Tthe 29-year-old man and the 31-year-old woman were arrested in connection with investigations into Tuesday’s armed raid on the

Securitas main cash depot in Tonbridge, southeast England.

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A 100-strong police team is engaged in the hunt for the gang of at least six armed robbers and an unprecedented two million pound (A$4.74 million) reward was being offered for information as to their whereabouts or identities.

All British ports and airports have been put on alert for anyone attempting to leave the country with large sums of cash while CCTV images of the gang’s white delivery lorry was released to help track those responsible down.

The raid, probably the result of months of extensive reconnaissance work, saw the depot manager and his wife and eight-year-old son abducted separately and 15 workers held at gunpoint.

They were later identified by Britain’s domestic Press Association news agency as Colin Dixon, 51, his wife Lynn, 45, and their son, Craig.

The kidnappers, who forced Mr Dixon to help them gain access to the cash, were disguised as police officers while the others, possibly up to six, were said to be masked and wearing boiler suits.

Kent police said it was “an obvious line of inquiry” that the raid was conceived and carried out with inside knowledge and he was keeping an open mind into what happened. The money was a mixture of used and new banknotes.

Biggs haul

He also could not say whether the gang may have fled via the Channel Tunnel 80 kilometres away. Thursday’s Daily Mail newspaper said CCTV footage was being checked to determine if they escaped to France.

Kent police are also in touch with police in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where 26.5 million pounds (A$62.8 million) was stolen in a raid at the headquarters of the Northern Banks, making it the biggest cash theft in British or Irish history.

In comparison, Ronald Biggs and his accomplices netted about 2.6 million pounds (A$6.2 million) in the infamous “Great Train Robbery” of a London to Glasgow mail train on August 8, 1963.

Foreign police, Scotland Yard, plus Britain’s National Crime Squad and National Criminal Intelligence Service, which deal with serious and organized crime, have also been informed.

Depot staff raised the alarm about an hour after the gang left. None was injured and were being interviewed, police said.

Detective Chief Superintendent Paul Gladstone, from Kent Police, said earlier Thursday that the robbers were “armed, dangerous and violently threatening” to kill Dixon and his family.

The Bank of England said its governor had asked for a review of security arrangements at depots such as Securitas, which provides security guards, alarm systems and cash transportation services.

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Abbas hints at resignation

By
May 30th, 2019

Mr Abbas made the comment during an interview with Britain’s ITV network, in which he urged the international community to give Hamas — classified as a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union — a grace period.

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“I think they are now responsible, and in order to assume responsibilities, their policies have to be compatible with international polices,” he told interviewer Jonathan Dimbleby.

When asked if he would step aside if peacemaking remains elusive, Mr Abbas said: “We could reach a point where I cannot perform my duty. Then, I will not continue sitting in this place, against and in spite of my convictions. If I can do something I will continue, otherwise I won’t.”

Mr Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005 for a four-year term.

A power struggle between Mr Abbas and Hamas emerged when the radical Islamic party won control of the Palestinian parliament from the long-ruling Fatah Party last month.

Mr Abbas said despite its parliamentary majority, Hamas must accept his policies and abide by existing Palestinian Authority (PA) commitments recognising Israel and foreswearing the use of violence.

Hamas denies recognition

Adding to the tensions, Hamas’ prime minister-designate, Ismail Haniyeh, has denied that he had suggested the radical group might one day recognise Israel.

Clarifying his comments to the Washington Post newspaper, Mr Hamas said that there was only a possibility of achieving a long-term truce.

Mr Haniyeh, a 43-year-old viewed by many Palestinians as a pragmatist, told reporters in Gaza that he “did not tackle the issue of recognising (Israel) in my interview with the Washington Post”.

Reiterating a long-standing position by Hamas, Mr Haniyeh said the group would never recognise Israel but could agree to a long-term truce if Israel withdrew from lands captured in the 1967 war, freed prisoners and allowed the return of refugees.

The Washington Post newspaper on its website quoted Mr Haniyeh as saying in an interview: “If Israel declares that it will give the Palestinian people a state and give them back all their rights, then we are ready to recognise them.”

Hamas, which seeks to replace Israel with an Islamic state, has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000.

But it has largely abided by a ceasefire forged a year ago.

Abbas irrelevant

Meanwhile Israel says it regards Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “irrelevant”, calling Hamas the real governing power and urging the international community not to weaken its pressure on the militant group to seek peace.

The description of the moderate leader, who won public backing by a US envoy over the weekend, came on the eve of a European Union meeting on preventing the Palestinian Authority’s financial collapse and possibly channelling aid to Mr Abbas.

Israel has stopped the monthly transfer of up to A$74.57 million in tax payments to the Palestinians.

Foreign donors, including the EU and the US, have threatened to cut off funds to the Authority once a Hamas-led government is sworn in.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said she feared Mr Abbas, who seeks a negotiated peace with the Jewish state, could serve as a “fig leaf” for an administration dominated by Hamas.

“Our job, among other things, will be to ensure the international community does not … embrace Abu Mazen or some moderate statements by Hamas,” she said on Channel One television, using Mr Abbas’s popular name.

“The ball is in the Palestinian court and it is up to the future Hamas government to do something with it, and in this context, Abu Mazen is irrelevant,” Ms Livni said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called Ms Livni’s statement “absolutely unacceptable” and said it reflects Israel’s “non-partner policy” that has led to “military escalation”.

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However Thomas, a father of three and a former taxi driver, was cleared of two counts of aiding a terrorist organisation.

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His wife, mother and father faced the media, after the jury returned from three nights of deliberations to deliver its verdict.

Thomas’ father Ian Thomas said he was pleased with the result.

