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Court awaits mental evaluation on Omar

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GARDEN CITY TELEGRAM — Court proceedings have been continued again for a Somali man charged with second-degree murder in connection with a fatal motorcycle accident in October 2017.

Bashir Omar, 31, 312 W. Mary St., is charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of 67-year-old Robert Becker. Becker was southbound in the 2400 block of Fleming Street in a 2009 Kawasaki motorcycle when Omar allegedly struck him from behind. Becker was pronounced dead at the scene.

Omar appeared without his defense counsel, Lucille Douglass, in Finney County District Court Thursday before District Judge Robert Frederick for a status hearing that was scheduled to include results of a mental competency evaulation. Omar was scheduled for a second appearance before Frederick on Dec. 4, but the hearing was rescheduled to Dec. 14 and again to Dec. 20, amid difficulties finding a Somali translator for Omar.

Now, the case is being delayed as the court awaits a mental competency evaluation of Omar from Larned State Hospital. The pending evaluation is to determine whether Omar is mentally competent to stand trial.

Omar’s next status hearing is set for 9 a.m. May 10, but Frederick noted that the date could be accelerated if results from Larned come sooner.

Douglass communicated with Judge Frederick Thursday in the courtroom over speakerphone and noted that Omar’s medical records requested from Minnesota show that Omar had prior inpatient treatment for visual and auditory hallucinations. Douglass asked if those details should be provided to Larned for the evaluation, and Frederick said he wasn’t sure but that he would “suspect his medical records would be very relevant to him.”
According to Nolo, a legal press and advocacy group, competency to stand trial is legally unrelated to a defendant’s mental state at the time he or she commits a crime. Among factors of consideration in determining competency are the defendant’s abilities to communicate with defense counsel, understand and process information, make decisions regarding the case, and understand the charges and possible penalties.

Police say Omar showed signs of impairment when officers made contact with him and conducted a field sobriety test the night of the accident. In addition to the second-degree murder charge, he faces charges of reckless driving and driving under the influence.

According to a police affidavit, Omar told police that on the night of the accident, he was intoxicated by a combination of alcohol and something similar to betel nuts, a potent stimulant found in parts of east Africa and Asia.

The affidavit also noted that during a police interview conducted with the assistance of a Somali translator on Oct. 8, Omar said he saw the motorcycle prior to impact but added that the motorcycle “stopped suddenly” without any indication of a brake light or turn signal. He told police that at no time during the accident did he take his foot off of his accelerator, and said that it was “the will of God” that the accident occurred.

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Crime

Two Somali men stabbed to death in north London as 2018 toll reaches 15

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Two men have been stabbed to death within two hours of each other in the same London borough, bringing the number of people fatally wounded with knives in the capital in 2018 to at least 15.

The Metropolitan police launched two separate murder investigations into the killings on Tuesday night but said they had not ruled out the possibility of a link between them.

The first victim was found with stab wounds in Bartholomew Road, Camden, at about 8.30pm. He was pronounced dead at the scene. He was named by family members as 17-year-old Abdikarim Hassan.

Officers were later called to reports of a disturbance in Malden Road, Camden, at about 10.15pm, and found 20-year-old Sadiq Adan Mohamed with serious stab wounds. He was also pronounced dead at the scene.

No arrests have been made.

Hassan came to the UK from Somalia when he was two years old and was the eldest of six children, his uncle Yusuf Ahmed said.

He was a student at Westminster college and was a “good guy” who was “always smiling” and liked playing football, he said.

Elsewhere in London, a 24-year-old man who was shot in the head in Westminster on Tuesday night remains in a critical condition in hospital. Two people were arrested at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder.

Reacting to the most recent stabbings, Commissioner Cressida Dick said: “London must come together to make it clear that this cannot continue. We will not police our way out of this problem. There is a role for all of us – London’s public, our partners and the police.

“There will be young people out today who are carrying knives. Stop and think: do you really want your life to end?”

Police deployed extra patrols across Camden overnight, while a section 60 order – which gives police the right to search people in locations where they believe serious violence will take place – was in force until 7am on Wednesday.

Official figures show 2017 was among young people since at least 2002. Forty-six people aged 25 or under were stabbed to death in London, 21 more than the previous year, according to police figures.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has faced criticism for his handling of knife crime, said: “This morning I am asking the prime minister and the home secretary to urgently meet with me, my deputy mayor for policing and the commissioner of the Metropolitan police service to discuss what more can be done across government – including policing, youth services, sentencing, health services, probation and prisons – to tackle the evil of knife attacks on Britain’s streets.”

The latest phase of a Met police operation to fight knife crime resulted in nearly 300 arrests and the seizure of more than 250 weapons. Throughout the week-long operation officers recovered 265 knives, six firearms, and 45 other offensive weapons.

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Columbus, Ohio

Ismail Mohamed Wants To Be Ohio’s First Somali-American Legislator

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Ismail Mohamed, a candidate for Ohio's 25th House District, would be the state's first Somali-American legislator. CLARE ROTH / WOSU

Home means a few different things for Ismail Mohamed.

Right now, Mohamed works in Cincinnati as a staff lawyer at Baker Hostetler. He was born in Somalia, a country his family was forced to flee in the early 2000s as the civil war unfolded. But he feels his deepest connection is to the Columbus neighborhood where he was raised.

Mohamed graduated from Northland High School about a decade ago, earned a Bachelor’s and a law degree from The Ohio State University, and returned to the Northland last spring. Now, he’s running to represent the 25th District in the Ohio House.

“I reached out to a lot of different politicians to kind of get answers on some of the concerns that are going on, and I was not getting the answers that I thought were really addressing the issues. So that’s what prompted me to run,” Mohamed said.

