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AUB professor denied entry into U.S. because of “extreme vetting”

An engineering professor at the American University of Beirut says he was wrongfully denied entry into the U.S. because of new “extreme vetting” measures.

George Saad, 35, an associate professor at the Beirut campus, was traveling to the U.S. for the Engineering Mechanics Institute Conference in San Diego.

He says the Department of Homeland Security turned him away at Los Angeles International Airport without explanation, and he missed his conference as a result.

According to The New York Post, Homeland Security officials detained him and interrogated him for four hours. He says his phone was confiscated, his laptop was seized and officials photographed him and took fingerprints.

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“I belong to the American University of Beirut — the leading academic institution in Lebanon and the Middle East, chartered in New York and considered an American territory in Lebanon,” Saad told The Post. “I felt so small, so unappreciated and consider being treated in demeaning and humiliating ways.”

Saad says his visa was revoked and he was sent back to Beirut without an opportunity to contact an attorney or his family.

According to The Post, Saad has traveled to the U.S. about 15 times without any issue. In 2015 and 2015, he attended similar engineering conferences in California.

Saad graduated from John Hopkins University, and holds his doctorate from the University of Southern California. He says his family is Christian, and he has no criminal record.

The alleged incident happened amid President Trump’s push to enhance screening measures at American points of entry. Although the courts have blocked the president’s travel ban, his administration has been pushing for stepped up questioning of visa applicants and more intense vetting.

Saad says he already filed a complaint with Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program, but he still lost about $2,500 in travel costs.

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Officials at the American University of Beirut say they stand by their professor.

“While we understand and respect security measures, we are surprised and concerned at the treatment our faculty member received, including his long interrogation followed by denial of his entry into the US,” the university said in a statement to The Post.

Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to requests for comment.

4 things you didn’t know about Beirut-born NBA coach Steve Kerr

Legendary NBA coach Steve Kerr has not had an easy life. He’ll be the first to tell you.

The Beirut-born six-time NBA champion spent most of his childhood in Lebanon until his father was shot and killed in 1984. He was devastated.

As millions watch Game 4 of the NBA finals, most fans will be thinking of Steve Kerr as the former professional basketball player and the current head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Little do they know, Kerr’s life story starts in Beirut.

He spent much of his childhood in Lebanon.

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Steve was born in Beirut “Stephen Douglas Kerr” to proud parents Dr. Malcolm and Ann Kerr. His father — also Beirut-born — was an American academic who specialized in the Middle East.

Steve attended Cairo American College in Egypt, the American Community School in Beirut and Palisades High School in Los Angeles.

His father was the former president of AUB.

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Dr. Malcolm Kerr spent much of his childhood in Lebanon, on and near the campus of the American University of Beirut, where his parents taught for over 40 years.

Following his doctorate work at John Hopkins University in Washington D.C., Dr. Kerr returned to Beirut to teach at the American University of Beirut’s Department of Political Science.

He became president of the university in 1982. He served as president for 17 months.

His grandfather volunteered with the Near East Relief.

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Steve’s grandfather, Stanley Kerr, was a well-respected American humanitarian, who spent many years volunteering with the Near East Relief after the Armenian Genocide.

Stanley and his wife Elsa Reckman Kerr met while rescuing women and orphans in Marash.

They later joined the staff of a Near East Relief orphanage in Nahr Ibrahim, Lebanon.

Stanley earned his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, and returned to Beirut where he became chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at the American University of Beirut.

His father was killed in 1984.

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Steve’s father was shot and killed on January 18, 1984 by two gunmen outside of Beirut office. He was 52.

A possible motive regarding his assassin are still unclear, although The New York Times reports a male caller telephoned the Beirut office of Agence France-Presse shortly after his murder and said the slaying was the work of Islamic Holy War.

At the time, former President Ronald Reagan issued a statement saying in part, “Dr. Kerr’s untimely and tragic death at the hands of these despicable assassins must strengthen our resolve not to give in to the acts of terrorists. Terrorism must not be allowed to take control of the lives, actions, or future of ourselves and our friends.”

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Steve said his father’s unlikely assassination left him speechless. The Kerr family later sued the Iranian government under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

While warming up for a game at Arizona State in 1988, Kerr had to deal with a number of fans in the crowd chanting “PLO” and “your father’s history.”

Kerr said his difficult life has made him a stronger person, and a stronger coach.

Michigan man arrested for alleged involvement with Hezbollah

A Michigan man is facing terrorism charges stemming from his alleged involvement with Hezbollah, the U.S. government announced.

