Terror suspect Abdeslam extradited

Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam has been placed under formal investigation on terrorism and murder charges in France after his extradition from Belgium, and he promised to talk to judges at his next hearing, his French lawyer says.

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A Belgium-born Frenchman, Abdeslam is believed by investigators to be the sole survivor of a group of Islamist militants who killed 130 people in a spate of shootings and suicide bombings in Paris on November 13.

“The investigation will determine to what degree he was involved in the acts,” lawyer Frank Berton said after an initial hour-long hearing.

“He stayed silent today but said he would talk at a later stage,” Berton said, adding that the next hearing was set for May 20. Abdeslam did not speak on Wednesday because he was tired after a “quite rough” extradition, Berton said.

Abdeslam was placed under investigation on charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation, murder, kidnapping and holding weapons and explosives, the public prosecutor said in a statement.

The kidnap charges relate to the hours-long attack on the Bataclan concert hall in which 90 people were killed.

Abdeslam, 26, was Europe’s most wanted fugitive until his capture in Brussels on March 18 after a four-month manhunt. He was taken by helicopter to Paris under armed guard then driven to the capital’s main law courts.

French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said Abdeslam would be held in solitary confinement in a high-security prison in the Paris region, with his cell under CCTV surveillance.

Four days after Abdeslam’s capture, other Islamist militants blew themselves up at Brussels international airport and on a metro train, killing 32 people.

Investigators have said Abdeslam told them he arranged logistics for the multiple suicide bombings and shooting attacks in Paris and had planned to blow himself up at the Stade de France sports stadium before backing out at the last minute.

He is suspected of having rented two cars used to transport the attackers to, and around, the French capital.

Abdeslam’s elder brother Brahim, with whom he used to run a bar in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, blew himself up in a suicide bomb attack on one of several Paris cafes targeted by a group of assailants armed with AK-47 rifles and suicide vests.

Salah Abdeslam’s confession to investigators suggested he may have been the 10th man referred to in an Islamic State claim of responsibility for the multi-pronged attack on the stadium, bars and the Bataclan concert hall.

Police found an abandoned suicide vest in a rubbish bin in a Paris suburb following the attacks, stirring speculation it might have belonged to Abdeslam, who escaped by car back to Belgium a few hours later.

Sven Mary, Abdeslam’s main defence lawyer in Belgium, distanced himself from his client, telling France’s Liberation newspaper: “He’s a little jerk from Molenbeek, from a world of petty criminals – more of a follower than a leader, with the brains of an empty ash-tray.”

Tigers snap six game NRL losing streak

Injury-hit Wests Tigers have bounced back from their thrashing at the hands of Canberra in emphatic style with a 30-22 NRL defeat of South Sydney, snapping a six-game losing streak.

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The Tigers raced out to a 20-0 lead early and resisted a Rabbitohs fightback which narrowed their lead to two points by the 50th minute, before the visitors rallied again to claim a vital win.

Belted 60-6 by the Raiders last week, with captain Aaron Woods already sidelined, the Tigers lost his fellow prop Tim Grant in the lead up to Thursday’s nights round nine clash at ANZ Stadium.

Playmaker Mitchell Moses then pulled out late after suffering a quad strain in the warm-up.

The Tigers were further decimated when fullback James Tedesco didn’t return from the break after struggling with a shoulder injury in the first half.

But with his halves partner watching on, Luke Brooks piloted the Tigers to their most impressive win of the season over a flat Rabbitohs who crashed to their fourth straight loss.

A fourth minute touchdown to Tedesco from a Brooks kick, was followed by a Jordan Rankin try in the 11th minute.

When Brooks picked up his own kick that bounced cruelly past Souths fullback Greg Inglis, the Tigers surprisingly led 20-0 after 20 minutes before 11,229 fans.

Captain Inglis, who was Souths’ best, tried hard to spark his side and Kirisome Auva’a scored the home side’s first try four minutes before the break for a halftime score of 20-6.

