News brief: Afghan women protest, FBI faces threats, Ukraine nuclear plant
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
A year ago today, gunmen on motorbikes rode into Kabul, and Taliban fighters seized power in Afghanistan.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The radical group completed a lightning takeover. They already held rural areas, and then the U.S.-backed government lost one city after another. U.S. and NATO forces had just withdrawn from the country. For Americans, the compelling drama one year ago was an evacuation. The U.S. military flew out more than 100,000 people. Since then, close to 40 million people who remained have tried to adjust to new rulers. So how is life for them?
FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid joins us now from the Afghan capital, Kabul, to discuss. Hi, Diaa.
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning.
FADEL: Good morning. So, Diaa, give us a sense of what today is like, the anniversary of the Taliban rule. What's their message today?
HADID: Well, yeah, they're celebrating this as the true independence day of Afghanistan, and this afternoon, the government will hold a celebration ceremony at a Kabul auditorium. And on the streets, there's loyalists on motorbikes and bicycles, and they've got fresh black-and-white Taliban flags. But mostly the mood is pretty muted. It seems there's concerns about ISIS attacks. In recent weeks, there's been suicide bombings and explosions targeting Taliban supporters. But still, supporters are celebrating.
Earlier we spoke to Shams Ur Rehman. He's a former fighter who wears the typical outfit of a Taliban loyalist - a black turban, long black shirt and pants. And we spoke to him near the graves of his cousins who were killed fighting for the Taliban. And our NPR producer here, Fazelminallah Qazizai, is translating for him.
SHAMS UR REHMAN: (Through interpreter) We are happy the invasion has ended. Independence is in our hands. The Islamic regime is established. We can walk and run around everywhere freely. This is the place of happiness.
HADID: A place of happiness. And even for people who don't support the Taliban, there's relief that decades of fighting has ended, particularly in rural areas which really bore the brunt of that fighting for years with bombings, night raids and searches.
FADEL: So you describe the celebrations of supporters, but I imagine not everyone is happy under new management, right? How are they viewing the day today?
HADID: Well, Leila, it's hard to tell because the Taliban government has largely suppressed the views of those critical to their rule. But on Saturday, we did attend a rare protest. It was about two dozen women marching down a Kabul street.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting in non-English language).
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting in non-English language).
HADID: They're chanting there - bread, work, freedom. And that's a reminder that the Taliban government have banned girls from secondary school, informally pushed most women out of work and have ordered them to cover up and stay home. Taliban security forces disperse them by firing volleys of bullets over their heads. And just a warning - you're going to hear the sound of gunfire here.
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HADID: Once we had all fled to safety, one young protestor said she wanted to remind the world that women like her did not consent to this government.
FADEL: OK, so we're talking about their detractors, their critics, their supporters today. But it's been a year since they've come into power. Can you give us a sense of what that year has been like for the country?
HADID: Leila, this has been a year of hunger. Sanctions that are meant to punish Taliban leaders have battered the economy. They've plunged Afghanistan into a humanitarian catastrophe. More than 90% of Afghans don't eat enough food. There's just not enough food aid to go around.
FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid in Kabul. Thank you so much for your reporting.
HADID: You're welcome, Leila.
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FADEL: Federal authorities are warning of further threats to law enforcement.
INSKEEP: This warning is no surprise after a week of armed protests and one actual attack. Republican officials and right-wing media have spent the last week denouncing the FBI. They are responding after federal agents executed a court-authorized search warrant at the residence of former President Donald Trump. Court documents now show the agents found numerous classified and top-secret documents there. Trump initially suggested, without evidence, that the documents were planted but has since changed his story to say that he was allowed to have them.
FADEL: NPR's justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us now. Hi, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.
FADEL: So let's start with these threats. How concerned are federal officials right now about possible violence targeting law enforcement?
LUCAS: They're very concerned. Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray both made statements about it last week. They defended the FBI and the Justice Department, the people who work there and the jobs that they do. But a source tells me on Friday, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security issued what's known as a joint intelligence bulletin, and that warned of a significant jump in threats to federal law enforcement since the Mar-a-Lago search. It told officials to be attuned to issues related to domestic violent extremists. And it also referenced the man who tried to storm the FBI field office in Cincinnati, Ohio, last week. That man fled after a standoff with police. He was later shot and killed.
We also saw over the weekend armed Trump supporters protest outside the FBI's field office in Phoenix, in Arizona. It wasn't a big demonstration. Nothing happened. But it is a reflection of how strongly Trump supporters feel about the Mar-a-Lago search. It shows their willingness to act. So these concerns on the part of officials are rooted in real-world action.
