Hong Kong’s Apple Daily vows to fight on after owner arrested

By Yoyo Chow

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s Apple Daily tabloid responded with defiance on Tuesday to the arrest of owner Jimmy Lai under a new national security law imposed by Beijing, promising to fight on in a front-page headline over an image of Lai in handcuffs.

Readers queued from the early hours to get copies of the pro-democracy tabloid a day after police raided its offices and took Lai into detention, the highest-profile arrest under the national law.

“Apple Daily must fight on,” the front-page headline read, amid fears the new law is eroding media freedoms guaranteed when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

“The prayers and encouragement of many readers and writers make us believe that as long as there are readers, there will be writers, and that Apple Daily shall certainly fight on.”

More than 500,000 copies were printed, compared with the usual 100,000, the paper said on its website.

Mainland-born Lai, who was smuggled into Hong Kong on a fishing boat when he was a penniless 12-year-old, is one of the most prominent democracy activists in the city and an ardent critic of Communist Party rule in Beijing.

His arrest comes amid a crackdown on the pro-democracy opposition in Hong Kong that has drawn international criticism and raised fears for freedoms promised by Beijing under a “one country, two systems” formula.

The sweeping security law imposed on June 30 punishes anything China considers secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

The city’s Beijing-backed government and Chinese authorities say the law is necessary to restore order after months of at times violent anti-government protests last year, sparked by fears China was slowly eroding those freedoms.

Hong Kong has since become another source of contention between the United States and China, whose relations were already at their most strained in years over issues including trade, the coronavirus, China’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority and its claims in the South China Sea.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday called Lai a “patriot”, saying Beijing had “eviscerated” Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Britain said Lai’s arrest was further evidence the security law was a “pretext to silence opposition”, to which China’s embassy replied by urging London to stop “using freedom of the press as an excuse to discredit” the law.

‘DANCING WITH THE ENEMY’

Police detained Lai for suspected collusion with foreign forces after about 200 officers searched the newspaper’s offices, collecting 25 boxes of evidence.

Handcuffed and apparently wearing the same clothes after spending the night in jail, he was driven by police on Tuesday to his yacht which police searched, according to media footage.

Beijing has labelled Lai a “traitor” in the past and issued a statement supporting his arrest.

The Beijing-backed China Daily newspaper said in an editorial Lai’s arrest showed “the cost of dancing with the enemy.” The paper added that “justice delayed didn’t mean the absence of justice”.

Police arrested 10 people in all on Monday, including other Apple Daily executives and 23-year-old Agnes Chow, one of the former leaders of young activist Joshua Wong’s Demosisto pro-democracy group, which disbanded before the new law came into force.

Chow was released on bail late on Tuesday, calling the arrest of herself and other activists “political persecution.”

“It’s very obvious that the regime is using the national security law to suppress political dissidents,” she said.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has managed to sustain broad support across the community.

Shares in Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily, surged for a second day, gaining more than 2,078% from Friday’s close, after online pro-democracy forums called on investors to show support.

Its market value rose as high as HK$5.17 billion ($666.7 million) from some HK$200 million.

In the working-class neighborhood of Mong Kok, dozens of people queued from as early as 2:00 a.m. (1800 GMT) to buy Lai’s paper.

“What the police did yesterday interfered with press freedom brutally,” said 45-year-old Kim Yau as she bought a copy.

“All Hong Kong people with a conscience have to support Hong Kong today, support Apple Daily.”

In another show of support, long queues formed at lunch time at the Cafe Seasons restaurant owned by Lai’s son, Ian, who was also arrested on Monday.

The United States last week imposed sanctions on several top officials over what it said was their role in curtailing political freedoms in Hong Kong. China responded with sanctions on top U.S. legislators and others.

($1 = 7.7501 Hong Kong dollars)

(Additional reporting by Jessie Pang, Carol Mang, Donny Kwok and Clare Jim; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Hong Kong police raid on newspaper filmed in real time as China flexes muscles

By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Six weeks after China imposed sweeping national security laws on Hong Kong, police moved in on media tycoon Jimmy Lai, one of the most outspoken critics of Beijing in the city.