Bryson Goodwin scored shortly after the interval and a subsequent Dane Nielsen try brought the Rabbitohs within two with half an hour to play.

Rankin scored his second try to wrest the ascendancy back the Tigers’ way in the 26-18 in the 54th minute.

David Nofoaluma pressed the Tigers further ahead when he scored off a clever short side play engineered by Robbie Farah in the 63rd minute.

Goodwin’s second try in the 73rd minute pegged the gap to eight points.

Tigers coach Jason Taylor praised the toughness of his side.

“We brought all of that pressure on ourselves by a performance that was absolutely not good enough last week and we take that pressure straight away with a win, and it was in such a great fashion,” Taylor said.

“I am really excited about how we won that game. It was a really tough performance that was a really strong win in the circumstances and there was plenty going against us.

“There was a real pride in our performance, when you lose like we did that comes out.”

Coach Michael Maguire was unimpressed with Souths from the get-go.

“The players’ attitudes, we need to sort that out very quickly,” he said.

“Because if we keep letting in simple tries like that we are going to stay in the same place. I thought our defence was very ordinary tonight.

“It was pretty simple out there tonight, Wests Tigers just wanted it more.”

South skipper Greg Inglis added: “You can’t be dipping the toe in and try and play catch up football.

“Our attitude wasn’t nearly good enough.”

Tedesco could face time on the sidelines due to his injury. Taylor said he will go for scans on Friday.

Sam Burgess battled through the second half with an ankle complaint and will also undergo scans.

Souths next meet Parramatta on Friday week after the NRL breaks for the representative week.

The Tigers host Canterbury on Sunday week.

Nikorima to stake NZ league claim

He is no guarantee of graduating from the bench for an injury-hit Brisbane this weekend.

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But Kodi Nikorima is hoping to state a case for the New Zealand starting side in the Broncos’ NRL clash at Cronulla on Sunday.

Nikorima was named at No.9 by the ladder leaders in place of the injured Andrew McCullough but admitted Wayne Bennett had not confirmed what role he would play against the Sharks.

Bench selection Travis Waddell is a chance of making his Broncos debut in the starting side as Bennett contemplates a way to replace McCullough (hamstring) who is out for up to six weeks.

“I am not too sure yet. It doesn’t bother me – I don’t mind coming off the bench,” the 22-year-old Nikorima said.

Whether he starts or not, Nikorima believes the stage is set for him to launch a last gasp Kiwi selection bid.

The New Zealand team to play Australia in Friday week’s Test in Newcastle will be named on Sunday night.

Nikorima made his Kiwi debut in the opening Test of last year’s three-match series in England.

By game two he was the starting halfback, sparking a series-equalling win before England won the decider 20-14.

England claimed their first series against New Zealand since 2007 but Nikorima returned a more confident player.

“You have those star players in the Kiwi side,” Nikorima said.

“Seeing how professional they are, that has helped me coming back here.

“From round one (this year) I was more confident.

“It would be a huge honour just to put that black jersey on again.”

Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney just so happens to be the Brisbane assistant.

Asked if he had been in Kearney’s ear about a recall, Nikorima laughed: “Yeah, always.”

Either way the off-contract Nikorima believes McCullough’s unfortunate injury has set a platform for him to stake a claim for a new Broncos deal.

“I have been here since I was 12. They developed me,” he said.

“I owe a lot to the club. But we know this is a business.”

Sam Thaiday is set to fill the starting prop vacancy created by Adam Blair’s one week ban for dangerous contact.

Alex Glenn (hip) returns to slot into the starting second row and Herman Ese’ese is set to be added to the bench.

What is PM Turnbull to do about Manus Island?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has a politically unwelcome, though not completely unexpected, headache: what does he do about the nearly 1000 men set to be released from the Manus Island detention centre? He says they are not going to come to Australia.

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Let’s just put to one side for the minute what the decision to close the detention centre means for those detainees themselves, not because their concerns are not important, but because the decision about their future is a political one.

