KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — A Pakistani judge ordered police Wednesday to hold and question the embattled CEO of a software company for a week on allegations he oversaw a global diploma mill, as broadcasters aired images of blank degrees stacked in his firm’s offices.
The judicial order marked the latest crisis for Shoaib Sheikh, the top official at Axact, a software company which a recent New York Times report accused of making millions of dollars selling fake high school diplomas and university degrees. While Axact has denied the allegations and threatened legal action against the Times, Pakistani investigators said they found hundreds of thousands of fake degrees during a raid Wednesday on the company’s offices in Karachi.
Officials also say they found fraudulent student ID cards and university accreditations for institutions that don’t exist.
“We have enough evidence to proceed,” said Shahid Hayat, the provincial director at Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency. “We have forensic evidence.”
Television footage showed investigators leading Sheikh away from his office in handcuffs. He later appeared before Judge Noor Mohammad, who ordered Sheikh held for seven days for police questioning on charges of fraud, forgery and cybercrime. Sheikh will appear again before the judge on June 4.
Sheikh’s lawyer, Shaukat Hayat, said his client’s family would be permitted to see him while he remains in custody. Hayat, who is not related to the FIA provincial director, previously has said his client denies the allegations against him. Sheikh, in an earlier video message, denied the charges.
The arrest marks a downfall for Sheikh and Axact, which planned to launch a new television channel in Pakistan. The software company has described the case against it as a conspiracy by rival media groups.
Investigators say others were as well in the raid. It was not immediately known how many people were arrested in all.
BEIJING (AP) — China said Wednesday that it has foiled 181 terror plots since it started a crackdown a year ago on Islamic separatists in the northwestern region of Xinjiang that was prompted by a surge of violence that reached as far as Beijing.
However, it was unclear what scale of terror organization is reflected in the tally, because authorities have given neither extensive details on the plots nor a clear definition of what they would include, and some analysts suggest small-scale or even nonviolent incidents might be on the list.
Xinjiang is largely closed to foreign journalists and substantial information about security in the region is difficult or impossible to collect and verify.
Touting the crackdown’s success, state broadcaster CCTV on Wednesday showed paramilitary troops conducting drills featuring fleets of helicopters, simulated building assaults and heavy weapons including anti-tank guns and flamethrowers.
The report said 96 percent of the foiled plots were still in the planning stages. It said 112 suspects have turned themselves in, but no figures were given on those captured or killed by police. Some critics have raised concerns of summary executions in the crackdown.
Authorities also have targeted the distribution of video and audio recordings promoting extremism, along with outward signs of religious conservatism among the native Muslim Uighur (pronounced WEE-gur) population such as the wearing of long beards by men and veils by women. In addition, authorities have tightened controls on both legal and illegal border crossings into neighboring Central Asian states.
The crackdown was launched after a bomb attack last May 22 on a crowded market in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, in which 39 people were killed. That followed an extremely rare attack in Beijing in which five people were killed, including three attackers, when a Jeep mowed down pedestrians in front of iconic Tiananmen Gate.
A knife attack at a train station in the southern city of Kunming about a year ago claimed 29 lives, further marking a departure from the militants’ previous targeting of government offices, police stations or other symbols of rule by the ethnic Han Chinese majority.
Violent conspiracies in Xinjiang generally involve only a few people, so it was unlikely that China had uncovered any “wide-ranging networks,” said David Brophy, a Xinjiang historian at the University of Sydney.
The exact nature of the plots also is hard to assess, since China tends to broadly define terrorism to include acts that might otherwise be seen as ordinary religious or cultural practices, he said.
And while reports of major violence have largely disappeared from China’s state-controlled media, Brophy said he was aware of incidents involving “quite large numbers of casualties that can’t really be explained.”
Beijing says unrest among Uighurs is caused by extremist groups with ties to Islamic terror groups abroad, but has provided little direct evidence.
Uighur activists say public resentment against Beijing is fueled by an influx of Han settlers in the region, economic disenfranchisement and onerous restrictions on Uighur religious and cultural practices.
The rise of the Islamic state group in Iraq and Syria is seen as further complicating matters, with China increasingly concerned about Uighurs crossing borders to fight with the group — and the potential for them to return to carry out attacks in Xinjiang, said Ahmed A.S. Hashim, a terrorism expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technical University.
