Canada says safety of Pakistani woman in blasphemy case a ‘priority’

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada urged Pakistan on Tuesday to ensure the well-being of a Pakistani Christian woman whose life is in danger after having been acquitted in the South Asian country last month of blasphemy charges against Islam, a ruling that sparked mass protests.

The case of Asia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan before being released, has outraged Christians worldwide. Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, has appealed for help to Britain, Canada, Italy and the United States, and so far, Italy has said it would assist her.

“It’s a very important issue, a central priority for our government,” Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said of Bibi’s case after meeting her European Union counterpart, Federica Mogherini, in Montreal.

Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 after neighbors said she made derogatory remarks about Islam when they objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. She is a Protestant and denies committing blasphemy.

“Canada calls on Pakistan to take all measures necessary to ensure the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family,” Freeland said. “Canada is prepared to do everything we can” and is “extremely engaged in this issue,” Freeland said.

Islamists shut down roads in major cities in Pakistan during three days of demonstrations against Bibi’s acquittal. They have threatened to escalate the protests if she is permitted to leave the country. The government has indicated it will bar her from traveling abroad.

Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Mulook, fled to the Netherlands earlier this week because of fears for the safety of his family.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Saudi-led coalition masses troops near Yemen’s Hodeidah as pressure mounts to end war

FILE PHOTO: Protesters hold up a poster of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi during a protest against the deteriorating economy in Taiz, Yemen, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Anees Mahyoub/File Photo

By Mohammed Ghobari

ADEN (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition has massed thousands of troops near Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah, local military sources said on Wednesday, in a move to pressure Iranian-aligned Houthi insurgents to return to U.N.-sponsored peace talks.

The United States and Britain have called for an end to the 3-1/2-year war that has driven impoverished Yemen to the verge of famine, raising pressure on Saudi Arabia as it faces a global outcry over the murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

The military alliance of Sunni Muslim states led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has deployed around 30,000 forces south of Houthi-held Hodeidah and near its eastern entrance, pro-coalition Yemeni military sources told Reuters.

“Thousands of Yemeni soldiers trained by the coalition have been sent to the outskirts of Hodeidah in addition to modern weaponry including armored vehicles and tanks…in preparation for a big operation in coming days,” said one source.

Residents told Reuters that the Houthis had also deployed forces in the center of Hodeidah city, at the port and in southern neighborhoods in anticipation of an onslaught.

The coalition and the Houthis have not commented on the military movements.

The U.N. special envoy to Yemen is trying to salvage peace talks that collapsed in September, raising the risk of a renewed assault on the Red Sea city, the country’s main port and a lifeline for millions of Yemenis reliant on humanitarian aid.

Envoy Martin Griffiths welcomed a call by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday for a cessation of hostilities ahead of U.N.-led negotiations scheduled to begin next month.

Britain also endorsed the U.S. call to end the fighting, which has killed more than 10,000 people, according to available U.N. figures, and triggered the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis.

“We remain committed to bring the Yemeni parties to the negotiations table within a month. Dialogue remains the only path to reach an inclusive agreement,” Griffiths said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

“I urge all concerned parties to seize this opportunity to engage constructively with our current efforts to swiftly resume political consultations to agree on a framework for political negotiations, and confidence-building measures,” he said, listing support for the central bank and a prisoner swap.

DIRE SITUATION

The Western-backed Arab alliance intervened in Yemen’s war, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, in 2015 to restore the internationally recognized government.

But after seizing the southern port city of Aden and some towns on the western coast, the alliance has made little gains in a costly war to unseat the Houthis, who hold the most populous parts of Yemen including the capital Sanaa.

The United Nations aid chief told the Security Council earlier this month that half the population of Yemen – some 14 million people – could soon be on the brink of famine.

Aid groups warned of deteriorating conditions in the Arabian Peninsula country.

“The recent increase in military activity in…Hodeidah threatens the security of our life-saving operations,” World Food Programme spokesman Herve Verhoosel said on Wednesday.

