U.S.-Turkey Announce Reciprocal Resumption of Visa Services, Then Turkey Throws U.S. Accusation

Posted: 1:39 am ET
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U.S. Mission Turkey Suspends All Non-Immigrant Visa Services Over Latest Arrest of Local Employee

Posted: 2:01 am ET
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On October 8, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara announced the suspension of all temporary visa services for the embassy and consulates in Turkey. The statement says that “recent events have forced the United States Government to reassess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of U.S. Mission facilities and personnel.” This development follows the arrest of U.S. Consulate General’s Metin Topuz, a locally hired employee in Istanbul this past week (see Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”). There was also the prior arrest of the U.S. Consulate Adana local employee Hamza Uluçay, arrested in March on charges of “being a member of a terror organization” and who remains in jail to this day.

Hamza Uluçay has worked for the U.S. Consulate in Adana for 36 years, and according to Hurriyet Daily News was arrested as he left the consulate building for “allegedly attempting to direct the public to provocative activities in the southeastern province of Mardin.” Back in March, Hamsa Bey was reportedly referred to a local court in Mardin’s Kızıltepe district but he was later released on probation. The prosecutor objected to the release and he was detained for the second time on charges of “being a member of a terror organization.”  According to Hurriyet, the searches at Hamsa Bey’s residence includes seizure of $21 U.S. dollars with B, C, D, F, G, K and L series on them.

An AP report in April 2016 previously notes that Turkish  authorities are citing U.S. banknotes, specifically $1 bills as evidence that people are followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating the coup. Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag reportedly told the A Haber television channel, “There is no doubt that this $1 bill has some important function within the Gulenist terror organization.” The AP report citing the Aksam daily, says that one theory is that F designates a high-ranking soldier or police chief; J and C represent low-ranking soldiers; E and S are for instructors and academics in Gulenist schools and B is for students.

In July,  Henri J. Barket wrote about Hamsa Bey in The Atlantic’s Erdogan’s Anti-Westernism Picks Up Speed:

One particularly absurd case is that of Hamza Uluçay, a 37-year employee of the U.S. consulate in Adana, who was picked up on “terrorism” charges. He is a foreign service national, a local hire who helps U.S. diplomats arrange meetings and navigate the local political and social scene. I have known Hamza for 25 years—I first met him in the 1990s in Adana during a research trip. When I saw him last in March 2016, I joked with him that he ought to never retire because Consulate Adana, notwithstanding his American colleagues, could not function without him. These audacious charges amount to nothing less than sticking a thumb in America’s eye.

Local employees including those in small posts like Adana provide not only bridges with local host country nationals and officials, they also provide continuity for posts so our diplomats are able to do their jobs. The U.S. Consulate in Adana covers a consular district that encompasses 22 provinces, including Turkey’s borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran. Its district includes the major cities of Mersin, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, and Van that have large Kurdish population. One diplomat told us that “Hamza Bey in Adana is one of our finest.” Local employees do not freelance, or go rogue; the calls and contacts they make in their own countries are connected to their jobs, and are done on behalf of their American supervisors, and consequently, on behalf of the United States. Unlike American diplomats who have diplomatic and consular immunity (PDF), local employees do not have such privileges and immunities.

The second, and latest local employee arrested by Turkish authorities is Metin Topuz “on charges of espionage and links to FETÖ, the group blamed for the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that killed 249 people in Turkey.” According to the Daily Sabah, a Turkish pro-government daily, the indictment for Metin Bey includes “contact with a number of police chiefs in Istanbul where he worked” and all those police chiefs involved in the 2013 coup attempts were FETÖ members in the judiciary and law enforcement.” The indictment reportedly also charged that he is a liaison between members of FETÖ and its leader, Fetullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania.”