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The Australian political debate on asylum seekers has moved to such a point since 2001 that even to talk about the needs and goals of asylum seekers is seen as ‘soft’ or ‘inappropriate’ or ‘weak’. Some say that talk gives courage to people smugglers.

The debate has been defined by the parameters set by John Howard, Philip Ruddock and Peter Reith in the post-Tampa period when the Norwegian cargo ship rescued nearly 450 asylum seekers in 2001 but was refused entry into Australian waters. What came out of that was the so called ‘Pacific Solution’, where asylum seekers were processed on Nauru and on Manus Island in PNG, with the threat that no asylum seekers who tried to come to Australia by boat would find permanent settlement here.

John Howard and his team in 2001 were at the forefront of what has now become a more widespread practice, particularly in Europe, where governments are now starting to push boats back. Australia was the first developed country to do it and that policy has provided a model for others.

The flow of asylum seekers did slow as a result of the Howard Government’s tough measures, and in 2004 the last asylum seeker on Manus Island was placed and the centre closed.

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It opened again during the Labor years. Many analysts are quick to repeat the current government’s line and say that ‘Labor opened the floodgates by being soft on boats’. Even many Labor MPs say that period where they closed down the Pacific Solution while in government was a disaster.

In a world awash with refugees from Myanmar to Iraq and Syria, the need is great and places for settlement are few.

Tony Abbott swept Labor aside and ended the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years in 2013 with the mantra ‘we will stop the boats’. It wasn’t the only policy that helped him win office, but it was a key one.

So in this climate it isn’t very popular to talk about the needs of the asylum seekers. Both major political parties say tough action is the only way to stop deaths at sea. Both parties have tried to secure third country resettlement for asylum seekers but with little success.

In a world awash with refugees from Myanmar to Iraq and Syria, the need is great and places for settlement are few. Australia has said it will take an extra 12,000 refugees this year from the Syrian crisis but only a handful have been processed.

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So that leads back to the question of what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will do now. Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill sees no upside in keeping the facility open. It isn’t popular in PNG. Politically he is fighting for his own survival at home. He has no political capital to expend on supporting Australia’s political agenda. But he is reliant on Australian foreign aid. PNG gets the highest proportion of the Australian aid budget, so while he is happy to stand up and state his case, he is also mindful that he needs Australian support.

In two weeks Australia is likely to be in caretaker mode and the election campaign will have started. The government is going to have to move quickly on this.

Prime Minister Turnbull has said the tough policies stop asylum seekers. He says any move to bring them here would undermine the policy and open the gates again.

There are nearly 1000 men on Manus who tried to reach Australia by boat. Around half have been classified as refugees. Where are they to go?

 

Two North Korea missile test failures

The United Nations Security Council is to meet on North Korea at the request of the United States, diplomats say, after the Asian state test-fired what appeared to be two intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

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Both missile tests on Thursday failed, a South Korean official said, in a setback for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the run-up to next week’s ruling party congress.

Isolated North Korea has conducted a series of missile launches, in violation of UN resolutions, and tests of military technology ahead of the Workers’ Party congress that begins on May 6.

The tests looked to have been hurried, according to a defence expert in Seoul, and follow a failed launch of a similar missile earlier this month.

The first launch, at about 6.40am local time from near the east coast city of Wonsan, appeared to have been of a Musudan missile with a range of more than 3000km which crashed within seconds, the South Korean defence ministry official said.

Later, at around 7.26pm, the North shot a similar intermediate range missile from the same area, but the launch was also understood to have failed, the official added.

The US Strategic Command said it tracked two attempted North Korean missile launches, neither of which posed a threat to North America.

“They are in a rush to show anything that is successful, to meet the schedule of a political event, the party congress,” said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum and a policy adviser to the South Korean navy, speaking after the first launch.

“They need to succeed but they keep failing. They didn’t have enough time to fix or technically modify the system, but just shot them because they were in a hurry.”

A similar missile launched on the April 15 birthday anniversary of Kim’s late grandfather, the country’s founder Kim Il Sung, exploded in what the US Defence Department called a “fiery, catastrophic” failure.