He said the WFP has enough cereals to assist 6.4 million of the neediest Yemenis for 2-1/2 months, with the aim to reach 8 million.

Red Cross spokeswoman Sara Alzawqari said that an estimated 3,200 families – some 22,000-28,000 people – were in dire need of basic necessities including food, water and shelter in Hodeidah, many having fled fighting in rural areas.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have repeatedly said that taking control of Hodeidah would force the Houthi movement to the negotiating table by cutting off its main supply line.

But a previous offensive on the heavily-defended city in June failed to accomplish any gains and the coalition halted the fighting to give U.N. peace talks in Geneva a chance.

The talks were abandoned when the Houthi delegation failed to show up. The Houthis accused the coalition of blocking the group’s team from traveling, while the Yemeni government accused the Houthis of trying to sabotage the negotiations.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Jordan says nearly 300 Syrian ‘White Helmets’ leave for West

FILE PHOTO: Members of the Civil Defence, also known as the 'White Helmets', are seen inspecting the damage at a Roman ruin site in Daraa, Syria December 23, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa al-Faqir/File Photo

AMMAN (Reuters) – Nearly 300 Syrian “White Helmet” rescue workers and their families who fled Syria for Jordan three months ago have left for resettlement in Western countries under an U.N. sponsored agreement, Jordan said on Wednesday.

In July the rescue workers who had been operating in rebel-held areas fled advancing Russian-backed Syrian government troops and slipped over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights frontier and into Jordan, with the help of Israeli soldiers and Western powers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time he had helped the evacuation at the request of U.S. President Donald Trump and other leaders and that there had been fears that the rescue workers’ lives were at risk.

Jordan had accepted them on humanitarian grounds after getting written guarantees they would be given asylum in Canada, Germany and Britain, Jordanian officials said.

The “White Helmets”, known officially as Syria Civil Defence, have been credited with saving thousands of people in rebel-held areas during years of bombing by Syrian government and Russian forces in the country’s civil war.

Its members say they are neutral. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers describe them as tools of Western propaganda and Islamist-led insurgents.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al-Qatarneh said 279 of the 422 people who took sanctuary in the kingdom had left, with 93 others due to leave by Oct. 25, near the end of a three-month period the authorities had given them to stay.

Another group’s departure would be delayed for two weeks until mid-November as there were new-born babies and people receiving medical treatment among them, al-Qatarneh told Reuters.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Andrew Roche and Alison Williams)

Putin calls poisoned ex-spy Skripal a scumbag and traitor

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia September 12, 2018. Mikhail Metzel/TASS Host Photo Agency/Pool via REUTERS

By Dmitry Zhdannikov and Denis Pinchuk

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent poisoned in Britain, a scumbag who had betrayed Russia.

Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a public bench in the English city of Salisbury in March. Britain says they were poisoned with a nerve agent administered by Russian intelligence officers.

Russia denies involvement in the affair, which has deepened its international isolation.

“I see that some of your colleagues are pushing the theory that Mr Skripal was almost some kind of human rights activist,” Putin said at an energy forum in Moscow when asked about the case.

“He was simply a spy. A traitor to the motherland. He’s simply a scumbag, that’s all,” Putin added, in remarks that drew applause from parts of the audience.

The Russian leader, a former intelligence officer himself, said the Skripal scandal had been artificially exaggerated, but said he thought it would fade from the headlines at some point and that the sooner it quietened down the better.

Putin said Moscow was still ready to cooperate with Britain when it came to investigating what happened, an offer London has so far declined to take up.

British officials say the poisoning was carried out by Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency almost certainly acting with the approval of Russian officials. Russia has denied that.

‘ONE OF OLDEST PROFESSIONS’

Putin also dismissed the allegation that Russia was responsible for the accidental poisoning of Dawn Sturgess, a Salisbury-area woman who British police said died after coming into contact with the nerve agent Novichok which her partner had found in a discarded perfume bottle.