The Daily Sabah previously reported this arrest as “US consulate linked to another alleged FETÖ conspiracy.” The newspaper citing a report by the Akşam newspaper says that “M.T. assisted FETÖ-linked police chiefs in handing over documents regarding the 2013 police operations to Preet Bharara, a former New York attorney who conducted an investigation into Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish national who is being held in the U.S. three years after being included in a 2013 probe involving people close to the government in Turkey.”

We understand that Metin Bey works for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Istanbul. Contacts with members of the local judiciary or law enforcement would certainly be part of his job, a fact lost on the Government of Turkey.  Turkey watchers notice that government-affiliated press is ramping things up. U.S. Mission Turkey’s October 5 made reference to leaks, and an attempt to try Metin Bey in the media rather than in the court of law.

It is probably not an accident that the local employees arrested are long-term employees of the U.S. Mission in Turkey. The question is if this is now open season for all Turkish nationals working for the United States in Turkey. If the Turkish Government can go after employees at the U.S. consulates, how long before they’re going to go after the Turkish nationals working for the U.S. Military in Turkey?

According to turkeypurge.com which monitors President Erdogan’s purges since July 15, 2016, our NATO-ally Turkey has now arrested over 60,000 individuals, detained over 127,000 people, arrested over 300 journalists, shut down 187 media outlets, and sacked over 146,000 state officials, teachers, bureaucrats, and academics who were dismissed by government decrees.

And now this — Turkey’s MFA copy/pasted the official USG statement, and has now issued a reciprocal suspension of visa services at all Turkish diplomatic facilities in the United States. It addition to its embassy, Turkey has seven consulates in the U.S.: Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco.

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Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”

Posted: 5:10 am ET
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U.S. Embassy’s Nurse Nightmare Not Subjected to Discrimination, EEOC Affirms

Posted: 1:24 am ET
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Via eeoc.gov:

This EEOC case involves an embassy nurse who filed an equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) in 2013. Two things are striking about this case: 1) there was an incident that according to the EEOC decision involved the Complainant’s actions during a visit to a local hospital. According to the record, Complainant was so rude that “a letter [was] signed by all Azerbaijani doctors, nurses, and administrative staff that had been present” documenting his behavior and it was sent to the Embassy in Baku; and 2) an incident where the Complainant had been engaged in a political debate with members of the Embassy motor pool staff. He became angry and “stormed out” of the area then, within five minutes, Complainant called their supervisor “demanding” that the four drivers see him to be medically evaluated for their fitness for work. On March 2017, the EEOC affirmed the State Department’s  decision that Complainant did not demonstrate that he was subjected to discrimination, reprisal and/or harassment.

BACKGROUND

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a Locally Employed Staff (LES), Registered Nurse at the U.S. Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan. On October 1, 2013, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against him on the bases of national origin (Azerbaijani), sex (male), religion (Muslim), and reprisal for prior protected EEO activity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when:

(1) On May 24, 2013, he was issued a Letter of Reprimand;

(2) His EPR reporting period was extended beyond the one-year calendar cycle, contrary to normal practice;

(3) On September 10, 2013, his position was terminated; and

(4) He was subjected to a hostile work environment characterized by, but not limited
to isolation from co-workers, threats, and demeaning and inappropriate comments.

After the investigation, the Agency provided Complainant with a copy of the report of investigation and notice of his right to request a hearing before an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Administrative Judge. When Complainant did not request a hearing within the time frame provided, the Agency issued a final decision pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.110(b). The Agency found that, assuming Complainant established a prima facie case of discrimination and reprisal with respect to all his bases, management articulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions.

Regarding issue 1, Complainant was issued a Letter of Reprimand because in early May 2013 management was notified by their contacts at the Anti-Plague Section (APS) of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Health that Complainant had called them, yelled at their employee who had answered the call and when the employee refused to identify himself, Complainant called the Ministry of Health wherein he stated his name and indicated that he was calling from the American Embassy. He then proceeded to complain about the APS. Management indicated that this event damaged their relationship with the Ministry of Health. The Human Resources Officer indicated that she had to apologize and promise that Complainant would be re-trained on telephone etiquette.

