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January 25, 2010

Trial begins for Canadian soldier accused of murder in battlefield killing

Trial begins for Canadian soldier accused of murder in battlefield killing

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Monday, January 25, 2010

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A court martial got underway today accusing a Canadian soldier of murder for shooting a member of the Taliban on an Afghan battlefield. Captain Robert Semrau’s case is believed to be a military and legal first.

Semrau, 38, is facing four charges for the 2008 death. He is accused of second-degree murder, attempted murder, behaving in a disgraceful manner, and negligently performing a military duty. It is alleged that he shot the man twice despite him being an unarmed and “seriously wounded” prisoner.

Court documents set a scene in which 36-year-old Semrau was in charge of a small group of soldiers caught in an ambush on October 19 last year. The Canadians were mentoring some new Afghan recruits, who were under British command. A United States Apache assault helicopter provided assistance to the group, who were in Lashkar Gah, Helmand, strafing the area.

After beating back their attackers the soldiers discovered a fighter with injuries deemed to be so severe that medical aid would be ineffective, along with a dead man. He was disarmed, his assault rifle having been captured. Shortly afterwards, with only Semrau near the man, two gunshots were heard. At least one eyewitness claims to have watched Semrau shooting the militant with his field rifle. Troops then moved on and the man’s body was never recovered.

Captain Semrau was not investigated for two months, when his superiors heard of the alleged killing. He was ultimately arrested by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service a month later and charged. He is now set to go on trial before Colonel Mario Duti, a military judge, and a five-member panel.

The Canadian Press contacted Michel Drapeau, a retired lawyer and colonel. He says he believes it to be the first time Canada has launched a court martial for the death of a prisoner on the battlefield. “It’s unprecedented in many, many respects. I can’t remember any such incidents in the past 50 years and in the Second World War, I don’t believe there was such a court martial.”

There are a few recorded instances of alleged extra-judicial killing by Canadian soldiers, but no court martials for murder. Two Canadian soldiers faced a murder charge for the death of a teenager in Somalia in 1993 but the case was dropped; some evidence emerged during the inquiry that suggested another man may also have been killed illegally. More anecdotally, Canadians have been accused of similar murders in Korea and of shooting German prisoners for revenge during the second world war.



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March 20, 2007

Italian journalist freed by Afghan captors

Italian journalist freed by Afghan captors

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Location of Helmand Province within Afganistan

Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo was released by his Taliban captors in Afghanistan, Monday, after having been kidnapped and held hostage since March 5, 2007. Mastrogiacomo’s intrepreter is believed to have been released as well, though no details are reported.

Mastrogiacomo, a reporter with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, was taken captive in Helmand Province along with his Afghan interpreter and his driver, while attempting to obtain interviews with members of the Taliban.

In a television interview after his release, Mastrogiacomo expressed his gratitude to those that worked for his release. “I’m very happy, I thank you all. I knew you wouldn’t abandon me”, said Mastrogiacomo.

He also described some horrors that he witnessed while in captivity. Syed Agha had been killed in front of him by their captors. “I saw him being decapitated, it was horrific”, Mastrogiacomo recalled.

The driver, Syed Agha was reportedly decapitated by his captors for “spying” in the presence of Mastrogiacomo. Agha’s family blockaded the hospital in Lashkar Gah where Mastrogiacomo was being treated, demanding to know what happened to Agha. For reasons still unclear, security forces arrested the head of that hospital, Rahamatullah Hanafi.

Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah told Reuters that the release of Mastrogiacomo and his interpreter was secured through the exchange of five senior Taliban members.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi suggested it was not a simple task to secure Mastrogiacomo’s release, which was obtained with the help of Italian authorities, humanitarian officials and the Afghan government.

According to Italian officials, Mastrogiacomo is to travel to Kabul on Tuesday and then secure a flight to Italy.

This story has new developments.

Updated information can be found here

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March 10, 2007

Taliban claim responsibility for kidnapping of Italian journalist

Taliban claim responsibility for kidnapping of Italian journalist

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Flag flown by the Taliban.

