New York Hanukkah machete attack suspect to face federal hate crime charges

(Reuters) – The man accused of stabbing at least five people in a machete rampage at the home of a Hasidic rabbi during a Hanukkah celebration is due to face federal hate crime charges in White Plains, New York, on Monday.

A federal grand jury indicted Grafton Thomas, 37, late last week with additional counts of hate crimes for the Dec. 28 stabbing of members of the Orthodox Jewish community in Monsey, New York, bringing the number of federal charges he faces to 10.

Each count carries a maximum prison term of life.

One of the victims, a 72-year-old man who suffered devastating machete blows to his head, arm and neck, is comatose and unlikely to recover, according to family members.

Federal prosecutors have said Thomas targeted his victims because of their Jewish faith. In a criminal complaint filed last month, they cited journals they seized from the suspect’s home containing references to Adolf Hitler, Nazi culture and the Black Hebrew Israelites movement, identified by experts in extremism as an anti-Jewish hate group.

Thomas also faces state charges for the attack, which his attorney, pointing to his client’s long history of mental illness, has said was likely an expression of psychosis rather than bigotry.

The attack in Monsey capped a string of incidents in which Jews have been physically attacked or accosted in the New York metropolitan area in recent weeks, including a shooting at a kosher supermarket in New Jersey that left two members of the Hasidic community dead.

One of the suspects in that attack had also expressed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites. He died in the attack.

The most recent national numbers from Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism found 780 anti-Semitic incidents reported to or detected by the organization in the United States in the first half of 2019, compared to 785 incidents reported for the same period in 2018.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Scott Malone and Tom Brown)

Pompeo says U.S. troubled by reports of China harassing families of Uighur Muslim activists

Pompeo says U.S. troubled by reports of China harassing families of Uighur Muslim activists
By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States remains deeply troubled by multiple reports that the Chinese government has “harassed, imprisoned, or arbitrarily detained” family members of Uighur Muslim activists and survivors of Xinjiang internment camps who have made their stories public, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday.

“In some cases, these abuses occurred shortly after meetings with senior State Department officials,” Pompeo said in a statement, reiterating Washington’s call for Beijing to release those detained.

China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in remote Xinjiang that it describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills. The United Nations says at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained.

China has denied any mistreatment of Uighurs, and insists Xinjiang is its internal affair.

Any escalation of tensions between Beijing and Washington worries investors, as the world’s two largest economies are also embroiled in a 15-month old trade war. Beijing also views U.S. support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as interfering with its sovereignty.

In his statement, Pompeo referred to several individuals whose families he said were directly impacted by the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighurs, including Zumrat Dawut, who was one of the speakers at an event in New York on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly in September.

Dawut had spoken on how she was detained by Chinese authorities earlier this year and was kept in a camp.

“Most recently, Ms. Dawut learned her elderly father, who was reportedly detained and interrogated multiple times by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang in recent years, recently passed away under unknown circumstances,” Pompeo said.

The U.S. government last month widened its trade blacklist to include some of China’s top artificial intelligence start-ups and announced visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist Party officials it believes responsible for the detention or abuse of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang region.

“We once again call on Beijing to cease all harassment of Uighurs living outside of China… and to allow families to communicate freely without repercussions,” Pompeo said.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)

Russia widens Jehovah’s Witnesses crackdown with new jailings

Adherents of the Christian denomination Jehovah's Witnesses Konstantin Bazhenov, Alexei Budenchuk, Felix Makhammadiev, Roman Gridasov, Gennady German and Alexei Miretsky pose for a picture inside the building of a regional court in Saratov, Russia in this undated handout photo. Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDI

By Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has widened a crackdown against Jehovah’s Witnesses, jailing six adherents of the Christian denomination for extremism in a move rights activists said was unjust and flouted religious freedom.

A regional court in Saratov jailed six Jehovah’s Witnesses on Thursday for up to three-and-a-half years, a court spokeswoman said on Friday.

