French company pleads guilty to U.S. charge of paying terror groups

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By Shayna Jacobs

October 18, 2022 at 5:04 p.m. EDT

U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said at a news conference Oct. 18, 2022, that Lafarge and its Syrian subsidiary were responsible for providing significant funds to ISIS. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Global cement company Lafarge will pay the U.S. government nearly $780 million for conspiring with Islamic State militants to run a production plant in war-ravaged Syria during its civil war — a move that helped bolster the terrorist group’s meager finances, officials said Tuesday.

A top executive of Lafarge, which was acquired by Swiss-based Holcim in 2015, pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn to a count of conspiring to provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations, admitting that Lafarge knowingly engaged in a deal with Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and the al-Nusrah Front (ANF), a Syrian Islamist militia, in 2013 and 2014.

The guilty plea marked the first time a corporation was prosecuted under a U.S. statute that prohibits a person or entity from assisting foreign terrorist groups, officials said. The Justice Department has a broad ability to bring such cases in U.S. courts even if the conduct generally occurred abroad but also involves at least one wire transaction locally.

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Justice Department officials said Tuesday that the two groups obtained at least $6 million in payments from Lafarge. The payoffs allowed Lafarge to operate the plant in the Northern region of Syria, near the Turkish border, and bought them protection from the militias.

The Islamic State also made more than $3 million directly through the sale of cement it obtained at the end of Lafarge’s operation there starting in late 2014.

In total, Lafarge agreed to forfeit $687 million and pay $91 million in criminal fines to the United States.

U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz, who accepted Lafarge’s guilty plea, said the case “impacts global communities [and] the national security of the United States,” as well as victims of the terrorists.

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Lafarge, which is based in France, had dealings with ISIS at a time when the group was responsible for capturing and killing journalists and aid workers in the devastated region.

Justice Department officials said the company paid for access to the plant and for protection from ISIS at a time when other corporations were fleeing Syria.

The Islamic State even issued stamped driving permits for Lafarge workers to get access to the plant.

“To the brothers at the checkpoints of Qarah Qawzak Bridge, may Allah keep you safe,” a translation of the permit read. “Kindly allow the employees of Lafarge Cement Company to pass through after completing the necessary work and after paying their dues to us.”

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U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said at a news conference Tuesday that Lafarge and its Syrian subsidiary were responsible for providing significant funds to ISIS, which “otherwise operated on a shoestring budget.”

“This conduct by a Western corporation was appalling and has no precedent or justification,” Peace said.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said greedy intentions by Lafarge fueled rampant violence.

“In its pursuit of profits, Lafarge and its top executives not only broke the law, they helped to finance a violent reign of terror that ISIS and [ANF]imposed on the people of Syria,” Monaco said.

In France, six former executives and Lafarge are facing pending criminal charges in connection with their relationships in Syria. Those six people were referred to in court papers in the New York case but were not named.

“We deeply regret that this conduct occurred and have worked with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve this matter,” Lafarge said in a statement.

The conduct did not involve “Lafarge operations or employees in the United States and none of the executives who were involved in the conduct are with Lafarge or any affiliated entities today,” the statement also said.

China’s 20th Party Congress Report: Doubling Down in the Face of External Threats

CSIS, October 19, 2022

President Xi Jinping loomed large over the opening of the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th National Congress on October 16, 2022. He is all but guaranteed to emerge from the party congress with a history-making third five-year term, and he is widely expected to tighten his hold over the party by placing political allies in key positions.

Xi kicked off the party gathering with a landmark speech that stretched for nearly two hours. His address, an abridged version of the full party congress report, focused heavily on domestic issues but also provided a useful glimpse into how Xi and the party leadership view the world and China’s place in it. Xi’s address (and the full report) struck a different tone from the last one Xi delivered at the 19th Party Congress in 2017. While Xi still voiced confidence that China’s power and prospects are on the rise, he also doled out stark warnings about the growing threats and challenges that China faces.

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Indonesia’s giant capital city is sinking. Can the government’s plan save it?

Indonesia has grand plans for Jakarta—a new capital on Borneo, a giant bird-shaped sea wall to protect Jakarta itself—but they don’t solve the underlying problem.


JAKARTAApart from the narrow, unpaved road, the two-meter-high concrete coastal wall is the only thing that separates Suhemi’s small restaurant in North Jakarta from the sea. Her family depends on that wall. Growing up here in the Muara Baru neighborhood in the 80s and 90s, Suhemi used to play on the beach in front of her house. But by the 2000s the beach had disappeared, and the sea frequently inundated the neighborhood.

In 2002, the government built the coastal wall, to give the residents peace of mind and time—a respite from the steady sinking of the land under the city and the steady rising of the sea. But just five years later, in 2007, the wall proved no match for the worst floods in Jakarta’s modern history. Driven by a storm coming off the Java Sea and torrential rains, the floods claimed 80 lives around the city and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage

In Muara Baru, the storm surge collapsed the wall, and the sea flooded Suhemi’s house.

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Conservative, rebellious, culture-defining: A brief history of the headscarf

ew accessories have lived as complicated a life as the headscarf. The versatile fabric has been chosen by and impressed upon people for political, religious and practical purposes for centuries. It has been favored by revolutionaries and royalty alike. It can be either conservative or rebellious. Beyond its utilitarian origins as a source of protection from the elements, the headscarf remains at the center of contentious debate about women’s rights, identity, power and class.

In recent history, conversations about the headscarf have often centered on its use in Islam and the prejudice Muslim women have faced.

In 2013, Nazma Khan founded World Hijab Day — a day for both Muslim and non-Muslim women to experience wearing a headscarf. Celebrated on February 1, the initiative began in response to the bullying Khan, originally from Bangladesh, experienced growing up in the Bronx, New York. “In middle school, I was ‘Batman’ or ‘ninja.’ When I entered university after 9/11, I was called Osama bin laden or terrorist. It was awful,” reads a statement on the World Hijab Day’s website. “I figured the only way to end discrimination is if we ask our fellow sisters to experience hijab themselves.”

German boxer Zeina Nassar has fought to wear the hijab in the ring.

German boxer Zeina Nassar has fought to wear the hijab in the ring. Credit: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

Throughout history, the headscarf has sat atop the heads of culture defining women — and men — from monarchs including Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II to the daring flappers of the 1920s. Ranging from patterned prints to luxe fabrics to simple sheaths, the fashion item is wrapped in centuries of interpretation.

“There’s a reason why the (head)scarf has transcended time,” said Lynn Roberts, vice president of advertising and public relations at fashion outfitter Echo Design Group, over the phone from New York City. “When you’re wearing one, people pay attention.”

Actress Elizabeth Taylor considered the headscarf a key piece for a woman's wardrobe.

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