“What, did some guys rock up and start poisoning homeless people over there?” said Putin, repeating a description of Sturgess and her partner used by some Russian state media. “What rubbish.”

Skripal had served time in a Russian prison for selling information to Britain, and Moscow had agreed to release him as part of a spay swap, said Putin, suggesting Russia therefore had no motive to kill him.

“We didn’t need to poison anyone over there. This traitor Skripal was caught, he was punished and did five years in prison. We let him go, he left the country and he continued to cooperate there and consult some intelligence services. So what?”

The two Russian men Britain accuses of jetting to England to try to murder Skripal said in a TV interview last month that they were innocent tourists who had visited the city of Salisbury to see its cathedral.

London says their explanation is so far-fetched as to all but prove Russia’s involvement, while investigative website Bellingcat has published a picture of a decorated Russian military intelligence colonel it named as Anatoliy Chepiga who resembles one of the two men Britain caught on CCTV.

Putin said spy scandals were nothing new.

“Did problems between intelligence services start yesterday?” quipped Putin.

“As is well known, espionage, like prostitution, is one of the world’s oldest professions.”

(Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe and)

Russia says photos don’t prove its spy was linked to Skripal case

FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov looks on during a visit to the Mazda Sollers Manufacturing Rus joint venture plant of Sollers and Japanese Mazda in Vladivostok, Russia September 10, 2018. Valery Sharifulin/TASS Host Photo Agency/Pool via REUTERS

By Andrey Ostroukh and Andrey Kuzmin

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday a likeness between a Russian intelligence colonel and a suspect in the Skripal poisoning case does not prove they are the same person, comparing the resemblance to that of impersonators posing as Lenin.

Former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a public bench in the English city of Salisbury in March. Britain says they were poisoned with a nerve agent administered by Russian intelligence officers. A woman later died from what British police say was contact with the poison which her partner found in a discarded perfume bottle.

Russia denies any involvement in the affair, which has deepened its international isolation.

Moscow says two Russian men captured on surveillance footage near the scene of the poisoning were tourists visiting Salisbury twice during a weekend trip to Britain, an explanation London says is so far-fetched as to all but prove Russia’s involvement.

Investigative website Bellingcat this week published a picture of a decorated Russian military intelligence colonel it named as Anatoliy Chepiga who resembles one of the men spotted in the surveillance footage.

“We don’t know to what extent we can make any formal conclusions about who looks like whom, are they alike, where they lived, where they grew up,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

“On Red Square there are still 10 Stalins and 15 Lenins running around, and they look remarkably like the originals,” he said, referring to people who dress up as Soviet leaders to pose for photographs with tourists.

Peskov said in order to draw any conclusions, the Russian authorities needed verified information from British officials about the Skripal case, something he said London has been consistently withholding.

“We do not want to participate anymore in the propagation of this issue as a partner of the media,” said Peskov.

(Reporting and writing by Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Christian Lowe and Peter Graff)

Netanyahu, in U.N. speech, claims secret Iranian nuclear site

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

By John Irish and Arshad Mohammed

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described on Thursday what he said was a secret atomic warehouse in Tehran and accused Europe of appeasing Iran as he sought to rally support for U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu showed an aerial photograph of the Iranian capital marked with a red arrow and pointed to what he said was a previously secret warehouse holding nuclear-related material. He argued this showed Iran still sought to obtain nuclear weapons, despite its 2015 agreement with world powers to curb its program in exchange for loosening of sanctions.

Netanyahu spoke four-and-a-half months after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord, arguing it did too little to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and triggering the resumption of U.S. economic sanctions on Iran.

Netanyahu said the site contained some 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of radioactive material that has since been moved called on the U.N. atomic agency to inspect the location immediately with Geiger counters.

“I am disclosing for the first time that Iran has another secret facility in Tehran, a secret atomic warehouse for storing massive amounts of equipment and materiel from Iran’s secret nuclear program,” Netanyahu said.

Iran did not immediately respond to Netanyahu’s allegations.