“Yes they were convicted,” the spokeswoman, Olga Pirueva, said. “Punishments ranged from three years and six months down to two years (in jail).”

The court found the six men guilty of continuing the activities of an extremist organization, a reference to a 2017 ruling from Russia’s Supreme Court which found the group to be an “extremist” organization and ordered it to disband.

The U.S.-headquartered Jehovah’s Witnesses have been under pressure for years in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin. Orthodox scholars have cast them as a dangerous foreign sect that erodes state institutions and traditional values, allegations they reject.

The latest jailings follow the conviction in February of a Danish builder in Russia for his association with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Dennis Christensen was found guilty of organizing an extremist group and jailed for six years.

Over 250 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are facing criminal charges, according to the group, with 41 in detention and 23 under house arrest.

‘SPECULATIVE THESIS’

Under Thursday’s ruling, Konstantin Bazhenov and Alexei Budenchuk were sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail, Felix Makhammadiev to three years, and Roman Gridasov, Gennady German, and Alexei Miretsky to two years in prison each.

The court also banned them from holding leadership positions in public organizations for five years.

Jehovah’s Witnesses say Russia’s constitution guarantees their adherents’ right to exercise freedom of religion and deny wrongdoing.

“The whole logic of the accusation was based on the speculative thesis that faith in God is ‘a continuation of the activities of an extremist organization’,” Jarrod Lopes, a U.S.-based spokesman for the group, said in a statement.

“Instead of searching and proving the guilt of the defendants, the aim of the investigation was to prove their religious affiliation, despite the fact that no religion is prohibited in Russia.”

Lawyers for the men plan to appeal what they regard as absurd convictions, said Lopes.

With about 170,000 followers in Russia and 8 million worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian denomination known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, and rejection of military service and blood transfusions.

They believe the end of the world as we know it is imminent, an event “the obedient” will survive to inhabit the Kingdom of God they believe will follow.

Rachel Denber of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch condemned the court’s ruling, saying the men had been jailed for nothing.

“They should be freed,” Denber said on social media.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Founder of site linked to mass shootings says he created ‘a monster’

Online message board 8chan creator Fredrick Brennan listens to questions during an interview in Manila, Philippines, August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Blaza

By Neil Jerome Morales

MANILA (Reuters) – The creator of a far-right online message board connected to three mass shootings that killed dozens of people has described himself as “naive and ignorant”, likening the platform 8chan to Frankenstein’s monster, with no limit to its extremism.

Fredrick Brennan, 25, who lives in the Philippines, said the free-wheeling web board he created in 2013 had become a hive of white supremacy, anonymous hate, and Neo-Nazism since he sold it to a fellow American, and said he felt a sense of guilt, “sometimes”.

“If I could go back and not create 8chan at all, I probably would,” he told Reuters in an interview.

U.S. cyber security firm Cloudflare has terminated 8chan as a customer, after a gunman whom authorities believe had posted on 8chan about a “Hispanic invasion” killed 22 people on Saturday at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas.

The site was also used by a shooter who in March attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people and providing inspiration for a shooting a month later of a man at a synagogue in Poway, California.

“It’s gotten to a point where if a mass shooter wants to go to a killing spree, they choose 8chan to post their manifesto,” Brennan said.

8chan’s main page prominently displays the phrase “embrace infamy”, attracting people with deep-seated anger, he said.

“It seems there’s nowhere else to go in terms of how extreme it is.”

Brennan agreed to media interviews because he had hoped to stop 8chan. However, he said the El Paso shooting was the turning-point, rather than the deadlier New Zealand attack.

“I did not call for it to be shut down like I’m calling for it now,” he said.

The site’s owner, army veteran Jim Watkins, is also based in the Philippines. Reuters made repeated attempts to reach Watkins, without success.

‘RABID CONSERVATIVE’

Asked if he had attempted to reach law enforcement authorities to warn them about the dangers of 8chan, Brennan said: “If the PNP (Philippine National Police) wants to talk to me, no problem at all. I will tell them anything I know.”

The PNP on Monday said it was investigating 8chan.