FADEL: Now, last week, as we heard Steve mention, a federal judge in Florida made the warrant and property receipt from the Mar-a-Lago search public. Just remind us what we learned from those documents.
LUCAS: We learned a lot, really. We now know the potential crimes the FBI is investigating here. There are three that are listed in the search warrant. One is for destruction of documents. This is related to obstruction. Unclear here what exactly Trump may have been attempting to obstruct. Another is for the unlawful removal or concealment or destruction of federal records. And then the third is for the mishandling of national defense information. This is part of the Espionage Act. All three of these are serious offenses. I have covered cases of people who've gone to prison for these things. That said, it is very important to remember that at this time Trump has not been charged with a crime.
FADEL: Right. We also found out what the FBI took in its search of Mar-a-Lago, including sets of highly classified information. What else do we know?
LUCAS: That's right. These items were listed in what's known as the property receipt. It's a list of what agents take in a court-authorized search like this. And yes, the FBI seized boxes of documents, some labeled secret, some top secret, and some were at an even higher classification level that's known as TS/SCI. That's a big deal. A person familiar with the investigation tells me that among the papers the FBI was looking for were classified U.S. nuclear documents. The Washington Post was the first to report that. The source did not say whether those items were among the records that were recovered at Mar-a-Lago. Agents also collected binders of photos, clemency papers for longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, as well as something that was cryptically listed as information about the president of France.
FADEL: And what are you watching for in the days to come?
LUCAS: Well, I'm looking to see whether the affidavit from the search will be made public. It would explain why investigators thought there was probable cause to believe that a crime had been committed and why evidence of that crime was at Mar-a-Lago. So that would give us more details of this investigation. Media organizations are trying to get this unsealed now, so keeping an eye to see how that legal battle plays out.
FADEL: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks so much.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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FADEL: Ongoing fighting around a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine is raising fears of a nuclear accident and, with it, the risk of radiation exposure far outside Ukraine.
INSKEEP: Yeah, think about this for a minute. Russian forces have occupied this plant since March, and in the last week, they have used the nuclear power plant as a place from which to stage attacks against Ukrainians.
FADEL: Joining us now to bring us up to speed is NPR's Joanna Kakissis, who's in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro. Hi, Joanna.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.
FADEL: So what's the latest on the fighting at the plant?
KAKISSIS: Well, we know that the attacks really picked up about a week ago as Ukrainian forces continue to counteroffensive, to take back the occupied region of Kherson in the south. Ukraine says Russia is responding by lobbing rockets and missiles from perhaps the most sensitive occupied territory, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. Experts say it's the first active nuclear power complex caught up in the crossfire of a war. And Ukraine says Russia has weaponized this plant by effectively using its territory as a military base. Russian forces at the plant are now repeatedly shelling nearby cities controlled by Ukraine.
FADEL: Now, you went to one of the towns that's getting hit, right? What are people saying there?
KAKISSIS: Yeah, this weekend I was in the city of Nikopol, which is across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. The plant is roughly, like, 12, 13 miles away. You can see its buildings from Nikopol. A city council official, Natalia Horbolis, she told me that Nikopol residents do not have a problem with having the plant as a neighbor and that, for years, for decades, they admired the Ukrainians who used to run it.
NATALIA HORBOLIS: (Through interpreter) The plant used to be run by professionals, people we knew. Now outsiders have taken it over, and we don't know what they are doing and what it will lead to.
KAKISSIS: What it has led to is Russian rockets hitting homes in Nikopol nearly every day. And people aren't just freaking out about that. They're worried that a stray rocket could hit a reactor at the plant, spark a fire and release radiation. I spoke to a grandmother named Tamara Korolkova (ph), and she says she has nightmares about this.
TAMARA KOROLKOVA: (Through interpreter) All of us are just scared all the time. I'm old. I have diabetes. If anything happens, I only have time to lie on the floor and close my eyes.
FADEL: Oh, that's gut wrenching to hear her talk about that fear. And of course, the fears of a nuclear disaster don't stop in Ukraine. The international community is worried about this as well, right?
KAKISSIS: Yeah. So Nikopol residents are dealing with those fears either by leaving the city or by stocking up on potassium iodide pills to protect themselves from radiation. They still remember the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and so does the rest of the world. The rest of the world remembers that catastrophe, and they do not want it repeated. At least 40 countries have called on Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from the plant, and the U.S. and the European Union want to create a demilitarized zone there.
FADEL: As NPR's Joanna Kakissis. Thanks so much for your reporting.
KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.