Taliban forces have claimed responsibility for the March 5 kidnapping of Italian Daniele Mastrogiacomo. Mr. Mastrogiacomo, who works as a journalist and reporter for the Italian daily La Repubblica, was reported missing by the paper three days before the Taliban claimed they had taken him hostage.

Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who claims he speaks for the Taliban, has told the Associated press that they “Are investigating whether they are British spies”. Mr. Ahmadi has also said that the milita had captured a man claiming to be a Briton who worked for La Repubblica. Ahmadi then claimed “The man we arrested is an Italian and he told us he worked for the Rome-based La Repubblica newspaper,” and when asked to identify the man Ahamdi responded with a text message which said “Danikel”

The Italian ambassador in Kabul has asked for proof that Mr. Mastrogiacomo is still alive before any negotiations can get underway. Mastrogriacomo, who is a father of two, was on assignment in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, and had not been heard from since Sunday. The Italian journalist was kidnapped along with two Afghan’s, who Ahmadi has identified as Sayed Agha and Ajmal, with only one name given for the latter. Afghan officials have claimed they have no knowledge of the kidnappings.

La Repubblica newspaper said that Mastrogiacomo, 52, was born in Karachi, Pakistan, where his father worked as an engineer for an Italian company. He has dual Swiss-Italian citizenship, but only was carrying his Italian passport with him. Mr. Mastrogiacomo, who speaks English, has worked in the middle east in Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq since 2002 as a staff correspondent.

Executive director Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has stated it was “greatly concerned about the welfare of our coleaugue Daniele Mastrogiamoco, who was doing his job documenting the news,” and continued “We call on those holding any members of the press to release them unharmed immediately.”

This kidnapping comes four months after the release of fellow Italian photographer Gabriele Torsello. Torsello was kidnapped on October 12th of last year while travelling by bus from Lashkar Gah to Kandahar. When the man was released on November 3rd, he said he had no idea who had kidnapped him.

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September 6, 2006

Pakistan President Musharraf in Kabul for talks

Pakistan President Musharraf in Kabul for talks

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Wednesday, September 6, 2006

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan

The President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf is in Kabul for a two-day visit during which he is scheduled to hold talks with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai. The talks are expected to focus on the continuing militant activity on both sides of the border, with Taliban forces allegedly infiltrating into Afghanistan from across the border in Pakistan.

Economic cooperation and reconstruction in Afghanistan are also on the agenda. President Musharraf is scheduled to meet cabinet ministers and address parliamentarians tomorrow. His delegation includes ministers for foreign and religious affairs and the petroleum sector, and the head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency.

“Frank discussions on the war on terror and expanding bilateral cooperation on regional issues,” read a statement by President Karzai’s office.

Pakistan foreign office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told AFP news agency that the Presidents “will exchange views on bilateral relations, economic cooperation, reconstruction activities in Afghanistan and cooperation in the fight against terrorism,”

“Afghanistan is expecting the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to take effective action against terrorism,” Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen said.

Pakistan signs “agreement” with militants

Pakistan signed a peace agreement with pro-Taliban militants in the North Waziristan region on the eve of the visit. The deal aims to end years of unrest in the border province. Under its terms the Pakistan military forces and militants will stop attacks on each other and the militants have agreed to disarm or expel foreign Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in the area. Pakistan has rejected criticism that the deal will allow pro-Taliban forces to operate freely in the area.

“Pakistan is committed to its policy on war on terror, and Osama caught anywhere in Pakistan would be brought to justice,” army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan told the Associated Press.

Karzai meets NATO chief

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan

On Wednesday, President Karzai met the NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Kabul and signed an accord aimed at boosting security and development in the country. The NATO chief warned that “some of the terrorists, the spoilers, think they can win in the south,”, adding “They are wrong. Because they cannot win, they will not win, […] That is why we are engaged in combat as well at this very moment.”