Brennan said he had no qualms about selling 8chan to Watkins who seemed liberal, fun-loving and “pretty chill”. He said he stopped communicating with Watkins after his character changed and he became “a rabid conservative” supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Brennan said he sold the site for both financial reasons and after being overwhelmed as its administrator and having to deal with child pornography, which he had wanted to ban.

“It was getting so difficult to try to control. It’s like letting the mental patients run the asylum,” he said.

“I was having too much mental stress dealing with it.”

He added: “It was pretty difficult to be 8chan’s administrator so there is some sympathy I have for them. Of course, that sympathy has its limits.”

Brennan said he had contacted El Paso police offering help in confirming the shooter’s manifesto, based on 8chan archives.

“Whenever there’s a shooting and the details are still fuzzy, I am always worried there’s gonna be an 8chan connection,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Karen Lema; Writing by Martin Petty, editing by Ed Osmond)

Facebook shares drop as executives quit, Christchurch live-stream shooting stirs outrage

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

(Reuters) – Shares of Facebook Inc fell as much as 5 percent on Friday to their lowest in nearly three months after the surprise departure of Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, at a time when the company is again being scrutinized over its handling of privacy, extremism and political content.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox speaks at Facebook Inc's annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S. May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox speaks at Facebook Inc’s annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S. May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

Cox, a Wall Street favorite who has worked with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for 13 years, led the social network’s business development team and helped define the business model of its messaging service WhatsApp.

“We believe Cox played a critical role in establishing FB’s mission, values, and culture, and he was extremely well-regarded inside and outside the company, including by Wall Street,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a research note.

Also departing is WhatsApp Vice President Chris Daniels, adding to a string of recent high-profile exits from Facebook’s product and communications teams.

Facebook, Twitter and Google were also facing another round of public discussions over extremist content on their platforms on Friday, after video footage of mass shootings in New Zealand was live streamed and widely shared online.

“The live-streaming of New Zealand’s shooting will certainly bring on more questions of regulation and scrutiny over Facebook. It helped provide a platform for today’s horrific attack and will undoubtedly be called into question for facilitating the spread of this,” said Clement Thibault, analyst at global financial markets platform Investing.com.

The gunman, who was part of attacks that killed 49 people in New Zealand, broadcast live footage on Facebook of the attack on one of the mosques, leading to calls for more content moderation by the social network.

Britain’s interior minister Sajid Javid said social media firms must take action to stop extremism on their channels after Friday’s shootings.

“You really need to do more @YouTube @Google @facebook @Twitter to stop violent extremism being promoted on your platforms,” Javid wrote on Twitter.

The social media companies have said they would take down content involving the mass shootings, which were posted online as the attack unfolded.

Facebook has been investing heavily to weed out fake content from its platform and has hired thousands of employees for moderating content and suspended hundreds of suspicious accounts in different countries.

The company’s shares were down 2.5 percent at $165.83 in midday trade.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham and Bernard Orr)

China says pace of Xinjiang ‘education’ will slow, but defends camps

Islamic studies students attend a class at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute during a government organised trip in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 3, 2019. Picture taken January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

By Ben Blanchard

URUMQI/KASHGAR/HOTAN, China (Reuters) – China will not back down on what it sees as a highly successful de-radicalization program in Xinjiang that has attracted global concern, but fewer people will be sent through, officials said last week in allowing rare media access there.

Beijing has faced an outcry from activists, scholars, foreign governments and U.N. rights experts over what they call mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups who call Xinjiang home.

In August, a U.N. human rights panel said it had received credible reports that a million or more Uighurs and other minorities in the far western region are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp.”

Residents perform for reporters and government officials during a government organised visit to the Karakax county vocational educational training centre in Karakax, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 5, 2019. Picture taken January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Residents perform for reporters and government officials during a government organised visit to the Karakax county vocational educational training center in Karakax, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 5, 2019. Picture taken January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Last week, the government organized a visit to three such facilities, which it calls vocational education training centers, for a small group of foreign reporters, including Reuters.