Samer El Debek, 37, was arrested in Livonia, Mich. on June 1 following an FBI raid conducted at his Dearborn home.

According to the criminal complaint, El Debek allegedly received military-style training in Lebanon, which included rocket-propelled and machine gun training.

“El Debek allegedly conducted missions in Panama to locate the U.S. and Israeli Embassies and to assess the vulnerabilities of the Panama Canal and ships in the Canal,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim.

A New York man, Ali Kourani, 32, was also arrested in the Bronx on terrorism charges. He is accused of providing, attempting, and conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah, among other charges.

David Gelios, special agent in charge of the Detroit division of the FBI, said the arrests pose no threat to the metro Detroit area.

“Last week’s arrest related to alleged illegal activity did not occur in Michigan,” Gelios said a statement. “FBI Detroit has no credible information to suggest any terrorism threat to the (area).”

El Debek is accused by the U.S. government of the following:

  • Providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah.
  • Receiving and conspiring to receive military-type training from Hezbollah.
  • Use of weapons in connection with a crime of violence that is alleged to have involved, among other weapons, explosives, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and machine guns.
  • Violating and conspiring to violate IEEPA.

El Debek was presented these charges on June 5, before Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman in Manhattan federal court.

From the U.S. Government on Samer El Debek:

El Debek, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was first recruited by Hizballah in late 2007 or early 2008, began to receive a salary from Hizballah shortly thereafter, and was paid by Hizballah through approximately 2015.

In July 2006, shortly before he was recruited by Hizballah, el Debek expressed by email his support for Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah.

El Debek received military training from Hizballah in Lebanon on several occasions, from approximately 2008 through approximately 2014. El Debek received training in basic military tactics, the handling of various weapons, surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques, and the creation and handling of explosives and explosive devices.

Based on information el Debek provided to the FBI, FBI bomb technicians have assessed that el Debek received extensive training as a bomb-maker, has a high degree of technical sophistication in the area, and was trained in techniques and methods similar to those used to construct the improvised explosive device used in Hizballah’s 2012 Burgas, Bulgaria, bus bombing, a bombing that el Debek reported was carried out by a relative of his.

El Debek received by email in 2010 a list of raw materials that could be sent from Syria or Dubai, including items often used in explosives and improvised explosive devices. El Debek also conducted missions for Hizballah in Thailand and Panama.

In May 2009, el Debek traveled from Lebanon, through Malaysia, to Thailand, where his mission was to clean up explosive precursors in a house in Bangkok that others had left because they were under surveillance.

El Debek used his U.S. passport to enter and leave Thailand, consistent with his instructions from Hizballah to use his U.S. passport so he could travel from Malaysia to Thailand without obtaining a visa.

El Debek first traveled to Panama for Hizballah in 2011, where his operational tasks included locating the U.S. and Israeli Embassies, casing security procedures at the Panama Canal and the Israeli Embassy, and locating hardware stores where explosive precursors could be purchased.

Shortly before traveling to Panama, el Debek updated his status on Facebook with a post that read, in part, “Do not make peace or share food with those who killed your people.”

In early 2012, el Debek again traveled to Panama for Hizballah, passing through New York and New Jersey, and was asked to identify areas of weakness and construction at the Panama Canal, as well as provide information about how close someone could get to a ship passing through the Canal.

Upon his return from Panama, el Debek’s IJO handlers asked him for photographs of the U.S. Embassy there and details about its security procedures.

El Debek has told the FBI that he was detained by Hizballah from December 2015 to April 2016 and falsely accused of spying for the U.S.

Between November 2014 and February 2017, el Debek, who received religious training from Hizballah, has conducted more than 250 Facebook searches using search terms such as “martyrs of the holy defense,” “martyrs of Islamic resistance,” “Hizballah martyrs,” and “martyrs of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon.”

Rare Lebanese cheese on verge of disappearing, report says

A traditional Lebanese practice of using clay jars to make one of the world’s rarest and oldest cheeses is slowly disappearing, according to a report by BBC News.

Ambarees, an iconic product of the Bekaa Valley, is made of fermented raw goat milk in earthenware jars. The cheese develops into a creamy texture with an acidic flavor. Lebanese call it “Labnet el Jarra.”

According to BBC, some Baalbeck residents say it’s becoming harder to find the traditional clay pot needed for cheese production. The practice is also not being passed down to newer generations, the report adds.

