these work trips. 24 hours of flying. See you soon Sri Lanka!”
DENMARK: The Bestseller clothing chain confirmed Danish media reports that three of the children of its owner, business tycoon Anders Holch Povlsen, were killed in the attacks. However, spokesman Jesper Stubkier gave no details in an emailed response to a query on the matter and said the company had no further comment.
SWITZERLAND: The foreign ministry says a Swiss national, a Swiss dual national and a non-Swiss member of the same family were killed. It didn’t identify the second country or give other details on the victims.
SPAIN: Spain’s foreign ministry says a Spanish man and woman were killed but didn’t provide further details. The mayor of Pontecesures in northwest Spain, Juan Manuel Vidal, told Radio Galega that he knew the local pair and says they were in their 30s, according to a report by Spanish private news agency Europa Press.
AUSTRALIA: Australia’s prime minister says a mother and daughter from that country were killed. Manik Suriaaratchi and her 10-year-old daughter, Alexendria, were attending a church service in Negombo when they died.
CHINA: State media say two Chinese died in the blasts.
OTHERS: The Netherlands, Japan and Portugal have confirmed their nationals were among the dead.
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NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka – St. Sebastian’s Church in Sri Lanka’s Negombo city was packed when Nilantha Lakmal arrived with his wife and three daughters for Easter Mass.
The pews already full, the family joined dozens of others in the front garden, listening to the priest through the church’s open doors.
From the corner of his eye, Lakmal saw a man with a large blue backpack walking quickly down the left-hand aisle of the 1940s Gothic-style church, patterned after the Reims Cathedral in France.
Within seconds, a bomb went off.
“I was scared. I was shouting. I was shouting for my daughters. I was shouting the name of my youngest daughter. I was running around, looking for my family. It felt like a long time but I found them,” Lakmal said.
He hurried them to an auto rickshaw that was waiting on the street near the church, and then headed back to look for his parents and his nephew, who had arrived at the church separately.
All eight relatives were unharmed, including his daughters aged 8, 6 and 1.
Nearly all at once, seven suicide bombers attacked three churches and three luxury hotels, according to a Sri Lankan government forensic analysis. The bombers were all Sri Lankan nationals and part of a local militant group named National Thowfeek Jamaath. Hours later, three more bombings took place.
All told, at least 290 people were killed and about 500 others were wounded. The Easter Sunday violence was the deadliest the South Asian island country has seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago.
At St. Sebastian’s, where Lakmal was married and where he baptized his daughters, he said he led shocked and wounded people flowing out of the building toward the street. He didn’t have the wherewithal to go inside.
On Monday, he said he got a headache as he recalled seeing bodies taken from the sanctuary and tossed into the back of a truck.
He spoke to The Associated Press outside the home of a 12-year-old girl who was killed in the blast and whose mother was being treated for critical injuries at Negombo’s main hospital.
Lakmal, 41, remembers well the bloody end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, which the United Nations estimated left about 100,000 people dead. The war ended in 2009 with the government’s defeat of the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group from the ethnic Tamil minority fighting for independence from Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka.
But he had never expected his neighborhood church in Negombo, a largely Catholic city north of Colombo, would be a target.
Lakmal frequently went to St. Sebastian’s for Bible study or to pray before the statue of the Catholic martyr holding a shield and a sword.
The church had been planning to celebrate a big feast day for Jesus’ mother Mary at the end of May.
But even if it had reopened by then, Lakmal said he doubted he’d return.
Schmall reported from Colombo, Sri Lanka.
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