In recent days, a similar visit was arranged for diplomats from 12 non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Kazakhstan, according to Xinjiang officials and foreign diplomats.

Senior officials, including Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang’s governor and the region’s most senior Uighur, dismissed what they called “slanderous lies” about the facilities.

Speaking in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, Shohrat Zakir said the centers had been “extremely effective” in reducing extremism by teaching residents about the law and helping them learn Mandarin.

“As time goes by, the people in the education training mechanism will be fewer and fewer,” he said.

Shohrat Zakir said he could not say exactly how many people were in the facilities.

Imams and government officials pass under security cameras as they leave the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Imams and government officials pass under security cameras as they leave the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

“One million people, this number is rather frightening. One million people in the education mechanism – that’s not realistic. That’s purely a rumor,” he said, stressing they were temporary educational facilities.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based exile group the World Uyghur Congress, told Reuters the Chinese government was using extremism as an excuse to lock people up.

“What they are trying to do is destroy Uighur identity,” he said.

INSIDE THE CENTERS

Human rights groups and former detainees have said that conditions in the camps are poor, with inmates subject to abuse. They said detainees did not receive vocational training.

Seeking to counter that narrative, the government took reporters to three centers, in Kashgar, Hotan and Karakax, all in the heavily Uighur-populated southern part of Xinjiang, where much of the violence has taken place in recent years.

Security cameras are installed at the entrance to the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Security cameras are installed at the entrance to the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

In one class reporters were allowed to briefly visit, a teacher explained in Mandarin that not allowing singing or dancing at a wedding or crying at a funeral are signs of extremist thought.

The students took notes, pausing to look up as reporters and officials entered the room. Some smiled awkwardly. Others just looked down at their books. All were Uighur. None appeared to have been mistreated.

In another class, residents read a Chinese lesson in their textbook entitled “Our motherland is so vast.”

There was plenty of singing and dancing in other rooms reporters visited, including a lively rendition in English of “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands,” that seemed to have been put on especially for the visit.

Several residents agreed to speak briefly to reporters, though all in the presence of government officials. Reporters were closely chaperoned at all times.

All the interviewees said they were there of their own accord after learning of the centers from local officials.

Many answers used extremely similar language about being “infected with extremist thought.”

Pazalaibutuyi, 26, told reporters at the Hotan center that five years ago she had attended an illegal religious gathering at a neighbor’s house, where they were taught that women should cover their faces.

“At that time I was infected with extremist thought so I wore a face veil,” she said, speaking clear Mandarin after a year at the center.

Government officials came to her village to talk to the villagers and after that, she said, “I discovered my mistake.”

In the Kashgar center, Osmanjan, who declined to give his age, said he had incited ethnic hatred, so village police suggested he go for re-education.

“Under the influence of extremist thought, when non-Muslims came to my shop I was unwilling to serve them,” he said in unsteady Mandarin.

It was not possible to independently verify their stories. All the interviewees said they had not been forewarned of the visit.

Residents said they can “graduate” when they are judged to have reached a certain level with their Mandarin, de-radicalization and legal knowledge. They are allowed phone calls with family members, but no cell phones. They are provided with halal food.

Only minimal security was visible at any of the three centers.

Reuters last year reported on conditions inside the camps and took pictures of guard towers and barbed wire surrounding some.

‘A GOOD LIFE’

The situation in Xinjiang has stirred concern in Western capitals.

At least 15 Western ambassadors wrote to Xinjiang’s top official, Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo, late last year seeking a meeting to discuss their concerns. Chen did not meet reporters on the trip.

Diplomatic sources told Reuters the ambassadors did not get a response.

The United States has said it is considering sanctions against Chen, other officials and Chinese companies linked to allegations of rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based Human Rights Watch researcher, said international pressure needs to increase.

“The fact that they feel they need to put on a show tour is a sign that this pressure is working,” she told Reuters.

Both Wang and Dilxat Raxit noted that the tight control over the visits and interviews showed China’s concern about their true nature.