Lai, 71, was whisked away from his home early on Monday morning by national security police, part of a citywide operation that also saw eight other men arrested, including several of his senior executives.

Then, just before 10 a.m., hundreds of police descended on Lai’s corporate Next Digital headquarters, where his flagship Apple Daily is produced and published.

Staffers said they asked police what legal grounds they had for entering. But these questions were largely ignored as more than 200 police streamed in, according to a live feed of the unfolding drama.

Apple Daily’s Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, who was helping film and comment on the Facebook live feed, could be seen rushing about the building as he tried to report on events breaking in his own newsroom.

“This is, I believe, the first time in Hong Kong that police have initiated a mass search on a media outlet like this,” he said, panting, as he scaled a back staircase with a colleague to get around the mass of police officers.

As news of the raid spread, more than 10,000 people tuned in, watching as Law defied police warnings to stop filming.

The newsroom was lightly staffed at the time.

But the few employees there, some clad in shorts and sneakers, were told to produce identity documents and register with the police. Some demanded to first see a search warrant.

Some desks were festooned with poster art in support of pro-democracy protests last year, and the Umbrella movement of 2014. One read: “Who’s afraid of the truth!”

More police began arriving, and fanned across the newsroom, following by Law as they meandered through the unmanned cubicles in scattershot fashion, lifting a paper here, plucking a folder from a cabinet there.

“What is the scope of your search area?” one voice was heard shouting off camera. A male officer replied that such inquiries should be put to his supervisors.

Several executive offices, including Lai’s, were sealed off with a red cordon and guarded by police.

PREPARED FOR RAID

Two months before, in an interview with Reuters in one of those sealed rooms, Lai said he was bracing for just such a day: shifting assets abroad and making preparations with lawyers.

“Everything will be piled on us,” he had said.

At around 11 a.m., police led the crew-cut Lai into his office in handcuffs. When he went to the toilet, an entourage of around 20 officers followed. Several other senior executives were also shown being taken into the building.

The police said in a statement that they had a court-issued warrant for their search, and that the nine men had all been arrested for suspected national security law violations, including collusion with foreign powers.

The police did not reveal the names or any specific charges for any of those arrested.

The raid, though expected, rattled some staffers.

Months before the law took effect, the newspaper had shredded documents, uploaded digitized files to overseas servers and safeguarded sources, two senior reporters told Reuters, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the situation.

“I had prepared myself mentally for this,” one said. “But emotionally I feel a little conflicted. It’s happened so quickly. The government is finally taking this drastic step to destroy the city’s media freedoms.”

Police carted 25 boxes of evidence from the building and blocked reporters from other outlets from entering.

Senior police on the scene tried at one point to prevent Apple Daily reporters working at their desks, but relented upon fierce objections from staff present.

Law, Apple Daily’s chief editor, said the paper would continue to be published no matter what.

“Business as usual,” he said in a text message to Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Greg Torode and Jessie Pang; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in George Floyd case

By Carlos Barria

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – The white Minneapolis policeman who pinned an unarmed black man with a knee to the throat before the man died was arrested and charged with murder, a prosecutor said on Friday, after three nights of violent protests rocked the Midwestern city.

Derek Chauvin, the officer seen on a bystander’s cellphone video kneeling on George Floyd’s neck on Monday before the 46-year-old man died, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told a news briefing.

“He is in custody and has been charged with murder,” Freeman said of Chauvin. “We have evidence, we have the citizen’s camera’s video, the horrible, horrific, terrible thing we have all seen over and over again, we have the officer’s body-worn camera, we have statements from some witnesses.”

The cellphone footage showed Floyd repeatedly moaning and gasping while he pleaded to Chauvin, kneeling on his neck, “Please, I can’t breathe.” After several minutes, Floyd gradually grows quiet and ceases to move.