How It’s Made

Making the delicacy begins with filling the clay jar with milk and covering it with a cloth. The milk is left until the water begins to separate and drain out.

Then, for several months, salt and milk are added to the recipe at least twice per week until it begins to dry. The cheese stays fresh for at least one year using this method.

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Ambarees is made from raw goat milk poured at room temperature into the jar. The key to its production involves its fermentation, and the cheese reaching the perfect acidity.

The delicacy is commonly enjoyed during winter months on hot pieces of Markouk or Saj breads. Ambarees is highly dense and can be preserved for up to one year, making it ideal for winter enjoyment.

Why It’s Disappearing

According to BBC, markets in Beirut say most vendors don’t have time to make the homemade cheese anymore.

“Ambarees is one of the oldest cheeses in the world; it’s maybe 2,000 years old,” says one vendor. “People like it, but making it is quite hard and no one has time anymore.”

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Some Lebanese fear the cheese could soon disappear if newer generations don’t learn the recipe and pass it on.

Families in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley — where it’s called ‘ambaress’ — and in the Shouf area — where it is called serdeleh — are hoping to keep the tradition alive.

WATCH: Lost Cheese of the Lebanese Mountain:

George and Amal Clooney welcome birth of twins

George and Amal Clooney have welcomed the birth of twins Ella and Alexander Clooney.

The pair was born Tuesday morning at a hospital in London, according to Clooney spokesperson Stan Rosenfield. Both are “happy, healthy and doing fine,” he said.

Clooney, 56, and British-Lebanese lawyer Amal Alamuddin, 39, married in 2014. Ella and Alexander are the first children for both.george-amal-clooney-twins-2

“I didn’t know that we’d have kids,” Clooney told reporters after announcing Amal’s pregnancy. “I was very happy that we were going to get married and then (children) seemed like the next step.”

The twins are British citizens by birth, but can apply for dual citizenship, according to immigration expert Atousa Saei. However, the children cannot legally become Lebanese citizens.

A nearly century-old Lebanese law restricts Lebanese women from passing citizenship to their spouse or children. According to Reuters, more than 77,000 Lebanese find themselves in a similar situation.

Photos of the babies have not yet been released. A publicist said no other details were immediately available as of Tuesday afternoon.

A publicist joked, “George is sedated and should recover in a few days.”

WATCH: George Clooney is a Father of Twins!

Lebanese leaders react to London Bridge terror attack

Lebanese political leaders submitted their reactions to the Lebanese National News Agency Sunday in response to the terror attack at the London Bridge.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack Saturday night that killed 7 people and injured at least 48 others. At least 21 people are in critical condition at the hospital, officials said.

London security officials said 12 people have been arrested in connection with the attack. Police are also executing raids in parts of London as of Sunday night.

READ: Statements from Lebanese political leaders:

President Michel Aoun

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“Targeting Britain repeatedly with brutal attacks indicates that it still stands in the face of dark and inhuman ideologies represented by terrorism, which is desperately trying to circulate them as an alternative culture to the dialogue of civilizations and religions. The Lebanese stand in solidarity with Britain in fending off all kinds of terrorism.”

Speaker Nabih Berri

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“We reaffirm our strong condemnation of the terrorist acts that targeted London Bridge and Boro Market, which resulted in the death and injury of a large number of innocent civilians.”

Prime Minister Saad Hariri

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“There are always attempts to link Islam to terrorism. Islam is innocent of these terrorist acts.”

MP Walid Jumblatt

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“I hope the foundations of Western democracy would remain firm and strong, since it reflects the values of freedom and human rights regardless of its positions vis-à-vis various issues. I deplore this terrorist act and extend my condolences and sympathy to the British Government, the British people and the victims’ families.

We will update statements as they become available.

‘Wonder Woman’ banned in Lebanon because of Israeli actress

The movie “Wonder Woman” is banned in Lebanon because the lead actress Gal Gadot is Israeli, Lebanese officials announced.

The Ministry of Economy and Trade made the decision Wednesday to institute the ban before “Wonder Woman” hit the silver screen this weekend.

A group called “Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel” has been working to urge the Lebanese government to block the film due to lead actress Gal Gadot’s ethnicity.

Gadot served two years in the Israeli Defense Forces, the national military service mandatory for Israeli citizens over 18. The group said Gadot “boasted about the army training for Hollywood.”

“We refuse to normalize relations with an enemy state,” said Rania Masri, a member of the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel-Lebanon. “We’re not talking about a political disagreement, were talking about resistance against occupation.”