Over a lunch of lamb kebabs, horse meat and naan, Urumqi party boss Xu Hairong told Reuters that “all of the reports are fake” when it comes to foreign coverage of Xinjiang. He dismissed worries about U.S. sanctions.

“We, including Party Secretary Chen, are working all out for the people of Xinjiang to have a good life,” Xu said. “If the U.S. won’t allow me to go, then I don’t want to go there. That’s the truth.”

The government says its goal is for Uighurs to become part of mainstream Chinese society. Shohrat Zakir said in parts of southern Xinjiang people couldn’t even say hello in Mandarin.

Officials point to a lack of violence in the past two years as evidence of program’s success.

Urumqi’s Exhibition on Major Violent Terrorist Attack Cases in Xinjiang, normally closed to the public, displays graphic images and footage from what the government says are attacks.

“Only with a deeper understanding of the past can you understand the measures we have taken today,” Shi Lei, Xinjiang’s Communist Party committee deputy propaganda chief, told reporters.

One member of the Chinese armed forces, who has served in Kashgar, said the security situation had improved dramatically.

“You can’t imagine what it was like there in 2014 and 2015. There were attacks all the time, bombings, stabbings. It was chaos,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

In Kashgar, Hotan and Karakax, petrol stations are still surrounded by barbed wire and heavy security barriers. Residential areas are dotted with small police stations.

The stations have broader public service in mind, Zhang Yi, commander of one of the stations, told reporters. The one reporters visited provided pamphlets on a wide range of subjects, including how to legally change your sex.

Kashgar deputy party chief Zark Zurdun, a Uighur from Ghulja in northern Xinjiang, where many ethnic Kazakhs live, told Reuters that “stability is the best human right.”

“The West should learn from us” on how to beat extremism, he said, dismissing concerns Uighur culture was under attack.

“Did Kazakh vanish in the USSR when they all had to learn Russian?” he said. “No. So Uighur won’t vanish here.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Turkey says recognizing Jerusalem as capital would cause catastrophe

Youth hold their prayer shawls as they stand in front of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayers site in Jerusalem's Old City May 17, 2017.

ANKARA (Reuters) – A formal U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would cause catastrophe and lead to new conflict in the Middle East, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Monday.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting, Bozdag, who is also the government spokesman, said Jerusalem’s status had been determined by international agreements and that preserving it was important for the peace of the region.

“The status of Jerusalem and Temple Mount have been determined by international agreements. It is important to preserve Jerusalem’s status for the sake of protecting peace in the region,” Bozdag said.

“If another step is taken and this step is lifted, this will be a major catastrophe.”

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. It later annexed it, declaring the whole of the city as its capital — a move not recognized internationally. Palestinians want Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

On Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law said Trump had not yet made a decision on whether to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that would break with decades of U.S. policy.

Past U.S. presidents have insisted that the status of Jerusalem — home to sites holy to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions — must be decided in negotiations.

On Saturday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan held a phone call with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in which they discussed the status of Jerusalem, sources in Erdogan’s office said.

The sources said Erdogan told Abbas that preserving the status of Jerusalem was important for all Muslim countries, adding that international laws and United Nations decisions should be followed on the issue.

Any move by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would fuel extremism and violence, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Saturday.

A senior Jordanian source said on Sunday that Amman has begun consultations on convening an emergency meeting of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation before Trump’s expected declaration this week.

 

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

 

Asia security forum to push social media use to fight extremism

Motorists drive past an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) parked near the venue of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Pasay city, metro Manila, Philippines August 4, 2017.

By Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) – More than two dozen Asian countries will agree to utilize social media to counter the spread of violent extremism in the region, according to a draft statement being prepared ahead of a top security gathering on Monday.

Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and from 17 dialogue partner-countries are expected to create a regional mechanism to address the security threat.

“The ministers expressed strong condemnation of recent acts of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” said the draft chairman’s statement seen by Reuters, reflecting discussions expected at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila.

“They also took note of the need to make full and effective use of social media to counter the spread of terrorists’ narratives online.”