Chauvin and three fellow officers at the scene were fired on Tuesday from the Minneapolis Police Department. The city identified the other officers as Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng.

Freeman said the investigation into Chauvin – who, if convicted, faces up to 25 years in prison on the murder charge – was ongoing and that he anticipated charges against the other officers. He said it was appropriate to charge “the most dangerous perpetrator” first.

Earlier on Friday, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz called for an end to the violent protests, which have included arson, looting and the burning down of a police precinct, while promising a reckoning with the racial inequities behind the unrest.

“None of us can live in a society where roving bands go unchecked and do what they want to, ruin property,” Walz said. “We have to get back to that point of what caused this all to happen and start working on that.”

The protests, which threatened to stretch into a fourth night, have been driven in part by a lack of arrests in the case.

Responding to a reporter’s question about why the officers were not arrested sooner, Freeman stressed that charges in similar cases would typically take nine months to a year.

“This is by far the fastest we’ve ever charged a police officer,” said Freeman. “We entrust our police officers to use a certain amount of force to do their job, to protect us. They commit a criminal act if they use that force unreasonably.”

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Paul Simao and Jonathan Oatis)

Germany tightens carnival security after driver with ‘dead’ expression injures 60

By Joseph Nasr

VOLKMARSEN, Germany (Reuters) – Germany increased security at some carnival processions on Tuesday after a local man plowed his car into a parade in the western German town of Volkmarsen, injuring around 60 people, including at least 18 children.

The incident on Monday shook Germans still struggling to take in last week’s racist gun attack on two bars in the town of Hanau which left 11 people dead.

The driver was detained at the carnival on suspicion of attempted homicide and was being treated for his own injuries.

An emergency responder said bystanders had punched the man while he tried to choke her as she leaned into the car to remove the key.

“He didn’t say a word. He looked at you empty and dead and seemed so satisfied,” Lea-Sophie Schloemer told Welt television. “It was really unnerving how satisfied he seemed.”

The prosecutors’ spokesman said the driver had not yet been in a fit state to be questioned, but was not drunk at the time of the incident. Initial tests for alcohol were negative but that was not a final assessment and there were as yet no results from the drug test.

The motive was still unclear. “We are investigating all possibilities,” he said.

He said earlier there was no sign the investigation would be handed to national prosecutors, suggesting they did not see a political motive.

While some carnival processions in the state of Hesse, home to Volkmarsen, were canceled, others were due to take place in the region on Tuesday. A police spokesman said security would be intensified.

Rose Monday is the height of the carnival season in Catholic areas of Germany, especially in the Rhineland where tens of thousands of people dress up, drink alcohol and line the streets to watch decorated floats that often mock public figures.

Prosecutors said there was no concrete reason to think the risk of attacks at parades had increased, but they urged organizers to review their security arrangements and adjust them if necessary.

Security at public events in Germany has been tightened since a Tunisian man with Islamist militant ties plowed a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin in 2016, killing 12 people. He was later shot dead by Italian police after fleeing.

LIFE-THREATENING INJURIES

A police spokesman said he could not rule out that some of the injured in Volkmarsen were in a life-threatening condition.

Police had detained the driver, a 29-year-old German from the town who had been driving a silver Mercedes car, and he would appear before an investigating magistrate as soon as his condition allowed, state prosecutors said.

“There are so far no indications of politically-motivated criminality,” Bild newspaper cited an investigator as saying.

“But we think that the perpetrator acted with intent, and that psychological problems may have played a role,” the investigator added.

Prosecutors confirmed that a second man had been detained at the scene on Monday and was accused of filming the incident. The spokesman said prosecutors were investigating whether the man had links to the driver, including checking phone records.

The street where the incident happened in the center of the small town was still cordoned off by police on Tuesday and several stores in the area were closed. Residents were in shock.

“It’s terrible. I don’t know how somebody could do this, especially to children,” said 58-year-old Rainer Bellmann.

Locals told Reuters that police had searched two homes in the town, including one apartment near to the scene that a police officer said was the home of relatives of the man.

