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Survivors of Houthi rebel prisons tell of torture



Former prisoners of rebels in Yemen have revealed the torture they suffered at the hands of their captors, including being burned with acid, beaten and hung by their wrists for weeks on end.

The accounts of brutality have emerged as UN-backed peace talks got under way in Sweden between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government.

As a confidence-building move, the two sides have agreed to release thousands of prisoners, although the details have still to be hammered out.

However, while captives of the government side are mostly Houthi fighters, the rebels’ prisoners are largely civilians, detained in sweeps aimed at suppressing opposition and gaining hostages who could be traded for ransom or exchange.

Countless children are dying from lack of food and healthcare in Yemen


With Houthi territory effectively under siege, Yemenis are queuing for days in the hope of food. Sky’s Alex Rossi reports.

More than 18,000 prisoners have been jailed by the Houthis in the last four years, according to the Abductees’ Mothers Union, an association of female relatives of detainees, which has also documented a thousand cases of torture.

The group says at least 126 prisoners have died as a result of torture since the Houthis took over the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.

Houthi leaders have previously denied that they engage in torture.

Martin Griffiths (L) shook hands with Yemeni delegates as the talks prepared to start
UN envoy Martin Griffiths (L) shook hands with Yemeni delegates at the peace talks in Sweden

Amnesty International says that “horrific human rights abuses, as well as war crimes, are being committed throughout the country by all parties to the conflict”.

However, much of the international condemnation of Yemen’s bloody civil war has centred on abuses carried out by the US-backed and Saudi-led military coalition fighting on the side of the Yemeni government.

One of those tortured by Houthi fighters was a hospital medic, Farouk Baakar, who was detained for treating an “enemy” of the rebels, who had been left for dead.

He spent 18 months in rebel prisons, where he says he was burned, beaten an chained to the ceiling by his wrists for 50 days, according to an AP investigation that revealed the torture.

Another former prisoner, a school teacher told how he had been held for nearly five months in an underground cell, during which he was blindfolded the entire time.

He kept count of the days by following the Muslim calls to prayer.

Throughout his detention, he said, his jailers beat him with iron rods and told him he was going to die.

“Prepare your will,” he said they told him.

The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and led to a humanitarian crisis that has pushed millions to the brink of starvation.

A Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in 2015 to restore a government ousted by the Iranian-backed Houthi movement.

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‘I don’t trust anyone’: The British women who married IS jihadis | World News



Reema Iqbal is talking to us from behind the plastic sheeting which marks the tented area which is now her home in Roj camp in northeast Syria.

She is not wearing the all-covering black Islamic dress and veil that most of the women walking around the camp are dressed in.

She’s instead in a T-shirt with shoulder-length hair which is wavy and flowing.

The first thing that strikes me is how healthy she appears. Her hair is shiny; her skin is glowing and flawless, and her teeth are white.

Alex Crawford spoke to the British women in their tents - they did not want to be shown
Alex Crawford spoke to the British women in their tents – they did not want to be shown

It stands out in this windswept, damp, miserable, shabby tented detention centre where she’s been with her two children for the past year.

Her appearance is out of kilter with her surroundings. She looks like she should be watching her sons in a park in east London – which was her home before she travelled to Syria to live in the Islamic State caliphate five years ago.

Instead she is now viewed as an IS family member and held under armed guard with her children, along with about a thousand other mainly women and children.

They are all relatives – wives and children – of men suspected of being IS fighters and now in prisons guarded by soldiers from the US-led coalition which has been fighting the extremists.

Their lives are pretty miserable. There is no running water. They’re living on top of each other in small tents which look grubby.

Some of them have been given small heaters to take the chill away. Their small bits of washing are hung on bits of string.

Video shows militants firing missiles and guns at people Kurdish fighters in Islamic State's  last territorial enclave in Syria.

IS militants target Kurdish forces in Baghuz

They are utterly reliant on the guards from the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) for pretty much everything. And they are under armed guard 24/7 with no-one allowed in without express permission and no-one allowed out.

Reema Iqbal, who is around 30 years old, and her two sisters, Zara, aged 28 and Samila, 32, upped and left their homes in London, where they had previously had university educations, and set off to live in the caliphate at the height of the extremists’ power and influence.

At that time, the extremists were taking over swathes of land in Iraq and Syria.

By 2014, they had control of more than 34,000 square miles, an area bigger than Ireland or Austria.

Many of those I’ve spoken to – men and women – seemed to have been lured to join the caliphate, believing it was their Islamic duty; hoping to lend support and help to persecuted civilians who were being bombed by Syrian President Bashar al Assad and being killed and injured daily.

But the extremists went on to kill Yazidi men and enslave thousands of Yazidi women, buying and selling them at markets.

They instilled an extreme form of Islam over their controlling population, and executions and amputations were commonplace.

Women and children have been fleeing IS territory in Baghuz and heading to refugee camps
Women and children have been fleeing IS territory in Baghuz and heading to refugee camps

But Reema Iqbal does not want to talk about this. She is polite, friendly and smiles frequently, but she is adamant she is not going to talk to anyone right now.

“I don’t trust anyone. I’m sorry. I’ve been burned before,” she said.

She admits life is hard for her in the camp.

Despite her smiles, she’s obviously desperate to leave and there’s a flash of anger and bitterness when I suggest maybe she has been forgotten by the outside world.

“I have NOT been forgotten”, she insists.

“I am not forgotten.”

