Stopped from joining Islamic State fiance in Syria, teen planned London attack

Rizlaine Boular, aged 22 and sister of Safaa Boular, who has pleaded guilty to preparation of terrorist acts, can be seen in this undated Metropolitan Police handout photograph in London, Britain, June 4, 2018. Metropolitan Police/Handout via REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) – A London teenager who wanted to attack the British Museum with grenades and firearms after she was prevented from traveling to Syria to marry an Islamic State militant was convicted on Monday of planning acts of terrorism.

Safaa Boular, now 18, had started chatting online to fighter Naweed Husain when she was 16. She had decided to join him in Syria so they could marry, then carry out a suicide attack there while holding hands.

Husain had sent Boular’s older sister, Rizlaine Boular, 3,000 pounds ($4,000) to pay for Safaa’s travel arrangements, but the sisters were arrested in August 2016. They were released on bail but had their passport confiscated.

Safaa Boular continued chatting to Husain, and the pair discussed plans for her to attack the British Museum, one of central London’s top attractions for visitors, with what she called “pineapples” – grenades.

“Safaa Boular’s intention was to cause serious injury and death,” said Sue Hemming of the Crown Prosecution Service.

After Husain was killed in Syria on April 4, 2017, Boular wrote that she wanted to be granted “martyrdom”.

“My heart yearns … to be reunited with my dear husband for the very first time,” she wrote.

Instead, she was arrested eight days later, but her sister Rizlaine took on the planning of an attack on targets in central London, supported by the young women’s mother Mina Dich.

The mother and daughter went on a reconnaissance visit to major landmarks in Westminster on April 25, 2017, and the following day they bought knives from a supermarket. They were arrested a day later.

Rizlaine Boular, 22, and Dich, 44, both pleaded guilty in February to planning acts of terrorism. Their pleas could not previously be reported because of the risk of prejudice to Safaa Boular’s trial by jury.

The trio will be sentenced at a later date.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Death toll from Egypt gun battle rises to 52 killed: sources

CAIRO (Reuters) – At least 52 Egyptian police and conscripts were killed and six more wounded in a gun battle on Friday during a raid on a suspected militant hideout in the western desert, three security sources said.

Sources had said late on Friday at least 30 police were killed. Egypt is battling an Islamist insurgency concentrated in the Sinai peninsula from two main groups, including an Islamic State affiliate, that has killed hundreds of security forces since 2013.

The interior ministry released a statement on the operation on Friday but has so far not given any details on casualties. At least 23 police officers were killed and the other victims were conscripts, the sources said.

Security sources on Friday said authorities were following a lead to a militant camp in the desert where eight suspected members of Hasm Movement were believed to be hiding. The group has claimed attacks around Cairo targeting judges and police.

A convoy of four SUVs and one interior ministry vehicle was ambushed from higher ground by militants firing rocket-propelled grenades and detonating explosive devices, one senior security source said.

Militants are mostly fighting in remote northern Sinai where the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis group pledged allegiance to Islamic State in 2014. Attacks mostly hit police and armed forces, but militants have also targeted Egypt’s Christians and tourists.

(Reporting by Ahmed Tolba; writing by Patrick Markey/Jeremy Gaunt)

Gulf crisis seen widening split in Syria rebellion

FILE PHOTO: A rebel fighter from the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement reacts as they fire grad rockets from Idlib countryside, towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stationed at Jureen town in al-Ghab plain in the Hama countryside, Syria, April 25, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamad Bayoush/File Photo

By Tom Perry and Suleiman Al-Khalidi

BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) – Confrontation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia is creating unease among Syrian rebels who expect the crisis between two of their biggest state backers to deepen divisions in the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

Together with Turkey and the United States, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been major sponsors of the insurgency, arming an array of groups that have been fighting to topple the Iran-backed president. The Gulf support has however been far from harmonious, fuelling splits that have set back the revolt.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar a week ago, accusing it of fomenting regional unrest, supporting terrorism and getting too close to Iran, all of which Doha denies.

It is the biggest rift among Gulf Arab states in years.

“God forbid if this crisis is not contained I predict … the situation in Syria will become tragic because the factions that are supported by (different) countries will be forced to take hostile positions towards each other,” said Mustafa Sejari of the Liwa al Mutasem rebel group in northern Syria.

“We urge our brothers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar not to burden the Syrian people more than they can bear.”

The Syrian rebellion can ill afford more internal conflict.

The opposition has been losing ground to Damascus ever since the Russian military deployed to Syria in support of Assad’s war effort in 2015. Assad now appears militarily unassailable, though rebels still have notable footholds near Damascus, in the northwest, and the southwest.

