Taliban Frees Thousands of Prisoners, Including al Qaeda and ISIS Fighters

As the Taliban takes over Afghanistan, it has freed thousands of prisoners, including top leaders affiliated with al Qaeda and ISIS, a move likely to complicate U.S. efforts to evacuate personnel from Kabul.

The release of more than 5,000 prisoners from Bagram Air Base, which the Taliban captured during the weekend, is compounding worries that U.S. forces will come under attack in the coming days.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, which is coordinating the emergency evacuation, said on Tuesday he has warned the Taliban and other terrorists storming Kabul “that any attack would be met with overwhelming force in the defense of our forces. The protection of U.S. civilians and our partners is my highest priority and we will take all necessary action to ensure a safe and efficient withdrawal.”

Attacks could force U.S. troops to reenter Afghanistan en masse just weeks after the Biden administration pulled troops from the country, sparking the Taliban’s resurgence.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is coming under renewed criticism for its 2014 decision to free several top Taliban leaders from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp as part of a prisoner exchange. Those who were released from the notorious Cuban military prison are now part of the Taliban’s senior leadership, which planned the group’s military siege of the country.

While the Obama administration promised at the time that these prisoners would not return to the battlefield in Afghanistan, they are the same individuals the Biden administration has been in negotiations with in recent months, according to the New York Post.

“I started jihad to remove foreign forces from my country and establish an Islamic government, and jihad will continue until we reach that goal through a political agreement,” Khairullah Khairkhwa, one of the freed terrorists, said earlier this year as he participated in peace talks with U.S. diplomats.





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Taliban Frees Thousands of Terrorist Prisoners from Facility US Forces Recently Handed Over to Afghanistan

Terrorists who had been rounded up across Afghanistan are now on the loose.

One prize in the total collapse of the former government and military of Afghanistan was that the Taliban were able to overrun Bagram Air Base on Sunday, where, according to the BBC, occupying forces began to set free inmates there at Pul-e-Charkhi prison.

In early July, when the U.S. handed control of the base to Afghan forces, CNN reported that between 5,000 and 7,000 prisoners were housed there, including “senior al Qaeda and Taliban figures.”

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George W. Bush Sends Message to Afghanistan War Veterans, Calls on Biden Admin to Take Action

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley noted Sunday in a call with senators that instead of the original estimate] that terrorist groups could use Afghanistan as a base to rebuild within the next two years, the new timeline could be sooner.

“Two takeaways for me,” a source who was on the call told Axios. “We’re gonna leave tens of thousands of people behind … and the timeline in terms of threats has accelerated.”

America entered Afghanistan 20 years ago because it was a haven for terrorists.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday sought to downplay speculation that history could repeat itself, according to The Guardian.

Has Joe Biden made America less safe?

“We have tremendously more capacity now than we had before 9/11. We are going to retain in the region the over-the-horizon capacity to see and deal with any re-emergence of a terrorist threat,” Blinken told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

However, some worry that the potential for terrorism is worse now than ever before.

“A Taliban-led Afghanistan that provides tech-savvy global terrorists safe haven to remotely recruit new followers is a different level of security threat than it was previously,” security expert Barry Pavel wrote for the Atlantic Council.

He cautioned that “a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan — which could be even more dangerous than it was in the 1990s, and in particular on September 11, 2001.”

In July, CNN reported that the prison at Bagram field had a couple of hundred criminals with the rest of the thousands of inmates being terrorists.

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According to CNN, an Afghan security official said some “big names” from al-Qaida and the Taliban were housed there.

“We have the ability to hold prisoners, we have enough troops to secure Bagram Air Base. We are not worried about the care of prisoners,” an Afghan defense ministry spokesperson said at the time.

Although the Taliban have said they seek to assume control of the nation peacefully, they have been accused of massacring commandos who surrendered last month to Taliban forces.





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Egypt frees several prominent activists ahead of Eid al-Adha

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CAIRO — Several prominent Egyptian activists and journalists were released from custody on Sunday following months of detention on charges including joining or aiding a terrorist group and spreading false news, lawyers representing them said.

Egyptian authorities have in recent months released detainees ahead of major Muslim holidays. Sunday’s releases come two days ahead of Eid al-Adha, one of the two most important festivals of the Islamic calendar.

Esraa Abdelfattah, an activist and journalist who was among the organizers of Egypt’s January 2011 revolution that ended the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, was released from custody in Cairo early on Sunday more than 21 months after her arrest, her lawyer Ahmed Ragheb told Reuters.

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“I spoke to her, she is doing very well. Her spirits are high, and she is surely very happy with this decision, in order to resume her life,” Ragheb said adding that the case remains open and investigations are ongoing despite her release.