Violence continues

The visit comes amidst an upsurge in violence in Afghanistan, with US forces saying that 60 militants were killed by artillery and air-strikes on Tuesday. Some 700 more are believed to be surrounded by soldiers in an operation in Khandahar province.

NATO and Afghan forces launched an operation in Khandahar’s Panjwayi district last weekend, and NATO reports 250 militants as killed in the operations, though a Taliban commander has disputed the figure and there is no independent confirmation of the toll. Hundreds have been killed in continuing fighting between government and international security forces and insurgents in the last four months.

An estimated 1500 families have been displaced by the fighting in Khandahar.

Suspected Taliban militants shot dead two muslim clerics in Lashkar Gah, capital of the Helmand province in the last two days and raided a district headquarters in the town of Arghandad in Zabul province.

Strained relations

Musharraf last visited Afghanistan in 2002. Afghanistan has previously complained that Pakistan is not doing enough to combat Taliban insurgency in its side of the 2,250km (1,400-mile) mountainous border between the two countries. Earlier in the year, allegations by Afghanistan that Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders were living in Pakistan were dismissed by Musharraf as “nonsense”. In February, Afghanistan issued a list of 150 Taliban suspects it said were living in Pakistan. President Musharraf dismissed the information as “old and outdated”, but President Karzai reiterated that the list was up-to-date.

Some Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been arrested in Pakistan, which has also stationed close to 80,000 troops along the Afghan borders. There is international pressure on Musharraf to deal with Islamist groups in Pakistan who are believed to assist Taliban forces.

“Pakistan has the potential to be the solution to the problems of Afghanistan,” Afghan foreign ministry advisor Ali Muradian said. “We hope that President Musharraf will open a new chapter in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Pakistan was closely associated with the Taliban’s rise to power in the 90s one of only three nations that recognised the then Taliban government.

Opinion divided over Pakistan’s role

While state run dailies Kabul Times and Hewad expressed hope that two leaders will work together to improve security, The daily Cheragh said that while statements about restoring security can be expected from the meeting, “as experience has shown”, previous pledges by Pakistan “have not been fulfilled”.

Kabul Times also said Afghanistan was grateful for Pakistan’s help to thousands of Afghan refugees.

“The key concern is whether the agreement is going to lead to more insurgents going to and fro across the border or less,” A diplomat told AFP, while another questioned Pakistan’s peace deal with the militants.

Related news

  • “Two-day NATO offensive sees 80 captured, over 200 fatalities” — Wikinews, September 3, 2006

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August 28, 2006

Afghanistan: 17 killed, 47 injured in Afghan suicide attack on market

Afghanistan: 17 killed, 47 injured in Afghan suicide attack on market

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Seventeen people were killed today and another 47 injured when a suicide bomber detonated a hidden explosive in a market. Local hospital officials have confirmed that another six people are in critical condition, undergoing treatment.

The market was owned by a former police chief in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. The bomber detonated the explosives — apparently strapped to his body — outside the busy market, which is close to a police station.

There are conflicting reports that the bombing may have been the work of al-Qaeda related groups, or it may have been done by a group of men meeting to settle a dispute.

Afghanistan’s southern provinces have seen a surge in violence in recent days, making them the bloodiest since 2001. The NATO ISAF forces have taken a number of casualties, sparking internal investigations amid reports of friendly fire incidents that have killed several members of the Afghan National Police.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered an inquiry into the killing of civilians in the insurgent attacks as residents and troops brace for what could be more violence in the days to come.

Related news

  • Ministry of Defence names dead British soldier” — Wikinews, 28 August 2006
  • “Afganistan sees worst days of violence since 2001” — Wikinews, 27 August 2006
  • “5 Afghans, Canadian soldier injured in mortar attack” — Wikinews, 27 August 2006
  • “British soldier shot and killed in southern Afghanistan” — Wikinews, 27 August 2006
  • “Canadian soldiers kill Afghan police officer” — Wikinews, 27 August 2006

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