In the fractured map of the Syrian insurgency, Qatari aid has gone to groups that are often Islamist in ideology and seen as close to the Muslim Brotherhood – a movement that is anathema to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Turkey, which has swung firmly behind Qatar in the Gulf crisis, is thought to have backed the same groups as Qatar in northern Syria, including the powerful conservative Islamist faction Ahrar al-Sham.

Qatar is also widely believed to have ties to al Qaeda-linked jihadists of the group once known as the Nusra Front, which has rebranded since formally parting ways with al Qaeda and is now part of the Tahrir al-Sham Islamist alliance.

While Qatar has officially denied Nusra ties, it has mediated the release of hostages held by the group including Americans, Greek Orthodox nuns and members of the Lebanese security forces.

Saudi aid has meanwhile been seen as targeted more closely at groups backed through programs run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency – programs in which Qatar has also participated even as it has backed groups outside that channel.

The United Arab Emirates has also played an influential role in that program, together with staunch U.S. ally Jordan. These powers wield more influence in southern Syria than the north.


“It will increase the split between north and south, as the north is mainly funded by Qatar and Turkey, and the south is supported by Jordan and the (U.S.-led) coalition,” said an opposition source familiar with foreign support to the rebels.

A second opposition source, a senior rebel official, said the Gulf crisis “will certainly affect us, people are known to be with Saudi, or Qatar, or Turkey. The split is clear.”

Adding to rebel concerns, the crisis has also nudged Qatar closer to Iran, which has sent planes loaded with food to Doha. “Any rapprochement between Qatar and Iran, or any other state and Iran, is very concerning for us,” the rebel official said.

A senior Turkish official said it was very important that the Qatar crisis did not take on “further dimensions”.

“These developments will have certain effects on the developments in Syria, its effects will be seen on the field. The elements which Qatar supports may slightly weaken on the field,” the official said.

Opposition sources fear the Gulf crisis could spark new bouts of conflict, particularly in the Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus where the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam has been fighting the Qatari-backed Failaq al-Rahman intermittently for more than a year. That quarrel has helped government forces regain parts of the area.

The four Arab states that have turned against Qatar last week issued a list of dozens of people named as terrorists with links to Qatar, including prominent Islamist insurgent Sheikh Abdullah al-Muhaysini, a Saudi national based in Syria known for mobilizing support for jihadist groups.

The U.S. Treasury last year blacklisted him for acting on behalf of and supporting the Nusra Front, saying he had raised millions of dollars for the group.

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Turkey; writing by Tom Perry; editing by Peter Graff)

Feud over Qatar deepens conflicts across Arab world

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (L) chats with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 2, 2017. Picture taken June 2, 2017. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS

By Noah Browning and Aidan Lewis

DUBAI/TUNIS (Reuters) – The ostracism of Qatar by other powerful Arab states is deepening divisions between their respective allies vying for influence in wars and political struggles from Libya to Yemen.

The feud complicates efforts to stabilize countries reeling from years of turmoil and undermines the notion of a Sunni Muslim Arab world united against terrorism and Iran, proclaimed by U.S. President Donald Trump in his visit last month.

The quarrel is the latest chapter in the battle of wills between political Islamists and traditional Arab autocrats which has buffeted Muslim societies for decades.

Since the 2011 “Arab Spring” protests, which aspired to democratic reform but in several countries collapsed into warfare, Egypt and especially the United Arab Emirates emerged as main foes of an ascendant Muslim Brotherhood backed by Qatar.

After Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE cut ties to Doha on Monday, accusing it of supporting militants and Iran, regional allies followed suit and denounced domestic foes as Qatari stooges, undermining reconciliation efforts by foreign powers.

“The whole situation has become very awkward. Qatar and its big rivals are fighting each other, but indirectly and on other people’s territory,” said Yemeni analyst Farea al-Muslimi.

“Having internal Arab messes like this escalate and get more complicated makes it pretty clear that the Arab world is far away from solving other issues like Palestine or Iraq or even the relationship with Iran.”

In Libya, the UAE and Qatar, which both played key roles in backing rebels in the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, have emerged as rivals on the battlefield with conflicting interests and visions.

The UAE, along with Egypt, has backed anti-Islamist former army commander Khalifa Haftar, appointed by a government and parliament based in the east. Qatar and Turkey have supported rival Islamist-leaning factions in western Libya.

In Yemen — mired in conflict since Saudi Arabia launched an air war in 2015 against the Houthi movement that controls the capital — a southern Yemeni secessionist council armed by the UAE opposes the internationally recognized government because it includes the Qatar-backed Muslim Brotherhood.