He did not identify the material or specifically suggest that Iran had actively violated the nuclear deal.

An outspoken opponent of the deal, Netanyahu has previously made allegations about Iran’s nuclear activities that are difficult or impossible to verify, including presenting a cartoon bomb to the General Assembly in 2012 warning of how close Tehran was to producing a nuclear device.

In April, Netanyahu presented what he said was evidence of a large secret archive of documents related to Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program at a different site in Tehran.

He said Israeli agents removed vast amounts of documents from that site. At the time, Iran said the documents were fake.

In a speech in which he said relatively little about efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said Iran had since begun moving items out of the second site.

“Since we raided the atomic archive, they’ve been busy cleaning out the atomic warehouse. Just last month they removed 15 kilograms of radioactive material. You know what they did with it?” he said. “They took it out and they spread it around Tehran in an effort to hide the evidence.”

He said Iranian officials still had a lot of work to do because there were some 15 shipping containers full of nuclear-related equipment and materials stored at the second site.

“This site contained as much as 300 tonnes – 300 tonnes – of nuclear-related equipment and materiel,” he said.

Under the nuclear deal struck by Iran and six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions.

The International Atomic Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly said Tehran was abiding by its commitments to the deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), including in a document reviewed by Reuters on Aug. 30.

France, Britain, Germany, China, and Russia have stayed in the pact, vowing to save it despite the restoration of U.S. sanctions and this week discussing a barter mechanism they hope may allow Iran to circumvent the U.S. measures.

Netanyahu criticized Europe for doing so in unusually harsh language that evoked European nations’ initial failure to confront Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

“While the United States is confronting Iran with new sanctions, Europe and others are appeasing Iran by trying to help it bypass those new sanctions,” Netanyahu said.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States is aware of the facility Netanyahu announced and described it as a “warehouse” used to store “records and archives” from Iran’s nuclear program.

A second U.S. intelligence official called Netanyahu’s comments “somewhat misleading. First, we have known about this facility for some time, and it’s full of file cabinets and paper, not aluminum tubes for centrifuges, and second, so far as anyone knows, there is nothing in it that would allow Iran to break out of the JCPOA any faster than it otherwise could.”

The Israeli leader also lambasted Iran’s ballistic missile activity, identifying three locations near Beirut airport where he said Lebanon’s Hezbollah was converting missiles.

“In Lebanon, Iran is directing Hezbollah to build secret sites to convert inaccurate projectiles into precision-guided missiles, missiles that can target deep inside Israel within an accuracy of 10 meters (yards),” he said.

The IAEA, Iran and Hezbollah were not immediately available for comment.

The Israeli military released a video clip and photos of what it said were Hezbollah Shi’ite militia rocket building sites in Lebanon, shortly after Netanyahu’s address.

(Reporting by John Irish, Arshad Mohammed, Yara Bayoumy and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Jonathan Landay and John Walcott in Washington, Laila Bassam in Beirut, Francois Murphy in Vienna; Editing by James Dalgleish)

‘Lives torn apart in 82 seconds’, UK Westminster attack inquest hears

FILE PHOTO: A woman assists an injured person after an incident on Westminster Bridge in London, Britain, March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File photo

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – A man who mowed down pedestrians with a car near Britain’s parliament before stabbing a policeman ruined many lives in a matter of seconds, an inquest heard on Monday, as it began with tributes to the victims and details of their last moments.

On March 22, 2017, Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old British-born convert to Islam, drove along a pavement on Westminster Bridge, killing four people, before stabbing to death an unarmed police officer in the grounds of parliament. He was shot dead at the scene.

It was the first of five attacks in Britain last year that police blamed on terrorism, and coroner Mark Lucraft said the attack had lasted less than two minutes.

“The lives of many were torn apart by 82 seconds of high and terrible drama,” he told the inquiry.

The inquest, which is expected to last several weeks, will seek to establish the circumstances around the deaths of the four pedestrians and the police officer, Lucraft said.

A separate inquiry into Masood’s death will be held later.