One of Lebanon’s largest theater chains, Grand Cinemas, officially announced the ban on Twitter. “#WonderWoman has been banned in #Lebanon,” the tweet said.

The Ministry of Economy of Trade said in a statement the government has “taken all necessary action” to ban the film.

A counter-petition titled “Release Wonder Woman in Lebanon” has been published to challenge the ban. Organizers argue that previous films starring Gal Gadot, such as “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Furious 7,” have successfully screened in Lebanon.

“Gal Gadot may be an Israeli, but we want to watch a movie about the amazing character of Wonder Woman,” the petition said.

The petition also argued that “Wonder Woman” was made by production companies in the U.S. and China.

What do you think? Should Lebanon ban “Wonder Woman” from its theaters? Share your thoughts on the Lebanese Examiner Facebook page.

WATCH: ‘Wonder Woman’ Banned in Lebanon:

Brazil’s Lebanese president faces calls for impeachment

Brazil’s Lebanese president Michel Temer is facing calls for impeachment after allegations of corruption and cover-up were exposed by a Brazilian newspaper.

Temer is accused of offering hush-money to jailed associate in exchange of his silence in the country’s biggest-ever graft probe.

Brazilian “O Globo” newspaper said it obtained recordings which showed Temer discussing payments to silence the jailed former Speaker Eduardo Cunha.

Cunha was sentenced to a 15-year prison term in March for corruption, money laundering and tax evasion, as part of an investigation into corruption at Brazilian oil giant Petrobras.

Cunha led the impeachment process against former President Dilma Rousseff, who Temer replaced in August 2016.

According to the “O Globo” article, Temer is heard on audio tapes discussing hush-payments with Chairman Joesley Batista of meat giant JBS SA. Temer’s office acknowledged the meeting with the businessman, but denied any part in alleged efforts to offer a payment.

“That clandestine recording was manipulated and doctored with bad intentions,” Temer said at a news conference on Saturday. “I will not resign.”

Temer said he had filed a petition with Brazil’s supreme federal tribunal to suspend the corruption investigation until audio experts can analyze the recordings.

WATCH:

Face of Defense: Lebanese-American airman gives back

SOUTHWEST ASIA, April 24, 2017 — Air Force Staff Sgt. Fadi Chreim grew up in Lebanon, a small, picturesque country with nearly 200 miles of Mediterranean coastline to the west. Syria borders the country to the north and east, and Israel borders it to the south.

Lebanon has a rich history, with evidence of settlements there dated to before 5,000 B.C. Throughout its history, Lebanon has experienced many conflicts, resulting in a unique culture that borrows from the Persians, Greeks, Romans and others.

During the 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah, a militant group and political party based in Lebanon, captured two Israeli soldiers, resulting in Israel launching airstrikes on Lebanon. The intense fighting resulted in many deaths on both sides.

“It was the third war for me,” said Chreim, the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operations dispatch chief here. “I’ve seen a lot of bombs and a lot of strikes, so I’m used to it.”

However, it was the first war his wife, Sandra, had experienced. She was born a U.S. citizen to Lebanese parents and spent time in both countries growing up.

“She convinced me to go to the U.S. embassy and apply for an immigration visa to come to the U.S. and give it a chance,” he explained.

Unfortunately, the embassy was closed, so he met with a counselor who gave him an immigration visa. He still had another obstacle to face. The airport was closed. He’d have to find another way of getting to the U.S.

Evacuation

Foreign governments from several countries, including the U.S., worked to evacuate the country during the conflict. Sailors and Marines from the Navy’s Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group helped transport U.S. citizens and family members to Cyprus. Chreim and his wife were among those transported to the small island.

“I said goodbye to my family [there],” he said. “I gave my mom a hug and my sisters. And I said I didn’t know what would happen, but I’m just going to take off from here.”

Their trip to the U.S. took ten days as they went from Cyprus to the Czech Republic to New York and, finally, Florida, Chreim said. They arrived in their new country with the clothes on their backs, a credit card, a thousand dollars in cash and not much else. He knew he had to find a job quickly.

Chreim learned by trial and error how life worked in the U.S., including how to apply for college, rent a house and apply for jobs.

After nearly five months of searching for work, he eventually landed a job at a Walgreen’s pharmacy. He walked into the store and asked the manager for a job doing whatever was needed, whether it be stocking shelves or running the cash register. The manager, however, saw greater potential in Chreim after looking at his resume and decided to offer him a job as an assistant store manager.