(Additional reporting by Hans Seidenstuecker in Frankfurt, Michelle Martin and Reuters Television; editing by Philippa Fletcher; Writing by Madeline Chambers and Emma Thomasson; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Philippa Fletcher)

UK police arrest man and woman for human trafficking over truck deaths

UK police arrest man and woman for human trafficking over truck deaths
By Peter Nicholls

GRAYS, England (Reuters) – Police investigating the deaths of 39 people in a truck near London said they had arrested a man and a woman on Friday on suspicion of human trafficking amid signs that some of the dead may be Vietnamese.

As forensic experts began the process of identifying the victims, a human rights activist said at least one of them might have been a Vietnamese woman.

Police have said they believe the dead were Chinese but Beijing said the nationalities had not yet been verified.

“We hope that the British side can as soon as possible confirm and verify the identities of the victims, ascertain what happened and severely punish criminals involved in the case,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

Police said they had detained the man and woman, both aged 38, in Warrington, northwest England, on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and of 39 counts of manslaughter.

The 25-year-old truck driver remains in custody after being arrested on suspicion of murder following the discovery of the bodies in the back of his refrigerated truck in the early hours of Wednesday.

He has not been formally identified but a source familiar with the investigation named him as Mo Robinson from the Portadown area of Northern Ireland. Detectives will decide later whether to charge him with an offense, release him or ask a court for more time to question him.

The victims – 31 men and eight women – are being moved to a hospital mortuary from a secure location at docks near the industrial estate in Grays about 20 miles (30 km) east of London where the bodies were found.

Post-mortem examinations were beginning to determine how exactly they died while forensic experts sought to identify the deceased.

Hoa Nghiem from Human Rights Space, a civic network based in Vietnam, said at least one of the deceased might have been Vietnamese.

Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent a text message to her mother saying she could not breathe at about the time the truck container was en route from Belgium to Britain, Hoa said.

“I’m sorry Mom. My path to abroad doesn’t succeed. Mom, I love you so much! I’m dying bcoz I can’t breath … I’m from Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam … I am sorry, Mom,” the message said according to Hoa.

She said Tra My had gone to China and was planning to reach England via France.

“Our contact is getting more alerts that there could be more Vietnamese people in the truck,” Hoa said on Twitter.

VietHome, an organization for the Vietnamese community, said it had received news from 10 families that their loved ones were missing. Hanoi’s London embassy was coordinating with British police, the official Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.

For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in trucks, often from the European mainland. In 2000, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck at the port of Dover.

BRITAIN ‘HAS NOT FULFILLED RESPONSIBILITY’

China’s Global Times, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in a Friday editorial that Britain should bear some responsibility for the deaths.

“It is clear that Britain and relevant European countries have not fulfilled their responsibility to protect these people from such a death,” the widely read tabloid said.

It added that Britain appeared not to have learned its lesson from the Dover incident two decades ago.

The police investigation is focused on the movement of the trailer prior to its arrival at Purfleet docks near Grays little more than an hour before the bodies were found, and on who was behind the suspected human trafficking.

Irish company Global Trailer Rentals said it owned the trailer and had rented it out on Oct. 15. The firm said it was unaware of what it was to be used for.

The refrigeration unit had traveled to Britain from Zeebrugge in Belgium and the town’s chairman, Dirk de Fauw, said he believed the victims died in the trailer before it arrived in the Belgian port.

The Times newspaper reported that GPS data showed the container had arrived at the Belgian port at 2.49 p.m. local time on Tuesday before later making the 10-hour sea crossing to Britain.

Police said the cab unit of the truck was driven over from Dublin on Sunday, crossing the Irish Sea by ship and entering Britain in North Wales. It picked up the trailer in Purfleet shortly after midnight on Wednesday.

The National Crime Agency, which targets serious and organized crime, said it was helping the investigation and working urgently to identify any gangs involved.