The coroner held a minute’s silence before hearing testimonials to the victims, and a colleague of the policeman, Keith Palmer, paid tribute to his courage.

“Keith was that brave person who would stand his ground,” Police Constable Shaun Cartwright said in a statement that was read to the court. “I’m immensely proud to have called Keith my friend.”

INSTINCTIVE COURAGE

Two of those killed by Masood’s rental car, American Kurt Cochran and Romanian Andreea Cristea, were tourists visiting London with their partners.

Stills from closed-circuit TV footage showed Cochran pushing his wife Melissa out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, in what was “apparently an act of instinctive courage”, the inquiry’s lawyer Jonathan Hough said.

Melissa sustained serious injuries but survived, and said in a statement read by her sister Angela Stoll that her husband’s “heroic actions that fateful day … saved my life”.

In testimony from Metropolitan Police officer John Crossley, the inquiry heard that Masood’s car may have reached 41 miles (66 km) per hour as it drove along the sidewalk.

“It is my belief that Masood acted alone,” he told the court. “He was deliberately targeting pedestrians.”

Several of the victims’ relatives temporarily left the court while CCTV footage of the attack was played, after Lucraft warned that the images would be distressing.

Leslie Rhodes, a retired window cleaner, died after being dragged under the car for over 30 meters, the court heard, while Aysha Frade was walking with her back to the car when it knocked her under a bus.

Her husband John said she had been worried about security after her office moved to the area, but her family had tried to reassure her.

“It causes myself … excruciating pain to think of Aysha in the past tense,” he told the inquiry. “In truth, it still doesn’t feel like she has gone.”

(Reporting by Alistair Smout)

UK charges two Russians for attempted murder of Skripals, blames Moscow

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who were formally accused of attempting to murder former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, are seen in an image handed out by the Metropolitan Police in London, Britain September 5, 2018. Metroplitan Police handout via REUTERS

By Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain charged two Russians in absentia on Wednesday with the attempted murder of a former Russian spy and his daughter, saying the suspects were military intelligence officers almost certainly acting on orders from high up in the Russian state.

British police revealed images of the two men they said had flown to Britain for a weekend in March to kill former spy Sergei Skripal with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent.

Skripal’s daughter Yulia and a police officer who attended the scene also fell ill in the case, which has caused the biggest East-West diplomatic expulsions since the Cold War. A woman later died from Novichok poisoning after her partner found a counterfeit perfume bottle which police believe had been used to smuggle the nerve agent into Britain.

British authorities identified the suspects as Russian nationals traveling on genuine passports under the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Prime Minister Theresa May said the government had concluded they were officers in Russia’s military intelligence service GRU.

“The GRU is a highly disciplined organization with a well-established chain of command, so this was not a rogue operation, May told parliament. “It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.”

Skripal, himself a former GRU officer who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service, was found unconscious with Yulia on a public bench in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4.

Police released security camera images of the two suspects and outlined a three-day mission that took them from Moscow to London to Salisbury, where they sprayed poison on Skripal’s door before flying back to Moscow hours later.

Russia’s foreign ministry said the names given by Britain did not mean anything to Moscow, which has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack.

“We have heard or seen two names, these names mean nothing to me personally,” Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Moscow. “I don’t understand why this was done and what sort of signal the British side is sending.”

Britain and dozens of other countries have kicked out scores of Russian diplomats over the incident, and Moscow has responded tit-for-tat with an identical number of expulsions. The affair has worsened Russian relations with the West, already under strain over Ukraine, Syria and other issues.

May’s spokesman said May had briefed U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening. U.S. Ambassador to Britain Woody Johnson said on Twitter the United States stood with Britain in holding Russia accountable for its “act of aggression”.