“Creating a narrative of success in Xinjiang could be a way to say, ‘Listen, terrorists, there is no fertile ground here for your nefarious activities,'” Hashim said.
He warned, however, that even if the crackdown is successful, less bloodshed in Xinjiang does not mean Beijing has won over the Uighur population to its policies. “Reduction in violence does not mean a resolution of the matter.”
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The top nuclear envoys from South Korea, the United States and Japan agreed Wednesday on the need to increase pressure on North Korea and urged the country to engage in serious negotiations on its expanding nuclear weapons program.
The one-day meeting in Seoul follows a recent North Korea claim that it had tested a new type of missile from a submarine and a reiteration that it had built a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile. Outside analysts are skeptical about both claims, but they believe the North has built a small but growing nuclear bomb arsenal and advanced its missile program since international nuclear disarmament talks stalled in early 2009.
Seoul, Washington and Tokyo are members of now-dormant six-nation negotiations aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in return for aid and political concessions. The other members are Pyongyang, Beijing and Moscow.
Wednesday’s meetings are part of a series of such talks meant to coordinate a unified stance on North Korea’s growing arsenal. Prospects are slim that larger disarmament talks with Pyongyang will happen soon. Washington and its allies want North Korea to demonstrate its sincerity by following through with past nuclear pledges. North Korea, however, has consistently demanded that Washington and its allies recognize it as a nuclear weapons power.
“We reaffirmed our commitment to continuing the closest possible trilateral coordination and consultation,” U.S. envoy Sung Kim told reporters after the meeting. “We agreed on the importance of enhancing pressure and sanctions on North Korea even as we keep all diplomatic options on the table and open.”
South Korean envoy Hwang Joonkook urged the North to engage in discussions in a sincere manner, warning its diplomatic and international isolation would deepen if it defiantly pushes to develop more weapons.
Worries about the North’s stability rose earlier this month when South Korea’s spy agency said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had his defense chief executed for disloyalty.
Hwang described Wednesday’s meeting as “particularly timely” because of uncertainty in North Korea.
South Korean and U.S. envoys are to fly to Beijing later this week to hold individual talks with their Chinese counterpart, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry. China is the North’s only major ally and main aid benefactor, and is often mentioned as the key to pushing the North to give up its nuclear ambitions.
U.S. officials quietly proposed a meeting with North Korea this January, before the U.S. and South Korea began annual military exercises that North Korea regards as a provocation. The two sides, however, failed to agree on who would attend and where they would meet.
AP video journalist Yong-ho Kim contributed to this report.
MEXICO CITY (AP) — A fugitive former Los Angeles police officer charged with killing a man during an off-duty fight was arrested Tuesday in northern Mexico, officials said.
Henry Solis, 27, was captured by security forces in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office said. The arrest was made thanks to an exchange of information with U.S. authorities and intelligence work, it said.
“Henry Solis will be put at the disposition of Mexico’s migration office so that he can be handed over to the appropriate authorities,” a statement from the office said.
Solis, who was a probationary LAPD officer, is wanted in the shooting death of Salome Rodriguez, 23, outside a nightclub in Pomona, California on March 13. Investigators said the two had gotten into a dispute in the club.
Solis’ father was later arrested and charged in a federal court in El Paso with making false statements to FBI agents to help his son escape to Mexico.
According to an affidavit from an FBI agent, on the day of the killing, Solis called his father’s home and a short time later the elder Solis left in a hurry.
In an FBI interview, Victor Solis said his son claimed to have five days of vacation and wanted to go to El Paso.
The elder Solis said he drove his son to El Paso, where he dropped him at a bus station early on March 14 and didn’t see him again.
Victor Solis also claimed he later crossed the border into Mexico alone but surveillance video captured him crossing with his son, according to the affidavit.
A $25,000 reward had been offered for information leading to the arrest of Henry Solis.
SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego’s dominant newspaper on Tuesday announced the layoffs of nearly a third of its 600 employees after it was acquired last week for $85 million by Los Angeles Times owner Tribune Publishing.
The San Diego Union-Tribune said 178 employees — most in its printing and delivery divisions — would be laid off and their jobs done in Los Angeles.
