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Man gets 39 years for attempted murder of 2 Somali men

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Anthony Sawina, 26, fired into a car full of Somali men, wounding two.

By SALMAN YOUSAFZAI

Anthony Sawina was sentenced Monday to 39 years in prison for shooting into a car full of young Somali men and wounding two of them in what many Muslims considered a hate crime.

The sentence, more severe than had been requested by attorneys for either side in Sawina’s trial, was handed down by Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance.

Just minutes before the sentence was read, Sawina, 26, of Lauderdale, had apologized to the Somali and Muslim communities and to the men he wounded. After hearing Quaintance issue the lengthy prison term, however, he shouted, “You people are the real criminals. People are killing each other and they get less time. This is injustice at its finest and you know it.”

After his outburst, deputies moved in to take Sawina away.

On May 11, a Hennepin County District Court jury rejected Sawina’s self-defense argument and found him guilty of nine counts of assault and attempted first- and second-degree murder.

“The evidence showed that [Sawina’s] conduct was reprehensible and shocking,” County Attorney Mike Freeman said after the verdict, adding that he would seek a prison sentence “north of 20 years” for Sawina.

Quaintance’s sentence nearly doubled that prison term. On Monday, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Patrick Lofton argued for a 25-year sentence by running some of the sentences consecutively. Sawina’s attorney argued for three years for each of the two bullets that struck the victims, for a total of six years.

Sawina was with a group of friends in Dinkytown about 2:30 a.m. on June 29, 2016, when they saw five Somali men, including one who was wearing traditional clothing for Ramadan.

As the Somalis were getting into a car, witnesses testified, they heard someone from Sawina’s group say “[expletive] Muslims.”

After at least one of the men got out of the car to confront the group, witnesses testified that Sawina said, “I’m saying [expletive] Muslims. What are you going to do about it?”

Sawina pulled out a handgun and pointed it toward the windshield, according to the charges. He walked around to the back of the car and fired at least twice through an open door, hitting two men in the back seat in the legs. Another bullet nearly hit the driver’s head. Sawina did not report the shooting to police. Instead, a witness identified him as the shooter to police, who arrested him about a month later.

At Sawina’s trial, Lofton said, “The defendant made an intentional and premeditated decision to kill the young men in that car.”

He noted that Sawina squared up and aimed before he shot and fired as the car was driving away.

Sawina’s attorney, Murad Mohammad, argued that his client fired after being threatened. Sawina testified that one of the men he confronted before the shooting told him he had a gun permit. After Sawina pulled his gun, he said he saw the driver bend down and believed he was reaching for a gun.

Quaintance, however, explained everything the jury had to have accepted as fact in order to find Sawina guilty on all nine counts.

She pointed out that Sawina and his friends were intoxicated when they confronted the men and that Sawina fled the scene, hid out and looked online for information on DNA and guns.

She talked about his convictions for driving without a license, fifth-degree assault and carrying a pistol without a permit. Quaintance also mentioned that his home, when it was searched, contained a nonworking hand grenade, several guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, making it a “veritable arsenal.”

His act was racially motivated and he endangered the lives of others besides his victim by firing on the street during bar closing time, she said.

“Consequently, this sentence does not unduly exaggerate the criminality of his conduct,” Quaintance said in handing down the sentence of 468 months.

He was given credit for 327 days already served in jail.

Staff writer Brandon Stahl contributed to this report.

Crime

Ilaria Alpi case may be reopened

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(ANSA) – Rome, April 17 – New wiretaps could lead to the reopening of the case of the murders in the Somalia capital Mogadishu on March 20 1994 of TG3 reporter Ilaria Alpi and her cameraman Miran Hrovatin, judicial sources said Tuesday. The wiretaps are said to have been made in 2012 between Somali individuals talking in Italy about the deaths of Alpi and Hovratin, sources said.

The wiretaps were made in a Florence probe into the trafficking of trucks decommissioned by the Italian army from Italy to Somalia, judicial sources said.

Some 15 people have been placed under investigation in the probe and the indictment of four of them, all Somalis, has been requested, sources said.

The transcripts were sent from Florence prosecutors to Rome prosecutor Maria Rosaria Guglielmi and filed by her Tuesday with a preliminary investigations judge for a hearing set to determine whether to shelve the case as requested by Rome prosecutors last June.

Judge Andrea Fanelli, in light of the new wiretaps and documents field by Alpi’s family, adjourned the hearings until June 8.

Rome prosecutors will work on the transcripts sent by Florence colleagues over the coming weeks.

Alpi’s mother Luciana said she “took note” of the new evidence but said “i don’t want to get my hopes up”. A Somali man who spent nearly 17 years behind bars for the killings but was subsequently cleared, Hashi Omar Hassan, said “Ilaria’s family must have justice”. On March 30 Hassan got over three million euros in compensation for his wrongful conviction and time in jail.

In October 2016 a Perugia court reversed Hassan’s conviction.

Prosecutor Dario Razzi told the court Hassan “did not commit” the crime.

He was the only person convicted of the murders.

Alpi, 32, and Hrovatin, 45, were ambushed and shot in their jeep in Mogadishu by a seven-man commando on March 20, 1994.

Initially, it was thought that the journalist was murdered in revenge for clashes which had broken out between the militias of Somalia’s warlords and Italian peacekeepers.

But a 1999 book by Alpi’s parents called The Execution alleged that Alpi and Hrovatin were killed to stop them revealing what they knew about an international arms and toxic-waste ring implicating high-level political, military and economic figures in both countries.