Regarding issue number 2, the Agency explained that Complainant’s reporting period was extended beyond the one-year cycle because he had been placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) in November 2012, to address several issues, e.g., exceeding the legal scope of his nursing license. Shortly after he was placed on the PIP, Complainant took an extended period of leave beginning on November 29, 2012 and ending January 7, 2013. Because Complainant had been off work for more than eight weeks of the 120-day PIP period, the decision was made to extend the PIP for an additional 60 days. The Human Resources Officer advised that the 60-day extension period began on March 23, 2013 and concluded on May 24, 2013.

With respect to issue 3, Complainant’s September 10, 2013, termination. Complainant argued that his termination was due to complaints he made about unfair treatment and a hostile work environment. Management explained that Complainant’s termination was due to three instances of misconduct. The first incident involved the telephone call that was described in issue 1. The second incident involved Complainant’s actions during a visit to a local hospital. According to the record, Complainant was so rude that “a letter [was] signed by all Azerbaijani doctors, nurses, and administrative staff that had been present” documenting his behavior and it was sent to the Embassy in Baku. The third incident occurred when Complainant had been engaged in a political debate with members of the Embassy motor pool staff. He became angry and “stormed out” of the area then, within five minutes, Complainant called their supervisor “demanding” that the four drivers see him to be medically evaluated for their fitness for work. Complainant’s supervisor determined that he was “us[ing] [his] position to bully other colleagues when [he was] angry.” Complainant’s supervisor maintained that Complainant was terminated because, among other reasons, she needed to protect the other employees from his abusive and erratic behavior. The supervisor felt that to allow Complainant to continue working as a caregiver when people were afraid of him was not prudent or reasonable, and that his actions reflected badly on the U.S. Government.

Finally, with regard to issue 4, Complainant alleged that he was subjected to a hostile work environment, when: he complained that he found Halloween decorations offensive; an employee from another organization “made a few remarks about his beard,” including that it made him look “like one of [the]bad guys;” written “Workplace Conduct Expectations,” were issued because of him; his supervisor claimed that in the Azerbaijani culture, girls get married at around 13 years of age and Complainant found this to be a stereotype that he found offensive; and he had a conversation with a coworker where he believed the coworker was insinuating that people living in Azerbaijan were not able to seek their rights.

Complainant maintained that he went to outside officials because he could not resolve his problems with management since they were harassing him. He maintained that the alleged harassment affected him because it made him “emotionally less stable, depressed and easier irritated.” He also alleged that he experienced medical problems and started taking medication due to the alleged harassment.

Management maintained, among other things, that Complainant believed that policies were being applied to him and were personal attacks against him. Management indicated, however, that Complainant was not subjected to harassment. Management explained that after Complainant indicated that he was uncomfortable with the Halloween decorations they were taken down. Further, the comments made about his beard were made from an employee from another agency and there was no evidence that the comment was made in a hostile manner. Management indicated that the “Workplace Conduct Expectations” did not just apply to Complainant. Regarding Complainant’s claim that his supervisor commented that Azerbaijani girls as young as 13 years were married, she indicated that she had been invited to give a talk to young women in the villages about nutrition and health. In doing research in advance of her speech, she had asked Complainant what types of situations young girls faced (e.g., HIV, family planning, sexually transmitted diseases), at which time Complainant told her that girls as young as 13 years old were often married. She emphasized Complainant never told her he believed he was being subjected to a hostile work environment.

Management indicated that Complainant was not subjected to harassment, as the issues claimed were not severe or pervasive enough to establish a hostile work environment.