Mohamed will challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent in the May primary. If he wins that election, and the subsequent general in November, he’d be the first Somali-American state legislator in Ohio and the second in the country.

Mohamed says his district includes a lot of New American communities, including from Somalia, Nepal and other foreign countries.

“It’s critical we’re promoting such communities to really advance our goals and our policies in the future,” he says. “I’m so honored to be that poster-child and push that forward.”

But Mohamed says those groups are part of the larger fabric of the 25th District, and the issues they face are largely the same.

“The biggest issue in our community, I would say, is lack of economic development. The 25th [House District] has the lowest income rate — I think median income is $31,000,” he says. “A little more than half have high school diplomas. So there’s lack of educational attainment as well, which is driving the poverty issue.”

Mohamed is only 25 years old, far younger than the average age of Ohio lawmakers. But he said he doesn’t believe his lack of political experience will get in his way.

“Someone who doesn’t have a lot of ties to a political party, doesn’t have ties to the political machine, and is able to directly touch our constituents — I think that puts me in a better position,” he says.

And as tensions over immigration rise all over the country, Mohamed says local politics are more important than ever.

“It’s not just a national arena that’s defining us,” he says. “It’s more us defining what’s going in the national arena.”

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Canada

Canadians call for return of relative held in Ethiopia

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AL JAZEERA — A Canadian family is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to negotiate the release of a citizen imprisoned in Ethiopia saying “there will never be a better time than now to get him home”.

Canadian Bashir Makhtal, 49, has been imprisoned in Ethiopia since January 2007 on charges of “terrorism”.

Authorities in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, accuse Makhtal of being a ringleader for the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) – a rebel group pressing for self-rule in Ethiopia’s eastern Ogaden region – and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Ethiopia classifies the ONLF as a “terrorist” organisation.

The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union, however, do not.

Makhtal, whose grandfather was a founding member of the ONLF, has always declared himself innocent, saying he was in the region to promote his clothing business.

Now, more than a decade on, the Ethiopian government’s recent release of thousands of political prisoners and peace talks with the ONLF have given Makhtal’s family further impetus in campaigning for his release.

‘There is hope’
Asiso Abdi, Makhtal’s wife, told Al Jazeera that Ethiopian authorities could be persuaded to include Bashir among those freed, if Canada applies adequate diplomatic pressure.

“If the government of Justin Trudeau is willing to get Bashir home, there will never be a better time than now,” Abdi said. “When there is a life, there is a hope.”

Canadian officials say they are exploring every possible option to bring Makhtal back to Canada.

Omar Alghabra, parliamentary secretary to Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, met Makhtal during a diplomatic visit to Ethiopia in April 2017.

Negotiating Makhtal’s release is a priority for the Canadian government, he told Al Jazeera.

“Our objective is to see this happen as soon as we can… At every opportunity, the discussion with Ethiopian officials regarding Mr Makhtal happens,” Alghabra said.

“[But] these conversations are not easy… The Ethiopian government see him as someone who has been convicted and is serving a sentence.”

Despite mounting diplomatic pressure, Ethiopian officials continue to deny Makhtal is a political prisoner and block his release from jail.

Metasebia Tadesse, Ethiopia’s ambassador to Qatar, told Al Jazeera recent prisoner releases were specifically intended to “create a broader political space within the country”, and will not affect Makhtal’s status.

“Bashir Makhtal is not an Ethiopian, he is imprisoned due to the terrorist crimes he committed,” Tadesse said. “One cannot mix his case with the current measures taken by the Ethiopian government.”

When questioned, Tadesse refused to provide Al Jazeera with further details regarding the nature of the “terrorist crimes”.

‘An unfair trial’
Rights group Amnesty International said Makhtal has been detained unfairly.

“Once charges were laid against Makhtal we pressed for him to be provided with a fair trial and an opportunity to mount an effective defence, such as by having full access to allegations, evidence and witnesses against him,” Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International in Canada, told Al Jazeera.

“That was not the case, nor was his appeal hearing a fair process,” Neve said.

Lorne Waldman, Makhtal’s Canada-based lawyer, told Al Jazeera that Ethiopia had subjected his client to a number of extrajudicial measures: including an illegal extradition and torture.

“Bashir’s version of events has been the same since the beginning, that he was in Somalia doing business … [and] when there was the [Ethiopian] military incursion into Somalia he, like thousands of others, fled to the Kenyan border,” Waldman said.

“He was detained at the border and taken into custody in Nairobi, and from Nairobi he was illegally spirited on a private plane to Ethiopia without any formal extradition proceedings,” he added.

“Then he was tortured and charged under the anti-terrorism provisions in Ethiopia, before being prosecuted in what people generally felt was an unfair trial, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.”

Extraordinary rendition
Amnesty said Makhtal’s transfer to Ethiopia was “tantamount to an instance of extraordinary rendition”, adding it was “very likely” he had been subjected to torture or other forms of cruel treatment in Ethiopia.

The prevalence of torture in Ethiopia – described as a “major problem” in Human Rights Watch’s 2018 report – and Makhtal being held incommunicado at the beginning of his detention support Amnesty’s concerns regarding mistreatment, Neve said.

Authorities in Ethiopia did not acknowledge they had imprisoned Makhtal until July 2007, six months after his arrival in Addis Ababa, his relatives told Al Jazeera.

Nearly 11 years later, Makhtal’s family still has little clarity about whether Ethiopia will release him.

Some 12,000km away from his prison cell in Ethiopia, Makhtal’s absence in Canada continues to be felt every day, Abdi told Al Jazeera.

“They took my husband and with him my future happiness,” she said.

“I have already missed 11 wedding anniversaries with him, 11 years of my life have gone. I’m missing a half of me deep inside the dark cell of an Ethiopian prison.”

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