The head of the Road Haulage Association said traffickers were “upping their game” and closer cooperation with European nations was needed, although that may be complicated by Britain’s planned exit from the European Union.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Khanh Vu and Phuong Nguyen in Hanoi; Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Frances Kerry and Hugh Lawson)

Hundreds of arrests as London climate-change activists vow more protests

By Simon Dawson Helena Williams

LONDON (Reuters) – London police have made nearly 500 arrests as climate-change protesters, labelled “uncooperative crusties” by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, continue two weeks of civil disobedience to push for more to be done to protect the environment.

The Extinction Rebellion group has been taking action in several countries including Britain, Germany, Austria, Australia, France and New Zealand as it lobbies politicians to go further in cutting carbon emissions.

The protests are the latest stage in a global campaign for tougher and swifter steps against climate change coordinated by the group, which rose to prominence in April when it snarled traffic in central London for 11 days.

Police said 152 arrests had been made on Tuesday, taking the total number over the two days to 471 as some protesters lay down in the road outside parliament whilst others dressed in colourful costumes or brought tree saplings to give to lawmakers.

Police have introduced stricter conditions, saying anyone wanting to continue the protest can only do so in Trafalgar Square.

“This action is necessary in order to prevent the demonstrations from causing serious disruption to the community,” police said. “Anyone who fails to comply with the condition is liable to arrest and prosecution.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticised the protesters when he attended an event late on Monday.

“I am afraid the security people didn’t want me to come along tonight because they said the road was full of uncooperative crusties,” he said, using a slang term for eco-protesters.

“They said there was some risk that I would be egged,” he added.

On Tuesday, some protesters hit back at him.

“It’s not helpful,” Diana Jones, from the southern English county of Sussex, told Reuters.

“We’re just ordinary people trying to express our deep disappointment with how slow the process of getting climate change action to occur is taking place, with the government not really listening, not really taking it forward on the scale it needs to be taken.”

The group wants Britain to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 rather than the government’s 2050 target.

(Additional reporting by Henry Nicholls and Ben Makori; writing by Costas Pitas; editing by Stephen Addison)

California hotel employee charged with threatening workplace attack

Illegal high-capacity magazines and an assault rifle along with multiple guns, ammunition are seen in this Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) photo in Long Beach, California, U.S., released on August 21, 2019. Courtesy LBPD/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A California man who threatened to attack a Marriott hotel where he worked because he was upset over an employment-related issue has been arrested on weapons charges, Long Beach police said.

Police said they found an arsenal that included illegal high-capacity magazines and an assault rifle at the home of Rodolfo Montoya, 37, after they were notified of the threat by a fellow employee of the Long Beach Marriott.

Montoya, who lives in nearby Huntington Beach, is being held on $500,000 bail after being charged with manufacturing and distributing assault weapons, possessing an assault weapon and making a criminal threat, police said.

The arrest comes amid a slew of threats in the past week to carry out mass shootings and follows actual firearms attacks since late July that killed at least 34 people in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

“In recent months, we have seen several tragic incidents that have resulted in many lives lost,” Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said in a statement. “The witnesses who came forward and the diligence of our employees involved in this investigation very likely prevented a threat of violence and saved many lives.”

It was not immediately clear whether Montoya was represented by a lawyer.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

New York man arrested in alleged plot to attack Times Square

New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers patrol in Time Square after a man was arrested in an alleged plot to buy grenades for an attack on Times Square in New York, U.S., June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York man was arrested after allegedly discussing acquiring grenades and detonating them in Times Square, one of midtown Manhattan’s most crowded crossroads, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday.

Ashiqul Alam, 22, from Jackson Heights in the city’s Queens borough, was arrested on Thursday afternoon, the person said. He is expected to appear in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn later on Friday, but it was unclear what charges he would face.

The New York Police Department declined to comment on the matter and referred inquires to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which also declined to comment.

The alleged plot was uncovered after police and federal authorities learned the man had been inquiring about buying grenades and using them in Times Square, one of the most visited destinations in the United States, the New York Daily News reported.