Packaging for a counterfeit bottle of perfume that was recovered from Charlie Rowley's home after he and his partner Dawn Sturgess were poisoned by the same nerve agent which was used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, is seen in an image handed out by the Metropolitan Police in London, Britain September 5, 2018. Metroplitan Police handout via REUTER

Packaging for a counterfeit bottle of perfume that was recovered from Charlie Rowley’s home after he and his partner Dawn Sturgess were poisoned by the same nerve agent which was used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, is seen in an image handed out by the Metropolitan Police in London, Britain September 5, 2018. Metroplitan Police handout via REUTERS

“REMARKABLY SOPHISTICATED ATTACK

The “remarkably sophisticated” attack appeared to be a clear assassination attempt, said Neil Basu, head of UK counter-terrorism policing. He described an investigation which involved 250 detectives and analysis of some 11,000 hours of video.

According to police, the suspects, both around 40 years old, flew to London from Moscow on March 2. They spent two nights in an east London hotel, making two day trips to Salisbury, the first for reconnaissance, the second to kill Skripal. They flew out on March 4, hours after the Skripals were found unconscious.

Security cameras filmed the suspects near Skripal’s house, and traces of Novichok were found in their London hotel room.

The Russians are charged with conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal and with the attempted murder of Skripal, his daughter and police officer Nick Bailey. They are also charged with illegal use and possession of a chemical weapon.

A European arrest warrant has been issued for them, but prosecutors said Britain would not ask Moscow to extradite Russian citizens because Russia’s constitution forbids it.

Basu said the Skripals were making a good recovery.

A woman from a town near Salisbury, Dawn Sturgess, died in July and her partner Charlie Rowley fell ill after Rowley found a counterfeit bottle of Nina Ricci perfume containing Novichok in a charity collection box and brought it home. Basu said police had no doubt the events were linked and were discussing charges over the Sturgess and Rowley case with prosecutors.

The Skripal case has been likened by British politicians to the murder of Russian dissident ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope in a London hotel in 2006. Britain charged two Russians with his murder but both remain in Russia, and one later won a seat in parliament.

May said the Litvinenko case showed there was no point to demanding the Skripal suspects’ extradition. “But should either of these individuals ever again travel outside Russia, we will take every possible step to detain them, to extradite them and to bring them to face justice here in the United Kingdom.”

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Elizabeth Piper, Kylie MacLellan and William Schomberg; Editing by Stephen Addison and Peter Graff)

U.S. sanctions on Russia tied to UK attack to take effect Monday

The Russian flag flies over the Embassy of Russia in Washington, U.S., August 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Lisa Lambert and Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. sanctions against Russia tied to a nerve agent attack in Britain, which were announced earlier this month, will come into effect on Monday, the U.S. government said on Friday, adding to the array of economic penalties it has imposed on Moscow in recent years.

The new measures, detailed in a notice posted at the Federal Register, will terminate foreign assistance and some arms sales and financing to Russia, as well as deny the country credit and prohibit the export of security-sensitive goods and technology.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the sanctions will only create more tension between the two countries, the RIA news agency reported on Friday.

Although President Donald Trump has often said he would like better ties with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, Washington’s relations with Moscow are at a low – frayed by U.S. allegations Russia interfered in its 2016 presidential election, and by disagreements over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its role in the Syrian civil war.

Plans to impose the latest sanctions were announced by the Trump administration on Aug. 8, a response to what the State Department said was Moscow’s use of a nerve agent against a former Russian agent and his daughter in Britain in March.

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury after a liquid form of the Novichok type of nerve agent was applied to the front door of his home. Both survived the attack.

Moscow has denied involvement in the attack. It has also denied meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.

‘CHANGE IN BEHAVIOR’

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said on Friday Moscow must change its ways before the United States will lift its already long list of sanctions.

“The sanctions remain in force and will remain in force until the required change in Russian behavior,” he told a news conference in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

The new measures will be published and come into effect on Aug. 27 and remain in place for at least one year, according to the notice in the Federal Register, a daily catalog of government agency actions. They are authorized by the 1991 Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act.

Spaceflight activities, government space cooperation, areas concerning commercial aviation safety and urgent humanitarian assistance will be exempt.

