Dutch police discover family locked away for years on farm

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Six young adults and their father were receiving medical treatment on Tuesday after Dutch police acting on a tip-off discovered them locked away in a secret room at an isolated farm, officials in the Netherlands said on Tuesday.

The six, aged 18 to 25, and their ailing father were found near Ruinerwold, a village in the northern province of Drenthe, local Mayor Roger de Groot said. They had apparently had no contact with the outside world for nine years.

De Groot said a 58-year-old man, not the father of the children, was arrested at the farm. His role was unclear.

“As far as I know their mother died before they arrived there,” he said. “Police found makeshift living quarters where the family was living in hiding.”

The family, who according to local news reports had been waiting for the end of time, was discovered after one of the siblings escaped and sought help at a nearby cafe.

An employee at the cafe told RTV Drenthe one of the family members, a 25-year-old man, had come in looking scruffy and bewildered with long hair and said he had not been outside for nine years.

“You could see he had no idea where he was or what he was doing,” the cafe owner, Chris Westerbeek, told the broadcaster. “He said he had run away and that he urgently needed help.”

The siblings and their father, who was reportedly bedridden after a stroke, were receiving treatment at an undisclosed location, the mayor said.

“I understand there are a lot of questions,” de Groot said. We have many too. The police are investigating all possible scenarios.”

The siblings had apparently lived in a hidden cellar and survived on vegetables and animals tended in a secluded garden, local TV RTV Drenthe reported.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Smells like heaven: Israeli farm recreates Magi’s gifts to Jesus

A visitor walks in the cave, where Virgin Mary is believed to have given birth to Jesus, inside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 12, 2017.

By Rinat Harash

ALMOG, West Bank (Reuters) – The aromatic plants bestowed on the infant Jesus are being cultivated by an Israeli entrepreneur who aims to transform the gifts of the Christmas story into therapeutic balms and incense.

Manger aside, the baby Jesus may have been swaddled in pleasant and pricey fragrances, thanks to the presents that the Bible says were given to him by the Wise Men of the East.

The frankincense (pungent and sweet) and myrrh (sharp and piney) recounted in the Gospel of St Matthew are being grown by Guy Erlich, a businessman who hopes to revive the rare plants’ use for commercial ends.

And what about gold, the third gift brought by the Magi according to the New Testament story?

Some Christians believe this refers to the precious amber resin of the Balsam of Gilead, an aromatic mix resembling citrus and cinnamon that Erlich also cultivates on his farm in the Judean desert.

“I see myself as a modern Magus,” he told Reuters.

“I decided to focus on plants that no one else in the world grows. Since those plants, those medical plants of the Bible were in medical use for so many years, there must be something about them and it is our duty to look for it.”

Dried and crushed resins of all three plants smolder in a nearby censer, filling the air with heavenly smells of fruity freshness.

Guy Erlich, an Israeli entrepreneur, taps a frankincense plant at a plantation in Kibbutz Almog, Judean desert, in the West Bank, November 30, 2017.

Guy Erlich, an Israeli entrepreneur, taps a frankincense plant at a plantation in Kibbutz Almog, Judean desert, in the West Bank, November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Such smoke was used for religious rites and fumigation in ancient times. The plants have also been known to produce balms, poultices and perfumes. The Balsam of Gilead resin, Erlich says, was used as the oil with which biblical kings were anointed.

Archaeologists doubt the claim that it could be identified as the Magi’s gold, and attribute the origins of this theory to Christian evangelical circles.

But Christianity scholar Yisca Harani explains it may be plausible in at least a literary way, if there was a translation inaccuracy of the word “gold”.

“Maybe it was this very precious Balm of Gilead. Maybe it was another statement from Biblical times saying these are the perfumes that are typical of the prophecies of God, these are the gifts of the land.”

Prof. Shimshon Ben Yehoshua, from the Volcani Agricultural Research Centre and the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture, says Erlich’s plants are most likely the same as those from ancient times.

“For the frankincense and myrrh which I believe are similar to the ones that were growing in the past in Israel, those are many species but I believe that the species he (Guy Erlich) grew has the desirable qualities,” he told Reuters.

In addition to Christians interested in sampling the scents, Erlich says he has been fielding inquiries from pious Jews who thrill at the prospect of recreating the incenses that were burnt in their Roman-era temple in Jerusalem.

“My plants are sacred to all religions,” he said. “Now they can be a uniting factor. They can be a common ground. They can connect people.”

(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by William Maclean)

Chinese National’s Seed Theft in Iowa Exposes Vulnerability

File photo of a U.S. and Iowa state flag are seen next to a corn field in Grand Mound, IOWA

ARLINGTON, Iowa (Reuters) – Tim Burrack, a northern Iowa farmer in his 44th growing season, has taken to keeping a wary eye out for unfamiliar vehicles around his 300 acres of genetically modified corn seeds.

Along with other farmers in this vast agricultural region, he has upped his vigilance ever since Mo Hailong and six other Chinese nationals were accused by U.S. authorities in 2013 of digging up seeds from Iowa farms and planning to send them back to China.

The case, in which Mo pleaded guilty in January, has laid bare the value — and vulnerability — of advanced food technology in a world with 7 billion mouths to feed, 1.36 billion of them Chinese.