Authorities do not believe the man had links to a wider plot involving other people, the Daily News said, citing unidentified law enforcement sources.

The man had been under surveillance for some time and authorities had been closely monitoring him, NBC News reported, citing unnamed officials.

He talked about wanting to make a suicide bomb vest as well as using explosives, and eventually settled on a shooting attack in Times Square, NBC reported.

The man had discussed potential attacks on politicians in New York and Washington before settling on a plot to attack Times Square, NBC said.

Members of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is made up of FBI agents and New York police detectives, made the arrest. The task force began tracking him and eventually took him into custody, according to media reports said.

With its millions of visitors each year, Times Square, often called the crossroads of the world, has been targeted by at least two bombers in recent years, despite its heavily-fortified police presence.

On May 1, 2010, police thwarted an attempted car bomb in Times Square, defusing a crude device made out of firecrackers and propane gas tanks.

A Pakistani-born U.S. citizen pleaded guilty to the plot, admitting that he had received bomb-making training from the Pakistani Taliban and that the group, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had funded the plot. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In December 2017, a Bangladeshi man set off a homemade pipe bomb strapped to his body in a crowded underground pedestrian tunnel near Times Square. The man, Akayed Ullah, was convicted of six criminal counts, including use of a weapon of mass destruction and support of a terrorist organization.

On Friday morning, it was business as usual in Times Square, with a bustle of people on their way to work and tourists beginning to stream into the area.

Kate Fan, a 28-year-old charity worker visiting from her home in Guangzhou, China, said that she heard about the incident but still felt safe.

“We hear a lot of stories about New York being unsafe, but we feel like people sometimes exaggerate safety issues,” she said.

(Writing and additional reporting by Meredith Mazzilli, Peter Szekely and Ayenat Mersie; Editing by Frank McGurty and Nick Zieminski)

Leader of Mexico-based church accused of rape, child porn

A man cleans a stained glass inside a La Luz del Mundo (The Light of the World) church after its leader Naason Joaquin Garcia was arrested in California, in Mexico City, Mexico June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Luis Cortes

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – The head of a Mexican-based church estimated to have more than 1 million followers worldwide has been arrested in California and charged with crimes including human trafficking, child pornography production and rape of a minor.

“La Luz Del Mundo” (Light of the World) leader Naason Joaquin Garcia, 50, was charged on Tuesday after being arrested at Los Angeles International Airport the day before, prosecutors said.

The church called the accusations unfounded.

“The Apostle of Jesus Christ, Brother Naason Joaquin Garcia, has always behaved in accordance with the law and with full respect for the institutions and the dignity of the people,” it said in a statement on its website on Wednesday.

The prosecutors’ 19-page court filing indicates Garcia was known as “the Apostle” and children were told they were defying God if they were disobedient.

The complaint says three minors and one adult woman were abused, with one child and the woman raped. Others were forced to perform sex acts and “flirty” dances for Garcia wearing “as little clothing as possible”, the complaint added.

“Crimes like those alleged in this complaint have no place in our society. Period,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Tuesday. “We must not turn a blind eye to sexual violence and trafficking in our state.”

CHURCH DENIES ACCUSATIONS

The filing did not refer to any response by Garcia.

But his church said it trusts the U.S. legal system and the principle of innocence unless proven otherwise, adding: “We categorically reject the false accusations that have been made against him.”

In their statement late on Tuesday, prosecutors said Garcia and co-defendants committed a total of 26 felonies in south California over a period of about four years.

The victims were not named.

He is being held in jail on $25 million bond on 14 charges related to sex crimes, the prosecutors said.

It was unclear if he had an attorney.

The other individuals named in the complaint are Alondra Ocampo, Azalea Rangel Melendez, and Susana Medina Oaxaca, all affiliated with La Luz Del Mundo, prosecutors said.

Ocampo and Oaxaca were also arrested and held on multi-million dollar bonds. A warrant has been issued for Melendez, officials said.

Internet sites say the church has between 1 and 5 million followers worldwide in more than 50 countries including many followers in the United States.