The book accuses the Italian secret services of playing a major role in this ring.

In 2015 Ahmed Ali Rage, who was also known as Gelle and who was a key witness for the prosecution in the trial that led to the conviction, said that Hassan was “innocent”.

Rage told a new trial that he “never told anyone” Hassan was part of the murder commando. Hassan was released into the custody of social services in 2015 with 10 years to go on his 26-year sentence.

“Thank God it’s over,” said Hassan at the time.

Alpi’s mother Luciana, who backed Hassan’s battle against the miscarriage of justice, said that she was “happy” Hassan had been cleared, but added that she was “bitter and depressed” that the real culprits had not been brought to justice.

“It’s as if she and Miran Hrovatin died of the heat in Mogadishu,” Luciana Alpi told ANSA. “We don’t have the truth and I don’t think we ever will”.

Photos taken of the dead body of Alpi, who worked for public broadcaster RAI’s third channel, and a medical report on the deaths, along with other key evidence including Alpi’s notes, camera and video cassettes, mysteriously went missing on the journey back from Africa to Italy, fuelling suspicions of a cover-up.

Speaking to RAI Channel 3, Rage in February 2015 claimed that he was asked to testify against Hassan.

“I did not see who fired the shots,” he reportedly told RAI 3.

According to the Italian diplomat who investigated the case in Somalia, former ambassador Giuseppe Cassini, the driver who acted as a key witness for the prosecution was “an unreliable individual who would do anything to survive”.

Hassan, who travelled to Italy in 1998 to give evidence in a probe into brutality by Italian soldiers, was acquitted of involvement in the two murders at the end of a first trial in July 1999.

But he was found guilty by an appeals court in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison.

Italy’s supreme Cassation Court upheld the guilty verdict in October 2001 but reduced the sentence from life to 26 years because it said the crimes were not premeditated.

Hassan’s lawyers said he was not in Mogadishu at the time of the killing and was tricked into coming to Italy.

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Crime

Kansas bomb plot trial drawing to a close as testimony ends

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The trial of three men accused of plotting to bomb an apartment complex housing Somali refugees in western Kansas is drawing to a close after weeks of testimony.

All sides have rested in the federal case against Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen on charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights. Wright also faces a charge of lying to the FBI. The judge dismissed two weapons-related charges against Stein.

U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren plans a hearing on Monday to hash out the final jury instructions. Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday. The jury trial began March 20.

The three men were indicted in October 2016 on charges they planned set off bombs the day after the Presidential election.

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Crime

Somalia’s first forensic lab targets rape impunity

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AFP — Garowe – The new freezers at Somalia’s only forensic laboratory can store thousands of DNA samples, although for now there are just five.

The big hope is that they could be the start of a revolution in how the troubled Horn of Africa country tackles its widespread sexual violence – provided some daunting hurdles are overcome.

The first sample arrived at the start of the year taken on a cotton swab from the underwear of a woman, a rape victim from the village of Galdogob.

It was wrapped in paper and driven 250km to the Puntland Forensic Centre in Garowe, capital of semi-autonomous Puntland, slipped into a protective glass tube and placed in one of the three ultra-low temperature fridges.

If DNA ID can be teased from the sample, this would be a crucial step in convicting the woman’s rapist.

No longer would it be a case of he-said-she-said, in which the survivor is less often believed than the accused. Two decades of conflict and turmoil have made Somalia a place where lawlessness and sexual violence are rampant.

“Now, people who have been raped hide because they don’t have evidence,” said Abdifatah Abdikadir Ahmed, who heads the Garowe police investigations department.

But with the lab, he said, “it’s a scientific investigation. There are biological acts you can zero in on.”

Challenges

Not yet, however.

Abdirashid Mohamed Shire, who runs the lab, has a team of four technicians ready but is awaiting the arrival of the final pieces of equipment.

Their work to provide the evidence that might convict or exonerate is yet to begin.

And the pressure is on. The freezers mean the DNA samples can be safely stored for years but Somali law allows a rape suspect to be held for a maximum of 60 days. Shire needs the analysis and identification machines urgently so that, as he put it, “justice will be timely served”.

The laboratory, partly funded by Sweden, was launched last year after the Puntland state government enacted a Sexual Offences Act in 2016, which criminalised sexual offences and imposed tough penalties.

But technology alone will not solve Somalia’s many judicial weaknesses.

The DNA sample from Galdogob, for example, was stored in unclear and unrefrigerated conditions for five days before being sent to the lab, meaning a defence counsel could potentially argue the DNA evidence had been tampered with.

Human rights lawyers worry the new lab might backfire for this reason.

“A lot of thought needs to be given to how the chain of custody can be preserved in these kinds of cases,” said Antonia Mulvey of Legal Action Worldwide, a Kenya-based non-profit organisation.

More fundamental still is the failure of Somalia’s police to take sexual assault cases – and their jobs – seriously.

Corruption is rife, with a legal advisor to Puntland’s justice ministry saying officers “meddle” in cases, undermining them for personal gain.

“My concern is that the corrupted system could not make a sure success of the lab,” the advisor said, requesting anonymity to speak candidly. “Investing in the lab is good, but we need to think about the preconditions.”

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) which helped pay for the lab is trying to address this by running training programmes for dozens of the Garowe police on sample collection, gender violence investigations and documentation.

But, the legal advisor cautioned that donors can only do so much.

“The issue is more complicated than training police. It relates to the political commitment of the government. UNFPA can train police but who will pay those you train? Are they given power to do the work?”

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