The ARF is expected to discuss creating a mechanism to boost efforts on Security of Information Communication Technology, which Japan, Malaysia and Singapore have volunteered to lead.

The Philippines, which is hosting the ASEAN meetings, is among those most affected. Authorities have said Islamic State’s radical ideology is taking a hold in the country’s south, with local groups using social media as a primary means of recruiting fighters, which include Indonesians, Singaporeans and Malaysians.

Philippine troops have been battling Islamist militants who seized control of parts of the mainly Muslim Marawi City more than two months ago. Close to 700 people have died and more than 400,000 displaced in the intense fighting.

Philippine authorities believe the problem goes beyond Marawi and militants may be preparing to attack other cities.

ASEAN ministers were ready to act because they have seen how extremists exploited social media to promote their ideology, recruit and inspire attacks, a senior Philippines foreign ministry official familiar with the issue told Reuters.

“They spread violent videos on Twitter and Facebook and communicate through Telegram messaging apps,” he said, adding the ministers decided to counter the threat using those same platforms.

Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, Philippine military spokesman, said many countries were making progress in that regard but “there is a need for ASEAN to do more.”

“We can do more beyond the traditional military cooperation,” he said, acknowledging support from Indonesia and Malaysia through information and intelligence exchanges and coordinated maritime border patrols.

“This is a very robust engagement that we wish to increase not only with Indonesia and Malaysia,” he said. “This challenge that we face in Marawi has its effects also in the whole region.”

 

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Bill Tarrant)

 

‘Enough is enough’ PM May says after London attackers kill seven

By Guy Faulconbridge and Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain must be tougher in stamping out Islamist extremism after attackers killed at least seven people by ramming a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and stabbing revelers in nearby bars.

After the third militant attack in Britain in less than three months, May said Thursday’s national election would go ahead. But she proposed regulating cyberspace and said Britain had been far too tolerant of extremism.

“It is time to say enough is enough,” the Conservative leader said outside her Downing Street office, where British flags flew at half-staff.

“We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are,” May said, adding that Britain was under attack from a new breed of crude copycat militants.

Islamic State, which is losing territory in Syria and Iraq to an offensive backed by a U.S.-led coalition, said its militants were responsible for the attack, the group’s media agency Amaq said in a statement monitored in Cairo.

One French national and one Canadian were among those killed. At least 48 people were injured in the attack. Australia said one of its citizens was among the injured.

Police shot dead the three male assailants in the Borough Market area near London Bridge within eight minutes of receiving the first emergency call shortly after 10 p.m. (2100 GMT).

Mark Rowley, head of counter-terrorism police, said eight officers had fired about 50 bullets to stop the attackers, who appeared to be suicide bombers because they were wearing what turned out to be fake suicide vests.

“The situation these officers were confronted with was critical: a matter of life and death,” Rowley said. “I am humbled by the bravery of an officer who will rush towards a potential suicide bomber thinking only of protecting others.”

A member of the public received non-critical gunshot wounds. Police did not release the names of the attackers.

London police arrested 12 people in the Barking district of east London in connection with the attack and raids were continuing there, the force said. A Reuters photographer saw another raid take place in nearby East Ham.

Less than two weeks ago, a suicide bomber killed 22 children and adults at a concert by U.S. singer Ariana Grande in Manchester in northern England. In March, in a attack similar to Saturday’s, five people died after a man drove into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in central London and stabbed a policeman.

May said the series of attacks were not connected in terms of planning and execution, but were inspired by what she called a “single, evil ideology of Islamist extremism” that represented a perversion of Islam and of the truth.

She said this ideology had to be confronted both abroad and at home, adding that the internet and big internet companies provided the space for such extremism to breed.

Facebook said it wanted to make its social media platform a “hostile environment” for terrorists. Twitter also said it was working to tackle the spread of militant propaganda.

After the Manchester attack, Britain raised its threat level to “critical” – meaning an attack is expected imminently – but downgraded it back to “severe”, which means an attack is highly likely, on May 27.