Activist and lawyer Mahienour el-Masry, journalist Moataz Wednan, leftist columnist Gamal al-Gamal, leftist politician Abdel Nasser Ismail and journalist Mostafa al-Asar were also freed, a lawyer representing them and a judicial source said. The charges against them are still pending, the lawyer added.

Egyptian authorities did not comment on the activists’ and journalists’ release. Egypt’s state information service did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday, an official public holiday leading up to Eid.

Abdelfattah was a co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, which has been banned by the Egyptian government for years, and was arrested shortly after small, scattered demonstrations in Egypt in September 2019.

Wednan was arrested in 2018 after interviewing former anti-graft chief Hisham Genena who was working to elect a former military chief-of-staff in an apparent challenge to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in elections that year. (Reporting by Nadeen Ebhrahim, Yousef Saba and Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Yousef Saba and Nadine Awadalla Editing by Frances Kerry)



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Judge Frees 76-Year-Old Woman Sent Back to Federal Prison After Missing a Phone Call from Officials – Reason.com

A judge’s mercy has kept the federal Bureau of Prisons from needlessly sending a 76-year-old Baltimore woman back behind bars because she left home to attend a computer class and missed a call from authorities looking for her.

Gwen Levi served 16 years of her federal sentence for dealing heroin before being released last summer to home confinement as part of the Trump administration’s effort to reduce the federal prison population to slow the spread of COVID-19. She was one of 4,500 federal prisoners to be sent home.

In late June, the Washington Post reports, Levi attended a class in-person to learn word processing. This trip triggered her ankle monitor. When prison officials called her, she didn’t answer the phone, and so this was all treated as an “escape.” She was picked up and taken back to jail for transfer back to federal prison for this minor, nonviolent violation.

But Levi was doing the exact sort of thing we want prisoners to do when we release them early—learn skills that will help them become gainfully employed. Dragging her back to prison is a particularly egregious example of how post-release monitoring sometimes leads to people being punished for technical rule violations which are completely disconnected from harmful, illegal behavior. There’s been a push by criminal justice activists, supported by some friendly politicians, to reform the system by which people under supervised release get thrown back in jail for “technical violations” of rules that aren’t criminal in nature.

On Tuesday, the Post reports, Judge Deborah K. Chasanow of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ordered Levi freed under compassionate release guidelines, writing, “the court concludes it would do little to serve the goals of sentencing to require her to return to full custody.” She’ll still have to serve five years of parole, though she can request that her parole be suspended after one year.

“Sending her back to prison for going to a computer class was shameful,” Kevin Ring, president of justice reform organization FAMM, said in a prepared statement. “She deserves to be home. But this fight is far from over. It’s time for the Biden administration to ensure that the 4,000 people on home confinement get to stay home with their families, too.”

Ring is referring to the unclear future of all those other federal prisoners sent home last year. The COVID-related early releases were not intended to be permanent; as the Trump administration ended, the Justice Department announced that those prisoners would have to return back to prison after the pandemic has concluded.

It’s been a year since these releases, and so far, according to the Post, only 185 of these released prisoners have been returned to federal custody, and only five of them had committed new crimes. Now criminal justice reformers are attempting to pressure the Justice Department under President Joe Biden to rescind the memo and allow these people to remain on monitored release after the pandemic ends.

So far, the administration has been reluctant to commit to this. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice told The New York Times that the Bureau of Prisons would have the discretion to allow released inmates to remain at home if they are close to the end of their sentences.

But does “discretion” actually mean anything given what happened to Levi? If the vast majority of these released inmates have been causing no problems on supervised release, is there any criminal justice purpose served by forcing them back into jail cells that isn’t just a punitive response? If the goal of prison is rehabilitation, the appropriate response to those who have been released, but who continue to abide by the law, is to continue this experiment. Perhaps there’s even a valuable lesson here about the excessive lengths of some of our federal sentences.



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Joy and skepticism as Myanmar frees hundreds held since coup

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Myanmar freed more than 2,000 detainees on Wednesday, among them journalists and others who the ruling military said had been held on incitement charges for taking part in protests, local media reported.

The release was described by some activists as a ploy by the ruling military to divert attention from an ongoing security crackdown.

The army has been under pressure from Western countries and Myanmar’s neighbors to release thousands of people detained during protests since it ousted the elected government of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1.

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Many of the military’s opponents have been held, some convicted, under a law that criminalizes comments that could cause fear or spread false news and is punishable by up to three years in jail. Suu Kyi is on trial for a similar offense, among others, and remains in detention.

Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun said most of those freed had been charged with incitement for joining protests.

“A total of 2,296 people have been released. They took part in protests but not in leading roles. They didn’t participate in violent acts,” he told Irrawaddy new site.

Reuters could not reach Zaw Min Tun for further comment.

Videos posted on social media showed a stream of mostly young detainees pouring off buses from Yangon’s colonial-era Insein prison, smiling, waving and embracing family members who wept as they arrived.

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Others showed a succession of buses leaving the rear entrance of the jail, with passengers leaning from windows and waving at small crowds that gathered outside.

The military has struggled to impose order since it took power, with daily protests nationwide and paralyzing strikes.

Ethnic insurgencies that beset Myanmar for decades have flared anew and civilians angered by a wave of arrests have taken up arms against security forces.

Insein prison chief Zaw Zaw had earlier told Reuters that some 700 people would be released, without giving a reason. He did not respond to subsequent calls seeking comment.

The news portal Myanmar Now said its reporter Kay Zon Nway was freed after 124 days charged with incitement.

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“Like many other political detainees, she was unfairly arrested. She has suffered a lot in prison. But today, I’m glad to see her again in great spirits,” Swe Win, Myanmar Now’s editor-in-chief said in a text message.

The Irrawaddy said six journalists were freed altogether.

State-run MRTV made no mention of the release in its nightly newscast.

Western countries have demanded political prisoners be freed and condemned the military takeover. Myanmar’s neighbors in April sought a commitment from its military rulers to initiate dialog, end the violence and release detainees.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a non-profit based in Thailand, said the mass release was engineered to give the impression the military’s sweeping crackdown had eased.

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“Today’s events intend to make it seem like there has been a relaxation in the junta’s oppression. This is not the case,” it said in a statement.

More than 5,200 people are being held, according to AAPP. It also says 883 people have been killed – a figure challenged by the military leadership, which has blamed the unrest on “terrorists” among supporters of Suu Kyi’s party. Reuters has been unable to confirm the numbers.

On Tuesday, the army-run Myawaddy television said authorities had dropped charges against 24 celebrities on wanted lists under the anti-incitement law.

Salai Za Uk Ling of the Chin Human Rights Organisation, a group from Chin state, a center of opposition to the takeover by the military, said the release was “quite meaningless” and intended to appease the international community.

He said people were still being arrested daily in Chin state and elsewhere in Myanmar. Reuters was not immediately able to confirm his statement.

“We will face this same problem until they stop the unlawful arrests,” he added. “People will not feel safe in their homes.” (Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Martin Petty; Editing by Tom Hogue, Simon Cameron-Moore and Philippa Fletcher)

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Libya force frees prisoners in reconciliation gesture

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TRIPOLI — Forces in Zawiya in western Libya on Wednesday released more than 100 captives taken from Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) to solidify a months-long ceasefire and moves towards national unity.

The men had been held since April 2019 when Haftar launched an assault to seize control of the capital, Tripoli, and other areas in the northwest, ending with his retreat last summer.

Libya’s warring sides agreed a ceasefire in October in Geneva, and political talks led this month to agreement on a new unity government to replace the two rival administrations that had ruled in east and west.

The process, seen as Libya’s best chance in years to end the decade of chaos and violence since the 2011 NATO-backed rising against Muammar Gaddafi, remains fragile with myriad armed groups still wielding control on the ground.

“Such joy has no price,” said Khalif al-Kilan, 92, the father of one of the captives who attended a ceremony in Zawiya, 45 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, to release them.

“This is the real project for national reconciliation,” said Ramadan Ahmed Abujanah, deputy prime minister in the new unity government, addressing the ceremony.

The released men wore traditional white tunics and skullcaps to cover their prison-shaven heads at the ceremony in Zawiya stadium. Their families cheered and waved their hands before being reunited.

Haftar’s LNA, though based in eastern Libya, is drawn from a coalition of different factions and includes fighters from across the country. Most of those released on Wednesday were from western cities.

Musa al-Koni, a member of the three-man Presidency Council representing southern Libya, called for the release of prisoners held in eastern and southern areas.

(Reporting by Reuters Libya newsroom, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean)



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Iran frees British-Iranian aid worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe – her lawyer says

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DUBAI — Iran has released British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her lawyer Hojjat Kermani told Iranian website Emtedad on Sunday, after her five years sentence for plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.

“She was pardoned by Iran’s Supreme Leader last year, but spent the last year of her term under house arrest with electronic shackles tied to her feet. Now they’re cast off,” Kermani told the website.

“She has been freed.” (Writing by Parisa Hafezi Editing by Frances Kerry)



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