The council and Yemen’s Saudi-backed government, despite years of Qatar ties, cut diplomatic relations with Doha.

The eastern-based Libyan government and parliament aligned with anti-Islamist Haftar did the same.

“We are certain that the concerned states in the Gulf and Egypt will put pressure so as to drastically shift Qatar’s outrageous policies,” Mohamed Dayri, the foreign minister of the eastern government, told Reuters.

On Friday Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain designated as terrorists five Libyans including Tripoli Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani, an influential figure for anti-Haftar militias in western Libya. They also listed the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB), a group that has tried to revive armed opposition to Haftar since last year.


Qatar has for years punched well above its weight in world affairs by parleying its vast gas wealth into influence across the region, irking the UAE and dominant Gulf Arab power Saudi Arabia with its maverick stances and support for Islamists.

Now, Qatar’s powerful neighbors appear to be demanding a retreat from those conflicts.

“The message now is that it’s time for Qatar to withdraw from the region and essentially not have an independent foreign policy,” said Peter Salisbury, an analyst at Chatham House.

“It looks like Saudi Arabia and the UAE won’t be satisfied until Qatar is pushed to stop funding the groups they don’t like, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.”

But these demands come while Qatar’s allies have for the most part been forced onto the back foot.

Blessed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, former Egyptian army chief and now president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted the Qatar-aligned elected Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in a 2013 military takeover.

Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, some of its leaders based in Doha, is no closer to leading the Palestinian people then when it fell out with secular rivals in the Fatah party in 2007.

The Gulf spat is likely to further fuel inter-rebel conflicts in Syria, where rivalries between Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been showcased since the earliest days of the crisis.


Qatar’s friends who retain a plausible chance at national leadership, in Libya and Yemen, may have the most to lose from the row.

Haftar styles himself as a bane of extremism, and has become the dominant figure in eastern Libya since launching a campaign against Islamist groups and former rebels in Benghazi three years ago. Many suspect he seeks national rule.

His supporters believe the Qatar spat vindicates their anti-Islamist stance, as Haftar has gained ground and the U.N.-backed Tripoli government that he has rejected has been floundering.

Any hardening of the Haftar camp’s stance could complicate mediation efforts by Libya’s neighbors to the west, Algeria and Tunisia, which have been pushing for an inclusive, negotiated solution.

“Qatar being made an example out of … means that Haftar, Egypt and the UAE will experience much less diplomatic pushback as they ramp up their military campaign inside Libya itself,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a researcher at Paris 8 University.

(Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

Philippine troops find stash of banknotes as fighters pull back

A government soldier carries a box containing 52.2 million pesos ($1.06 million) cash seized from a vault in a house previously controlled by militants in the Marawi city, Philippines June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Jerome Morales

By Neil Jerome Morales

MARAWI CITY, Philippines (Reuters) – Philippines troops found bundles of banknotes and cheques worth about $1.6 million abandoned by Islamist militants holed up in Marawi City, a discovery the military said on Tuesday was evidence that the fighters were increasingly penned in.

Fighters linked to Islamic State have been cornered in a built-up sliver of the southern lakeside town after two weeks of intense combat. The military said that over the past 24 hours it had taken several buildings that had been defended by snipers.

In one house they found a vault loaded with neat stacks of money worth 52.2 million pesos ($1.06 million) and cheques made out for cash worth 27 million pesos ($550,000).

“The recovery of those millions of cash indicates that they are running because the government troops are pressing in and focusing on destroying them,” Marines Operations Officer Rowan Rimas told a news conference in the town as helicopters on machinegun runs buzzed overhead.

Black smoke poured from an area near one of the town’s mosques and the lake after bombings by OV-10 attack aircraft and artillery fire from the ground.

The battle for Marawi has raised concerns that the ultra-radical Islamic State, on a back foot in Syria and Iraq, is building a regional base on the Philippine island of Mindanao.

Officials said that, among the several hundred militants who seized the town on May 23, there were about 40 foreigners from neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia but also from India, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Chechnya.

The fighters prepared for a long siege, stockpiling arms and food in tunnels, basements, mosques and madrasas, or Islamic religious schools, military officials say. The Philippines is largely Christian, but Marawi City is overwhelmingly Muslim.

Progress in the military campaign has been slow because hundreds of civilians are still trapped or being held hostage in the urban heart of the town, officials have said.

“In a few days, we will we will be able to get everything, we will be able to clear the entire Marawi City,” armed forces Chief of Staff General Eduaro Año said in a radio interview.


Fighting erupted in Marawi after a bungled raid aimed at capturing Isnilon Hapilon, whom Islamic State proclaimed as its “emir” of Southeast Asia last year after he pledged allegiance to the group. The U.S. State Department has offered a bounty of up to $5 million for his arrest.

On Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte offered a bounty of 10 million pesos ($200,000) to anyone who “neutralized” Hapilon, and 5 million pesos for each of the two brothers who founded the Maute group, one of four factions that banded together to take the town.

Police on Tuesday arrested a man who identified himself as the father of the Maute brothers. He was in a vehicle along with other members of his family that was stopped at a checkpoint in Davao City, 260 km (160 miles) to the southeast.

“As a patriarch and the father of the Maute brothers … I guess he can still persuade his sons to stop the fighting in Marawi and once and for all surrender to the government,” regional military spokesman Brigadier General Gilbert Gapay told the news conference.

Armed forces chief Año said about 100 Maute militants were holding out in Marawi, and the military was checking a report that one of the brothers, Omarkhayam, had been killed in an air strike.

Duterte, who launched a ruthless campaign against drugs after coming to power a year ago, has said the Marawi fighters were financed by drug lords in Mindanao, an island the size of South Korea that has suffered for decades from banditry and insurgencies.

Jo-Ar Herrera, a military spokesman, said the discovery of the banknotes and cheques was evidence the militants had links to international terrorist groups. However, he said an investigation was needed to establish the facts.

It is possible that the money came from a bank that was raided on the first day of the siege. Herrera told Reuters last week that a branch of Landbank had been attacked and he had heard that one of its vaults was opened.

A four-hour ceasefire to evacuate residents trapped in the town was interrupted by gunfire on Sunday, leaving some 500-600 inside with dwindling supplies of food and water.

Officials say that 1,469 civilians have been rescued.

The latest numbers for militants killed in the battle is 120, along with 39 security personnel. The authorities have put the civilian death toll at between 20 and 38.

Asked to describe the fighting skills and training of the militants in the town, Major Rimas said: “They have snipers and their positions are well defended. Maybe they watch war movies a lot, or action pictures a lot so they borrowed some tactics from it.”

(Additional reporting by Karen Lema in MANILA; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Turkish MPs elect judicial board under new Erdogan constitution

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends the Roundtable Summit Phase One Sessions of Belt and Road Forum at the International Conference Center in Yanqi Lake on May 15, 2017 in Beijing, China REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool/File Photo

By Gulsen Solaker and Daren Butler

ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish lawmakers elected seven members to a reshaped judicial authority on Wednesday, part of a constitutional overhaul backed by a referendum last month that considerably expands the powers of President Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan says the changes are vital to ensure stability in Turkey, which is battling Kurdish and Islamist militants and experienced an abortive coup last year blamed by Ankara on a U.S.-based cleric who had many supporters in the judiciary.

But opposition parties and human rights groups say the reforms threaten judicial independence and push Turkey toward one-man rule. Some of Turkey’s NATO allies and the European Union, which it aspires to join, have also expressed concern.

The two largest opposition parties, who say the April 16 referendum was marred by possible fraud, boycotted the overnight vote in parliament appointing seven members to a redesigned, 13-strong Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) – all candidates of the ruling AK Party and its nationalist MHP ally.

The council oversees the appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplining and dismissal of judges and prosecutors.

The judiciary had previously appointed most of the HSK members but following the referendum parliament now picks seven and Erdogan a further four. The other two members of the board are the justice minister and ministry undersecretary.

“The vote has further politicized the judiciary, turning it into a totally AKP and MHP judiciary,” Filiz Kerestecioglu, a deputy from the pro-Kurdish HDP, told Reuters, saying it had decided not to participate because the process was illegitimate.


The other main opposition party, the secularist CHP, echoed that criticism.

“The party judiciary era has begun. This structure may be a complete disaster for Turkey,” CHP lawmaker Levent Gok told Reuters, accusing the ruling party of seeking to create a judiciary that was biased and dependent on it.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim defended the vote.

“There’s no problem. It conforms to the spirit of the referendum,” the Anadolu state news agency quoted him saying.

The judicial and constitutional changes come amid a continued crackdown on suspected supporters of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen blamed by Ankara for last July’s failed coup.

The HSK has already expelled 4,238 judges and prosecutors in purges targeting Gulen followers, roughly a quarter of the national total. Gulen, who has lived in the United States for decades, denies any role in the coup attempt.

Ankara says the HSK changes will prevent the judiciary falling under the control of specific groups such as the Gulenists, who Erdogan accuses of infiltrating state institutions over many years.

A CHP deputy said last month the vast majority of newly appointed judges had AKP links. The Justice Ministry rejected the allegation as slander and said the judges’ selection process complied fully with regulations.