The decision concluded that Complainant failed to prove that the Agency subjected him to discrimination, reprisal, and/or harassment as alleged.
[…]
ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS

Based on a thorough review of the record and the contentions on appeal, including those not specifically addressed herein, we find that even if we assume arguendo that Complainant established a prima facie case of religion, sex, and national origin, discrimination and reprisal, the Agency articulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions, as listed above. We find that Complainant has provided no evidence which suggests that the Agency’s reasons were pretext for discrimination or that discriminatory animus was involved in this matter. The record clearly showed that Complainant had a history of inappropriate and inflammatory behavior in the workplace. The Commission has long held that the Agency has broad discretion regarding its hiring and firing practices unless discrimination is shown. Accordingly, we find that discrimination has not been shown in this case. We also find that Complainant did not establish that he had been subjected to unlawful harassment in this case because the purported conduct, assuming it occurred as alleged, was neither severe or pervasive enough to establish a hostile work environment.

CONCLUSION

Accordingly, the Agency’s FAD which found that Complainant did not demonstrate that he was subjected to discrimination, reprisal and/or harassment is AFFIRMED.

The full decision is available to read here.

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Court on FSGB tenure denial case: “ignores significant parts of record and fails to connect rationally”

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Posted: 1:50 am ET
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The 2016 Annual report of the Foreign Service Grievance Board only mentions the Aragon v. Tillerson case in passing as follows:

Daniel P. Aragon, a former Foreign Service career candidate at the Department of State, filed an appeal on January 29, 2016, with the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the Board’s denial of his appeal in FSGB Case No. 2014-034. Mr. Aragon had contested two EERs and the withholding of tenure and involuntary separation that flowed from those EERs.

This case was filed in 2016. Per Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, the Court substituted as defendant the current Secretary of State,Rex Tillerson, for former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has harsh words for the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) on this specific case:

The plaintiff, the Foreign Service, and American taxpayers have invested heavily in the plaintiff’s career as a Foreign Service officer, and the FSGB does a disservice when it renders a decision that ignores significant parts of record and fails to connect rationally the underlying facts to its ultimate conclusion. This is what the FSGB did in finding that the May and November 2013 EERs were not falsely prejudicial. For these reasons, the FSGB’s decision is vacated with respect to its conclusion that these EERs were not falsely prejudicial, and this action is remanded to the FSGB for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion.21

Quick summary of the case:

The plaintiff, Daniel Aragon, served as an entry-level Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State for five years, until he was denied tenure and involuntarily separated in 2014. The reason for the tenure denial arose during the plaintiff’s second overseas assignment, when the plaintiff was responsible for supervising an employee, whose undisputed pattern of insubordination, tardiness, abuse of leave policies and performance issues would, in many work environments, warrant termination of employment. Instead, the plaintiff’s management efforts, which were ultimately successful, to bring this employee into compliance with basic workplace rules, has led to the plaintiff’s own termination from a job he “love[s].” AR at 354.1

The plaintiff filed the instant action against the Secretary of State, in the Secretary’s official capacity, after the State Department denied his grievance contesting the performance evaluations on which the tenure denial was predicated, and the Foreign Service Grievance Board (“FSGB”) upheld the State Department’s decision.2 Alleging that the FSGB’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), the plaintiff seeks, inter alia, an order directing the State Department to remove from his personnel file the two performance evaluations on which the denial of tenure was predicated, Compl., Relief ¶ 3, ECF No. 1; an order rescinding the tenure decisions predicated on those evaluations, id.; an order directing the State Department to reinstate the plaintiff retroactively, with back pay and benefits, id. ¶ 4; and an order directing the State Department to place the plaintiff in the same promotional class he would be in had he received tenure in the winter of 2013, id. ¶ 5. Pending before the Court are the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, see generally Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.’s MSJ”), ECF No. 12, and the Secretary’s cross-motion for summary judgment, see generally Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J. (“Defs.’ MSJ”), ECF No. 14. For the reasons set out below, the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, without prejudice, the Secretary’s cross-motion for summary judgment is denied without prejudice, and this action is remanded to the FSGB for further proceedings.