The church’s roots go back to the 1920s in Mexico and adheres to “nontrinitarianism”, rejecting a mainstream Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It says it adheres to the earliest doctrines of the Christian church teachings.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Deputy of Venezuela’s Guaido arrested and dragged away by tow truck

FILE PHOTO: Juan Guaido (R), new President of the National Constituent Assembly and lawmaker of the Venezuelan opposition party Popular Will (Partido Voluntad Popular), and lawmaker Edgar Zambrano of Democratic Action party (Accion Democratica), leave the congress after Guaido's swearing-in ceremony, in Caracas, Venezuela January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero/File Photo

By Angus Berwick and Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan intelligence agents detained opposition leader Juan Guaido’s congressional deputy on Wednesday, using a tow truck to drag his vehicle away with him inside, prompting the U.S. government to warn of “consequences” if he was not released.

The SEBIN intelligence agency seized Edgar Zambrano, vice president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which Guaido heads, in the first arrest of a lawmaker since Guaido tried to spark a military uprising last week to bring down President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Venezuela’s pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly agreed on Tuesday to strip Zambrano and six other lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity to allow their future prosecution. The opposition does not recognize the assembly’s decisions.

The Supreme Court had earlier accused those lawmakers of conspiracy, rebellion and treason, and accused another three opposition legislators of the same crimes on Wednesday.

The opposition says Maduro has stacked the court with his own supporters, while the U.S. government this week threatened to sanction all its members.

The U.S. government’s Venezuelan embassy, now based in Washington, said Zambrano’s “arbitrary detention” was “illegal and inexcusable.”

“Maduro and his accomplices are those directly responsible for Zambrano’s security. If he is not immediately freed, there will be consequences,” the embassy said on Twitter.

An attempted uprising last week led by Guaido, recognized by the United States and other Western countries as the rightful head of state, failed to dislodge Maduro, as have a series of U.S. sanctions against his government. Maduro decried the events as an attempted coup.

“One of the principal conspirators of the coup has just been arrested,” Diosdado Cabello, head of the Constituent Assembly, said in comments broadcast on state television.

“They will have to pay before the courts for the failed coup that they attempted,” he said.

‘KIDNAPPED’

Zambrano said on Twitter at about 6.40 pm local time (2240 GMT) SEBIN agents had surrounded his vehicle outside the headquarters of his Democratic Action party in Caracas’ La Florida district.

“We were surprised by the SEBIN, and after refusing to let us leave our vehicle, they used a tow truck to forcibly transfer us directly to the (SEBIN headquarters) Helicoide,” he said. It was not yet clear if Zambrano was already at the Helicoide.

Guaido said on Twitter: “The regime has kidnapped the first vice president.”

Guaido invoked the constitution in January to assume an interim presidency, denouncing Maduro as illegitimate after he secured re-election last year in a vote widely viewed as fraudulent. Maduro has overseen the collapse of Venezuela’s economy, which has shrunk by half over the past five years, forcing more than 3 million Venezuelans to emigrate.

The Constituent Assembly removed Guaido’s parliamentary immunity in early April. Authorities have not tried to arrest him since then, but Maduro has said he will “face justice.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has threatened Maduro’s government with a harsh response should it ever detain Guaido.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Supreme Court’s head, Maikel Moreno, rebuffed the U.S. government’s threats to sanction his court’s members if they did not reject Maduro’s government and Guaido.

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Moreno and the seven principal members of the court’s constitutional chamber in 2017 for rulings that “usurped the authority” of the National Assembly.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday the Trump administration would soon sanction the 25 remaining members of the court. Pence said the United States was lifting economic sanctions on a former Venezuelan general who turned against Maduro in order to encourage other Maduro allies to follow suit.

The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, said: “We demand the SEBIN stop the intimidation, respect the lawmakers’ parliamentary immunities, and immediately release Edgar Zambrano.”

(Reporting by Angus Berwick and Mayela Armas; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Lisa Shumaker and Paul Tait)