“When the two companies announced that they were coming together, we said at the time there were going to be some synergies, and unfortunately for a lot of people today we’re realizing those synergies,” said Union-Tribune president and CEO Russ Newton.
A total of 100 people were laid off from operations, including truck drivers, machinists, electricians and pressroom workers. Twenty-nine were cut from circulation and 36 from advertising sales and finance. Only nine of the 173 newsroom staffers were laid off, nearly all from the paper’s video department.
“For readers of the newspaper, they will notice zero impact from today’s layoffs,” Newton said.
The workers were given two months’ notice, and their severance will vary according to their union status.
The newspaper’s sale for $85 million to the Tribune Co. by real estate developer Douglas Manchester was finalized on Thursday, and its name was changed back to its former name, the Union-Tribune, after going by U-T San Diego since 2011.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Amtrak said Tuesday it will install video cameras inside locomotive cabs to record the actions of train engineers, a move that follows a deadly derailment earlier this month in which investigators are searching for clues to the train engineer’s actions before the crash.
The Amtrak engineer, Brandon Bostian, suffered a head injury in the accident in Philadelphia and has told investigators he can’t remember what happened. Northeast Regional train 188 accelerated to a speed of 106 miles per hour in the last minute before entering a curve where it derailed. The speed limit for the curve is 50 mph. The crash left eight people dead and about 200 injured.
The train was equipped with a “black box” data recorder and an outward-facing camera focused on the track ahead, but neither of those devices reveals what was happening inside the cab.
The National Transportation Safety Board has been recommending that the Federal Railroad Administration require passenger and freight train cabs to have audio recorders since the late 1990s. They revised that recommendation five years ago to include inward-facing sound and video recorders.
Railroad administration officials say they support use of the cameras. In the past year, the agency has told the NTSB that it intends to propose regulations requiring the cameras. However, no regulations have been proposed and it typically takes federal agencies many months, if not years, to move from proposals to final regulations.
Joseph Boardman, the railroad’s president and CEO, said Amtrak has supported efforts by a railroad administration safety advisory committee made up of industry and labor representatives to come up with standards for the cameras. The committee has yet to issue recommendations.
“We’ve been supporting it all the way along,” he told reporters in a telephone briefing. “It’s just a matter of working out some of those details. … There may be some adjustments we have to make later down the road, but I think it’s time to do it and I’m doing it.”
Besides accident investigations, Amtrak will review the recordings to monitor engineers’ actions, Boardman said.
Unions representing engineers at Amtrak and other passenger and freight railroads have generally opposed use of the cameras. As recently as 2012, railroad administration officials had also opposed requiring the cameras, telling NTSB they were concerned the cameras might lower employee morale and the images might be used punitively by railroads.
Officials for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Robert Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia attorney representing 10 passengers who were on the train, said Amtrak shouldn’t wait until after a disaster to make safety changes. The railroad has also announced since the crash that it will install technology before the end of the year to automatically stop trains that are in danger of exceeding speed limits.
“Although we approve of Amtrak’s belated decision to install a video camera inside the cab of the locomotive, the question remains, ‘Why wasn’t this done much earlier?” he said.
Cameras will first be installed in 70 new Amtrak locomotives that will power all Northeast Regional and long-distance trains between Washington, New York and Boston, as well as Keystone Service between New York, Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Most of those locomotives will be equipped with the cameras before the end of the year, and the rest by sometime this spring, Boardman told reporters in a telephone briefing.
Amtrak is developing a plan for installation of cameras in the rest of its locomotive fleet, including Acela Express locomotives, but no time table has been set for those installations. The railroad has about 300 locomotives nationwide.
It’s not unusual for engineers to be killed in train crashes, or to be seriously injured and not remember details clearly. The NTSB first recommended requiring audio recordings of sound in locomotive cabs following a 1996 collision between commuter train and an Amtrak train in Silver Spring, Maryland. None of the commuter train’s operating crew members survived, and the board was unable to determine their actions leading up to the crash.
The recommendation was revised to include video cameras with sound in 2010 as the board wrapped up its investigation into one of the worst train collisions in memory — a Metrolink commuter train that failed to obey signals and collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train near Chatsworth, California. Twenty-five people were killed, including the Metrolink engineer, and over 100 injured in the 2008 crash.
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