The Venice Commission, a panel of legal experts from the Council of Europe, a rights body to which Turkey belongs, warned in March ahead of Turkey’s referendum that the proposed constitutional shakeup represented a “dangerous step backwards” for democracy. Ankara rejected the criticism.

The overhaul of the HSK is the second of the changes backed by the referendum to take effect. Another change, allowing the president to be a member of a political party, came into force this month when Erdogan rejoined the AK Party and he is set to regain the party leadership at a special congress on Sunday.

The remaining changes approved in the referendum will be implemented after a parliamentary election due in November 2019. They will enable the president to draft budgets, declare a state of emergency and issue decrees without parliamentary approval.

(Writing by Daren Butler; editing by Ralph Boulton and Gareth Jones)

San Bernardino marks one-year anniversary of shooting that killed 14

Neighbours comfort Jose Gonzales (centre), who was prevented from returning to his wife and his home at the scene of the investigation around the area of the SUV vehicle where two suspects were shot by police following a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California December 3, 2015.

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Police and fire officials in Southern California who dealt with the carnage of a mass shooting by Islamic militants that left 14 people dead will mark the one-year anniversary on Friday of the attack that shook even the most hardened emergency responders.

The massacre on Dec. 2, 2015, in San Bernardino by a married couple was one of the deadliest attacks by militants in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks.

Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29, opened fire during a party and training session for San Bernardino County employees, who were Farook’s co-workers, wounding 22 people in addition to the 14 killed.

Police officers were stunned as they entered the conference room where Farook and Malik had fired on dozens of people, according to a report issued this year by the Police Foundation, which spoke to emergency responders and witnesses.

“It looked like a bomb had gone off,” the report said, with blood covering the room and the smell of gunpowder filling the air.

An SUV with its windows shot out that police suspect was the getaway vehicle from at the scene of a shooting in San Bernardino, California is shown in this aerial photo December 2, 2015.

An SUV with its windows shot out that police suspect was the getaway vehicle from at the scene of a shooting in San Bernardino, California is shown in this aerial photo December 2, 2015. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

On Friday, the victims will be remembered with a ceremony at a San Bernardino blood bank, a 14-mile (23 km) bicycle ride – representing one mile for each person killed – and a moment of silence.

The ceremony at the blood bank will be attended by officials and emergency responders, and residents are expected to line up to donate blood. The bike ride by police officers and others will be held a short time later, organizers said.

The moment of silence will be held at 10:58 a.m., the time when the shooting was reported to emergency responders, San Bernardino city spokeswoman Monica Lagos said.

In the evening, another local event is expected to draw at least 2,000 participants to an arena, she said.

Authorities have said that U.S.-born Farook and Malik, a native of Pakistan, were inspired by Islamic extremism. The couple died in a shootout with police four hours after the massacre.

A special report this week by ABC News showed a photo of the gathering the couple had targeted, which included elements of a holiday party such as a Christmas tree and costumes.

San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan told ABC News that Malik had previously expressed discontent with the party.

“She had essentially made the statement in an online account that she didn’t think that a Muslim (her husband) should have to participate in a non-Muslim holiday or event,” Burguan told ABC News.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Swiss voters likely to back new law on surveillance: survey

Camera looking over Swiss resort

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) – Voters in Switzerland on Sunday are likely to back a law extending the spy service’s authority to monitor internet traffic, deploy drones and hack foreign computer systems to combat militant attacks, a survey shows.

Switzerland’s system of direct democracy gives citizens final say on the law passed in September 2015 which will give new powers to the Federal Intelligence Service, along with rules on when the agency can use them.

In a survey last week by polling group gfs.bern on behalf of Swiss state television, 53 percent were in favor of the law, with 35 percent opposed. Twelve percent were undecided, gfs.bern said.

Though neutral Switzerland has not been targeted by the sort of militant Islamist attacks seen elsewhere in Europe, the Swiss government contends previous intelligence laws are outdated and ill-equipped to tackle threats that have intensified as militants deploy new technology in a tight-knit global network.

“The Federal Intelligence Service will get modern information-gathering tools, including for surveillance of telephone calls or internet activities,” the government said. “These can only be deployed under strict conditions.”

For instance, the agency must get the government’s go-ahead before deploying software to penetrate foreign computer networks. When gathering information, its agents must “employ methods least likely to intrude on the targeted person’s civil rights”, according to the law.

Across Europe, countries including France have expanded spy agency powers, following Islamist attacks that have shifted some governments’ priorities from privacy to security.

Switzerland has prosecuted several people it contends aided Islamic State and sought to strip citizenship from a man suspected of traveling to Syria to fight with the group.

(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Richard Balmforth)