What the what? Excerpt from court’s opinion:

[T]he record shows that the CPS [cultural program specialist FSN] had an “apparent pattern” of abusing sick leave and would disappear from work for extended periods of time. Id. at 42; see also id. at 335 (describing the manner in which the CPS “took sick leave immediately before or after a block of annual leave[, which] suggest[ed] that she was abusing sick leave in order to augment her annual leave”). This apparently lax office culture was extant before the plaintiff’s arrival, leaving him with the task of changing that culture to ensure that employees, such as the CPS, on the U.S. Government payroll complied with the most basic work performance rules of coming to work on time and providing notice of absences.”

Lip service to evidence

The FSGB paid this evidence lip service in the section of its decision summarizing the plaintiff’s claims, see id. at 405, but the Board did not refer to it, let alone grapple with it, in deciding that the AFI concerning the counseling session was not falsely prejudicial for completely omitting any reference to the events giving rise to the counseling session or the context, in which even before the plaintiff’s arrival, the Dubai office had such deficient management that the CPS was able to develop and engage in a pattern of poor work behavior.

Fails to connect rationally …

That prior agency management in Dubai allowed such poor work habits to persist likely made the plaintiff’s effort to enforce the most basic workplace rules more difficult and makes it all the more impressive that the plaintiff was, apparently, ultimately successful in reining in the CPS’s behavior. See, e.g., AR at 42 (noting that after the plaintiff spoke with the CPS about her “apparent pattern of abusing sick leave, . . . there were no further incidents of suspected leave abuse during the rating period”). As the FSGB itself has noted, a supervisor will “almost inevitabl[y]” have “a difficult relationship” with an employee when the supervisor “is trying to effect changes” in the employee’s behavior. FSGB Op. 2006-052 at 13.

Read in full below:

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Burn Bag: Consular Locally Employed Staff on LinkedIn? #VisaTroubles

Via Burn Bag:

“So, the Consular Section’s locally engaged employees are publicly identifying themselves as such on LinkedIn? Not a good idea.”

via imoviequotes.com

via imoviequotes.com

LES – Locally Employed Staff

FSNs – Foreign Service National employees

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USG Invokes Sovereign Immunity in Ex-Local Embassy Guard Case in Ireland

Posted: 12:30 am ET
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Via The Irish Times:

A former US embassy security guard has been told he cannot take an employment appeals case over his dismissal as his former employer, the US government, has diplomatic immunity in Ireland.

John Greene had argued that he was unfairly dismissed from the security guard role in September 2013 following an investigation into what his superiors termed a “security breach” at the embassy in Ballsbridge, Dublin.
[…]
In hearings that touched on several Supreme Court rulings, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights, counsel for the US government successfully argued that sovereign immunity applies due to the important nature of Mr Greene’s duties.

Related posts:

 

 

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Snapshot: State Department Workforce Composition By Employment Category – 2016

Posted: 12:13 am ET
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Via state.gov:

The State Department says that it employs a workforce of over 80,000 employees. The figure below shows the composition of the 2016 workforce by employment category. Total number of agency employees excluding contractors: 74,721 (FS: 13,948 includes Generalist – 8,196; Specialist – 5,752; Civil Service at 11,037) and Locally Employed Staff at 49,736 (includes Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs)and Personal Services Agreements/Contracts). We have not been able to locate a good number for contractors.

In April 2016, there were 11,861 adult family members overseas, of which 29% or 3,436 FS family members were employed by the USG at missions overseas.

via state.gov

via state.gov

 

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Mr. Smith Writes to Washington, Goes to Bat For Local Staff in the Persian Gulf’s Unfair Labor Markets

Posted: 2:43 am ET
Updated: 10:17 am PT
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Via AFSA:

William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent by a Mid-Career Officer – Jefferson Smith, U.S. Embassy Kuwait

Jefferson Smith receives this year’s William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent by a Mid-Career Officer for his commitment to combatting unfair labor practices and his push for compensation reform for locally employed (LE) staff at posts in the Persian Gulf.