HARROWING SCENES

Witnesses described harrowing scenes as the attackers’ white van veered on and off the bridge sidewalk, hitting people along the way, and the three men then ran into an area packed with bars and restaurants, stabbing people indiscriminately.

Accounts emerged of people trying to barricade themselves in a pub while others tried throwing tables and other objects to fend off the attackers.

One eyewitness said the attackers screamed “this is for Allah” as they stabbed people.

England’s health authority said on Sunday afternoon that 36 of those injured remained in hospital, of whom 21 were in a critical condition.

May made a private visit to staff and patients at King’s College Hospital, where some of the injured were being treated, a spokeswoman said.

The government announced that a nationwide minute of silence would be held at 1000 GMT on Tuesday to pay respect to the victims of the attack and flags would remain at half-mast on government buildings until Tuesday evening.

A Reuters photographer saw four women being removed from an apartment block in Barking, shielding their faces as they stepped into police vans.

Islamic State militants had sent out a call on instant messaging service Telegram early on Saturday urging its followers to carry out attacks with trucks, knives and guns against “Crusaders” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Islamist militants have carried out scores of deadly attacks in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the United States over the past two years.

“We believe we are experiencing a new trend in the threat we face as terrorism breeds terrorism,” May said.

“Perpetrators are inspired to attack not only on the basis of carefully constructed plots … and not even as lone attackers radicalized online, but by copying one another and often using the crudest of means of attack.”

Police vans leave carrying a number of women who were detained after a block of flats was raided in Barking, east London,

Police vans leave carrying a number of women who were detained after a block of flats was raided in Barking, east London, Britain, June 4, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

“TOLERANCE OF EXTREMISM”

May, who served as Britain’s interior minister from 2010 to 2016, said there was too much tolerance of extremism in Britain.

“While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is – to be frank – far too much tolerance of extremism in our country,” she said, urging Britons to be more robust in stamping it out in the public sector and in wider society.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Britain needed to have difficult conversations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states about the funding of Islamist extremism.

U.S. President Donald Trump, taking to Twitter on Sunday, urged the world to stop being “politically correct” in order to ensure public security against terrorism.

Most of the main political parties suspended election campaigning on Sunday, but May said this would resume on Monday. The anti-European Union UK Independence Party said it would not suspend its campaign because disrupting democracy was what the extremists wanted.

London Bridge is a transport hub and nearby Borough Market is a fashionable warren of alleyways leavened with bars and restaurants that is always bustling on a Saturday night.

The area remained cordoned off and patrolled by armed police and counter-terrorism officers on Sunday, with train stations closed. Forensic investigators could be seen working on the bridge, where buses and taxis stood abandoned.

At several points outside the cordon, people laid flowers and messages of grief and solidarity.

Ariana Grande and other music stars were giving a benefit concert at Manchester’s Old Trafford cricket ground on Sunday evening to raise funds for victims of the concert bombing and their families.

“Today’s One Love Manchester benefit concert will not only continue, but will do so with greater purpose,” Grande’s manager, Scooter Braun, said on Twitter after the London attack.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the official threat level in Britain remained at severe, meaning a militant attack is highly likely. It had been raised to critical after the Manchester attack, then lowered again days later.

“One of the things we can do is show that we aren’t going to be cowed is by voting on Thursday and making sure that we understand the importance of our democracy, our civil liberties and our human rights,” Khan said.

In tweets, Trump offered help to Britain but also leveled apparent criticism of Khan for saying there was no need to be alarmed. Khan had earlier said Londoners would see an increased police presence on the streets of the city and people should not be alarmed by that.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin were among those who sent messages of condolence and made statements of solidarity.

The Manchester bombing on May 22 was the deadliest attack in Britain since July 2005, when four British Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 people in coordinated assaults on London’s transport network.