A second batch of penalties will be imposed after 90 days unless Russia gives “reliable assurance” that it would no longer use chemical weapons and allow on-site inspections by the United Nations or another international observer group.

Soon after the attack on the Skripals, Washington also showed solidarity with Britain and announced it would expel 60 Russian diplomats, joining governments across Europe in punishing the Kremlin.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Additional reporting by Maxim Rodionov in Moscow and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Car hits pedestrians in suspected terrorist attack at UK parliament

Armed police officers stand at a cordon after a car crashed outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, Britain, August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Kylie MacLellan and Hannah McKay

LONDON (Reuters) – A man deliberately drove a car into London pedestrians and cyclists on Tuesday before ramming it into barriers outside Britain’s parliament in what appeared to be the second terrorist attack at the building in just under 18 months, police said.

Three people were injured. The driver, a man in his 20s, was arrested by armed officers moments later. He was not cooperating with detectives, the British police counter-terrorism chief said.

“Given that this appears to be a deliberate act, the method, and this being an iconic site, we are treating it as a terrorist incident,” the officer, London Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, told reporters.

In March 2017, Khalid Masood, 52, killed four people on nearby Westminster Bridge and stabbed an unarmed police officer to death in the grounds of parliament before being shot dead.

It was the first of five attacks in Britain last year that police designated as terrorism, three of which used vehicles as weapons.

Basu said the suspect in Tuesday’s incident was in custody but not cooperating. He said the man had not been formally identified but was not believed to be known to security forces.

The BBC, citing unnamed sources, said the man was from the Birmingham area and known to police, although not to intelligence or counter-terrorism agencies.

Forensic investigators work at the site after a car crashed outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, Britain, August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Forensic investigators work at the site after a car crashed outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, Britain, August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

NO OTHER SUSPECTS

Basu said there were currently no other suspects from the scene of the incident and no indications of further danger.

Police said a silver Ford Fiesta had driven through a group of cyclists and pedestrians during the morning rush hour before hitting a barrier in front of the Houses of Parliament at 7:37 a.m. (0637 GMT).

Video footage showed the vehicle making an illegal turn before veering across the road and into a security lane leading to parliament before smashing into the protective barrier as two police officers jumped to safety.

The man was detained on suspicion of terrorist offenses and no weapons were found, Basu said.

Two people were taken to the hospital and one woman was still receiving treatment for serious but not life-threatening injuries.

Armed officers swarmed the scene and sealed off a large area around parliament that is usually bustling with tourists and government workers.

“I saw the cyclists, injured cyclists. I don’t know if he’s hit these people or if they’ve just dived to escape,” bystander Jason Williams told reporters. “It didn’t swerve, there was not another car going behind him. It looked like it was planned.”

Images shot by a Euronews journalist showed police pointing their guns at the vehicle shortly after the crash. Footage on social media showed a man being led away in handcuffs.

“TERRIBLE SCENES”

Prime Minister Theresa May, who like other lawmakers is on holiday during parliament’s summer recess, urged Britons to remain vigilant but to carry on as normal.

“For the second time in as many years the home of our democracy, which is a potent symbol of our precious values of tolerance and freedom, has just witnessed terrible scenes just yards from its door,” she said in a statement.

Britain is on its second-highest threat level, “severe”, meaning an attack is considered highly likely.

May’s spokesman said that, since Masood’s attack in Westminster last year, 13 Islamist and four far-right plots had been foiled. At the end of June, security services were carrying out 676 live investigations.

Last week, a Muslim convert admitted plotting to kill more than 100 people by driving a truck into pedestrians on London’s Oxford Street, the capital’s major shopping thoroughfare.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has previously spoken out about security issues in London, tweeted: “These animals are crazy and must be dealt with through toughness and strength.”

Cordons around parliament began to be lifted about six hours after the incident and Westminster Underground station, close to parliament, was reopened. However, streets immediately surrounding the scene remained closed off.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden, James Davey, Alistair Smout and Paul SandleWriting by William Schomberg; Editing by Janet Lawrence)