Citing that case and others as evidence of a growing economic and national security threat to America’s farm sector, U.S. law enforcement officials are urging agriculture executives and security officers to increase their vigilance and report any suspicious activity.

But on a March 30 visit to Iowa, Justice Department officials could offer little advice to ensure against similar thefts, underlining how agricultural technology lying in open fields can be more vulnerable than a computer network or a factory floor.

“It may range down to traditional barriers like a fence and doing human patrols to making sure you get good visuals on what’s occurring,” Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said when touring Iowa State University.

But agriculture sector executives say fences and guards are not feasible, due to the high cost and impracticality of guarding hundreds of thousands of acres.

Tom McBride, intellectual property attorney at Monsanto — one of the firms whose seeds were targeted by Mo — said it safeguards its genetically modified organism (GMO) technology by protecting its computers, patenting seeds and keeping fields like Burrack’s unmarked. Monsanto says it is not considering physical barriers like fences or guards.

The FBI and the U.S. Justice Department say cases of espionage in the agriculture sector have been growing since Mo was first discovered digging in an Iowan field in May 2011. Over the past two years, U.S. companies, government research facilities and universities have all been targeted, according to the FBI.

Although prosecutors were unable to establish a Chinese government link to Mo’s group, the case adds to U.S.-China frictions over what Washington says is increasing economic espionage and trade secret theft by Beijing and its proxies.

A U.S. law enforcement official told Reuters the agency looked for a connection between the Chinese government and the conspiracy carried out by Mo.

“In cases like this, we can see connections, but proving to the threshold needed in court requires that we have documents that the government has directed this,” the official said. “It’s almost impossible to get.”

A Chinese embassy spokesman in Washington, Zhu Haiquan, said he did not have detailed information on the Mo case but that China “stands firm” on the protection of intellectual property and maintains “constant communication and cooperation” with the U.S. government on the issue.

On his visit to Washington last September, President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s denial of any government role in the hacking of U.S. corporate secrets.

Mo, an employee of Chinese firm Kings Nower Seed, pleaded guilty to stealing seed grown by U.S. firms Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer and LG Seeds.

Prosecutors say he specifically targeted fields that grow the parent seeds needed to replicate GMO corn. The FBI says it suspects he was given the location by workers for the seed companies, but did not charge any employees.

DuPont Pioneer and LG Seeds declined to comment for this story.

Mo, whose case was prosecuted by the Justice Department as a national security matter rather than a simple criminal case, now faces a sentence of up to five years in prison. Five others charged in the case are still wanted by the FBI and are believed to have fled to China or Argentina. Charges were dropped against a sixth Chinese suspect.


The number of international economic espionage cases referred to the FBI is rising, up 15 percent each year between 2009 and 2014 and up 53 percent in 2015. The majority of cases reported involve Chinese nationals, the U.S. law enforcement official told Reuters. In the agriculture sector, organic insecticide, irrigation equipment and rice, along with corn, are all suspected to have been targeted, including by Chinese nationals, the official said.

Mo Hongjian, vice president of Kings Nower Seed’s parent company, Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group, declined to comment on the case or on the company’s connection with the Chinese government.

The parent firm is privately owned, but says it receives government money for research in “science and technology.”

China bans commercial growing of GMO grains due to public opposition to the technology and imports of GMO corn have to be approved by the agriculture ministry. Still, President Xi called in 2014 for China to innovate and dominate the technique, which promises high yields through resistance to drought, pests and disease.

In January, a Greenpeace report found some Chinese farmers are illegally growing GMO corn whose strains belong to companies including Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont Pioneer.

Monsanto, which supplies Burrack’s seed, said it can block foreign groups who request to tour their lab and learning center in Huxley, Iowa. For the past few years, Monsanto says it has run its own background checks on Chinese delegations that ask for a tour, and, if they are approved, boosts security to be sure they do not steal anything or take pictures.

In Washington, U.S. senators have called for a review of the $43 billion deal by state-owned ChemChina to buy Swiss seed group Syngenta, which generates nearly a quarter of its revenue from North America.

Acquiring GMO seed and successfully recreating a corn plant would allow Chinese companies to skip over roughly eight years of research and $1.5 billion spent annually by Monsanto to develop the corn, the company says.

Burrack’s farm itself was not targeted by Mo, though he grows the Monsanto parent seed that the Chinese national was digging for. Burrack grows the corn in two fields in front of and behind his house where he can watch them, a small part of his 2,800-acre farm.

He said he is told by Monsanto where and when to plant the parent seed, but has never been told to keep what he is planting a secret.

“What no one seems to understand is that they’re stealing from people like me,” Burrack said. “They’re stealing the research that farmers pay for when they buy Monsanto seed.”

(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Additional reporting by Shuping Niu in Beijing; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Stuart Grudgings)

2015 Word of the Lord

Seeking the Lord for a word for the new year is always a very serious pursuit and this year is even more crucial as we see the “red lights of prophecy” flashing all around us and God’s plan unfolding at breakneck speed. The Lord began to speak to me while we were in Israel, and the word that I give to you I sincerely pray will resonate with your spirit and cause you to be more prepared for these times we see looming on the horizon. Remember that in the midst of all the turmoil there is a promise of His Return and that is cause for great rejoicing! Continue reading