(Additional reporting by UK bureau, Dylan Martinez, Hannah McKay, William Schomberg, Elisabeth O’Leary, William James, Andy Bruce and Alistair Smout in London, Marine Pennetier in Paris, Steve Scherer in Rome, Polina Devitt in Moscow, Paul Carrel in Berlin, David Morgan in Washington and Mostafa Hashem in Cairo; writing by Estelle Shirbon, Pravin Char and Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Ralph Boulton and Angus MacSwan)

Saudi-owned TV drama fights Islamic State propaganda

Women perform in a scene from 'Black Crows' series, believed to be filmed in Lebanon, April 19, 2016.

By Tarek Fahmy and Noah Browning

DUBAI, June 1 (Reuters) – A Saudi-owned television channel has launched a drama series portraying the brutality of life under the Islamic State to counter sleek propaganda from the jihadist group which has won it recruits worldwide.

Beamed across the Arab world by satellite channel MBC, the $10-million project reflects the kingdom’s self-appointed role at the forefront of a Muslim bulwark against extremism which was underlined in a May 20-21 visit by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“Black Crows” shows women and children living under the jihadists and is the first television drama to tackle subjects such as mass murder and rape, contrasting sharply with the idyll of heroism and holy war projected by IS on social media.

“The main audience we target, the most important and dangerous, are those who are prone to support and even join terrorist organizations,” MBC spokesman Mazen Hayek told Reuters in an interview.

“Media is part of their (IS) offensive strategy. Thus media organizations have the right, actually the duty, to face such an offensive – which is well-funded and on the internet and social media – with this series,” he said.

Actors and MBC staff have told local media they received death threats online from IS supporters because of the show.

Filmed in Lebanon, the more-than-20-part series that started on Saturday follows the widow of an Islamic State commander turned leader of a women’s morality police force. There are scenes of gutted homes, mass graves, big explosions and gunmen waving black flags.

Plot-lines include women from the Yazidi religion being captured and forced into sex slavery, child-soldiers and a woman with a forlorn love-life moving to territory held by the group to become a “jihadi bride”.

Since Islamic State launched its lightning offensive across Iraq and Syria staging beheadings and releasing carefully crafted films to draw in new recruits, Arab and Western governments have sought to counter their message.

BATTLING RADICALISM

During Trump’s Riyadh visit, Saudi King Salman unveiled a Global Center for Combating Extremism to monitor and rebut extremist material online, and now maintains a new Ideological War Center within its defense ministry.

“The media alone is not enough, we need religious institutes, clerics and mosques to work with the media in combating radicalism,” said Najat AlSaeed, a Saudi analyst who has written a book on Arab satellite TV.

“There is progress, but it’s slow and is not enough for the reformists or the global community.”

The show will aim to reach a big audience of Muslim viewers as they break their fast in the evening for the holy month of Ramadan – a prime season for TV dramas. MBC together with its sister entertainment and movie channels are the most watched network in the Arab world.

The subject matter strays widely from traditional programs: Middle East period drama or romantic soaps.

However, Syrian actress Dima Al Jundi who plays the morality enforcer says only art can convey the depth of human suffering the group has wrought in a way viewers need to see.

“If you open YouTube, you’ll find videos of murder or suicide bombings. But the details of their daily life, how they recruit kids, how they abuse women – this you wouldn’t know.”

Saudi Arabia follows the ultra-conservative Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam, but sees the Islamist militants as posing a threat to its own stability. IS denounces the al Saud family as ungodly rulers for their alliance with the United States and has staged attacks in the country.

Senior Wahhabi clerics, whose influence in Saudi society forms part of a covenant with the royal family dating to the kingdom’s founding 250 years ago, endorse execution by beheading for offences that include apostasy, adultery and sorcery, oppose women driving or working and describe Shi’ites as heretics.

The clerics sharply differ, however, from al Qaeda and Islamic State Sunni militants in opposing violent revolt against the government.

Saudi Arabia crushed a campaign of al Qaeda attacks in 2003-06 but has been hit by Islamic State bombings in the past two years. Saudi security police closely monitor Saudis with suspected connections to militants and have detained more than 15,000 suspects in the years since al Qaeda’s campaign.

(Editing by William Maclean and Peter Millership)