A woman at the al-Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria. File pic
A woman at the al Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria. File pic

The camp organisers tell me she has changed her name to Saqina, although no explanation is provided and she certainly is not saying.

Previous reports suggest she was once married to an IS fighter called Celso Da Costa, who died fighting with IS.

Every reference to the women and girls who went to Syria is accompanied by the description “jihadi bride” which I suspect may be one reason she’s not inclined to talk to a journalist right now.

She knows the SDF is attempting to exert pressure on governments to repatriate their nationals. The French authorities have yielded.

Every man or woman captured by the coalition is viewed as potentially dangerous.

Kadiza Sultana (L), Shamima Begum (C) and Amira Abase going through Gatwick security before catching a flight to Turkey
London schoolgirls Kadiza Sultana (l), Shamima Begum (c) and Amira Abase fled to Syria in 2015

The men are separated and kept in prisons. The women and children are spread around a handful of detention centres and placed in tents which are surrounded by fencing and guards with weapons.

In this camp alone there are about five British women and their children.

Reema Iqbal’s sister Zara, whose husband was also killed in the battles, has been separated from her and is in another camp, we are told.

The third sister, Samila, is thought to have been married to a doctor called Shajul Islam, who was accused of being involved in the kidnapping of the British journalist John Cantlie in 2012.

Nothing is known about either Samila, her husband or Mr Cantlie’s whereabouts, although there are persistent but unconfirmed indications that they are all still alive.

A member of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) walks near a military vehicle near Baghouz
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Baghuz, Islamic State’s last enclave

According to the camp guards, there are about a thousand people here – roughly about 400 families and among them there are French, German, Swedish, Belgium, Russian, Turkish, Tunisian, Algerian and American women as well as the British.

A few tents away from Reema Iqbal is Naseema Begum, who has four children she is looking after alone in the tent.

She too is from London and complains about being coerced into interviews organised by her SDF captors for Kurdish television.

She also appears nervous about being interviewed for fear it might make their position even worse.

Both women appear resigned to the fact it’s going to take some time to get out of this camp. They’ve been here a year already and there’s no sign anyone is rushing to help them or bring them back home.

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Charles and Camilla to make history with royal trip to Cuba | World News



The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will make a historic visit to Cuba next month as the UK government continues “frank and open” discussions about the country’s human rights record.

Clarence House confirmed they will be the first members of the Royal Family to carry out an official trip to the country as they revealed details of the couple’s spring tour to the Caribbean from 17 to 29 March.

A palace spokesperson said: “Their royal highnesses’ visit to St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent and The Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis and Grenada will celebrate the monarchy’s relationship with these Commonwealth realms.

A fruit and vegetables vendor walks along a street of Havana
The full itinerary for their visit to Cuba has not yet been announced
Talía Sintado rolls cigars at the Cuba Tobacco Co. on Calle Ocho in Miami's Little Havana
But engagements are set to include learning about Cuba’s rich heritage

“Furthermore, at the request of the British government, their royal highnesses will also visit Cuba to highlight the growing bilateral relationship with the UK and showcase some of the cultural links between the two countries.

“Their royal highnesses will also visit the British overseas territory of the Cayman Islands to celebrate its place within the British family.”

Cityscape with american green Chevrolet classic car on the main street in Havana City Cuba
Camilla is understood to be interested in the architecture of the country
Cuban musician with trumpet, Havana, Cuba
And said to love the music of Cuba

Cuba has been criticised by organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for its poor human rights record, lack of free speech and detaining activists.

Explaining why they had agreed to the royal visit, a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “There was an invitation to the Prince of Wales when the (Cuban) president visited the UK back in November, and the British government requested that their royal highnesses accept the invitation.

“This is part of our longstanding approach towards Cuba of engagement and open and frank dialogue over the issues that divide us like human rights, but also the engagement towards progress on the matters that bridge us together.”

Asked if it was anticipated that human rights would be something the Prince of Wales would raise specifically, the spokesman added: “Human rights is a subject that we discuss government to government with the Cubans. We’ve done so regularly over the years and we continue to do so, there is also an EU dialogue with the Cubans which we support.”

Prime Minister Theresa May has not visited Cuba.

Philip Hammond visited in 2016 when he was foreign secretary, and the Foreign Office says there have been regular ministerial visits since.

The full itinerary for their visit to Cuba has not been announced, but will primarily be based in Havana and involve meeting the President Miguel Diaz-Canel and focus on engagements looking at environmental issues and Cuba’s vibrant culture.

It’s understood there are currently no plans to meet Raul Castro, the first secretary of the communist party of Cuba and brother of Fidel Castro.

All royal visits are made at the request of the government and the Foreign Office.

The destinations chosen for royal tours are an indicator of which countries the UK government want to keep on side and promote closer ties with.

The “soft power” of the Royal Family is seen as an important diplomatic tool that can open doors that politicians cannot.

Now that the Queen no longer carries out overseas tours, any visits carried out by her heir, the Prince of Wales, are now seen to have an increased significance.

On a recent visit to the Supreme Court in London, the prince and duchess let slip that they were looking forward to their trip to Cuba.

Speaking after the visit, Baroness Hale, the president of the Supreme Court, said: “It will be quite an event for members of the Royal Family to visit Cuba.

“She said she loved the music and was interested in the architecture. And she did make a remark about she wasn’t so sure about the food.”

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<a href=''>Elon Musk's 'malicious' AI too dangerous to release</a>



<a href=''>Elon Musk's 'malicious' AI too dangerous to release</a>

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