While posted to Kuwait, Management Counselor Smith observed that the nine embassies and consulates in the Persian Gulf region are staffed almost exclusively by third-country nationals (TCNs) who did not enjoy the rights of citizens and earned wages and benefits so low that they could not support their families. U.S. Embassy Kuwait employs more than 200 TCN men and women from 27 different nationalities—and employs no Kuwaitis because the U.S. government does not pay enough to attract them.

Mr. Smith gathered data, framed his arguments and then brought his views to a regional management officers’ conference, where he found allies and organized a regionwide approach. He then wrote a detailed, thoughtful cable to Washington, signed by the six regional ambassadors, proposing that the department should define a new standard for compensating its LE staff at posts employing a majority of TCNs in unfair labor markets.

In short, Mr. Smith challenged the department to lead—not just follow—local practice in these markets. All of his preparation and action had an effect: The under secretary for management approved a Public Interest Determination (a policy exception) to create housing and education allowances for LE staff, and moved U.S. Embassy Kuwait to the top of the list for the next tranche of wage increases. The result was an average 22-percent salary increase in addition to the new allowances.

Mr. Smith’s success in winning a more just compensation package for the LE staff of U.S. Embassy Kuwait was an important milestone that will serve as a model as he and others continue to fight for a more equitable way to compensate employees under these conditions.

Mr. Smith has served in Kuwait since 2014. As a management-coned Foreign Service officer, Mr. Smith has had opportunities to serve in consular, economic, political and management functions in four regional bureaus and six overseas assignments, including Kingston, Dar es Salaam (twice), Yaoundé, Dublin and Kuwait.

The annual award is named after Ambassador William R. Rivkin (1919–1967) who served as ambassador to Luxembourg, Senegal, and Gambia in the 1960s.  He is the father of Charles Rivkin, the current U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, and the former U.S. Ambassador to France (2009-2013). Read A/S Rivkin’s Honoring Constructive Dissent: The William R. Rivkin Award on DipNote.

We should note that this is one of AFSA’s three dissent awards and is separate from the State Department “Dissent Channel.” The FAM precludes the use of the official Channel to address “non-policy issues (e.g., management or personnel issues that are not significantly related to substantive matters of policy).”

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Xulhaz Mannan, LGBT Editor and Local Employee at US Mission Dhaka Brutally Murdered in Bangladesh

Posted: 5:07 pm ET
Updated: 6:20 pm ET
Updated: 6:37 pm ET
Updated: 10:04 pm ET
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According to media reports, Xulhaz Mannanan employee of the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka (USAID) and the editor of Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s first ever LGBT magazine launched in 2014 was killed in his apartment along with another LGBT activist, Tanay Fahim, in a latest of the brutal machete attacks targeting academics and writers. Local news says that the assailants posed as courier service staff.

Xulhaz’s colleagues regarded him with special affection. He first joined the U.S. Embassy as a Protocol Specialist, serving for eight years in that capacity before joining USAID last September. In his role as a Project Management Assistant in the Democracy and Governance office, he worked tirelessly to support organizations focused on broadening and deepening political understanding throughout Bangladesh. Unsurprisingly, he also devoted extra time to building a more open and welcoming workplace, serving as a founding member of the U.S. Embassy Diversity Committee.

The US Embassy in Dhaka released the following statement via FB from Ambassador Bernicat:

I am devastated by the brutal murder of Xulhaz Mannan and another young Bangladeshi this evening in Dhaka. Xulhaz was more than a colleague to those of us fortunate to work with him at the U.S. Embassy. He was a dear friend. Our prayers are with Xulhaz, the other victim, and those injured in the attack. We abhor this senseless act of violence and urge the Government of Bangladesh in the strongest terms to apprehend the criminals behind these murders.

 

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