“Jack had nothing to answer for with these charges. We’re very pleased with the Jury, we thank the jury and the acquittal has been a great victory,” said Mr Thomas.

The prosecution case relied heavily on a taped interview that Australian Federal Police conducted with Thomas in Pakistan in March 2003.

Prosecutors alleged he attended an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, and agreed to become a sleeper agent in Australia.

During the interview, Thomas explained why an associate of bin Laden gave him an airline ticket back to Australia.

“He had suggested to me that Osama bin Laden wants an Australian, Aussie, like a white boy to work with him and that there was people in Australia already working for him.”

Thomas’ lawyer Rob Stary said the verdict clearing his client of two counts was a win.

“The fact that Jack Thomas has been acquitted of not supporting a terrorist organisation or being a resource for a terrorist organisation — which were the two most serious charges in our view — is a very significant victory.”

Until the jury went out on Thursday Thomas was out on bail.

However he has been in custody since the verdict and will continue to do so until at least Thursday, when Justice Philip Cummins will hear arguments before handing down the sentence.

Thomas faces a maximum 25 years jail on the money charge and two years on the false passport charge.

Mr Stary, said his client would be appealing the conviction on both counts.

No angel

Despite being acquitted of two of the charges, federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Thomas should not be seen as an angel.

Mr Ruddock said to convict people of offences, juries had to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt, and just because that burden was not met, that did not mean Thomas had been victorious.

“Sometimes when people have been committed to trial on the basis that there is sufficient evidence to convict, juries find that on the balance that they have to be satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt that they wouldn’t convict, but that should not be seen as somebody who has been convicted of a serious terrorism offence that they are in effect some angel,” Mr Ruddock told ABC radio.

“People aren’t put to their trial unless a magistrate, in this case a magistrate did judge that there was sufficient evidence to convict on all of the offences, and the fact that the jury comes to a view, that on the test it has to be satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that they don’t convict ought not to be seen as some form of victory,” he added.

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I saw AWB cables: Downer

By
May 30th, 2019

It was also revealed that Australia’s trade commissioner in Washington tried to alert Trade Minister Mark Vaile around the same time that the wheat exporter could be paying kickbacks to the since-ousted Iraqi dictator.

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Mr Downer admitted he saw cables in which his department urged “high-level inquiries” about a complaint from Canada that Iraq was demanding kickbacks from the Canadian Wheat Board and that the Australian Wheat Board was already making the payments.

The Cole inquiry, which is probing A$300 million in kickbacks allegedly paid to Saddam Hussein’s regime by AWB on Tuesday revealed more diplomatic cables which warned the Howard government that AWB may have been making payments which breached United Nations sanctions.

The federal government has consistently denied any knowledge of kickbacks before last October.

The Canadians had complained to the UN, which began asking questions about AWB’s deals.

When the complaint went to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, DFAT was assured by AWB that it had done nothing wrong.

But Mr Downer told parliament he was happy with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s response to the allegations.

Prime Minister John Howard also defended his government’s response, saying it had acted properly on a complaint from a competitor.

“The United Nations, which had raised the complaint in the first place at the instance of the Canadians, indicated that this had removed any grounds for misconception,” Mr Howard told parliament.

“That was the response. In those circumstances … I rest on my claim that we responded correctly.”

After Canada’s allegations, the UN’s Office of Iraq Program asked for additional contracts from AWB – documents which were obtained by DFAT and passed on to the UN, Mr Downer said.

The UN, he said, then ruled that the allegations were “unfounded”.

“AWB was somewhat reluctant, if I may say so, to provide that material but they did provide it,” Mr Downer said.

“That material was then given to the UN investigators … and they gave AWB Ltd a clean bill of health.

“So you have to look at the totality of the documentation and the totality of the story.”

The Canadian complaint, according to evidence before the Cole inquiry, was the Howard government’s first warning about AWB’s Iraq deals and came only a few months after AWB began paying kickbacks.

The cables were written in January 2000 by diplomat Bronte Moules, who warned the government that Iraq was taking illegal wheat kickbacks of US$14 per tonne, through Jordan to a company owned by Saddam Hussein’s son.

Meanwhile a newspaper poll shows that 70 percent of those polls do not believe the government’s claims it was not aware of the alleged kickbacks.

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The report contains allegations from former detainees who claim they were beaten with plastic cables, given electric shocks and made to stand in a flooded room as an electrical current was passed through the water.

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Amnesty said researchers conducted interviews last year in Jordan and Iraq with former detainees, relatives of current detainees and lawyers involved in detainees’ cases in Iraq.

Responding to the report a US military detention mission spokesman said that all detainees are treated according to international conventions and Iraqi law.

“Some of the detainees have been held for over two years without any effective remedy or recourse,” Amnesty said in the report.

“Others have been released without explanation or apology or reparation after months in detention, victims of a system that is arbitrary and a recipe for abuse.”

But the US military said each detainee is given a form explaining the reasons for their imprisonment and their files are reviewed every 90 to 120 days.

The Amnesty report called for an overhaul of the way detainees are treated by British, American and Iraqi authorities.

In particular, Amnesty International wants those who detain people in

Iraq to ensure inmates are given due process, a lawyer and an appearance before an impartial court, and to fully investigate any abuse allegations.

Quoting a US military Web site, the report said that figures compiled in November showed the number of detainees in coalition military prisons in Iraq was 14,000.

Last year, the US military said it planned to spend about $US50 million ($A67.25 million) to expand prison capacity to hold up to 16,000 people.

Controversial photographs from 2003 showing Iraqi inmates being abused led to the convictions of several US soldiers and major inquiries by US authorities into how prisoners are treated.

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