He and his wife could now rent a house, lease a car and begin building a life in the U.S.

Growing Family, Responsibilities

A couple years later, Sandra gave birth to their first child, a daughter. It was at this moment that Chreim realized he had a greater purpose to his life, and he looked for better opportunities to provide for his family.

He decided that he would need to attend college; however, since his all of his earlier schooling was in Lebanon, he would first need to attend one year of English classes.

Around this time, Sandra gave birth to their second child, a son. She stayed at home to take care of the newborn while Chreim continued to work and go to school.

“My family counted on me to provide,” he said. “It took me a lot of stress, a lot of dedication, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of nights that I went without sleep in order for me to graduate college.”

Chreim began settling into his new life as an American, especially after becoming a naturalized citizen in 2009; however, he still sensed something was missing. He felt an intense need to give back to a country that had provided him the opportunity to go to college and build a career. It was at this point he decided to join the military.

At first, he wanted to join the National Guard, but his wife was worried about him returning as a soldier to the wars similar to those they left behind when they fled Lebanon. Still, Chreim had a deep desire to serve his country. He and his wife decided the Air Force Reserve would be the most beneficial choice for their family.

Aiming for Commissioning

He took time off work and school to attend Air Force basic training, and decided shortly after graduation that he wanted to become an officer. But to become an officer, he’d first have to finish college.

“I made graduation a must for me,” Chreim said. “I made it a plan. I said I was going to graduate in 2016. I’m not going to take more time. I’m going to do whatever it takes.”

He started taking more classes and pushed himself even harder. It paid off. He graduated in 2016 from Florida Atlantic University. That same year, he applied for the Deserving Airman Commissioning Program, which gives enlisted service members the opportunity to commission as officers.

“I fell shy about ten points on the [Air Force Officer Qualification Test] for the verbal section. Since English isn’t my first language, I struggle with the vocabulary. Everything else — the navigation, the math, the physics — I aced it.”

He is now deployed from Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, where he is responsible for the logistics of moving people around base.

On his desk sits a stack of vocabulary flashcards and an AFOQT preparation book. Chreim studies this material as much possible during the deployment and hopes to take the test again next month and reapply for the program.

“If it happens, it’s a dream come true,” Chreim said. “If it doesn’t happen, I gave all and I gave it my best shot.”

And giving it his best shot is what Chreim’s experience in the U.S. has been about from the start. He believes that everyone gets the same opportunity and that it comes down to what a person does with these opportunities that truly matters.

“You hold it and you run with it and it’s about how far you can go,” he said. “That’s what I like about the U.S. It made me want to give back. Part of me wanted to put on that uniform just to say. ‘Thank you.’”

By Air Force Senior Airman Andrew Park, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, US Department of Defense

Lebanese penal law allows rapists to walk free

A controversial law protecting rapists in Lebanon is expected to be reconsidered in parliament this week. Article 522 in Lebanese penal law allows men who rape women to avoid prosecution if they marry their victims.

The law can also suspend any conviction for a person who has committed rape, kidnapping, or statutory rape. The only stipulation is marrying the victim.

In December, members of the Parliamentary Committee for Administration and Justice announced an agreement to repeal the law, but a decision has not been formally made. The law must go before the full Lebanese parliament for review.

“The current law allows for a second assault on a rape survivor’s rights in the name of ‘honor’ by trapping her in a marriage with her rapist,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Protecting honor should be about ensuring that attackers are punished and promoting social attitudes that support survivors of sexual violence instead of stigmatizing them.”

The renewed push to repeal and reform this law is coming from Lebanese women’s rights groups, namely Abaad, a group that has invested thousands of dollars in advertising, public campaigns and billboards to end the law. They also created the hashtag #Undress522.

Ali Awada, advocacy manager for Abaad, told Public Radio International that the group’s public service campaigns are working.

“It worked at the policy level with different decision-makers,” says Awada. “After this series of lobbying meetings, we managed to get this draft law discussed inside the parliament with different political affiliates, and the final voting will be this week, with hopefully a ‘yes’ to abolish article 522.”

Awada points to tragic examples when similar laws have resulted in serious women’s rights violations.

In a widely publicized case, a Moroccan teen committed suicide in November 2013 after her family forced her to marry her rapist, according to Al Jazeera.

The suicide happened amid 2013 efforts to repeal Moroccan penal code Article 475, which also allows rapists who marry their victims to walk free.

 

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